Roger Hepworth peers out of his window as morning commuters board... The London train

Roger Hepworth peers out of his window as morning commuters board… The London train

Living now in the same house I grew up in, I am often struck by how hard it is to overlook the redeveloped area over which I once had, from the upstairs windows, a grandstand view of our busy local passenger station, goods yard and level crossing. As much as the sights it is the sounds I miss – the assorted noises that once punctuated the passing of a summer’s day. There would be the puffing of steam engines in various moods, the clashing of buffers, the shouting of porters, guards and shunters, and the squeals from the wheels of shunted wagons as they were dragged protesting over the goods yard points and indeed as trains ran through the station on the sharply curved and check-railed Down Main line. These were a part of everyday life, hardly noticed and then only subconsciously at the time.

Captured in 1962, the Bradford portion of the 07:55 London train leaves Ossett for Wakefield Westgate where it was attached to a service from Leeds.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

The Bradford to Wakefield branch via Ossett was one of the first in the country to receive the ‘new diesels’ in the mid 1950s. Discounting the early morning comings and goings of these hourly DMUs, the first main event of the day and the indication of breakfast time was the passage of the ‘five to eight London train’, the fast-approaching hurried beat of the engine breasting the stiff uphill gradient from Dewsbury; the closing of the regulator, perhaps some blowing-off of steam and the squeal of brakes as the train ground to a halt at the platform. The slamming of carriage doors, the distant echoing shout of ‘Right-away’ from the guard, an answering ‘pop’ on the clear whistle of the Ardsley ‘B1’, often No.61031 Reedbuck, the ‘cluck’ from the snifting valve as the driver opened the regulator and the urgent crisp exhaust beat sounding out. A few clear puffs, then several muffled ones as the engine passed under the road overbridge at the east end of the station, then clear again echoing off the nearby goods shed as the engine rapidly accelerated down the gradient towards Wakefield.

If I cared to look out of my house window I could see the sun gleaming off the polished black engine and the two red and cream coaches – a side corridor third and a brake composite proudly roofboarded ‘King’s Cross – Bradford’. Their cargo of businessmen and other people would be opening their morning papers, having the first sandwiches out of their packed lunches or simply relaxing and looking out of the window. The final view from my house would be the black canvas and grey painted wood of the corridor connection end-shield and white tail lamp fast disappearing round the left-hand curve under a trail of white exhaust steam. The engine whistle would blow for the level crossing and shortly there would be the clattering of the gates closing as the signalman in Ossett East box quickly wound around the ‘ship’s wheel’ that controlled them.

Empty coaching stock is conveyed from Wakefield Westgate to Bradford as part of the ‘all stations’ parcels service.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

On arriving at Wakefield in about ten minutes’ time the coaches would be drawn back off the train engine by the yard pilot, often an N1 0-6-2 tank, into the Up sidings. There would then be an expectant wait for the main portion to arrive from Leeds. The buck-eye coupler would be lifted into position at the front end, the side buffers retracted and the corridor end shield removed and placed in the rack, the marks of which are still to be seen on the back wall of the Up platform today. Then heads leaning out of the carriage windows would spot the ‘blinkered’ front end of a Copley Hill A1 rapidly approaching out of the industrial haze of the sunny 1950s morning. The huge bulk of ‘H A Ivatt’ or ‘Madge Wildfire’ (that perfect Waverley novels name!) would glide past, her driver gazing intently ahead, ready to stop at exactly the right point along the platform. The engine was followed by ten smart clean coaches which would thump past over the point work. Some were older wooden-bodied coaches, with mirrors and pictures in each compartment; others were newly-built with open-plan seating at tables and little white name-plates inside informing the passengers of the origins of the internal wood veneers. Who but an old-time rail traveller has heard of ‘weathered sycamore’? In the restaurant car white-coated waiters would be putting the finishing touches to the breakfast tables. Occasionally an open wooden framed droplight in the kitchen car would reveal the face of the busy chef hard at work preparing breakfast.

In the winter of 1963, B1 No. 61024 climbs towards Ossett with the 12.14pm Bradford Exchange-King’s Cross service, the later-in-the-day successor to the ‘five to eight’.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

As soon as the train had come to a stand, off came the tail lamp and corridor end shield. The vacuum brake hose was removed from its seating and the steam heat hose freed from its restraining chain. Buffers were retracted and the cast steel spacing blocks hung on the little hooks on the coach end. The RCH lighting cable plugs were lifted from their wooden box housings above the buffers, all this being performed as a matter of routine by one of the two regular shunters under the watchful eye of the duty platform inspector with his smart uniform and peaked cap. Having raised the heavy buck-eye coupler and inserted the pin to keep it in position the shunter would scramble up onto the platform and give a hand signal to the yard pilot driver to push the Bradford coaches forward. The initial vigorous rotary movement of his whole forearm gave way as the distance to be traversed decreased to an up-and-down movement of the hand until with a gentle but firm ‘clunk’ the couplers meshed. Corridor connection doors were unlocked with a long slim key, the vacuum and steam heating hoses and lighting cables were coupled and suddenly the train was ready for departure. The Leeds guard came down from the front van to occupy the rear brake in the Bradford portion.

As the pilot engine was uncoupled from the rear and a brake test carried out, the last few doors were slammed shut and the platform loudspeakers finally announced the calling points of “Doncaster, Retford, Newark, Grantham, Peterborough North and London King’s Cross”. The inspector’s raised hand was answered by a wave of the green flag from the guard. The inspector swung on his heel and raised his hand towards the front of the train. Far away along the platform with its dingy canopy and groups of people seeing off friends and relations the Pacific’s driver blew his engine’s whistle and, as often as not, set back so as to compress the train’s buffer springs. As the train then sprang forward the three-cylinder engine took up its characteristically gentle but firm chaff-CHAFF-chaff-chaff exhaust and the train wound its rear end out of the yard and along the platform. As the searchlight signal switched its aspect from green back to red the carriages snaked out of the platform loop onto the main line, then out onto the ‘Ninety-nine Arch’ viaduct.

LNER-style tungsten lamp fittings, with their glass bowls, await replacement at a tranquil Ossett Station in 1961.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

In went the guard’s head and up snapped the window as the engine at the front coasted along the short downhill stretch over Ings Road Junction before being opened up with a sudden pluming of steam from the double chimney. For those on the train there would be the anticipation of a pleasant three-hour journey, maybe in a compartment with watercolour prints of eastern counties villages, or the ubiquitous ‘Welwyn Garden City, Herts’. There would be a choice of two breakfast sittings – before and after Peterborough. Each was heralded by the typically north London accented gravel voice of an attendant who would slide open the compartment door and announce “First (or Second) call for breakfast”. There was also the opportunity to obtain a hot drink from the white-coated corridor attendant, who would deftly wield his twin silver pots of coffee and milk in exchange for a small sum of money.

For those left on the platform there would be a large variety of train movements to observe and only a short wait until the whole train-combining procedure was repeated with the next London service or, on a summer Saturday, a service to any one of a variety of seaside towns.  This is to say nothing of workings in the Down direction being split, all by the same team of staff. The engine of a Leeds portion always worked through to the destination. Engines off Bradford portions were uncoupled on arrival at Wakefield and ran forward before reversing back over the pointwork to the north end of the station. Here they would wait on an especially long head shunt at the Leeds end of the Down Platform Loop – tender engines sometimes having turned on the Wrenthorpe triangle. On summer Saturdays, as well the London services, trains to and from Cleethorpes, Scarborough, Skegness and even Yarmouth would combine southbound and split northbound. To the discerning small boy these ‘Bradford portions’ provided a luxurious alternative Saturday service to the everyday DMUs along the Ossett branch. The aforementioned head shunt at Westgate could be holding up to five engines, all awaiting their turn to back down onto the succession of Bradford-bound portions. These had a choice of getting to Bradford either via Morley or via Ossett as far as Adwalton Junction where the routes combined and where a solitary wooden lighting pole today remains to show the initiated where the busy level crossing once was.

As a new housing estate takes shape in the foreground, rack and ruin takes over Ossett’s former station building.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

And what of Ossett now on a summer Saturday afternoon? The track through the Dewsbury-bound platform was on a sharp curve and steep uphill gradient before it dropped steeply towards Earlsheaton and Dewsbury. Where the station area once rang half-hourly to the strident exhausts – often in double-headed combinations – of B1s, K1s, Black 5s,Standard 5s, 4Fs, J39s, J6s, L1s, Crabs, Ivatt 2-6-0s, Fowler and Fairburn 2-6-4 tanks, and on one memorable occasion, Jubilee ‘Swiftsure’ straining to restart their heavy returning holiday trains and the shouts of excited children on the platform just home from their holidays there is now only the occasional dead buzz of a lawnmower and the passing of a 126 bus to pass the time. Progress? Hmm…

Roger Hepworth peers out of his window as morning commuters board... The London train

Roger Hepworth recalls the journey from Ossett to Dewsbury on… Market day

One of the many small ways in which the 1950s railway used to touch us young children during our school holidays was the weekly Wednesday afternoon trip to Dewsbury market.  After a morning of anticipation and a quickly-eaten dinner we would leave our houses and run along the road ahead of our mothers before scampering noisily down the lengthy covered approach ramp to the railway station. As we ran down our footsteps raised the echoes on the hollow-sounding boarded floor.

Once under the long wooden canopy which covered the island platform we would then enter the second of the several timber buildings, on the blue door of which was the oval orange-painted cast iron plate ‘Booking Hall’. When my turn came to stand at the ticket window, my back to the luggage rest with its blue-painted legs and shiny mahogany top, I would say my well-rehearsed line “One and a half Dewsbury return, please”, whilst straining to reach the upper hole in the thick glass ticket window. The booking clerk would whip two tickets from the huge rack at his side and deftly stab each into the green pillar-like dating press with a deep ‘thunk-bong’. He would then pass them out through the lower semi-circular cut-out in the glass. I duly slid across my ‘one and three ha’pence’ – 9d for the purple ‘British Railways’ adult ticket and 4½d for the LNER 3rd class pea-green child’s. These latter were issued right up to the closure of the station in 1964, when I purchased the official last one.

Shortly our respective mothers would arrive on the scene, having adopted a more leisurely pace, and we would all sit on the wooden platform benches, each with ‘Ossett’ in cast iron white painted letters set in an orange painted recess cut into the blue bench.

42116 pulls into the Down platform at Ossett.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

After what, in our impatience, seemed an eternity the unique deep tone of the electric bell sounded its five-second ring. This was situated over the door to the wooden ‘Porters Room’ further along the platform and was presumably operated from Ossett East signal box. We would cross to the Up side of the island platform so as to get the first distant view of the train approaching around the left-hand curve. As it came over the level crossing we ran back to the Down side to see the engine enter the station under the road bridge. Generally it would be an N1 tank running, as always, chimney-first towards Bradford. The more usual formation of two non-corridor coaches would be generally strengthened on market days like this to three coaches, often with up to three four-wheeled vans also, coupled directly behind the engine.

As the train slowed down we would try to spot an empty compartment and run alongside it until the train stopped.  The brass handle was turned, the door swung open and up we climbed. We sank into the red or brown upholstery of the long bench seats with their wonderful and indefinable aroma of old tobacco, damp overcoats and engine smoke.

The slamming of doors, a shout of “Right away!” from the guard along the platform, a blast from the steam whistle and the sure-footed engine puffed firmly away up the short rise before shutting off and gathering speed downhill past the up splitting somersault signals. After about half a mile we would look to the right at a mysterious single line curving away at Runtlings Junction. This was the route of the original 1870s line from Wakefield through Ossett to Batley, via Chickenley Heath, which avoided Dewsbury and made the famous not-quite-triangular junction with the rest of the system at Batley. The line was still used at this time as an outlet for coal from Shaw Cross Colliery. On we clattered down the later line towards Earlsheaton where we always hoped that new passengers would not enter ‘our’ compartment. During the short station stop metallic scraping noises from the engine told of the fireman’s efforts in building up the fire to cope with the steep gradient which the train would face on leaving Dewsbury in a few minutes’ time.

Dewsbury Junction signal box is reflected in the window as a train enjoys the twists and turns on the approach to Dewsbury Central Station.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

As the resultant black smoke and safety valve steam beat past our offside window the porter would walk along the platform side of the train repeatedly shouting “Ellzeetun”. After the closure of this station in around 1955 it seemed strange yet exciting to run through non-stop with just a crow on the whistle for the approaching tunnel. It was then just a short distance to go, with Dewsbury signal box on our right and the extensive goods yard on our left. In the distance could be seen the two disused bowstring girder bridges carrying the trackbed of the erstwhile GN Headfield branch over the River Calder to join the L&Y main line at Thornhill. On the closure of the Ossett line the unlikely step had to be taken of relaying this branch which had been closed in the 1930s. It was the only access to the still thriving Dewsbury goods yard until it in turn closed some twenty years later. The bridge girders are still there, disused for the second time but now hosting a footpath.

Our train now negotiated the short tunnel under Wakefield Road before emerging and squealing around the right-hand curve into Dewsbury Central Station. This was constructed on two levels. The upper one consisted of the island platform with its substantial stone buildings and full length saw-tooth glass roof. There was a luggage lift at the Bradford end with a black-painted panel on the stonework down at street level bearing the message in white letters ‘Ring Three Times for Porter’. From the centre of the platform a wide stone stairway with highly polished brass handrails at each side and a short landing halfway down led to the lower level. Here an extensive stone-flagged circulating area, bounded by booking and parcels offices, was roofed by the girders and jack-arching which carried the tracks and platform above.

The platform level commanded a good view over much of Dewsbury market and town centre but this was now masked by the train from which we were now alighting. Porters set about unloading produce from the four-wheel vans, to say nothing of prams and parcels from the passenger guards van. All this was accomplished so smartly, however, that we only just had time to hand in our tickets, go down the steps and be out in the street so as to look back and up at our train as it departed – now high above us – up the steep gradients to Batley and eventually Bradford.

Heading northwards from Dewsbury Central, a train prepares to thread itself between the local mills and houses.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

Each family would then go its separate way into the bustle of shopping at the market, in our case followed by ‘tea and cakes’ for Mother and an ice cream for me at the Playhouse Café. This comprised an upstairs room in the Egyptian-style cinema of that name which survived until the late 1990s, only to be demolished and replaced by a Wilkinson’s hardware store. All this was served by a waitress in classic black uniform with white apron and receipt pad on a string at her waist as we sat surrounded by the latest veneered wood radiograms and new-fangled upright TV sets with doors supplied by James W Thornes, for many years the local electrical and record retailer who presumably paid to have his latest stock on public display in the café.

By now it would often be dark as we emerged from the cinema, turned right and walked the twenty yards or so back to the station forecourt – all too often wet and reflecting the gaslights from the cobbles. Just before closure electric lighting was installed at street level so as to facilitate the sorting of the many parcels. I would quickly survey the excursion handbills – here displayed in an extensive wooden three-decker rack, unlike at Ossett where they were hung from nails on pieces of string. Also unlike at Ossett, where destinations were restricted mainly to East Coast resorts, here were the delights of Southport, Blackpool or Belle Vue, accessible from the other Dewsbury station at Wellington Road. Then it was up the gas-lit stairway with its white glazed-brick walls and onto the platform.

Each side of the island was lit by a row of gas lamps hanging down from the canopy. On the Ossett-bound side at this time of day would be several four-wheel barrows stacked high with grey fibre cases, the gaslight glinting off their black metal corners and strapping. These contained garments returning from Jas Smith’s dry-cleaners in Dewsbury to customers in Ossett and Wakefield. There was a 6d in the slot vending machine at the side which dispensed Sunpat chocolate peanuts or raisins, depending on which of the two metal drawers one pulled out. These would generally be consumed on the Bradford-bound platform while we took advantage of the bird’s eye view over the town. On the right there was the large works of the rival dry cleaners, Silver’s, while ahead was Dewsbury market and beyond that the tower clock of the several storeys high Co-op building which also housed a cinema. This always showed a slightly different time from the other prominent tower clock of the Town Hall.

The view south over the platform at Batley Carr, past the huge retaining wall to the mouth of the tunnel which now forms part of a scrapyard.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

Then it was back to the other platform so as to see Dewsbury Junction Up Distant signal – situated just by the tunnel mouth – clear for our train. This signal later changed from somersault to upper quadrant and just before closure to a twin aspect colour light. Soon the sounds of an engine could be heard coasting down the hill from Batley and we would glimpse the single high-mounted class B headlamp in the distance, flickering with the vibration of the engine. The bunker of the N1 tank – or tender if it were a J6, J39 or B1 – loomed into view with its two non-corridor coaches.

With us safely on board there would be a ‘pop’ of the whistle and the engine would puff gently into the short tunnel which could be identified from the road above by the clearly-visible red-brick airshaft with heavy stone toppings and dome-shaped iron grid. Down on the right as we left the tunnel gleamed the Railway Street Goods Yard gas lamps. Still puffing gently the engine squealed around the reverse curves atop the long panelled brick retaining wall and over the goods yard junction with the lighted windows of the signal box on our left. As a little boy I always felt that the view from the left hand side of the train here was rather sinister with its high gloomy cutting walls and the derelict remains of a large textile mill. I much preferred the more benign atmosphere of the other side with its view over the broad Calder valley, often cheered by an orange sunset as the golden steam of our now hardworking engine beat back across the windows.

Viewed from a DMU, 42166 labours up the gradient towards Earlsheaton Tunnel.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

Through the short Earlsheaton Tunnel and in later years a non-stop run through the closed station with its typical GN brick and timber signal box on the down side controlling the gated single line which led to the little local colliery. We chattered on past the large brick goods shed on the left with its sidings – the occasional white painted chair indicating the fouling spots for the points. The engine’s brisk exhaust sharpened further now for the steep two-mile gradient up to Ossett. Chickenley cricket field was passed on our left while the Calder valley continued on our right. Then the relative silence as steam was shut off for the short down gradient into Ossett. The tungsten lights flicked brighter as they cut from dynamo to battery power, then it was down with the window and out onto the platform. Tickets were pressed into the outstretched palm of the porter on duty who then walked smartly along the platform to close any doors remaining open.

The walk towards the station exit ramp took us past the warm engine whose driver would smile down at us in the orange glow from the fire box. On at least one occasion the engine was a massive clean B1 with red lined boiler bands. Running tender-first it looked most incongruous, with its large outside cylinders, abutting onto the coaches. As we climbed towards the road the porter’s voice would shout “Right away!” to the driver who would whistle and yank open the regulator to produce electric-style acceleration down the hill to Wakefield. The lighted coach windows sped past leaving a few leaves whirling along in their wake and a view of the end windows of the guards van retreating into the darkness. The top of the ramp was reached, illuminated by its tungsten bulb, and there would be shouts from our mothers of “Don’t go into the road”. As if we would – how silly mothers can be! Once home a good scrub was enforced ‘to wash off the railway dirt’ and then we would feast on the spoils from Dewsbury market, including luscious roast pork with stuffing, and dripping from a local butcher’s stall.

In a few short years the line was to be largely dieselised and then closed completely. All that now remain are the fond memories and the delicious pork and dripping which can still be obtained from the very same stall fifty years on.

Roger Hepworth recalls the journey from Ossett to Dewsbury on... Market day

Roger Hepworth describes the scene as travellers gathered for their… Excursion to Scarborough

As the short days of a 1950s January turned into February and then March, schoolboy spirits were lifted by the thought that soon the routine comings and goings of our regular passenger, goods and parcels workings would be boosted by the Easter excursions, or “trips” as we all called them. While other youngsters would play with their new whips and tops, purchased in the local shops, or go off collecting frogspawn in old jam jars, we more discerning youths would go down to the mill dam on Easter Sunday for quite another reason: for here, among the early wild flowers and budding hawthorn hedges, was one of the best lineside viewing spots in the area.

The handbills would have been hanging in bundles in the windows of the station booking hall for several weeks. Printed each in a single different bright colour, these sheets of quarto sized newsprint were eagerly collected by us spotters, sometimes to the annoyance of the station staff. We were terrified of one porter in particular who would chase us off the premises with loud shouts that if we took any handbills, “there would be none left for anyone else!”

The trip’s destination was printed boldly right across the sheet near the top, typically Scarborough, Bridlington or that favourite Eastern Region resort, Cleethorpes.  This was followed by columns of small print, detailing the times of departure and arrival back and the fares. In those days of twelve pound a week textile wages, a trip generally cost between eight and twelve shillings for adults, with ‘children under fourteen half fare’. The price depended on distance to be travelled and whether it was a Day or a cheaper Half-Day trip. Many families took advantage of these trains which usually left Ossett comfortably full, except for a few compartments at the very front and back of the eight or ten coach sets. Occasionally, stations were served which had already closed to normal traffic, for example, Alverthorpe and Lofthouse & Outwood.

A B1 and Low Moor Jubilee ‘Bellerophon’ arrive at Ossett with a special charter to Redcar races.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

By this period, our branch line would have to be specially opened for the Sunday trains, no doubt involving some welcome overtime for the station staff and for the friendly signalman in Ossett East box with its wheel operated level crossing gates. On Bank Holiday Mondays, the following Tuesdays and even Wednesdays, the excursions ran interspersed with the normal services.

Usually originating in Bradford and calling typically at Drighlington for Adwalton, Batley and Dewsbury before ‘our’ station, these trains would then either serve Wakefield, or if bound for Bridlington or Scarborough, turn left at the Wrenthorpe triangle towards Leeds, but then shortly branch right at Lofthouse and call at Stanley and Castleford Central.

Except for a few eight-coach race specials to Doncaster, excursions invariably consisted of corridor coaches – usually open stock, immaculately turned out inside and out. Despite obvious efforts to keep the rakes uniform, there were inevitably occasions when the smart maroon livery was broken up by one or more red and cream coaches or when a set turned up where some Gresley bow-ended roofs and angular wooden panelling would contrast with the smooth rounded steel sides of newer BR standards. Inside, the contrasts between old and new were just as striking. The newer coaches seemed very cosy, especially on the return journey at night with their warm brown veneer interior panelling and pleasing dark red upholstery, subtly lit by large circular frosted glass ceiling fixtures and nicely shaded twin-bulb light boxes above each table. Internal handles and other fittings were of aluminium and the toilet compartments neatly finished in lemon coloured Formica.

The Redcar races charter became Ossett Station’s last ever train at about 2am on Sunday 6th September 1964.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

The older Gresley coaches, although very comfortable with their brown upholstered seats, somehow had a more austere feel to them. The upper interior panels were painted a plain cream which, together with the generous row of high wattage bare tungsten bulbs fixed in a central line all along the white painted ceiling, made them much brighter to travel in at night. This was also very noticeable from outside. Frameless oval mirrors etched with the letters LNER or BR(E) were mounted vertically – often with the lettering on the wrong axis.  These were fixed along the side panels above the seats between the windows together with pairs of those hat and coat hooks in the shape of an inverted capital G. These and most other fittings were finished in rather brash 1930s shiny chromium plate. The vestibules were brush grained in light oak and the toilet compartments seemed rather spartan with cream painted walls again and exposed lead waste pipe to the hand basin. This would be provided with the usual pink soap – two or three joined up small tablets, broken off a long bar, each one bearing the moulded-in proprietorial letters BR(E). What else!

This then was the typical excursion stock of the period. Of course, side-corridors were sometimes used – any normally first-class compartments being in great demand. I recall a couple of Sundays when even Southern Maunsell sets called at Ossett. These ten-car rakes caused quite a stir with their green livery and the window glass of some compartments etched with the panel SMOKING in a way quite unknown here in the north. No doubt these coaches were pressed into service having arrived in the north on a Saturday inter-regional service from, say, Bournemouth.

These eight or ten-coach trains had to be hauled up the steep West Riding gradients including the 1:50 between Dewsbury and Ossett. On those still Sundays of the period, the breeze would carry to us, intermittently at first, the strong, lively exhausts of two hard-working engines. As the roar grew in volume two vertical columns of smoke appeared over the rooftops in the middle distance. The engines themselves then climbed steadily over the horizon, the gentle spring sunshine sparkling off their smoke-box doors. The second engine, which would be continuing to the destination, had the train’s reporting number chalked onto its smoke-box door, while the leading engine, generally detached at Wakefield or Castleford, would carry a board below the chimney with paper numbers stuck on and thus more easily changed for a subsequent working.

In the spring of 1964, a seaside excursion departs Ossett behind two B1s – the leading one 61189 Sir William Gray.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

As the coaches snaked over the obvious hump of the road bridge at the summit of the bank the engine drivers would shut off steam and drift down into the station. There would be a considerable number of waiting families who would now try to spot empty tables or compartments and then scramble aboard, complete with canvas shopping bags of sandwiches, thermoses and squash. Pushchairs and prams were loaded into the front brake end, which would be just on the platform end, their owners then walking down inside the train to find seats.

Because the island platform was on the outside of a long curve it needed the booking clerk to emerge from his office near the front of the train to check the door handles there and give the OK to the porter near the rear. These two worthies then relayed the ‘right away’ down the right hand side of the train to the engine crews. This was acknowledged first by the fireman of the train engine, who would shout across the footplate to his mate, and wave to his opposite number on the leading engine, standing in the smoky murk under the steel girders of the road overbridge. He in turn shouted ‘right away’ to his driver. Two slightly different-toned whistle pops rang out, two regulators opened, two snifting valves clunked and two crisp, unsynchronised exhausts roared into life. To a bystander on the public footpath which ran alongside the line beyond the station the display of power was awe-inspiring and even at this distance of time the memory sends a tingle down the spine. The steadily accelerating engines would somehow synchronise their exhausts as they enveloped themselves in steam from their chimneys and sometimes leaking front ends. The sound of the receding engines gave way to the rhythmic clicking of wheels on rail joints as the carriages glided past, themselves wreathed in steam which escaped from heating pipes and showed up bright white in the chill spring air.

Passengers settled into their seats and used their coat sleeves to wipe semi-circles into the mist on the insides of damp windows. Each coach carried neatly on its centre window a boldly printed foolscap-size poster detailing in large black capitals the originating station and, in smaller capitals, the calling places of the train. In those days, long before computerised departure screens, these paper labels were invaluable at home-time at the resort, when there could be half a dozen trains in the platforms awaiting departure. Weary families found it comforting to find the name of their home station displayed on the coach window.

Returning from the East Coast, the Bradford portion of a summer Saturday holiday train approaches Ossett’s now-demolished ‘three arch bridge’.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

However, back on our 1950s Easter Sunday, as birdsong starts to drown out the receding sound of our seaside excursion dropping down the gradient towards Wakefield, the next couple of hours holds the prospect of at least two more excursions. One might have only eight coaches, which was just within the capability of a single B1 if worked hard. Ten-coach trains were always piloted, usually by another B1, but sometimes an N1 tank or a J39 or J6 0-6-0.  In the early 1960s ex-Calder Valley LMS engines began to appear. Crabs, Black 5s and 2-6-4 tanks became regular performers with occasional visits from K1s and Ivatt 2-6-0s. Later still L1s appeared – also Standard 2-6-4 Ts, Standard 5s and the odd 4F, K3 or Jubilee – the tank engines only used as pilots.

Following the Easter weekend there would be more excursions at Whitsuntide and the other local holiday period in August – Dewsbury Feast. In fact most summer Sundays saw at least one excursion including the annual one to ‘Peterborough and the Bulb Fields’, uniquely provided with a buffet car. There was also the unmissable ‘Yorkshire Coast by Tourist Train’, advertised in advance by a double-sized handbill, complete with pictures. This was a round trip via Pickering, Whitby and the coast line via Robin Hood’s Bay to Scarborough. Time was allowed at both Whitby and Scarborough before the return journey by the direct route through Kirkham Abbey. Four reversals were involved in this journey, the highlight of which consisted of being pulled backwards by a pilot engine on the rear of the train from Whitby Town to West Cliff Station – the train engine then being correctly positioned to continue the journey to Scarborough.

There was also the hugely-popular annual guaranteed excursion for the local Working Men’s Club which often loaded to thirteen coaches, including a BG in the centre for the dispensing of refreshments supplied on the day by the local mineral water manufacturers and off-licence owners Messrs Hanson & Bentley. This heavy train was always double-headed through to its seaside destination. It was such a train which on its return from Redcar formed the last service to call at Ossett Station at two o’clock in the morning on the first Sunday in September 1964, pulled by Jubilee ‘Bellerophon’, piloted by a B1. It was a previous excursion one Saturday in the early 1960s to the FA Cup Final at Wembley which brought the only main line diesel ever to call at Ossett station – an English Electric Type 4 piloted by a Black 5. Full journey descriptions of some of these trains will have to be another story – suffice it to say that for the rest of our Easter Sunday our branch line would settle down to slumber until about 8.00pm, when station and signal box lights would be switched on ready to welcome back the returning excursionists. In the case of some late night return arrivals a special bus would meet the train at Castleford. Travellers would be conveyed back to their homes in the outlying districts by a green West Riding rear-entrance double decker, the normal last buses having already gone.

44458 and a K3 arrive at Ossett with an Easter excursion to Scarborough.
Photo: Roger Hepworth

In few very short years the day trip market would be taken over by the ‘charabanc’ – huge numbers of these arriving in the extensive coach parks at, for example, Bridlington or Blackpool, on land converted ironically from railway carriage sidings. Then came the private car and soon, with increasing fuel prices, the decline of the seaside trip altogether. However back in the 1950s what a wealth of travel opportunities was offered by excursion trains to a public whose daily lives involved the railway and took it for granted in a fashion which is quite unknown today.

Roger Hepworth describes the scene as travellers gathered for their... Excursion to Scarborough

Former fireman Bob Barnett tells a story from Bradley Hill Tunnel: A locoman’s tale

Lydney loco shed in the Forest of Dean closed on Saturday 29th February 1964, after which date the locomotive power was supplied each day from the mother shed at Horton Road Gloucester. This latter shed was not so much in the habit of providing us with our usual 57xx Pannier tank but, more likely, any loco that happened to be available which complied with BR route availability. It was to this end that, on Friday 28th August 1964, I found myself in the company of my regular driver Jim Beard on 2-6-2 Prairie side tank 4564.

With Gloucester not bearing in mind the importance of clean fires, flue tubes and dry working sand on the Forest inclines, to say that 4564 was shy on steam was an understatement as we started to struggle with a full load of eight bitumen tanks and brake van, heading for the Berry Wiggins Depot just beyond Bilson Junction on the Bullo branch.

Entering the eastern portal of Haie Hill Tunnel.
Photo: Bob Barnett

The weather was scorching hot as we made our way up towards the first 1,064-yard long Haie Hill Tunnel and I could see that we were going to have problems. The tunnel was straight from end to end with a passage time of approximately five minutes and caused no problems to footplate men. On the day in question, before clearing this tunnel, the boiler water was dropping and the steam clock was following, while the loco was moving abnormally slowly and the exhaust was barking into the roof of the tunnel before entering the cab. The perspiration was pouring down my face from the super-heated air in the cab and the atmosphere was foul with poisonous gases as we crashed on up the bank.

Leaving this tunnel and with only 200 yards to go before the next one, I banged another charge of coal around the fire box as Jim dropped the reversing lever a few notches and put the regulator right across to keep us going. This state of affairs would cause our loco to be working under most undesirable conditions and our aim now was to get to Soudley Halt where we could stop for a ‘blow-up’ and have a chance of getting our train of tanks away again from a dead start.

The western entrance to the 299-yard Bradley Hill Tunnel…
Photo: Ruth Fletcher
…and the same end today.

The middle 299-yard long Bradley Hill Tunnel, which we had now just entered, was the worst of the three on this line, with a left-hand bend that affected ventilation. (The 109-yard Blue Rock Tunnel was the final one and, like Haie Hill, gave few problems.) With no ventilation shafts and an east wind, this caused the hot gases to move along these tunnels with the loco. The method now was to dip a patch of cotton waste into a bucket of water, wring out the excess, then cover this concocted air filter with one’s handkerchief and place it over mouth and nose.

Halfway through Bradley Hill Tunnel I was on my knees, struggling to breathe. I could feel the hot gases burning the centre of my chest and my clothes were sticking to my body. Our loco was now blasting the tunnel roof with hot steam and gases as we moved barely at walking pace. My heart was pounding as the hot yellow fog drifted over the side and into the cab.

“I’m getting off!” I announced to Jim as I reached for the cab door. The next thing I remember in that black hell hole was Jim grabbing hold of me and pulling me back to the floor of the footplate. “Stay there!” he shouted. “We’ll soon be out of here – there’s not enough clearance to the tunnel walls and you’ll be cut in half under the wheels of our loco. Stay down!”

A Pannier tanks enters the south end of the 109-yard Blue Rock Tunnel, encountering its right-hand curvature.
Photo: Bob Barnett

It occurred to me that I did not have much choice in the matter as Jim leaned across to hold me to the footplate. I had not enough air in my lungs to fight him and wondered where he had found enough to come across the cab and grab me. I now resigned myself to my fate. I was going to die on the footplate of this loco.

After what seemed to be an eternity, we emerged from the tunnel and the eerie yellow fog slid back over the side of the cab from where it had come. I felt as if I had just been woken from a nightmare. Sticking my head over the side of the cab, I noticed that the silver metal of the handbrake had gone the characteristic yellow from the sulphur. As I looked back the smoke was swirling up off the wagons behind our loco as, one by one, they came into view. For the rest of the day and for the first time, I went without a cigarette.

Having travelled through these tunnels from the age of ten with my driver father, I had never experienced anything so bad before or since.

© Bob Barnett 2010

More Information

Bradley Hill Tunnel’s west portalMidland Explorer Boy (Flickr) picture
Bullo Pill RailwayWikipedia