Below are some memories people have left of the SMJ, have you any? Do you want to comment on one of the entries below? Click on ‘Comments’ below and leave me your memories.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in the SMJ, but living in Towcester and going to Sponne School I suppose it was just a matter of time considering that we used part of the track bed for our dreaded cross country run. Sadly I missed the line ever seeing traffic or rails for that matter.
Anyway I learnt about the railway and over the years have walked quite a bit of it either that or followed its route through the countryside. I have walked from Towcester to Blakesley and to Helmdon in my time.
As I got into photography I took one or two photos which as you know I have forwarded as I’ve come across them.
I have only ever really been interested in the Towcester area of the route as living there it was the one I had most affinity for. Over the years I have found countless sleeper bolts, even a sleeper chair – which we fished out of the river below the bridge and promptly lugged home to Mum & Dads. Sadly this ended up on the tip as understandably my parents were at a loss as to why I wanted it let alone what to do with it! At one time I also remember finding a very short section of rail on the embankment on the station side of the A5. I couldn’t recover it but it was one of those memories that you hold bizarrely. As kids we explored as much as we could!
When the fence/hedge was grubbed out on the northern edge of the formation between the A43 dual carriageway and the Greens Norton road over bridge a substantial concrete post was uncovered which I believe could have been a fixed distant signal post but I cannot confirm what it was.
All the time I was interested in the line there was a persistent rumour that “the foundry” as it was known had been built on top of the island platform. I dismissed it as just that a rumour or just people being mean, knowing how much I had an interest. Anyway one day in 1996 I found out that the rumour were anything but. In fact they were better than that – the main platform remained too! The site was being cleared ready for the Tesco store that now occupies the site. Not wishing to miss this opportunity I travelled over to Mum & Dad’s from where I was now living in Banbury with my other half at that time and went up to the site to get some photos whilst I could. This was duly accomplished and I found myself standing on a platform I had read about, seen pictures of but never, ever thought would be beneath my feet. It was a most strange feeling but one I will always treasure. I extracted a couple of bricks from the goods shed side of the platform and put them in my car and took them home, an unexpected souvenir of the SMJ. Sadly as life changes, I had to leave Banbury and move into smaller, now rented, accommodation and I had to leave the bricks, still held together by the mortar, in the garden of that house. I still have the photos of a scrawny, geeky me stood on the platform though and the memories of that day in June.
As a post script I was going to model Towcester station in ‘N’ gauge from the over bridge at the Olney end of the station site to just beyond the sidings on the opposite side of the A5. I had made the boards (very poorly and badly planned with hindsight) and started to lay the track, even ran wagons up and down some of the sidings, but sadly the room needed was extensive and was utterly impractical so reluctantly these too have been consigned to history. I am toying with the idea of doing a much smaller layout this time in ‘OO’ (it’s my son’s train set but he doesn’t know of his dad’s plan yet!) based on Towcester’s layout but set as a preservation line. Time (and finance) will tell on this one.
My father was one of nine children who grew up in Blakesley. His father was a ganger on the SMJ. I grew up in and around Northampton, my father was a policeman. He also was great train watcher which I inherited, many Saturday afternoons at Ashton. One of my uncles was a signalman at Towcester, the Frank Reynolds in Jordan’s book (p75, where is he in the picture?). I remember a footplate ride from Towcester to Tiffield on a 4F. I have always been very interested in the SMJ, and have toyed with the idea of modelling Towcester, but am a bit too involved in 12″ to the foot, (but 3′ 6″ gauge).
It’s probably not clear from the Email address, but I actually live at Launceston (pronounced Lawnceston!!) in Tasmania, so I could well be the furthest fan but I wouldn’t like to guarantee that, there’s a good few Poms out here, nearly all were at least train spotters, the blokes anyway! Your letter in Railway Bylines led me to your site and I’m most impressed, I’ll delve more thoroughly soon.
Bill. Launceston, Tasmania
My father worked at Northampton shed (ZE) from 1938 – 1981 as a fireman, passed fireman and driver. In his memoirs he mentioned the SMJ line at Towcester twice:
1. “We took a train from Towcester to Thorpe near Oundle of all farm stock and family”
2. Old ‘Chucky Marriott’ (Driver) was a boozer! Always on the booze! I fired for him on the SMJ line to Byfield and Woodford Halse West Junction. Bob Goodridge was guard. He, as well as the driver was full of beer even when they came to work and wanted more! We would take a passenger train to Byfield and back. Then a freight train to Woodford Halse west Junction. The driver would say when they got there, “I’m off for a pint” and the guard also went!
I had no money for that game in those days!
These extracts above would be pre 1947 when my father became a driver himself. His name was Charles Edwin Wake. 1917 – 2005
Hope this useful in some way
Saturday 3rd May I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Pickles.
Eric wrote me a piece which will follow here, I recorded an interview with him which will appear on the SMJ website soon. Eric wrote:
” I started at Towcester in August 1941 as a junior porter delivering parcels around Towcester. The station master then was Mr F Alton, the signalman was Mr C Smart who later became signalman at Blakesley. Evan Davies who later went as signalman at Helmdon and Mr W Skeen who went as signalman Blisworth. The goods agent was Mr R Cadd, Mrs Valentine was clerk and goods checker. H Mathews and G Alman were carters.
The shunters at the time were Will Caton and J Stockley who later went to Wappenham were I sometimes went.
When I was 18 I was sent to Blisworth to work as an Under shunter, returning to Towcester to work as a shunter a year later when Jack Stockley went to Wappenham. At that time Frank Reynolds and Mr T Kendall were signalmen with Mr Davies. At that time we had to pump water in the tank for the engines from the well during the war years. At the time wagons were being sent to Roade to collect limestone for the brickworks. They’d also collect a wagon of coal and coke. Sugar beet was taken to Stoke Bruerne.
I was in time sent back to Blisworth as a shunter, then becoming a goods gaurd. We worked trains to Banbury, and Startford – passengers and goods. A trip might consist of 4:15 from Blisworth off to Stratford, returning at about 7. we’d often had to wait for the Bristol train for cattle or tabbaco. The signalman at Towcester was Mr Allen. The line ran race specials tp Towcester from London and Leicester – we also had lots of maps for the army. Some trains ran from Startford to Bedford. One ran from Barnwood to Blisworth and back – Double trip men who logged at Northampton ranthe passenger trains to Stratford canhged crews at Byfield.
Some of the signalmen onthe line were as follows: Mr Townsend at Blakesley, Mr Hawton at Morton Pinkney/Woodford Halse A Parsons at Byfield, Mr Steele and Mr Grub at Stratford.
I always remember the turntable at Stratford – you always had to set your train dead centre or you would have trouble turning it.
Watch out for the recording of my interview with Eric on the site soon!