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We felt like original 'railway children' before Beeching's reforms

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 02, 2013

  • The locomotive 'Wadebridge' in 1947 at Halwill Junction, on the Okehampton to Bude line Picture: James Breeden

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I grew up in a row of houses in Launceston which backed on to the Great Western Railway line, writes Jane Nancarrow, of Launceston.

Further up the road, the houses were all lived in by signalmen, train drivers and other railway workers. As children, my sister and I used to wave to the trains from the bank as they clanked past on their way down the line from Paddington to far-off places like St Ives and Penzance.

We felt like the original "railway children" and occasionally train drivers would wave back and hoot the engine's whistle. On other days, we could glimpse cattle in the trucks, coming into Launceston for the busy weekly cattle market. They would be unloaded at the nearby station and driven up New Road and the drovers would run quickly back down Zig Zag to meet the next cattle train. Once or twice I remember a deranged bullock breaking away and ending up in the road outside our house, or in Bates Yard opposite.

The railway was very much part of our lives and I can remember my father's angry reaction to the very name of Dr Beeching.

When we were children at the National School we went on a school trip on the train to Bristol Zoo with our teacher Charles Causley and Mr Kinsman, the headmaster. It was a long and memorable journey, with the scents and sounds of the train thundering through our heads. Later we sat exhausted on the return journey, the boys in fringed cowboy hats, from a day out never to be forgotten.

I remember also going to Padstow on the train a couple of times for a treat with a friend and her parents. It was so exciting to puff our way along the Kensey Valley, past Egloskerry and Tresmeer, eventually to end up at the estuary and smell the sea.

When the railway eventually closed, we had quite a large gathering of my mother's family and we all went on the very last train out of Launceston to Egloskerry and we walked back. It was a very emotional time.

Your picture brought a tear to father's eye

My father, Richard Cobbledick, who is now aged 91, joined British Rail at Torrington in about 1954 as a carriage cleaner and gradually worked his way up to signalman at Petrockstow, where he stayed until 1962, writes Ken Cobbledick, of Crediton.

This was a lovely "one-man" station which he shared with Fred Cole; one doing early turn and one late turn. We lived in Torrington at the time and he used to cycle from Torrington to Petrockstow, which involved a very long climb up from Taddiport. Eventually he graduated to a Cyclemaster and then a Royal Enfield Clipper 250cc, which made the journey very manageable.

Signalling duties were fairly minimal with the frame outside at the end of the platform. In addition he ran the booking office, portering and shunting wagons into the siding to unload animal feed for the feed merchant across the road.

The wood on the other side of the platform was a home to several pheasants, one of which "adopted" my father and would go on to the station to share his packed lunch.

As a schoolboy I spent many happy days with my father at Petrockstow, even managing to hitch a ride back to Torrington on the footplate a couple of times, when to my amazement the train was stopped in the middle of nowhere so the driver or fireman could get off and pick mushrooms. The time was easily made up along the way.

The picture published in the Western Morning News to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Report brought a small tear to his eye. He loved working there and I managed to reproduce the picture reasonably well, which is now framed and in his sitting room.

Fond memories of riding 'Fowey Rattler'

Whilst a pupil at Fowey Grammar from 1950 to 1957, a woodwork centre opened at Lostwithiel Secondary School, writes Denis Keam.

From 1951 to 1953, and again when in the sixth form, I regularly used the "Fowey Rattler" with the GWR locomotive 1419 on the Auto Coach, whereby the engine stayed at one end and on the return journey the driver would be at the front of the coach, controlling the engine with the fireman on the footplate.

Incidentally, Don Breckon, the renowned train artist, has painted Along The Fowey with 1419 and coach approaching Golant.

The journey must have rated as one of the most scenic anywhere and if in use today would undoubtedly flourish. Why Cornwall County Council did not put a preservation order on the picturesque Fowey Station and allowed ECC to destroy it, one can but despair.

Living on the Trenython Railway Convalescent Estate in my wonderful childhood, which I only now appreciate, I spent many an hour listening to the experiences of railway men from all over the country. One driver was driving the GWR locomotive Princess Margaret a week after it had hauled a royal train, when a steam pipe in the cab burst and his hands were severely scalded. The patients spent two or more weeks convalescing under the care of a matron and the local GPs.

On a Sunday, trains from various branch lines are "stabled" in Par sidings. The signal boxes at Par and Lostwithiel are manned 24 hours and it would be great if a Sunday Scenic Special could run from Par to Fowey (no alighting of course) and back.

Being railway family was a way of life

My father, Walter Ricketts, was a guard at Torrington Station and our family lived in a cottage owned by Southern Railways, writes Joan Ricketts of Fremington.

Both my mother, Ethel, and I were born in the same room in that cottage – mother in 1903 and me in 1931.

Torrington Station was a lovely place. It was what I would describe as a little country line. They were happy days.

Father knew all the regular passengers and because he was a keen vegetable gardener he would chat about the produce they were taking to market.

Although my father should not have allowed it, I often travelled with him, taking along some food packed up by my mother.

It was a busy line, goods trains taking freight from the clay works.

One very sad day, in 1927, before I was born, my grandfather was killed on the railway. He was called Thomas and was a station foreman. On that day, he was going back to work after his midday meal and caught his foot in the line at the shunting yard and was hit by a train.

A far happier occasion came a short time after that, when my mother and father got married. They took the train to Bude for their honeymoon and as the train left the station, my father's regular passengers had put bangers on the line, which gave them a tremendous send-off.

Being a railway family was a way of life and railway people never forget it.

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