Railway Recollections

The following is reproduced from an article in the In Touch magazine (Editions 2 and 3) and is the recollections of Barry Jacob on the railways in the area published in 2000.  It includes an interesting account of a trip from Johnston to Neyand through Rosemarket.

It includes a description of a "single line staff".  Trains were only allowed down a single line if they were in physical posession of the staff to prevent head-on collisions.  Such a system is known as "one-engine-in-steam” (OES) or “one-train working" (OTW). The line between Johnston and Rosemarket after the start of WW1 was reduced from two to one set of lines as the metal of the rails was needed for the war effort).

By Barry Jacob.

Footplate Experience of 1962

 Some of you living in the parishes of Burton and Rosemarket who know me personally, will also be aware of the fact, that I have held a lifelong fascination for railways. Therefore, I was delighted to be asked by County Councillor David Wildman, to share some of my recollections with readers of the Burton and Rosemarket Newsletter. 

I've no doubt that my enthusiasm for railways stemmed from the fact that, my mother's parents, Joseph and Lily Price, farmed at North Hayston, near Johnston, and the Milford Haven branch line passed near to the farmhouse. I spent much of my young life there, and subsequently became familiar with the variety of trains that passed to and fro. The majority of locomotives to be seen were former Great Western types, ranging from the humble pannier tanks, which did shunting, and short-haul passenger and goods duties, to the famous Castle Class engines which had charge of Express Passenger, and Fish trains. Of all these fine locomotives, the one type which caught my attention most,was the County Class, designed by GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer F.W. Hawksworth, introduced to traffic in 1945. 

The Counties, strong workhorses though they were, never managed to endear themselves to footplate crews to the same degree as the Castles and Granges, though there were usually four of the Counties shedded at Neyland, and were generally kept in good fettle. One of these engines, No. 1027 County of Stafford, was particularly well maintained, and has always had a place in my heart. It was aboard this engine that I had my first footplate ride when I was nearly 13 years old, and this is my story. 

During the school holidays of summer 1962, I was staying at North Hayston with my grandfather when, one day, I received a message from my uncle, William Jacob, who kept the Forester's Arms, at Neyland. Some of my uncle's regular customers were railwaymen, and amongst these was driver Billy Harrison, who, through my uncle, had learned my love of railways, and had expressed a wish to meet me. Such a meeting was duly arranged, at the Forester's Arms, one July morning in 1962. 

Aunty Violet kindly allowed Billy and I the use of her living-room for our discussion. From the onset, it was clear that Billy was keen that I should have the thrilling experience of riding in the cab of a steam locomotive. When he knew how much I admired County of Stafford, he began to make plans for me to ride on her footplate. Approximately a week later, on a Thursday morning, we met again. Everything had been finalised for my trip, which would commence that evening, at Milford Haven station at 8.50.pm. With overwhelming excitement, I cycled back to my grandfather with this wonderful news. 

Billy had explained to me that County of Stafford was being used that day, to haul an eleven coach excursion from Milford Haven to Tenby and back. Billy would be her driver for the return journey, when, after getting the passengers safely back to Milford, he would have to return the empty coaches to Neyland. It was on this part of the journey that I would be accompanying Billy. 

Because the excursion would not be stopping at Johnston on it's homeward journey, it meant me having to travel from Johnston to Milford Haven by an earlier train, so that I could meet up with Billy Harrison at the scheduled time of 8.50.pm. Grandpa accompanied me to Johnston station that evening, saw that I had my ticket, and we crossed via the footbridge, to the Down platform to await the train from Paddington which arrived, hauled by GWR Mogul No. 7340. I climbed into one of the coaches. At 6.50.pm. the guard's whistle blew, and with a wave of his green flag, we steamed off towards Milford Haven — what excitement. 

Disembarking with the other passengers, I walked along the platform to see the locomotive being uncoupled, and watched as she ran round the train to be re-coupled at the other end. By now, the station had fallen silent. No passengers appeared wanting to catch this train, the goods yard and Docks sidings were quiet, shunting was over for the day. The silence was only broken by the gentle hiss of steam from 7340, while she waited for departure time. At 7.50pm I set out for a stroll across Hakin Bridge, I get about half-way across, when I found myself retracing my steps back to the station. At 7.50pm 7340 set out for Clarbeston Road and I had the station to myself for the next hour. The only other sign of human presence was in the signal box, as the signalman went about his duties, on this beautiful sunny summer’s evening. I sat on one of the platform seats, and patiently waited for the excursion to arrive. 

Presently, I saw the signalman moving his levers, setting up the route for the train. Shortly afterwards around 8.45.pm. I could hear the train approaching. My excitement began to mount before the train came into view. Then, the unmistakable sight of No. 1027 County of Stafford appeared. With the evening sunlight’s rays catching her polished copper and brass-work, and a feather of steam coming from her safety valve, she looked majestic at the head of her eleven maroon liveried coaches, as she drifted down the gradient on the last mile into Milford Haven. The signalman stood leaning from his window, ready to receive the staff from the driver as the mighty engine trundled past towards the station. I stood enthralled as the engine came alongside the platform. What a delightful vision she looked in her shining Brunswick green livery and her burnished short squat copper-capped double chimney, as she came to a stand. 

Passengers began to disembark, and I sped along the platform to the cab side of the engine, where I was greeted by Billy and his fireman. Seconds later, I found myself on the footplate with them. 

At this juncture, it is perhaps worth reflecting that, in those days, it was possible to fill a train of 500+ seats from Milford Haven alone, for something as simple as a day trip to Tenby. How times have changed since then. Back on the footplate, the fireman climbed down to uncouple the engine. When he rejoined us we were ready to run the locomotive around the train. 

Having re-coupled we waited for a signal from the guard, telling us that we could propel the coaches further into the station. The reason being that, the platform at Milford cannot accommodate such lengthy trains, so it was necessary on this occasion to push the train forward, so that the remaining passengers would be able to step onto the platform, rather than make their way through the coaches. We now stood with the engine immediately alongside the signal box. The signalman handed our fireman the single–line staff for the section to Johnston, while our guard went about closing the carriage doors, His duties now complete, he waved his green flag, which Billy told me to acknowledge with a blast on the whistle, and we were off. 

I listened to the distinctive bark of a County exhaust as our engine began to lift the train up the gradient out of Milford. I listened also to, as the wheel flanges squealed while rounding the curves at Goose Pill and Priory. Because there was no turntable at Milford, our engine was travelling tender first, which wasn’t too bad in fine weather, if the coal in the tender had been watered to keep down the grit and dust. It was nowhere near as pleasant, in adverse weather, when the only protection from the elements was a tarpaulin sheet which stretched from the rear of the cab to the front of the tender.

With the stiffest part of the gradient overcome, 1027 began to get into her stride as we steamed through Studdolph cutting. At the junction for the Esso oil refinery, the line straightens for a mile or so, and, from Redstock bridge the route is mostly level as far as Harmeston Farm.1027 was doing very nicely as we traversed this stretch. Her fire was in good shape, and would need no further attention because, once back at Neyland her fire would be dropped. 

Billy had kindly allowed me to sit in the driver’s seat for the journey, but as we rounded the curve of Hayston cutting, I stood up to give a fanfare on the whistle as we came under the Neyland road bridge by North Hayston Farm. As expected, Grandpa was in the field adjoining the railway, waiting to wave as we passed by. Our train entered Johnston via the branch loop. Stopping by the signal guarding the exit from the loop, the fireman then went to the signal box to surrender the single-line staff we had carried from Milford. We would now have to wait for three quarters of an hour while a series of scheduled trains came and went. Meanwhile, our fireman uncoupled 1027 from her train in readiness to run round. Returning to the footplate, he made a final check of the fire which was still burning brightly, and in no further need of attention. Little steam would be required for the final leg of the journey to Neyland because, most of the distance was down-hill. 

Eventually, the signal was lowered and, with a blast of the whistle, 1027 moved out of the Branch loop into Johnston station alongside the Up platform. The points were charged, and we steamed off down the cutting, onto the Milford branch. Stopping the outer side of the bracket signal, we waited for the points to change and the signal to lower, before reversing back into the Branch loop, and recoupling to our coaches. 

Coupled up once more, 1027 then propelled the train out of the loop, and into the station, alongside the Up platform. Billy set the engine in forward gear again, and the train was ready to depart for Neyland. 

Billy opened the regulator slightly, and 1027 began to move. Leaning from the cab, Billy collected the single line staff from the signalman as we passed the box. Down the cutting we rolled into the fading evening light, and the exhaust beat of 1027 shattering the still night air. Steadily gaining momentum, we clattered over the junction where the Milford Haven branch diverged, and then, the regulator was closed. We would now drift down the falling 1 in 75 gradient, only needing to use a little steam on the last mile approaching Neyland. By the time the train passed the Down distant signal for Upper Rosemarket Crossing we were travelling at a fair pace. I pulled on the whistle chain to warn of our approach, repeating it again a few seconds later before Lower Rosemarket Crossing, which was just around the next curve. On down the valley we speed, a steady rhythm coming from the wheels as we crossed the rail joints. Soon, the distant signal for Westfield Mill Crossing came into view. Billy’s parents and sister lived in the crossing keeper’s cottage here, and, needless to say, this fact presented me with another opportunity to render a fanfare with the whistle. By the time we came in sight of the crossing, Billy’s sister, Sheila, and mother, Emily, were stood in the garden, cheerfully waving as we thundered by. From here on the line was nearly level, and ran alongside the then tidal inlet of Westfield Pill. Passing Shipping Gut, and the Neyland distant signal, intermittent use of the regulator was necessary to get us to Neyland. 

Surrendering the staff as we passed the signal box, and drifting on past the engine shed, Billy applied the brake, bringing the train to a stop alongside a deserted Down platform at Neyland. The route to the carriage sidings was set up, 1027 was put into reverse gear, and we proceeded to push the coaches out of the station. Detaching from our train, the locomotive was brought alongside the Down platform once more, so that our guard could get off. Setting the valve gear in reverse again, we set back to the signal box, paused while the points were changed, put the engine into forward gear again, and drove her onto the turntable. 

It was now time to say good-bye to 1027, after having spent two thrilling and unforgettable hours on her footplate, and also, thank you, to Billy and his fireman for their great kindness in allowing me the privilege to ride on the locomotive I had regarded with such affection. 

As we left the turntable, two cleaners set about the task of hand–cranking the big engine round. I then met up with my Uncle from the Forester’s, who would take me back to Grandpa at North Hayston by car. Billy and his fireman said goodnight, and made off to the shed to sign off duty. Meanwhile, I was taken back to Johnston, still overcome with the experience I had just enjoyed. This has been the most memorable, and satisfying adventure of my life, and I wouldn’t have changed places with Royalty to forgo it. 

March 2000      Upper Crossing Cottage Rosemarket