Ups and downs of steam (1943-1996)

Location : Great Yarmouth, Norwich

Edmund was born in Great Yarmouth and began work in 1943 as an apprentice in post-war reconstruction there. He then worked on the Railways based in the Carpenter’s shop in Norwich. He gives a fascinating picture of the world of steam engines and the transition to diesel. He tells where the nameplate on the Norwich City engine finished up, and what happened to the stationmaster’s coach during the 1953 floods.

I started work in 1943 during the war and one of my jobs was to be apprenticed with a firm called E. Moore and Sons. During the War there wasn’t a lot doing, but only by the fact the forces were still in the town and we had to provide tables and chairs and everything else made by the firm for these people to use. When the war finished in 1945 we had to put things back to square one again, such as houses which had no glass in, roofs on. So we were actually repairing the houses for people to come back into town to live again.

Rebuilding after the War in Yarmouth – fish houses and the circus

The fish houses were all down the South Denes of Yarmouth and were for curing herring, which were kippers, bloaters, red herring (which were used in this country and abroad in Greece), and gutting them. With the amount of boats that were there and used to go out of Yarmouth, you could walk across the river. To actually use a fish house, you had to use sruff, which was wood shavings which they set light to and the smoke went into what they called the louvers to cure the herring. When they were cured they were packed. The Scotch girls came down every year in the winter time and stayed till well after Christmas. They used to gut the herring on the quay and put them into barrels with salt. To preserve them – that’s like they were in a fridge. They were all barrelled up and sent abroad to Russia, Greece – anybody that liked herring.

My job was to repair the fish houses which were in a deplorable state. A lot had little doors at the top we had to re-rope, the doors and the louvers all had to be repaired. Steeps were where they soaked the fish until they were made into red herrings or anything like that. Kippers were either dyed or they were smoke cured properly.

When I worked at the fish houses the Italian prisoners of war were still here. While I was apprenticing there, one of the said could he borrow my bike. I said, ‘Yes, as long as you get back time enough so I can leave off work.’ Which was something around five o’clock. I waited and waited and waited, and the time was getting away, when all of a sudden the Italian prisoner of war came riding down the road. I said, ‘Where the hell ‘a you been?’ He said (Italian accent): ‘I’ve been to see my girlfriend.’ She was an ATS girl at Caister camp which is more than five or six miles away. I said that would be the last time he borrowed my bike! The Italians also had all the best food, which we hadn’t seen for a long while. Butter, tomatoes, everything appertaining to the table, they had and we didn’t.

I stayed with Moore’s until 1948, working on a lot of the houses that had been bombed and built them up again with new brickwork. A lot of the servicemen came home after the war and took their old jobs back; that meant that the people who didn’t have the experience – I was one of them – were left without a job. So you had to search around for jobs. I nearly diverted from the building trade to weaving, ‘cos we had a place at Yarmouth called Grout’s, they were Grout’s silk mills. The silk mills during the war did everything, they made silk for parachutes and everything else. I’d had enough of being unemployed, I’d been out of work for a week or a fortnight. That seemed a long time, to me it did! And I was given the opportunity to go to the silk mills.

I had the intention to do the interview, but I refused after a gent came round and asked would I start with a firm called Hipperson’s, which was from Dagenham. They were down here for bomb damage, and they were continuing the work down here while they had the contracts. One of the contracts was to do the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome up, which was where the Circus was. The roof was badly damaged by the fact that shrapnel went through the zinc roof, which was flat. It was a longish job, we went for nearly a year. We repaired the roof – I had to do the timberwork on it before we put the zinc down again. Then we went inside and worked on all the animal stalls, seats, doors – the front doors and everything to bring it back to square one. The circus started up again after that, mind you I didn’t get the opportunity for a free ticket or anything!

The firm was going back to Dagenham and I had the opportunity to go with the firm to Lakenheath, the aerodrome, which meant living in digs. I’d always been a home-orientated man, so I didn’t go for that idea. I finished and went on the labour again and didn’t like the idea of that. My father had been on the railway – he eventually landed up retired with 45 years’ service – he was on the railway at Southtown and Vauxhall and he said why don’t try for a job on the railway. I tried Lowestoft first. That was with British Railways, at what they call the sleeper depot. They did repairs to stations and everything else. They had all the sleepers down there and used to soak ’em in creosote to make ‘em last. But I didn’t get a job there.

Working on the railway in the carpenters’ shop

I then went to Norwich ‘cos my father pulled a few strings and went to see a certain gentleman on the railway, a Mr Newby. He said, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing at the present moment in carpentry, but you can come on the railway as a labourer.’ I took the job, but he said ‘The carpenter at present keeps going off sick. There is a possibility he will be backwards and forwards like a yoyo. So I said, ‘Yes, I’ll take the job.’ And it was hardly a week or a fortnight before this gentleman went sick again. He said, ‘Right, you’re promoted to carpenter.’ He said, ‘Not a permanent thing, but you’ll still have a job.’ Eventually the gentleman decided he would retire. He was in bad health so they gave me the job.

But when I put my application in properly for the carpenter’s job I had to put the truth down, like I normally did, and they asked me why I didn’t go into the forces. When I finished my time as an apprentice, you were called up for the two years’ service in the forces. British Rail wanted to know the reason I didn’t go in. The reason for it was I had varicose veins. The army doctor said to me ‘If you go into the forces then you will have a lot of that time taken up having them done. (The two years was down to 18 months.) We will class you as grade 4, because with the time taken up having it operated on, the time you have for convalescence, that’s not worthwhile coming in’. At the railways I had to go and see the railway medical doctor, which at the time was on Prince of Wales’s Road in the social club; they tested you for colour blindness, even then if you weren’t going on the footplate they tested you for all different things. The thing I had to put down was varicose veins. They more or less said, ‘You can’t stop on the railway.’ That broke my heart nearly but the gentleman we’d seen in the first place he said, ‘Well, if you have them operated on and it is a success you can start on the railway.’ I had them operated on not long afterwards.

I got the job, and started in the carpenters’ shop – mind you at that particular time they must have had the medical before the gentleman retired because he came back and we all worked in the shop together. There was another workman named Fred Mann. The carpenter’s name was Fred Spurgeon. He lived on the river at Wroxham. He lived on a riverboat. And he used to smoke a lot. And what I think was outstanding from Fred Spurgeon, he used to light a cigarette up and stand them up with the lighted end upright, so that the smoke raised. Then he would forget where he’d laid one and he’d light another one up. And when I used to go home at half past four and catch the train home to Yarmouth, I used to look back into the carpenter’s shop and it was just like an Indian camp. I had to go round and put all these cigarettes out – in a wood shop!

He was a grand fellow. He really taught me a lot. He used to do all the repairs, and we used to make the floorboards up for the engines, fit the metal sections, hinges and plates – repair the shovels, the pickaxes if they’d broken, which they did do quite a lot. Anything that was appertaining to the engine, we used to repair. We had other depots – there were three at Yarmouth: Yarmouth Beach, Vauxhall, Southtown. You had Lowestoft, you had Wells, Dereham, City Station – Norwich City Station that was still there – Melton Constable, and Cromer High. We used to have to make all the cases and frames to hold the notices and rules that came out to what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. Each loco had to have one of your frames or cases. Then we used to have to go out and put them up.

Another one of our jobs was to repair all the cleaning ladders to repair the engines. Next door to the carpenters’ shop was a grinding shop and they used to do all the grinding and different things. When the Queen used to go to Sandringham they had two engines bullied up – really bullied up. They used to paint inside the cabs, clean all the brass-work, and tallow the sides of the engine. They used to take all the buffers off, couplings, take them into this grinding shop alongside me, grind them so they were polished. Most probably the Queen didn’t even see what the engine was like. But as I say, that was one of the jobs. Loads of jobs we had really. I also used to go out with the fitter to the water cranes and put the frost protectors into them and pack them so they didn’t freeze up. You name it, I’ve done it on the railway.

However, we had nothing to do with the carriages. They came all under ‘carriage and wagon’ department. We were the motor power side. And that was all dealing with steam engines. I had 80-odd steam engines at Norwich to see after. Which is enough really. But you couldn’t catch them all during the week. If you got a bad one where somebody had cleaned the firebox out and dropped some cinders on the floor and burned it, you’d have to work on it the rest of the week until it came in on a Sunday. We used to work Sundays. Every other Sunday. There were three of us in the carpenters shop eventually. So we used to take our turn on Sundays. Then we changed the floorboards. When you had a tank engine you had to strip it out. And there was so much coal underneath the bearers and the timberwork that it took you at least three or four hours to shovel the dust and coal-muck from underneath so you could get your bearer down again and nail your floorboards down again. We used to just chuck the goal to the side where the engine was and we used to leave the cleaners to clear it up. Repairing the floorboards on engines in the shed was very dark and you didn’t have electric light. You had these wick-ed lamps. They were a piece of wick outside and a vessel with a spout on it. You lit the wick at the end, and it gave off a lot of fumes so the shed was as black as the ace of spades. The engine was most probably being readied for steam and you couldn’t put the blower on to get rid of the smoke, so the smoke used to come back at you. What with your wick-ed lamp and the smoke coming out of the firebox, it was a bit uncomfortable and you didn’t come out clean.

A cleaner, or firelighter, would go into the firebox, place his wood and whatever he could grab hold of and his swarf. They called it swarf, that was like cotton – old cotton. They used to clean the engines with it and put paraffin on these – a wad – and put the wood on it, light it, then put the coal round it until it burnt up. But you had nothing to get rid of that smoke out of the chimney. The only reason you got the smoke out of the chimney is when you built up enough steam pressure so you could open the blower pipe to let the smoke go out of the chimney. That took the smoke from where you were standing away from the fire-hole door and you were on the way to build your steam up for the engine to move.

Talking about steam

In the carpenters’ shop we had a sort of a tortoise stove and you’d go and get coal off the engines. And you’d have this stove going from early morning until late at night, until you went home. You couldn’t leave it alight. You had to let it out eventually, and light it the next morning – that was our form of heat. But you never had anywhere to wash. There were no washing facilities there. You used to get a bucket, either put it on the stove and hope that got hot enough. In fact, if you were pushed for time and you forgot to put the bucket on the top of the stove, you went into the engine in the sheds and opened the slacker pipe and the steam would come out of the pipe at the side and fill your bucket up. They also set you up with soap – which was a rough old soap, and you used to wash your hands and face before you went home. If you opened the slacker pipe too much your bucket was blown down the shed, because the force of the steam sent the bucket all the way down. So you had to be very careful how much you opened the slacker pipe after you climbed on the footplate. It was scalding hot.

There was very little health and safety, and the toilets were absolutely inadequate really. They had about 12 half doors, all in a line, with one charge box at the end that used to fill up and every now and again that flowed to flush a long pipe which passed through each cubicle which had a hole in the pipe (must have been two-foot diameter) 12 times that – with two pieces of wood either side of the hole. And you used to do your ‘jobs’ and eventually that would flush and send it down to the sewer. The annoying part about it was, the cleaners used to go down there and for tom-foolery used to get a bit of swarf, which I told you was cotton wool, put some paraffin on, wait for it to charge to flush and put the lighted piece in so that went all the way along the pipe. And everybody was shouting and bawling because they let a flame go down there!

Colleagues and railway engines

We had some right characters. I’ll go from the top downwards who was in charge of me:

My first gov’ner, a real gov’ner, he used to come down to the carpenters’ shop first thing in the mornings and see me, because I had a lot of conversation – like I’m having now. He used to have a black, very smart overcoat, a homburg hat, like an Anthony Eden hat. And he was ever so short, a lot shorter than me. He must have been about five foot tall. But he made up for it. his name was Mr Verrica. Couldn’t call him anything else bar Mr Verrica. He had a house on Unthank Road, and in fact one or two times I went up to his house and did some repairs for him. But that’s another story. He had me in his office one particular time, because he knew I was interested in steam and he was – shall I say, apprenticed – to Sir Nigel Gresley. Well, Sir Nigel Gresley made all the streamliners and streamline engines. And he had some photographs which he showed me one particular time, and he said, ‘Can you notice the difference between them two engines?’ I said, ‘I’m afraid I can’t.’ So he said, ‘Have a good look.’ And I had a good look and I could see something that was wrong. I said, ‘Near the firebox …’ that was casing near the firebox. It had a straight line. But this particular one had got sort of hammer marks on it. And that was because it was hand-made. The rest of the engines were done by press.

My next in charge was the assistant superintendent Mr Lindop – very good conscientious gov’ner he was. He took over from Mr Verrica when he went on holiday.

Then there was Mr Bill Hardy. He lived down Thunder Lane. He had worked on the South African Railway. He was classed as a shed master. They all had trilby hats. That was the style of railways at that particular time.

The next man after him was Mr Bramble. (You couldn’t call them by their first names, in fact they pulled you up if you did.) Mr Bramble, he was a senior foreman. I don’t know where he came from, but they all came from different areas over the country. Because it was then British Railways.

Another man under him, Mr Kent, was an ordinary foreman. He’d come and give you your orders, or you used to go to him if you were late; you had to toe the line, you weren’t allowed to swear or anything like that.

Going back to engines again, I think the numbers on the engines (this will be interesting to railway people) were all numbered in this area, with 32A disks on the engines.

I went to Melton Constable one particular time. That was very very interesting. You could just imagine how they worked building engines there. I can’t think of the name of the person … he built the engines. I went into the shed where they had been built. They had a little miniature railway round the outside. They had a little electric coal hopper for the engines to coal up. At the end of the platform the celebrities had their own waiting room. The drawing office – oh that was marvellous! They had a sort of verandah all the way round to each room and each room had a gas lamp over the desk. The desk was supported from the wall and you could just imagine them with their drawing paper drawing all the engines they wanted to build. But when I went back there later on, when they did really finish the M&GN – not completely. They left the shed – inside the shed was all truck sheets. What they did with the truck sheets, they used to put linseed oil on them, then pull them right up into the roof to hang them there to dry and they were no more than three inches apart. That was a shame to see a place like that used for that particular thing. But I’ve been back since then and it seems like the place has been pulled down. The old water tower is still there. That’s about the only thing that’s left.

Melton Constable eventually finished. They did away with the lovely turntable. In fact, the irony of it is, when all the timber and bits and pieces came back to Norwich, it was all put at the back of my workshop. It was three-inch oak, the walkways of the turntable. I’ve now got that in my shed – I’ve got it as a bench. So a piece of nostalgia of the old Melton Constable M&GN turntable. The roof in my shed is a box wagon roof. When they used to destroy a box wagon they used the pieces and I asked for some of them. And we used to pay one and ninepence a load. So you could load up and the lorry used to take it home. So I built my shed and the timbers holding the matching on the sides.

We used to have women typists, timekeepers – in fact I built the place to go to clock off and clock on. I had another good friend who was a fitter there. He was originally one of Melton Constable’s vacuum fitters. The vacuum fitters do all the brakes on engines and anything else. His name was Harry Williamson. One of his hobbies was to repair clocks. And the clocks inside this little lobby-way where the timekeeper, he repaired these.

Another little story – before I put this lean-to in the place so you could put the clocks in to clock in and out, which the photograph shows you we were making the doors for the lobby-way. They found out that a cleaner – his name was Kenny Batson – was originally started off as a cabinet maker, which is a very specialised job. They asked him to join us in the Carpenters shop. His father introduced him to the railway and he came on the railway as a cleaner. From a cleaner you stepped up; you went from cleaner, fireman (or acting fireman), acting driver and then a driver. It took years for you to get that experience. Today I think they just go and sit in a room, do an essay and they’re a driver straight away. My father was on the railway for 45 years and he went up to the war years on the footplate and had to come off through ill health and he wasn’t even a driver. He was an acting driver, but he never got to driver.

When I used to go to work – I used to catch the seven four from Vauxhall, go up to Norwich, cross over the metals (which you shouldn’t do), and I used to sign on by eight o’clock. If you were ever late, you had to fill a form in to say the reason for you being late. If you were late more than six times you were suspended. If you were late after that you were finished all together. If you stole anything or borrowed anything, you got the sack as well.

I used to leave off at five o’clock and catch the five twenty home. Used to get home about six o’clock. I used to bike from Vauxhall Station to home.

The Norwich City nameplate

When the railways started to get rid of steam they scrapped a lot of the engines, and my shed master – Mr. Hardy – was trying to get hold of the nameplate of a certain engine based at Norwich. It was a B17, green in colour and it had the Norwich City name on it, because it was one of the Football Class. They took the names of football teams, Leicester City – in fact, Leicester City was at Southtown for quite a while. He eventually got permission to buy both the nameplates off the Norwich City engine. He presented one of the plates to Norwich football ground. Me and a chap named Frank Mallet, who was a fitter, we both went over there with a ladder and put it over the entrance to Norwich football ground. But I’ve noticed they removed it and put it on the inside where the actual players come out onto the green. But I can understand why, because they got so expensive that they were most probably frightened that it was going to be stolen.

‘Norwich City’ nameplate

Special engines

When my father was at Southtown and he used to be in charge of the cleaners. And one particular engine he really enjoyed cleaning was 62546, which was Class Claude Hamilton. Claude Hamilton was the designer of the actual engine. The only one that was named as far as I know.

Claude Hamilton class locomotive at Southtown.

We had lots of engines at Norwich. Springbok was one, a B1. Of course when the Britannias came – ‘Britannia’ was the first one at Norwich – we were over the moon. We were only too pleased to get on the footplate and have a look at her. Mind you, she had some woodwork on her, in front of the fire hole. Totally modern to what we were used to – Oliver Cromwell was there, Robin Hood, lots of other names. The first lot that came out, there was a fault with them. One of the engines was going up to Ipswich and she shed a side rod. It went into the ground, and trailed at the side until she was towed in. They took an inventory of what was wrong with her. They found out the side rods were far too heavy for the engine, and that the wheels on the engine had hollow axles, so with the hollow axle and big side rod the wheel slipped on the axle. That caused the side rod to break. They took them all to the works, filled the axles in, and they were never any more trouble.

That’s as much history as I can tell you – I’ve had rides on them. I took the opportunity. On one of the opportunities I had, when I used to leave off work and catch the twenty past five train I used to go over the metals. Sometimes I couldn’t cross over because there was fog, so I had to walk all the way round. I used to run down the platform ‘cos I used to leave it till the last minute like I always do. And because my father’s name was Ted they used to call me young Teddy. So, running down the platform, all the drivers knew me, they would call out ‘Teddy. You can’t get in the coach lad, jump on here. Because we have got the right of way.’ I used to jump on the footplate. The engines were called D16s. I mentioned about Claude Hamilton, they were that style of engine. I used to sit behind the driver. Then we used to get just as far as Brundall Halt and he would say, ‘Well, you’re not going to sit there all the way home.’ And they used to give me the shovel and used to fire the engine home. But by the time I got into Vauxhall I was not a pretty colour. The coal dust accumulated in my face, and my wife would say, ‘I know what you’ve been doing. You’ve been firing that engine home again.’

The Melton Constable turntable

The turntable at Melton Constable was vacuum turned, which they coupled up to the vacuum on that engine, and it was more or less like an electric motor. They just let a little steam into it and it moved the turntable. Norwich of all places should have had one. It had a turntable with handles, great big ash handles about seven foot tall, must have been about five inches diameter. They used to go into a shoe on either end of the turntable, but if the driver didn’t watch it he’d foul the handle and push it onto his tender and used to crumple up like a sheep’s horn. So you got an emergency come into the carpenters shop. ‘Go into the stores and get another handle and shape it down into the shoe.’ So you used to have to go and do that. Alongside of that turntable was the coal hopper. The coal hopper used to take trucks. The trucks used to be shunted into it, tip it into the coal hopper and the engines used to get under the coal hopper and fill their tenders up.

Talking about Britannias like we were earlier on. I always remember the engine came back down to the turntable to turn round. There was a Stratford fireman, and driver, and if they were a bit heavy with driving the engine they used to blow three parts of the coal out through the chimney because he’d have his handle wound right down, or wound up, to get back to his depot on time. The fireman used to shovel at least six ton of coal between Norwich and Liverpool Street. And this particular fireman had a shovel, he didn’t have the ordinary firing shovel which is tapered, he had a No. 8 shovel, which is a very wide shovel. He was a strapping great fireman! And the shed master went along there, saw this shovel and he said, ‘Fireman’ – that was Mr Hardy – ‘What are you doing with that shovel?’ So the fireman said, ‘Wha’d’you say?’ ‘What are you doing with that number 8 shovel?’ And he said, ‘What do you think I’m doing, stirring my bloody tea up with it?’ He sort of swallowed hard and walked away to let him get on with it. Which was what he should have done in the first place.

Back to Mr Hardy again. He did a lot of work for the North Norfolk Railway. His pet one was J15, that was a very old engine, six-wheeler – he did a lot of work on that. I only met him once after I left the railways in 20 years and he even remembered me.

The 1953 floods. The stationmaster’s coach.

What else can I tell you about railways? The floods? The 1953 floods. I had to go down to Yarmouth after the floods and repair the shed master’s office floor, because the water had got into it. And there was clinker underneath which rotted the timbers and I had to put a new floor in. On another occasion we were at Norwich, we had a coach given to us. Beautiful coach – I think it was a stationmaster’s relief coach which they used to go and visit different places. We stood that out, lovely doors on that. We left the doors on there, they were all veneered, all with patterns on. And we put a great big pattern all along the edge of the coach, so you can imagine how that was. And at each we put a piano-like end to it, and glass in the front of it – sliding glass. We put a model railway, double 0 gauge supplied by Triang. Triang supplied all the actual materials and put it all in.

In the meantime we lost Mr Verrica, our superintendent (retired) and we had another man come in, Mr Ford. Another superintendent, and he was a bit of an artist and he did all the back scenery to the fixture. And we put three signal boxes in, which had little tiny levers, we used to get signalmen to volunteer to come across into this coach. It was a display coach; the idea was to train firemen and drivers to know if a train uncoupled what they had to do, and where they had to put the detonators to show another engine not to come along. Then they got to walk to the signal box to tell them the engine had derailed or uncoupled from the wagons. To close the road, they also split up the engine parts, which were all brass, to show actually what the parts did. Also, Harry Williamson made a replica of the wheels of an engine with brakes and vacuum to work it. Because years ago when you pulled the chain it pulled the vacuum open and stopped the train. What he made, he got a bit of chain, with a board, put it in the coaches so that a person could put five pence in a box and pull the chain to show you what actually happened when you did pull the chain, the brakes came on. If a false call was made you were fined £5.

The floods came in 1953. It was a while afterwards that they decided to put it down at Vauxhall and have it for flood relief. But we had to put boxes on top of the actual signal working because the kiddies would come along and touch the little tiny levers and we had engines everywhere. They were derailing right left and centre, so we had to put some boxes on there. Where I had some photographs of them but I lent them to someone and never received them back again. They were photographers’ ones. They tell me the coach was broken up and all the stuff was taken out of it. Because I’d left the railway then and the coach was still there.

When the flood was at Southtown, it was very bad. My father, he was a cat-lover, and he had cats over at Southtown in his coaches at the back – the coaches shown in the background near the Claude Hamilton [see photo]. He borrowed a boat to go down and see how the cats were so he could feed them. He found them on the roof of the actual coach. He was pleased, but he nearly got arrested by the fact that they thought he was a looter using a boat.

Steam to diesel. And the Cup run.

I had another photograph which I couldn’t find. We had two 016 engines run into each other in the Vauxhall station. The buffers met, buckled up and the two engines were scrapped straight away, because it became an era when diesel was coming in, diesel railcars, and that was one of my things that I didn’t like. I stayed there on the railway for quite some time with diesel but that was so smelly. I know steam was, but diesel were very smelly. They built a big shed there on Carrow Road, alongside the Boulton and Paul’s timber yards. Right outside Norwich football ground. In fact, we had one occasion when there was a football run, Norwich getting into the Cup, we had our engines going to wherever this football match was going to be played. And they got us in the carpenters shop to do two round discs to go on the engines. I had to get up at four o’clock and go in from Vauxhall to Norwich and help to bolt them onto the front of the engines.

When Norwich got in the premier division, they’d do what they call a cup run. They got into the Cup and they were in the semi-finals. Norwich went mad. Absolutely mad. There wasn’t a seat to be had on any of the trains. And I had to put the discs on the front of the engines. They were sign-written by a professional. But Mr. Hardy got himself in a muddle when he had a good idea. He brought in the carpenters’ shop some irons made so they went on the lamp-brackets. Tubes. And in the two tubes he placed two flags, a yellow and a green one. He put them on the engines – they looked lovely. Like something from Russia. State Train! The back vestibule on the coaches had a magpie or something and a canary all drawn on the back vestibule. Lovely that looked. Then somebody made an enquiry. Where did they get the flags from? And they found out afterwards he’d approached the guards and borrowed the guards’ yellow and green flags what they normally used in their bags – red yellow and green flags. And he got himself told off!

We used to have an oil-store which was for the drivers to go and get their oil, rags and anything they required on the trip. And there used to be two men inside the oil-stores. And above them were tanks, great big tanks with certain types of oils. And that was pumped up when it came in by truck in – forty-gallon drums. And the fellows inside the stores – they were ex-drivers, drivers who had failed their eyesight or something like that. And one ex-driver that was in there, he had the job as the oilman, he had a cap on a peg. And he used to come in every morning and put this cap on, because he knew the tanks leaked. Only drops now and again. He had a wonderful head of hair and we put it down to the oil going into the cap which was on all day.

I joined the railway in 1950 and there was still a gasworks near Boulton and Paul’s timber yard on Riverside Road. And we used to go down there to dip our cans to obtain creosote, from the gas retorts for coating our timber. I used to watch the wagon shunting. A little old shunting engine would be up and down there pushing; I think there must have been at least 14 sidings where they used to push wagons down so they could make a train up to go to certain parts of the country.

I told you about the timekeeping and how we built this lean-to. I tell you another job when we built another lean-to at Lowestoft. You had to go down Denmark road to get to the loco which was right down past the wharf where the docks are. This particular job that we had to do was to a small window at the end of the shed where the drivers and firemen had to sign on to tell what time they arrived. And we made this lean-to because the simple reason, when the engine used to reverse out he’d open his steam cocks on the front of the engine and steam used to blow. And that used to go straight into this little opening where people used to sign and made an absolute mess. So we built a lean-to. That’s another one of our jobs that we had to do. We used to walk down Denmark Road and go to the BR canteen down there and get a lovely meal.

I miss the smell from the railway, the friendliness. They used to say it takes two years to get to know a Norwicher and once you get in with him you’re a friend for life. Everybody was willing to help one another. I knew the turners … there was Jack Burgeon, Frankie Mallet, all since gone. And a turner named Newell, he was the first aid man, very religious. There was a boilermaker, he had a separate workshop. And the copper shop used to be another shop. And then there was the fitters’ shop. There was the wheel drop where they used to do the wheel dropping. The boilermaker was in the shed one particular day and he was f-ing and blinding, and this Mr. Newell who was very religious said, ‘You’ll never go to heaven if you carry on like that. Why do you do it?’ he said, ‘I can tell you the reason for why I do it.’ He said, ‘You see that engine?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ ‘You see those two little brass things on the top, what would happen if one of them broke.’ He said, ‘Well, the engine would blow up.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s what I would do. So I let off steam!’

That was true. I stayed there until diesel came about and still had the job with notices, ladders; we still had one or two engines where we had to repair the shovels and the rest of it. But we had to change the windows on the brush diesels – they were brush diesels. We found that the glass in the front of the brush diesels had a heater. The idea of the heater is to keep off the snow and ice – like a car with a heater in the actual window. But they weren’t strong enough because as they moved off from being stationary they’d fuse. So the drivers used to complain about it. And that was our job to repair them. We made a steel gantry, put it across the pit and they used to be fitted with car rubber. We used to remove the rubber fitted with a dovetail in the middle, we used to fit the new glass and we used to get the electrician to come and connect them. Another one of our jobs used to be blinds, like a bus, you’d turn the handle to the number of the destination. They used to crumple up so we had to go and sort them out. That was a hell of a job, in the diesel shop they used to renew the diesel engines. The fitter lowered the engine into the pit, then lifted them out, put them in a wagon and we used to have to shore the diesel engines in the wagon and send them away to be repaired. There was always something for you to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed the railway. No good saying I didn’t. It was an experience which I’m glad I didn’t miss, but when diesel started to come about, and they got smelly, the exhaust fumes what was in this new shed alongside the football ground at Carrow Road. You could see a cloud come down as they were revving the engines and that was no good to anybody. Then they tried to pump the sump oil out of the pits and I was standing there watching them, and then the pipe burst and the diesel they were pumping up hit me in the arm. I had a nice green shirt on and when my wife washed it it was never green again. A field pea at one side and a garden pea at the other! If that takes the stain out of a shirt, whatever is it doing to your skin! There were many of them going down with dermatitis due to the fact that they were handling it.

My job ended really with the age of the steam engine. There were still one or two engines which they used for steam heating down at Vauxhall or Norwich. They used an engine to pre-heat it, because there weren’t much heat from the diesel, that was electric. So they used to pre-heat the coaches.

When you worked on the railways you were privileged with travel tickets; you got one foreign pass and three eastern passes. When you say foreign, you could go all the way across to the continent. In fact, me and the wife went to Jersey when we were married. It didn’t cost us anything, went to Switzerland and that cost me nineteen and sevenpence, old money, to pay for her third fare from Basle to Lucerne. My father always had these foreign passes but never used them. But he did go one particular year, and that was about two years before he died, he came with us to Jersey and that didn’t cost him anything. You went by train and then boat which was a good privilege. They don’t get nothing like that nowadays. And also you got as many passes as you liked to go on the underground in London, I used to go up there every weekend. Friday nights in the carpenters’ shop I used to get a bucket of water, wash, change, I used to take a change of gear and I used to be up in London by eight o’clock. I was single then. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Me and my mate, Kenny Batson, sometimes worked together. We had to go and do a job at Dereham in the office and stores in the shed. Again, you had a bucket to wash in. Well this particular bucket they had, we said, ‘Good heavens, whatever is that?’ Water was like cheese. They had not changed it for days, they just kept washing in it. So we emptied it out, cleaned it, opened the slacker pipe on the engine, filled the bucket up, washed our hands, and came home. Went the next day, and that hadn’t been changed from the time we went home that day till the time we went there the next day. And that went on like that for about a week. So much for hygiene.

Hobbies of Dereham was there then and we used to go and raid their scrap bin. There was some useful steel in the bins that had been thrown out.

One Sunday we took a steam crane to Wells to lift a coach off the wheels and put it down for a loco shed – a shed for drivers to go and have their meals in, and a conference room. I don’t know if that is there now. They were the jobs we had to do. Also at Ipswich they had a carpenter who retired. They didn’t replace him. When they wanted jobs done at Ipswich we used to travel up and go and do the work required. By the time you got there – and you weren’t allowed to go through the tunnel to the depot, you had to walk all the way round – by the time you got there it was nearly time to come home.

When I finished with the railway, I worked for the Great Yarmouth Borough Council for 29 years. I finished two years before I was 65 and I went to work as a locksmith. My wife worked in the card shop he owned as well and I had a thorough good time locksmithing; something new.

Edmund (b. 1929) talking to WISEArchive on 26th July 2011 in Great Yarmouth.

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