I’ve just joined your group, having been pointed to you following Andy Thompson’s article in the January 2009 edition of Steam Days, a magazine which crossed my desk recently.
I was born in 1940 and grew up at Eastcote, a small village near Towcester. My first experience of the SMJ was when I was about 6 or 7, my best mate and I walked the 4 miles to the Blisworth overbridge adjacent to where the SMJ turntable was and peered through the fence at the small signalbox, the modest activity and the much busier main line. We were gone all day and although wandering freely as many kids did in those days, my parents were worried stiff. My mate’s dad eventually picked us up in his car and we had a good telling off, but nothing worse!
I attended Towcester Grammar School (as it then was) from 1951 to 1955 and well remember kids from Byfield, Moreton Pinkney and Blakesley travelling to school by train, walking from the station which was nearly a mile away along the A5 road and back again after school. When the passenger service was withdrawn in 1952, Judds Garage at Byfield provided a school bus service.
The school open air swimming pool was at the bottom of the playing field, just across the river Tove from the railway. If you had good eyesight you could decipher the numbers on engines as they occasionally passed, having left Towcester station westbound and crossed the rail bridge over the A5.
My main interest however was on the West Coast main line where I eventually helped out in signal boxes at Banbury Lane, Gayton, Heyford and Blisworth. I got to know the signalling regulations, bell codes, timetable and train reporting numbers very well. My memories of Blisworth in the 1950s are in Part III at http://www.blisworth.org.uk/images/Rails.htm but could benefit from updating. This village history site contains a lot of information on Blisworth area railways including the SMJ and is well worth a look.
My late father-in-law moved from Silverstone to Wappenham in 1964 and when my two boys were young we’d often walk the path of the line between there and Helmdon with our, now deceased, dog.
I hope these modest anecdotes are of interest. Although I now live near Severn Tunnel Junction in South Wales I still visit the Northampton area occasionally and, among other things, am a member of the County Record Society.
John WhiteheadCaldicot, Monmouthshire
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