Railway Time, Owls and Bees

Here’s another glimpse of provincial life from Cecil Torr’s Small Talk At Wreyland:

“After the railway came, the trains proclaimed the hours, as most people knew the timetables approximately, calling he 8.19 the 8, the 11.37 the 12, etc. – odd minutes did not count. As the trains upon this branch were ‘mixed’, partly passenger and partly goods, there generally was some shunting to be done; but this caused no delay, as the time-tables allowed for it. If there wsa no shunting, the train just waited at the statino till the specified time was up. The driver of the evening train would often give displays of hooting with the engine whistle while he wsa stopping here, and would stay on over time if the owls were answering back.

The engines on this branch were quite unequal to their work, and there were no effective brakes then. Coming down the incline here, trains often passed the station; and passengers had to walk from where their train had stopped. My grandfather writes to my father, 12 March 1867: ‘On Saturday we had a runaway on the rails. The train passed here at 4 o’clock with 2 carriages 2 trucks and a van, and could not get on further than Sandick road, so unhooked the trucks,and was not careful to secure them, and they went off and passed the station full 40 miles an hour. I was at the stile when they passed. Luckily did no harm and stopped at Teigngrac, and the engine came back and fetched them.’ I once saw a goods train stoping at the statin here, most of it upon the level, but the tail end not clear of he incline; and as soon as the couplings were undone for shunting, the tail end started off with all the other trucks that were behind the couplings. It is a single line, and up and down trains pass at Bovey; and the runaway ran past there. Luckily, no train was coming up.

I fancied that this line was worked in rather an easy-going way, but I found the Eskdale line quite beat it. I took that line from Ravenglass to Beckfoot, 19 August 1906, and there was a carriage-full of bee-hives on the train. Besides stopping at the stations, the driver stopped at places where the bees would make good heather-honey; and the guard got out and fixed the hives there, 2 or 3 at one place, 1 or 2 at another, and so on – It is a little line of 3-foot guage, built in 1875 for bringing iron ore from Boot, and quite transformed since 1906; it is now worked as a toy for trippers, with model engines representing engines for expresses on main lines.

When it was a novelty here, our line had great attractions for young men and boys, and many of them left their work upon the land. I lost sight of one family for 30 years or more, and on inquiry I  found their history was this- ‘Well, one of ‘m went on the line, and he became a station -master; and ‘nother, he went on the line, and he became a ganger; and t’other, he were a-runned over by a train; and so, as us may say, they was all connected with the railway.”


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