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LMS Route: Rugby to Leamington Spa (Avenue)

Marton Station: lnwrmart3576

Railway Porter-Signalman Thomas Baker poses for the camera on the steps of Marton Signal Cabin circa 1911

Railway Porter-Signalman Thomas Baker poses for the camera on the steps of Marton Signal Cabin circa 1911. The signal cabin was located directly opposite Marston goods shed and yard and approximately halfway between the main station building and Bridge No 21, a possession bridge for farmers to access their fields. Thomas Baker can also be seen in image 'lnwrmart3100a'. The following biographical description is suppled courtesy of the Watford Village Hall Committee whose excellent historical website can be found at www.watfordvillage.weebly.com.

Thomas was born in Watford village in 1888 to parents George Baker (1856-1930) of Watford and Mary Ann Baker nee Mynard (1857-1940) of Emberton, Buckinghamshire. Thomas was the youngest of six children, his siblings being: George (1880-1972), Jane (1880-1954), Elizabeth 1882-1983) John William (1884-1968) and Annie (1884-1954). His father was employed as the Carpenter of Lord Henley's estate. His grandfather, Edward Baker (1824-1907) had been the signalman at the local railway station from about 1861 until 1878, and Thomas followed in his grandfather's footsteps to become a signalman with the London & North Western Railway. In the 1911 census it shows that Thomas is still single and is living in Marton, employed by the LNWR as a Railway Porter-Signalman.

When the First World War came, Thomas joined the Army and fought in France (his name is recorded on the Roll of Honour at the Church of St Peter & St Paul). It is known that he suffered a head injury during the war and was possibly returned to the Wolverhampton & Staffordshire Hospital, whose facilities were used for soldiers from the Midlands who had been wounded in France. (If so it was probably whilst here that he met his future wife - as during the war years Frances worked as a Housemaid at the very same hospital). By 1919 he had re-joined the London & North Western Railway and was employed at the Watford Lodge Signal Box (between Watford and Crick on the Northampton loop line). At age 31 he married Frances Drucilla Gatrell (1889-1954) of Wolverhampton. The wedding was held at the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Watford, on the 4th of August 1919, with the Reverend Arthur B. Purchas conducting the service. Also present was Thomas' brother, George, Lillian May Parkes, and Frances' brother, George Gatrell. He and his wife remained in Watford for the rest of their lives. He died at the early age of 49 on the 13th of October 1937.

Reg Instone writes, 'This an excellent photograph of an LNWR (type 4) signalbox in pre-Great War condition, with the name identified by the cast letters on the front, and the two boards for calling the Signal Lineman or Telegraph Lineman very prominent on the front. It is so much more valuable because we know the identity of the man in it.

The LNWR Central District staff records for Marton, from 1903 (RAIL410/1804 at The National Archives, also available via www.ancestry.co.uk, tell us that the staff consisted of a Stationmaster, 2 signalmen at Marton Junction cabin and a junior porter from January 1907. Curiously there are no signalmen listed for Marton Junction cabin, so I deduce that it was normally switched out of circuit, and opened by the SM himself when required for the local goods train to shunt. The Station Master must have been pretty much a 'one man band', especially before 1907.

From 1907 one of the Marton Junction signalmen's posts was altered to a Porter Signalman. Maybe this was connected with the alteration of a signalman's post at some other station so as to relieve at Marton Junction. The duties of the Porter Signalman were general portering at the passenger station, and to open and work the station signalbox when needed (as in the photo), presumably for the local goods train to attach, detach and position wagons for unloading in the sidings. He may also have worked at Marton Junction SB for a few hours a day, if necessary to cover the roster. The hours of opening of the signalboxes are in the list in the back of the LNWR Central District Working Timetable, a number of which for years 1908 to 1911 exist in various collections. I will check the details in due course.

The staff ledger tells us that Thomas Baker was born on 4.1.1888 and entered LNWR service on 14.5.06. On 15.5.09 he transferred from the Goods Department to Porter Signalman at Marton as the third successive occupant of that post. It seems that he took over fully on 12.5.09 when his predecessor left to Lichfield. He would have spent the intervening weeks learning the Absolute Block Regulations and the working of the lever frame, block instruments etc. for this he was paid 20/- p.w (one Pound)., increased by 2/- from 11.5.09 when he 'passed out'.

Regrettably there are no known 'wages staff' ledgers for the Goods Department, nor any for the Traffic Department after 1911 when the system was converted to index cards. However, there are some trade union and Sectional Council records from the LMS in the 1930s at the Modern Record Centre at the University of Warwick, so it is just possible that he may be mentioned in those.'