My father lived both at Yardley Hastings and Hackleton in his youth and remembered the line operating in the 1920s (the Towcester - Ravenstone Wood section), and the line was always known as "The Bread & Herring" for reasons unknown to us.
My earliest memories were when on one Saturday afternoon in May 1950 I was taken by my parents to view the trains at Blisworth. Of course there was a lot of excitement on the LNW main line with trains going past every other minute, but I clearly remember a locomotive and short train coming down to the signal on the SMJ and standing there blowing off steam for some considerable time. Eventually it came under the bridge and into the yard at Blisworth, shunted its train and then turned on the turntable - it was a 4F. I remember standing by the fence by the road above the turntable watching this locomotive going round - completely fascinated by the spectacle. The loco then departed from whence it came puffing away between the hedges on either side of the line - I remember this because the hedges were full of white blossom.
Other memories include going to Roade (alongside the station) watching the trains, and hearing the locals shout "Tin Bridge!", and then a train would trundle over the bridge above the LNW main line - usually a 4F with a train of a couple of dozen vans. The locals would inform us "incomers" that we ought to go up there to see these trains as the locos were always Gloucester 4Fs and as such were rare birds round here. Needless to say we never did - much to my regret - but I think that the engines were usually from Northampton or Bedford and as such were almost everyday sights to us.
From memory 3 or even 4 trains might traverse the SMJ while we were at Roade - usually we were there from just after 10 o'clock until 6.30 when the bus took us home to Kettering. From the age of 14 we used to cycle the 21 miles - could you let a child do that today?
Enjoyed looking at your website. Like Bob Hodson, I too spent far too much time looking out the Science block window at TGS during the early 60s. I remember on one frustrating occcasion the parked up coaches on the Banbury line remnant blocked from view the name and number of a Jubilee that mysteriously appeared just west of Towcester station, only for it to reverse back the way it came.
Incidentally, I well remember a Rob Hodson, (surely the same!) who like myself was a member of TGS's Railway Society, which ran trips to sheds all over the East Midlands and further afield. The TGS Railway Society was well run by students 'Benny' Hill and later Chris Leah (lately of Railtrack fame) with support from teachers, Mr Hillman and later Mr Shaw and was very popular. 'Benny' was a real character at school, refusing to wear a school cap on the school bus as the regulations stipulated, preferring a fez! He was a GWR fanatic who knew just about every toplink driver on the Paddington - Wolverhampton line and spent much of his spare time timing trains up Hatton Bank and cadging footplate rides at Banbury. Unfortunately, I've lost most of my notes of the many trips the society went on apart from a couple in 1962, but remember trips to most London sheds, Doncaster, Leeds and Swindon among others. The highlight for me was a trip to Nine Elms and other SR sheds in 1959, cabbing a Merchant Navy and seeing an immaculate green King Arthur thunder through Hither Green on one of the last Kent Coast steam expresses.
There must be other ex-members of the TGS Railway Society, who can remember more about its extensive activities. Coming back to the SMJ, and begging to differ with Bob, I do recall that only the pickup freights were hauled by Northampton 4Fs and occasionally other locomotives would be substituted both from Northampton (2E) and Woodford (2F). Engines I definitely recall substituting on pickups included 13000 series diesel shunters (2E), K3 and WD (2F), Super D 0-8-0 ( Nuneaton 2B) and on one celebrated occasion a GWR 22xx.
In addition there were at least daily mineral ( presumably iron ore) trains which were always powered by 8Fs (2E). Often in the early 60s, late morning on Saturdays, light engine movements would work through eastward, invariable either Woodford WDs but rarely Banbury ( 84C) 9Fs, often towing dead engines. On one occasion in 1961 a WD hauled a Crosti and a B16 through Blakesley. The B16 had bent a rod which had been removed, it allegedly was taken to Leicester Midland in error for Leicester Central from where it hastily was returned to York running light engine as a quasi-Atlantic!
I also remember seeing long trainloads of military vehicles including armoured vehicles in the 50s, presumably heading for Kineton or Long Marston. Blakesley station handled quite a bit of freight, perhaps as much or more coal than Towcester, in the early 60s three different merchants had coal delivered there. One of the village shops also still had some of its supplies delivered by rail, this became temporarilly crucial when Blakesley was completely cut off by road for several days during the severe winter of 1962 - 63. A snowplough powered by 4Fs ensured that supplies could be brought in by rail. It was also a frequent crossing point for trains, always the Blisworth bound trains having to wait at the signal just to the west of the road bridge, often for a very long while.
Staff at Blakesley station in the late 50s and early 60s included stationmaster Cecil Smart and signalboxman Tommy Townsend, who also managed the very sucessful Blakesley and Woodend FC, feared throughout Northants and North Bucks at the time. I remember there was a quite a handful of men from Blakesley,Woodend and surrounding villages who worked on the railway, but not on the SMJ. In particular my dad's cousin, Gordon Bodily, rode his Greeves motocross type motorbike to Woodford, from which he fired and later drove mainly LNER type engines ( B1s, etc), whereas Alfie French cycled each day the 8 miles to Woodford, ending his career as driver on the 'Banbury Motor'.
When the SMJ track was lifted the locomotives provided were Black 5s, presumably from Woodford or Banbury as they always returned westward at the end of the day. I took a picture of one such working which appeared in one of Phil Kingston's Blakesley local history books. My grandfather, born in 1868, worked from Blakesley as a ganger/bricklayer for the SMJ and for a short while the LMS. One job he had to do was to repair bridges. They used some sort of chain-powered cycle trolley to get to wherever they were working, I don't know if it was kept at Blakesley or Towcester. I still have a GWR Safety on the Permanent Way booklet, counterstamped SMJR 1922, that he was given. His wife, my gran who was many years his junior, while long widowed was still entitled to copious supplies of free sleepers from BR, which she used as firewood. These were delivered to Blakesley station and brought home on his lorry by her lodger, Ted Botterill - Blakesley's own coal merchant. So she was never short of fuel! I remember that after the SMJ closed she was fearful she would lose her sleeper supply and as young man driving to Northampton (Bridge Street} to try and sort this out for her, only to be told she would have to ' go to Willesden'. She persisted by post and eventually received one final load of sleepers.
Dick Bodily Oct 2007
note the photograph of the concrete leaning signal. This signal is not at Towcester but Culworth junction on the GCR has its Down advanced starter. There is a signal post laying on its side near where the easton neston branch left the SMJ between Blisworth and Towcester in a field I have a "Beware of the trains" SMJ Sign from Greens Norton Junction and Bridge Plate 114 from the Towcester Banbury Branch. Tiffield Summit 1/2 mile Post is now on the Northampton and Lamport railway. The gradient posts still were in situ in 2004 at the summit. I can remember the turntable at Blisworth being used in 1952 when i had a train trip to Blisworth from Northampton for my birthday. I also remember trains going over the LNWR line at Roade and the Siding Box on the SMJ with its siding ending in stops just before the bridge at the entrance to Roade station I can also remember a goods train passing Stoke Bruene station with my mate Fred Smith and the building of the M1 bridge which still exists and the whole line being used for wagon storage near Eastern Neston.
Before it became next to impossible much of the route as far as Cockney Brake and also Fenny Compton was walked in sections over the years. I have the signage afix to our houses entrance lobby with many others all of which have memories.There was a 00 model of Towcester station in the Birmingham Science Museum when last visited in the 90' which must be at least 20ft long and includes the sidings the other side of the A5 as well. I did not have a camera in my youth therefore I have little evidence other than my memory. I went pass Stoke Bruen Station the other day. The building at Sacey Forest was identical to it and the platform edge still exists plus a couple of telegraph poles amongst the trees. Went to Raverstone junction last year with Tim Smith and it difficult to make it out now the trees have taken over other than the remains of the Signal Box coal bunker exists and a gate post plus all the remains of the houses which are scattered on the ground in the woods.
Wappenden Station Platform exists at the least its front edge which was used by a farmer for cattle feeding with the house being in the goods yard. My friend John remembers going on the train from Northampton to Wappenden to visit his granny. Aston-de-walls platform still exists under the road bridge. Remember visting Farthingstone Station in the late 50's on my bike on one of the many trips to Banbury and Woodford Halse shed on Sunday. Thats all for now
Chris Osbourne Feb 2007
Sorry you were let down by the main line at Blisworth.I haven't been there for about 10 years. It lost a lot when the new A43 was built and more when the SMJ bridge was demolished. I saw my only passenger train on the SMJ there - the 1963 special with the B12. Re. lifting of the lines.The Banbury line had been lifted by the time that I got to visit it (~1962). Although it closed at roughly the same time as the Stratford line it must have been lifted almost immediately. I remember the platform at Wappenham (I understand it is now a bungalow) and Helmdon being used as a coach depot. The Olney line was severed when the Roade bridge was blown (in early 60s - electrification), but was used for storing wagons (at both ends). It was finally lifted (I am pretty sure) in 1964. The Stratford line was closed in 1964 and lifted soon after. I remember in 1965 seeing an absence of rails in a cutting near Gayton/Tiffield. It was a bit of a shock as I didn't think it was due to close. I remember the stations at Blakesley and Byfield in good nick with passing loops. Also the station at Moreton Pinkney - even this had once had a passing loop. The section to the Blisworth ironstone quarry survived until September 1967.
Regards Peter Fleming August 2006
Summer, 1944. The Second World War is drawing to its end. A twelve year old lad leaves his aunt and uncle's house in Park Street , Towcester, and heads for Towcester railway station. He's been there many times before, his uncle; Will is porter/shunter there. Today, however, is different. While spending most of yesterday there he was promised a brake van trip to Banbury and back by a Guard he knew. Today could not come fast enough. Hurrying past the enormous Police Station, he crossed over the road, scurried past the last house and peered through a tall, overgrown hedge to see the pre-war rusting remains of the machinery which had crushed the gravel and mixed the concrete for the road, all the way through Towcester. He hurried on over the river bridges, to the Tiffield Road, turning in to pass Groom and Tattersall's factory on one side of the road, and on in through the wide gateway into the wagon siding's yard on the other. Crossing the yard toward the island platform he could see the drayman getting the horse out of the stable at the side of the goods shed ready to harness up for the days deliveries round Towcester. Several full wagons of coal were lined up in the coal siding. At one of them Mr Varney, the coal merchant and his assistant were shovelling the coal out of the wagon and into bags, weighing them and stacking them onto his lorry. Mr Cadby, the station Agent, came hurrying across the tracks towards him and with a shouted “Good morning”, disappeared in the direction of his little office in the goods shed. A quick glance down the side of the goods shed to see if there was any activity on the turntable. It was deserted. Standing in the centre road against the island platform was the “pick up goods” with the Johnson /Deely 3F loco No. 3520 just short of the signal box facing Blisworth and Olney. This was a little unusual. The motive power, more often than not, was a 4F. Uncle Will was standing, talking with the guard examining one of the destination cards they had removed from the big spring clip on the side of the chassis of the wagon. With a wave to his uncle he continued across the tracks below the signal box, noting the smell of creosote rising from the warm, sun dried sleepers, and onto the booking office platform by the little corrugated iron lamp huts and the water crane with its fire devil at its base to prevent freezing in winter. Heading towards the “Gents” just past the porter/shunters rest room, he caught the strong smell of fish wafting along the platform. No, it wasn't the “Gents”. He knew that at the other end of the platform by the porter's trolleys, the latest consignment of fresh fish in small wooden boxes packed with ice awaited collection by the local fishmonger. This had arrived with the guard on the first “passenger” of the day. The longer they waited the larger the pool of water became as the ice melted. After the visit to the “Gents” he debated whether or not to continue down the platform. Past the chocolate machine that hadn't had any chocolate in it all through the war, and over the Watling Street Bridge to the sidings over there where he knew a number of continental wagons were stored. Many of these were unusual in that the each had tiny little hut at one end. So small, in fact that one man could just sit inside. They may have been for brakemen, he didn't know. However, this time they lost the debate and he headed back towards his uncle and the possibility of a bit of shunting in the cab of the Johnson 3F, if he was lucky! Today was “Lamping” day to the home, and fixed distant up the Olney line, quite a walk there and back with both the home and distant paraffin signal lamps. At least the ones coming back were lighter having burnt most of the paraffin. If they were lucky they would get a lift out in the brake van of the “Pick up” goods and the driver would stop by the distant to set them down. Thus, they would have only to walk back. Hopefully, this morning he would also get to spend some time in the signal box before going home to his aunt's for lunch while his uncle had a doze in the porter/shunters room. Back again after lunch and then, late in the afternoon, the eagerly awaited, promised brakevan trip to Banbury.
Robert Stevens. July 2006
Thanks for including my piece re. the signal box - here's a bit more off the top of my head, (the reason I suffer from a shortage of hair). On the booking office platform at the signal box end was the Porter/Shunters hut, a few feet from the water crane with it's attendant fire devil and the starter signal for Blisworth bound passenger trains. Next door to this was the pump room complete with well. The pump was all shiny brass and steel and smart black paint, beautifully maintained by the porter/shunter, my uncle, Will. The pump drew water from the well and pumped it up to the water tank situated on top of the tower at the opposite end of the platform, adjacent to the rail bridge over the A5 and next to the platelayers hut. This then supplied the locomotive needs via the platform water cranes. There was a large water level indicator on the side of the tank facing up the platform towards the pump room but like a lavatory cistern, the pump was designed to stop when the tank was full. I used to enjoy being asked to check the water level and if required start the pump. I always watched the level just in case I could also stop it and thereby prevent a terrible flood! As mentioned above, the platelayers or gangers had their hut near the water tower and on occasions would turn up and drag out their trolley. this was powered by a small petrol engine which had a friction drive. There was a large flywheel and at right angles to this was a smaller friction faced wheel which could be moved into contact with the flywheel once in contact near the centre of the flywheel face the trolly would move off slowly. Moving the smaller wheel outwards towards the periphery of the flywheel would increase the speed. Unfortunately I did not get to ride on this Heath-Robinson contraption very frequently.
Bob Stevens June 2006
....Recollections of those early days are that every train was headed by a 4F, and that the smokebox door was always freshly blacked and the buffer beam a brilliantly clean bright red; there is probably some small memory defect there. In due course, I attended Towcester Grammar School , the upstairs windows of which had a good view of the railway, to the detriment of my education. During those years, 1958 to 1963, Lloyds sidings, the truncated remains of the Banbury line and the Bedford line after closure to traffic, were used from time to time for storage of rolling stock, sometimes after outshopping from Wolverton, but more often after condemnation and prior to scrapping. Thus I saw brand-new screw coupled and vacuum braked 16-ton wagons waiting to go into service, and then very shortly afterwards their unbraked and loose coupled cousins awaiting the scrapyard. For several months which included the winter of 1962-63, Lloyds sidings and the remains of the Banbury line were full of condemned passenger rolling stock. Most was of the early L.M.S. type, with wooden bodies, but there was at least one Stanier period articulated twin-set, possibly from the Coronation Scot.... ...I make an assumption that you have, or will have seen the relevant books on the subject, but I wonder whether you are familiar with “Towcester Memories of the Slow Miserable and Jolty” by Robert Stephens and published by the Towcester Local History Society. It is a useful little book, which recalls the railway in earlier times than I am able to do. Mr Stephens makes one assertion, though, that I have to challenge, namely that the cattle pens were overgrown, and that he never saw them used. They were indeed grass- grown; such is the nature of cattle pens if they are disused even for a short time, and those at Towcester were certainly not in daily use, but I saw them in use as late as 1961 or 62.. The pick-up goods had left several cattle trucks behind, and Mr Dines and his staff used pinch-bars to position them one by one alongside the cattle dock, for their occupants to be unloaded,via the pens, into lorries owned by Messrs S. Payne of Syresham to be taken I knew not where...
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