Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published from 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

No. 261  December 17th  2018

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity, possibly. Promoting moderate rebellion and sedition, within reason, obviously.

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

This is the first ‘Salvo’ from my new Bolton home, in the select residential suburb of Halliwell. I’m served by two different bus routes, two chippies, three pie shops and about four pubs depending on how far you cast the net. They include the famous ‘Mop’. To the north, I’m a few minutes’ walk from Smithills Hall (nice cafe) and then out on open moorland. Thanks to all who came along to the housewarming last Sunday. The sun shone, the trains ran, lots of lovely food (special mention for Linda’s meat and tato pie) and everyone had a pleasant time.

Another big change is the coming to an end of my contract with Arriva UK Trains. I’ve been with them for over three years, on what started as an ‘interim’ contract. I hope I’ve made a helpful contribution during my time with the company. I’ve certainly made a lot of good friends, whom I’ll keep in touch with. As from December 28th I’ll be doing my own thing (OK, no change there) with one or two new ventures in the pipeline.

It has been eventful year in many ways, not least in politics. I can’t resist throwing in my own two penn’oth (see below) and welcome readers’ responses, e.g. please cancel my subscription forthwith, etc.

 But anyway, on behalf of the editorial team, can I wish allreaders a very happy Christmas and New Year, and particular thanks to those whohave fed in ideas, complaints and quiz answers.

 Going round The Loop

It’s Santa Special time and this yearI’m booked on two – I’ve got a trip with grandchildren on the East Lancs thisFriday, hopefully with 34092 City of Wells for which Steve Leyland is booked asfireman. I hope he’s in good shape for the Bulleid Challenge. The first ‘Santa’was on Sunday. A small group of ageing cranks joined the merry throng offamilies on West Coast’s ‘Santa’ from Lancaster to Hellifield and back viaBlackburn and Preston. It was the last run of Stanier 8F 48151 – its boilerticket runs out at the end of the year.

Going decidely Loopy this lot……..

It was assisted by a class 47 in therear, driven by another old mate, Mick Kelly. It was a thoroughly enjoyabletrip, enlivened by copious amounts of wine, whisky, beer (North British ‘Directors’),mince pies and sandwiches. Bob Turner-Horton cut a splendid figure in his(Fat?) Controllers’ Outfit. We arrived on time, almost to the second, atLancaster in good time to make our connection back to Preston and Bolton.

Political Posturings

Andrew Marr recently wrote of Brexit that he probably spends five or six hours a day reading and writing about it, and has come to the realisation that he knows less about it now than ever. I think a lot of people would echo that. I find it remarkable that quite a few people I know keep saying “let’s just get on with it and leave” (i.e. without a deal). It sounds a bit like a man stood before a firing squad and he just wishes someone would hurry up and shout the order to ‘Fire!’Anyone who doubts that Brexit will exert serious damage on the UK economy (it already is) are on a par with Climate Change deniers (yes, they’re often the same people).It’s a case of which particular model chosen will cause least damage, which must be May’s much-loved (I’m being ironic by the way) agreement with Brussels. So, yes, particularly given the parliamentary stalemate, another referendum is the least worst option. And if we do still persist in wanting to leave, nobody can say they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for.

Some right-wing Tory ‘leavers’ are saying that a second referendum will lead to riots (blood on the streets, Powell-style) and mayhem. I’m not so sure. I can understand people feeling a bit miffed that after being asked whether to leave or not, they’re then asked for another vote to make sure they meant it. But when people voted in June 2016 people didn’t know what the real implications were. Some take great exception to leavers being labelled ‘racist’ and xenophobic. I have to say that from my experience quite a lot of them are. Not all (Craig). Quite a few people, typically my sort of age, want to ‘come out’ and revert back to a 1950s style nirvana when everyone had a ‘good’ job (like working down the pits or in an overheated mill) and there were no black people around. It’s easy to indulge in these sort of fantasies when you’re in your mid 60s, or older. But it’s our kids’ futures we’re jeopardising.

Finally, I was told off by one Salvo reader for being too critical of the Labour Party. But flippin’ eck, they’ve been appalling over what is the biggest challenge that has faced the country since the War. The various moves and posturings by the Labour leadership are more about positioning Labour as an attractive alternative to a discredited Tory Party. But sorry. That isn’t reflected in the polls and I have to say that I’d seriously consider voting Green or Lib Dem if there was that general election that Corbyn is so keen to have. And my vote would count, as it is a highly marginal constituency (Bolton West). I don’t think I’m the only person on the left who is thinking that way. The one senior politician saying anything intelligent amongst Labour’s rather dim bunch of opportunists is Keir Starmer. So there Mr Routledge!

The Rail Review (this piece will be appearing in the December issue of Chartist magazine)

Chris Grayling is probably not one of the most well-liked politicians amongst readers of The Salvo (but please advise of any really popular politician at the moment…).His tenure as secretary of state for transport has been marked by the meltdown of rail services in the North and parts of the South-east, while he persists with the grand folly of HS2 and CrossRail 2. Yet, to be fair to the man, he has recognised that something is fundamentally wrong with how rail services are being delivered in the UK. Whether you are an earnest advocate of nationalisation, or still cling on to the belief that privatisation was the right thing to do back in the 90s, what we have today doesn’t work. It’s expensive (compared with the overall cost of running other railways across Europe) and services are often poor and unreliable, as well as being expensive. Staff are de-motivated and passengers fed up. So Mr Grayling has ordered a ‘fundamental review’ of rail policy and has appointed Keith Williams to chair it. He comes from an interesting background – former chief executive of British Airways and deputy chair of The John Lewis Partnership, the employee-owned retail chain. In addition, members of the review panel include respected railwayman Dick Fearn, former MD of Irish Rail.

The Government’s announcement of the review in September said it would “… consider all parts of the rail industry, from the current franchising system and industry structures, accountability, and value for money for passengers and taxpayers”. Cynics will say that nationalisation, the holy grail of Corbynistas in a hurry, won’t be given a second thought. Maybe, maybe not. But the review does offer an opportunity to come up with some fresh ideas which could start to get us out of the current mess we’re in. I’m a member of a small group of professional railway men and women called ‘The Rail Reform Group’ which is looking at some options.

It’s important that we are clear on what we want our railways to do. Getting people and goods  ‘from A to B’ as fast and as possible isn’t enough and can encourage perverse outcomes. Is it right that we should be encouraging people living in, say, Doncaster or Preston to commute to London most days? Rail is good at delivering longer distance journeys, but those trips into major centres for work, education and leisure are as important as longer distance inter-city journeys. And it tends to be the ‘regional’ networks that are under most stress at present, with inadequate rolling stock, lack of track capacity and poor quality stations.

Advocates of ‘nationalisation’ should also understand that much of the railway is already state-owned, or publicly-specified. Infrastructure is owned and managed by Network Rail. Trains mostly run as part of franchises that are specified and funded by Government (predominantly Department for Transport, but the devolved governments for Wales and Scotland, plus Transport for London for London Overground and Merseyside Combined Authority for Merseyrail). Yet once franchises are let, operators can cut corners to extract maximum profit from their short-term contract. Arguably, what we have now is the worst of both worlds – not fully private, but not really public either.

Our modest little ‘Rail Reform Group’ has come up with some provisional conclusions which could help improve both regional and intercity networks, as well as encourage freight. The starting point should be structural change. The current system, based on separation of infrastructure from operations (which are based on relatively short-term and highly expensive franchises) has not worked; bringing infrastructure and operations back under one co-ordinated lead is essential, but that doesn’t have to imply a nationally centralised approach. It could work at a regional level. We are suggesting, for the North, a new model – a revival of the pre-1923 ‘Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’ brand – that would serve the major centres of the North. Basically we’re proposing regionally-based, vertically integrated operations that are socially owned. The same approach could work in other parts of the UK.

We came to the conclusion, after a lot of thought, that the best business model should be a social enterprise, in which profits are recycled back into the business to fund further improvements. A railway that is tied to Treasury control, as BR was, would not have the freedom to invest and look to the long-term, which is desperately needed. Instead of short-term franchises (typically less than 10 years) there should be long-term stability with periodic reviews by an appropriate public body. In terms of ‘Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways’ this should be a strengthened ‘Transport for the North’, a body which already exists. Within this model, there would be scope for employees and passengers to be much more fully engaged, including encouragement to invest in specific projects that could also include some private sector investment.

There is a need for a UK-wide ‘guiding mind’ that can ensure co-ordination is there when it is needed. The railway does form a strong network and even in the pre-1923 days of scores of private (and vertically integrated) railway companies, there was co-ordination on ticketing, timetables and other national standards. For freight, the issue isn’t about ownership, it’s about having the right infrastructure, and fiscal regime, for freight to flourish.

These suggestions avoid the current unhelpful fixation on ‘nationalisation’ without people really understanding what that means; opting for a social enterprise at arms’ length from the state but with clear social objectives, must be considered. The solution we’re suggesting could be as relevant to Labour’s thinking as to Mr Grayling’s.

Bolton station updates

Discussions continue about refurbishment of the former Training Academy upstairs from Platform 4 and 5, together with space at platform level. The partnership’s aim of making the station a nationally-recognised community hub are edging forward, with support from Network rail, Northern, TfGM and local partners including the Council and University. This coming Thursday Kul Bassi from the DfT is coming up to talk to partnership members and friends about the Government’s new Community Rail Development Strategy. His talk will be followed by sherry and mince pies. Please follow us/email us  at or like us facebook BoltonStationCDP or on twitter @BoltonStnCDP

Peterloo – the Pamphlet

One advantage about moving house is discovering lost/forgotten publications as you unpack boxes and sort out book collections. In the light of growing interest in the bi-centenary of the Peterloo massacre (see last Salvo for a review of the film), I was pleased to come across quite a rare publication from a hundred years ago. It’s Peterloo: a history of the massacre and the conditions which preceded it and is by J.H. Hudson. It is sub-titled “a story for Working People to Teach their children” and was published by the National Labour Press (at 30 Blackfriars Street Manchester) for the Peterloo Cententary Committee. The committee comprised the Manchester and Salford Independent Labour Party, The Co-op’s Political Committee, British Socialist Party, Trades Council, Socialist Sunday Schools, Ex-Servicemen’s Union, Federation of Discharged Soldiers and the Railwaymen’s unions. A very interesting collection indeed. The pamphlet contains a foreword by J. Bruce Gasier, one of the leading figures of the ILP and close friend of the Bolton ‘Whitamnites’. Writing in 1919, Glasier says “the workers of England have as yet lamentably failed to use the rights and fulfill the hopes for which the Martyrs of Peterloo were slain,” though he ends on a positive note of “a new epoch of enlightened and international social democracy is dawning over every land and every sea.” Oh well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Crank Quiz: seasonal selection

The last quiz asked  forrailway installations with a culinary, or cutlery, flavour. There were somegood responses to this ticklish question, inspired by Horwich Fork Junction,now sadly a mere memory. There were some more good suggestions but I seem tohave lost them. How can you lose things electronically in a house move? But anyway. It would have been nice to have included ‘The Master Cutler’ but it wasn’t a railway installation, just a train. Spooner Row maybe?So if you did send some culinary/cutlery suggestions please re-send. This issue must really have a Christmas Quiz, so here’s a few crank questions. Some have specific answers, some don’t. Have a go and eitehr email me with them or put them in ‘comments’ online.What was the name of the railway installation on the Settle-Carlisle Line with a distinctly seasonal name?

What was the first ‘Santa Train’ to operate a) on a heritage line and b) on the main line

Moving away from the Christmas theme, thank God, readers are invited to construct an intelligible and grammatically correct sentence featuring as many LMS Jubilee names as possible.

Now do the same thing for A3 Pacifics

Name as many railway installations as you can featuring amphibians

Name at least two railway installations featuring preserves (not preserved railways)

What three things do/did Hoscar, Lostock, Eccles, Sowerby Bridge and Walkden have in common?

Which railway feature is deep and sounds like a bell?

Name at least three railway installations featuring birds of prey

Which minor railway had an accomplished poet as its general manager?

Who Signed The Book? A Christmas railway ghost story

This was originally published in ASLEF’s Locomotive Journal in December 1985. This is a slightly updated version which was published last year, but you’ve probably forgotten it. I spent two years of my railway career at Astley Bridge Junction signalbox, in the 1970s.

I’ve spent the last 40 years as union branch secretary getting other people out of trouble. I’ve done more disciplinaries than you’ll have had hot dinners, and I have had some strange ones. But you want to know the strangest?  I’ll tell you. It happened over 30 years ago and there’s enough water flown under the bridge for me to talk about it. I’m long since retired so there’s not much anyone can do to me now.

I must have represented hundreds of my members at what they used to call ‘Form 1 hearings’. But this one found me in the hot seat. What led me to getting charged happened in 1983. Up to now the only people who knew anything about it are myself and Jack Bracewell, former Area Manager and he’s been retired even longer than me. He lives out Blackpool way. I promised I’d keep my mouth shut about the affair until Jack had finished and was getting his company pension. As a good union man, I’ve kept my word.

It was Christmas Eve 1983. I was working nights at Astley Bridge Junction; a small cabin just north of Bolton on the steeply-graded line to Blackburn. It’s long gone of course – it shut when the branch to Halliwell Goods closed in the late 80s. It was the draughtiest box I’ve ever worked, stuck on top of Tonge Viaduct with only the birds and the circuit telephone to keep you company, apart from the occasional platelayer’s visit, usually Derek begging a brew of tea.

We’d had plenty of rows about it on the LDC – the old ‘Local Departmental Committee’ where we battled things out with management – usually good naturedly. Astley Bridge  was one of the ancient Lancashire and Yorkshire (L&Y) boxes with facilities which could best be called ‘primitive’. Heating was by an old stove that Stephenson probably invented, gas lighting and an outside toilet that froze every winter. And then that bloody draft that blew up from below, through the lever frame. Management kept telling us it was ‘in the programme’ for modernisation, but nothing happened.

It had its compensations. You could look across Bolton and see the dozens of mill chimneys, mostly still working then, while turning north the moors stretched out before you. And it was cosy when you got the fire going, and no-one could say you were killed for work, with just a couple of trains each hour and the occasional goods on and off the branch. Years ago it had been on a through route to Scotland. Lancashire and Yorkshire expresses joined up with The Midland at Hellifield. Well before my time. Or so I thought.

At the time, we were working short-handed. My mate Joe Hepburn had retired three months previous and management were dragging their feet about filling the vacancy. So we were on regular twelve hours, George Ashcroft and myself. Good for the money, but not for your social life; nor, as I began to think, for your sanity.

Have you ever been to a Form 1 hearing? It’s probably different nowadays but back then it probably hadn’t changed since Victorian times. You sat there like a naughty schoolboy, usually accompanied by your union spokesman. If it was serious, the Area Manager would take the case and he’d read out the charge: “You are charged with the under-mentioned irregularity….etc.” A clerk would be sat in the background, taking notes of the ordeal and loving every minute of it, most times.

A good union man will use every argument in the book – and out of it – to get the poor bugger on the charge as good a deal as possible. I had a better success rate than many full-time union officers. I had just one rule: I never told a lie to get a member off the hook. If you pull that one, it might work the first time, but the boss would make it bloody hard for you the next. And that next time you might have had a genuine case.

So can you imagine how I felt, with 30 years’ service, including 20 as branch secretary, when I got that Form 1 addressed to me. But I’d been expecting it. And I thought I’d be the up the road.

The hearing was on a Friday morning in January 1984 at 09.00, in the Area Manager’s Office on Bolton station. Jack Bracewell, the AM, was an old hand whom I knew him from his days on the footplate. He was one of that dying breed of railway manager who’d started off at the bottom – as an engine cleaner at Plodder Lane shed – and worked his way up the ladder.

Ironically, I’d got him off the hook, years ago, by which time he’d got booked as a driver at Bolton. He was driving a loose-coupled coal train from Rose Grove to Salford Docks and I happened to be on duty at Astley Bridge Junction at the time, on relief. I got the’ train on line’ bell from Bromley Cross box but I had an engine off the branch waiting at my starter to go back to the shed, so I couldn’t give the coal train a road. He’d have to wait at my home signal, just up from the end of the viaduct.

I heard a long piercing wheel then a series of short ‘crows’ – the steam whistle code for a runaway. I saw the train coming down the bank, with one of the old ‘Austerity’ locos, passing the home signal at danger. She was away, no doubt about it. Not going that fast but fast enough to give that light engine a nasty surprise if she caught up with it. Just as the loco passed the box I got ‘line clear’ from Bolton West and I quickly offered the light engine. It was accepted and I was able to clear my starter to get the light engine out of the way. The coal train shuddered to a halt just a few wagon lengths beyond my box.

The driver – Jack Bracewell – was quickly out of his cab and up the cabin steps. “Sorry mate – there was no holding her. Overloaded to start off with – we nearly stuck in Sough Tunnel – and that old wreck’s brake wouldn’t stop a push bike, ne’er mind 40 o’coal. Anyroad, put it in t’book and I’ll answer for passing that home board”.

Now some signalmen I knew would book a driver for not having his hair combed right, but I wasn’t going to get anyone into trouble if I could help it – even if he was an ASLEF man and I was NUR! “Didn’t you see?” I asked, “I pulled off for you to drop down to my starter just as you approached. Forget it.” We exchanged looks and Jack turned to leave. “Thanks mate – if you’re ever stuck, I’ll return the favour.”

I looked out of the cabin window and saw him climb back into the cab of his grimy ‘Austerity’, wheezing steam from everywhere but now looking calm and innocent after her wild descent from Walton’s Siding. I soon got ‘train out of section’ bell from Bolton West for the light engine and was able to pull off for Jack’s train. The wagons shuddered and screeched and he was back on his way to Salford Docks. The guard in the brake van looked a bit ashen-faced after his experience but I got a friendly and slightly relieved-looking wave from him.

That must have been….. what? 1959? Jack had come a long way since then, getting into management somewhere down south then promoted to Area Manager back in Bolton. Poacher turned gamekeeper we used to say. And the battles we had on the LDC! But at least you knew where you were with him. He was a railwayman and knew his job, and everyone else’s. That’s more than you can say for most of today’s management whizz-kids.

That day of the hearing I broke one of my golden rules. Never go into a disciplinary hearing without union representation. We’d fought hard for that right and many genuine cases were lost because someone thought they didn’t need any help. With me, it was more embarrassment than anything. I thought of asking Benny Jones the full-time officer, or some of my old mates on the NEC. But no, none of them would believe my story and I’d look a bloody fool. I went through that door on my tod, feeling very alone: one of the worst moments of my life.

Jack was at his desk, with the young woman clerk, Joyce Williams, sat at his side, pen in hand. She was one of the better ones, and I think she had a TSSA card.

“Good morning Mr Hartshorn. Please sit down.” Jack was looking more bloody nervous than me. And Christ! I was a nervous wreck. He read the charge: ”You are charged with the under-mentioned irregularity. That on Wednesday December 24th 1983 you made incorrect entries in The Train Register Book, contrary to Signalmen’s Instructions and Rule Book Section such-and-such….What have you got to say in your defence?”

I looked across at Mr Jack Bracewell, Area Manager, London Midland Region. He’d put on weight since leaving the footplate; his face was a bright red and his hair receding. Maybe down to the hard time I’d given him at LDC meetings.

But today the advantage was firmly his – though you wouldn’t have thought so by the look of him. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. “Joyce” he blurted out…”turn that bloody heating down before we all roast.” The clerk jumped up and obeyed the command. The ball was now in my court.

“Before I give you my explanation Mr Bracewell I just want to remind you that I’ve always been straight when I’ve been representing my members in front of you. And I’m going to be straight with you now – however unbelievable it all might sound.”

“Of course…of course, get on with it.”

“Right. I relieved my mate at 6.00pm, as you know we were on 12 hours. I was sober, you can ask George to verify that if you want. We chatted for a few minutes about what we were doing over the holiday and then George signed off. “Could be a bad ‘un” I remember him saying about the weather; the snow had already started though lucky for him he didn’t live that far away. We wished each other ‘all the best’ and off he went down the cabin steps.

He’d left a good fire; the pot-bellied stove was glowing red. I settled myself down in the easy chair, with a quiet night’s work ahead of me. I saw the last ‘passenger’ through at 21.30h. It’s in the book. The only other scheduled train that night was the empty stock for Newton Heath at about 03.00. After it had gone I had permission to close the cabin early and not re-open until the following Monday, when I was early turn at 06.00.

I made a brew and settled down with my book – a thriller, funnily enough. To be honest I probably dozed off, at least for a few minutes. I was jolted out of my snooze by a ‘call attention’ bell from Bolton West.  I wondered what on earth it could be. I looked at the clock and it showed 23.35. I gave the ‘1’ signal back to Bolton West and they offered me a ‘4’ – the bell code for an express passenger train, as you know, sir. The first thing that came into my mind was that the wires were down on the main line and Control was diverting some trains for Scotland via the Settle-Carlisle Line. It happens quite often, though it was very odd that I hadn’t got a circuit to tell me. Perhaps I’d been in more of a sleep than I thought and had missed the wire. I sent the signal on to Bromley Cross, got ‘line clear’ and pulled off – home board, starter and distant. Five minutes later I received a ‘2’ – train on line from Bolton West. I expected to hear the roar of a diesel engine, but instead I heard the steady, slow puff of a steam locomotive, obviously labouring on the gradient out of Bolton.

All I could think was that it must have been some sort of special working back to the museum at Carnforth, routed by Hellifield. It was a strange time to run it, but what was I to know?  It was snowing very heavily by now, the wind blowing the flakes against the cabin windows so you could hardly see out. The tracks were completely covered.

The headlamps of the engine came into view; she’d slowed down even more and was barely moving though sparks were coming out of the chimney like a firework display.

“Aye the fireman would have the dart in to get the fire going,” said Jack reverting to his old footplate patter, quickly adding “but well, that’s if there was an engine…obviously. Delete that comment, Joyce.”

When the engine was almost level with the cabin the steam was shut off and the train came to a stand. I managed to open the cabin door, pushing the snow back, to get a better view.

Through the blizzard I could see that it wasn’t one of the usual preserved locos you sometimes get – she looked older, but well kept. The paintwork looked jet black and across the tender I could make out the words ‘Lancashire & Yorkshire’.

She looked like one of those ‘Lanky’ Atlantics that some of the older signalmen used to talk about, when I was a train booker in my teens. ‘Highflyers’ they called them, with high-pitched long boilers. Very fast engines. But i couldn’t recall any being saved from the scrapheap.

The coaches looked vintage too, though i couldn’t see much of them through the snow. It was blowing like an arctic gale, and curious though I was, I had to shut the door.

A moment later I heard footsteps coming up to the cabin. There was a rap on the door window. I took off the snack and opened the door to what looked like an oldish man – a gnarled face with a drooping moustache and eyes like red-hot coals. His hands were pitted and scarred. This didn’t look like some middle-class train enthusiast who did the occasional firing turn for the fun of it.

He walked in, shaking the snow off and carefully wiping his boots on the mat. “Short o’steam mate – they’re givin’ us rubbish t’burn wi’t’colliers on strike.”

By now I could get a proper look at him. He was dressed in old fashioned railway overalls which I’d only seen in history books. He had a very dignified appearance, reminding me of some of the old Methodist preachers I knew as a kid.

It was news to me that the miners were on strike, but that didn’t click at first. It took me a few seconds before I could say anything – though I offered him a brew and asked him to sign the Train Register Book, according to rule.

A few moments later more footsteps told me that his mate – the driver – was coming up for a warm as well. He looked about the same age as his fireman, slightly smaller with a long greying beard speckled with snowflakes and coal dust. He had similar overalls to his mate but wore a shirt and tie, with a shiny watch chain disappearing into his waistcoat pocket. He wore the L&Y insignia on his lapel. I remember thinking that if these two lads were steam buffs, they were certainly sticklers for historical accuracy.

The driver said, to no-one in particular, “There’ll be hell to play o’er this. Runnin’ short o’ steam on this job, we’st booath be on th’carpet o’Monday. It’s noan mi mates fault though – it’s that bad coyl they’re givin’ us. Tha cornt wark this sort o’job, wi’ nine bogies an just an hour to geet fro’ Bowton to Hellifield, wi nowt but th’best coyl. Th’bosses durnt give a bugger though – they just put th’blame on th’men.”

I didn’t know what to think. Was I caught up in an elaborate practical joke? Or was I in a time warp? I reminded myself that I hadn’t been drinking. Maybe I was still asleep and this was a very vivid dream. Yes – that was it. I’d soon wake up and get ‘call attention’ for the Newton Heath empties.

But it continued. The fireman went over to the stove to warn his pock-marked hands. “Th’company thinks as it con do what it wants wi’ us. It allus has done. But it’s geet a shock comin’. There’s talk o’one big union for all railwaymen after last year’s strike. Federation ‘ud be a good start. They’ve kept us divided for too long, grade agen grade, men agen men.”

The fireman halted for a while, feeling the heat return to his hands, and then continued “Aw’ve waited for th’day when we’d beat the company for a long time. Aw’ve suffered through bein’ a union man and socialist, like mony another. Moved fro’ shed t’ shed. Tret like dirt. Neaw there’s a change comin’.

The driver explained that his mate had been victimised following his part in the Wakefield strike…I’d never heard of it, even though I’d been a union man myself for 20-odd years. I had read about something kicking off around Wakefield in the union history, but that was way, way back. The bearded driver continued the story, explaining that the strike was broken by the company using fitters to drive the engines, with passenger guards providing the route knowledge. “Usual tale – divide an’ rule!” he added. The leaders were either sacked or transferred and told they’d be married to a shovel for the rest of their working lives. 

His fireman finally ended up at Newton Heath shed, after several moves to holes like Bacup, Lees and Colne Lanky. He was still a fireman after 40 years service with no prospect of getting booked as a driver.

But hang on, was I playing a bit part in some union-sponsored costume drama? I could just remember reading about a big strike in 1911, before the NUR was formed. Were these blokes having me on?

“Aye,” said the driver. “There’ll be changes soon, reet enough. Anyroad, Aw’ll goo an’ oil reawnd. Valves are starting to pop so looks like we’ve got steam! Good night mate, and all the best.”

The fireman stayed a few moments longer and stood gazing round the cabin. “All reet these modern cabins, eh? Tha’s a bloody sight better off nor us locomen. Look what we’ve to put up wi’!” pointing outside to the snow-swept cab of his engine. “Still,” he continued, we know the long heawrs you lads have forced on you – sixteen hour days wi’ no overtime pay.” I thought of some of my mates, for whom the idea of working sixteen hours would be heaven – providing they got time and a half.

“Well brother. Aw’ll geet back – she’s blowin’ off neaw. She’ll get us up th’bank to Walton’s. Sooner we’re at Hellifield and relieved bi Midland men, the better. Hellifield lodging house allus does a gradely breakfast. Good neet and thanks for th’brew. Aw con tell a comrade when aw meet one.”

I watched him climb back onto the footplate and start shovelling more coal into the firebox. His mate stood by the long regulator handle, lit up by the glare from the fire. A shrill high-pitched whistle pierced the blizzard and the train began to move, with a powerful exhaust cutting through the snow storm.

I turned to my desk and looked at the Train Register Book. I noticed the fireman’s entry: “Detained within protection of signals. Rule 55.” The signature looked like ‘J.Weatherby’. If they were ghosts, they could sign their name!

I looked out of the cabin window and could just see the tail lamp in the distance. Suddenly it was gone, consumed by the blizzard. I gave a ‘2’ – train entering section – to Bromley Cross and sent the 2-1, train out of section, back to Bolton West. The entries are in the book and they were accurate to the minute. Both were recorded at 23.55.

The phone rang. It was Ernie Woodruff at Bolton West. “What’s that 2-1 tha just sent? Hasta gone daft?”

We nearly had a row. I told him he’d sent me a ‘4’ and the train had been detained at the box. I didn’t tell him what sort of train it was. Ernie denied sending the signal and said there’d been nothing on the block since the last passenger at 21.30. Anyway I thought, the proof would be when the train reaches Bromley Cross. That would show who’s daft, so I thought.

It never reached Bromley Cross. Ten minutes later, the signalman – Jack Seddon – rang to ask where this ‘4’ was. There was no sign of it on his track circuit. I told him he’d been having trouble and had maybe stuck again. It’s not unknown, even in the modern age, on that steeply-graded stretch of line.

We let another ten minutes pass and then decided something was up. As luck would have it, the Newton Heath empties were running early and were approaching Bromley Cross from Blackburn. Jack ‘put back’ his signals and cautioned the driver of the diesel train to inspect the line ahead. The train arrived at my box and the driver came into the box. He reported not having seen anything.

The driver – it was Jim Woods, an ex-Bolton man I’d know for years – asked how I was. I knew what was going through his mind. I’d had a few Christmas Eve drinks too many before signing on. I said I was OK but I was anything but. At 01.00, as you’ll see in the book, I rang Control and asked for relief. I was no longer sure of my own sanity, and that’s the truth of it. I felt faint and disoriented. Jim made me a strong cup of tea and stayed with me until the block inspector, John Brooks, arrived to relieve me and close the box.

“You’ve heard the lot – make of it what you like Mr Bracewell.”

Jack sat back in his chair – so far he nearly overbalanced. It was a few seconds before he spoke…it seemed like a very long time.

“Joyce, love, go and make us a cup of tea will you. And one for Mr Hartshorn.”

The clerk got up and left the room, leaving us alone. “Right John. This is off the record, just thee an’ me. You’d had a few, right? It was Christmas. Just tell me the truth. I owe you a favour, we’ll get round this somehow. Listen, if anybody else had told me that load of bollocks I’d have had ‘em cleaning out the carriage shed shit house before they could say boo to a bleedin’ goose. Now come on.”

“I’m sorry Jack, I don’t expect you, nor anyone else, to believe it. I wouldn’t myself if someone else I’d been representing had told me all that.

Bracewell was quite for several minutes. This was the man I knew. Working out a plan, weighing up the options.

“Look, he said at last. “I’ll tell you what. You’d been under strain with all those 12 hour shifts. You’d had a lot of union work on too. Maybe you’d had a few pints before coming on duty and you fell asleep. You’re brain wandered.”

“Sure Jack. But how can anyone explain the entry in the Train Register Book?”

“Easy.  We’ll just say you’d been dreaming and….err….” he dried up.

“Who was it that signed the book Jack? That’s not my signature. It looks like ‘J. Weatherby’. Who was this character that signed the book?”

“Who signed the book….who….” he mumbled and went quiet.

He came up with another ‘solution’. “I know. There’s a platelayer called ‘Weatherall’ isn’t there?”

“Aye, I responded. Dave Johnny Weatherall. He was on snow duty at Bolton East that night as it happens but didn’t came anywhere near Astley Bridge.”

“Never mind that. We can say he came up to check the points and made a balls-up of the entry in to the Train Register Book.”

“Listen Jack. I’m not getting anyone else into bother over this. It’s my problem, no-one else’s.”

“Look you awkward bugger. I owe you a good turn. And I’m going to do you one if I have to get paid up for doing it. Nothing ‘ll happen to Weatherall, I’ll see to that. Trust me.”

I did. I went along with his tale. I got off with a reprimand; I was lucky. Extremely lucky. If it had been that young Assistant AM – fresh out of college – taking the case it might have been dismissal. But it didn’t solve the problem for me. What had happened that night? Had I temporarily gone mad? I could never really trust myself handling traffic again until I was sure, one way or the other.

I took a few days leave that were due to me and then resumed at Astley Bridge Junction. I was on days – we were back to 8 hour shifts. On the first day a group of workmen arrived.

“You’re in luck mate!” the foreman beamed. “You’re getting them mod-cons you’ve been after all these years”. The gang set to work taking out the old fittings, removing the old stove and putting in a gas heater, new toilet, modern block equipment and even new lino for the floor.

It wasn’t until the following day they started work on the last job, stripping out the old linoleum floor covering, that had been polished zealously by generations of signalmen. It was a messy and disruptive job getting it out.

I was trying to complete a member’s  accident claim for head office when one of the lads piped up: “Hey, look at these old newspapers stuffed under the lino. Bet they’re worth a bob or two!”

I went over and picked one of them up. The paper was perished and discoloured. But I could read it well enough. It was the front page of The Bolton Evening News for December 26th, 1912.


I read on. The train was a Scotch extra for the Christmas holidays, routed via Settle. The viaduct had collapsed at about midnight and the train careered into the river below. There was a list of casualties who had been identified so far. The catalogue of men, women and several children made tragic reading.

At the end of the list was “Mr James Weatherby, the fireman of the locomotive”.


The Salvo Publications List

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 8 Moorhey Cottages, Bretherton, Leyland PR26 9AE. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £9.90 including post and packing. New edition published in May 2016. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896?. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

 ‘Songs of a Northerner‘  by Jo Barnes. Photos by Paul Salveson. Price £3.50 inc postage  – please make cheques payable to ‘The Jo Barnes Fund’. A lovely collection of Jo’s poems written in the two years before she died; about landscape, emotions and day dreams.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: