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GWR Route: North Warwickshire Line

Stratford on Avon Station (76) Stratford on Avon Station - Locomotives (60) Stratford on Avon Shed (22) John Davies - Stratford on Avon Fireman

John Davies - Stratford on Avon Fireman

Well I will give a little background information before I got a fireman’s post At Stratford-on Avon. I reached the age of 15 in November 1956 & left school at the end of that term. You could do this at the time & I thought I had learned all I needed by then. After a visit with my father to the Youth Employment Office at Shrewsbury I was directed to the locomotive shed at Coleham in Shrewsbury. Here we had a short interview with the shedmaster & then we went next door to the clerks office. I was given a free pass to attend a medical examination at Swindon. We lived at a village 12 miles north of Shrewsbury at the time, this meant getting up very early & cycling to catch the 07.30 London bound train. My father accompanied me to the station. Having passed the medical I well remember my father saying that I would have a good job for life now. Well it all went wrong later as it turned out. I began work on 14th January 1957. I had to cycle about 3 miles & then caught a bus to the railway station. From here I walked to the sheds at Coleham & ran if the bus was a little late. After a year & a bit cleaning some of us, who started about the same time went to what was called lectures. This was a few days of rest from cleaning learning on the role expected of a fireman. We all passed out at the examination & became passed cleaners.

Now we were all waiting for a vacancy to occur as a fireman. As you may know promotion (if you can call it that) was based purely on your length of service, your seniority. Well after the summer of 1959 they put back some recently appointed fireman to passed cleaners. This often happened after summer I believe. Well myself & one or two others thought we would never get a fireman’s job. But every month or there was list of vacancies at other depots in the western region. Now if your seniority was better than the senior passed cleaner there & anyone else applying of course the position was yours. I'm not sure if the seniority of the senior passed cleaner was listed on the sheet, but it probably was. I applied for a position at Stratford-on-Avon & was successful. Later I travelled to Stratford-on-Avon with my new suitcase & a free pass of course via Hatton.

I arrived at the Bards birthplace & made my way down to the sheds in the pouring rain. The shedmaster's office was modern looking pre-fabricated building & was situated between the coal stage & the two road shed. I was warmly welcomed by the shedmaster (if that was his title) but I can't remember his name though. He had arranged lodgings at 16 Scholars Lane for me. Now I was not the only new fireman appointed at the time, in fact there were at least two others & perhaps another two. There was a chap from Moat Lane in Mid Wales whose name was Alan Corfield I believe. There was one or two from Aberystwyth & a chap from Newton Abbot but he arrived later I think. There must have been a mass exodus at Stratford-on-Avon I would think. There weren't that many footplate staff there anyway, two links of less than ten sets of men in each.

I then trudged off to Scholars Lane to be greeted by Mrs Hewins, she was a widow who took in lodgers to supplement her income. It was red brick terraced house with a front room that was rarely used, a middle room where you dined & relaxed after a hard days work without a TV though. Beyond was a small kitchen, here you washed yourself in the kitchen sink. Now if you wanted a bath you went to the municipal toilets by the river where an attendant would see to your needs. I think its called Riverside. Next morning at 5.1522xx* I started my first day as a fireman. The turn was listed as a banker/shunt with an ex GWR 0-6-0 22xx class. I thought we would need a good fire for banking so I filled the firebox up with large lumps of coal. Well we only did shunting for most of the morning so there was a lot of steam wasted through the safety valves & I got told off. I'm not sure if we did any banking that morning but when we did the driver took one look at my puny efforts & began to fire it himself. I was rather thin & puny then though, a 9 stone weakling. I did improve later in the week though.

* The times are according to a diary which I kept from 1960 & some of the clocking on times contradict each other. We got relief by the afternoon crew who clocked on at 12.40 according to one entry in my diary & this would seem about right. In addition to this engine there was another engine for banking only, usually another 22xx loco in the daytime. I have it listed as clocking on at 10.00 so we would be ready for banking at about 11.00. I can remember spending most of the afternoon in the north signal box chatting to the signalman & drinking tea. I can't remember if there was a night banker, but perhaps this loco carried on through the night. The other regular turns as it were in the bottom link were two jobs on the ex LMS at Old Town as it was called. The earlier one involved clocking in at 04.30, preparing a ex LMS 4F 0-6-0 engine & proceeding to Old Town to pick up a few wagons & guards van of course. We then went tender first to Broome Junction calling at Binton & Bradford-on-Avon to shunt as required. When we got back the Old Town we were relieved by the day crew from Stratford & walking back to the shed we just seemed hang around until our shift finished at 12.30.

The next crew took the pick up goods as far as Byfield, calling at Ettington then Kineton, where we seemed to do a lot of shunting. We then dropped off & picked up at the army depot just beyond Kineton, they had their on railway system & still do I presume. Well the line is still open to Fenny Compton on my map. I'm not sure if did any shunting at Fenny Compton but they were putting in a line from the ex GWR main line. Then we crossed over the GWR main line to Byfield. Here we changed over with another crew, but where they were from I don't know. We trundled back to Old Town calling at sidings as required & then put the engine on the shed. Now as I have said before I can't remember how we turned the loco but we must have. There may have been a turntable still in use at Old Town but I can't recall using it. The chord was not ready to enable trains going south from Old Town although the rails were in place. Perhaps it will remain a mystery.

The other jobs were as required called for example the 22.00 Zone. As there was no supervisor at night we went to a cabin by the goods loop line & rang control to clock on. Here we would wait until were were required to man a train. We might go to Banbury or Tyseley but I seem to remember we went to Gloucester mostly with an iron ore train. We would have a ex GWR 2-8-0, a British Railways 2-10-0, or we might have an ex LMS 2-8-0 & even a 2-8-0 austerity loco. The 2-10-0 was an impressive loco but I never really got on with the wide firebox at the time. You needed to get the coal right into the back corners & I found it was very hot on my arms getting it there. I preferred the GWR 2-8-0 for although the cab was very minimal the engine seemed to do the job OK & they usually steamed very well. Some times you would for example go as far a say Hatton the change over & work back towards Gloucester perhaps as far as Long Marston the change over again. When we did go as far as Gloucester I can never remember working back from there, we always seem to travel back “on the cushions” as we termed it. I can remember walking along the long footbridge from Central station to Eastgate. I do remember doing my first night shift on my 18th birthday believe it or not, it was the 00.30 Zone.

When on a spare shift I was occasionally sent to other sheds that were short of a fireman. I travelled every day from Stratford every day for these jobs. I went to Leamington Spa & spent the afternoon shunting by the Ford foundry. The smell from the foundry was awful & put you off your sandwiches. I also remember on another day going from Leamington with an ex LMS 0-6-0 possibly towards Rugby. It seemed a bit of switchback line to me & we ended at a large cement works I believe. On another occasion I travelled to Birmingham Snow Hill where we worked a one coach, or van I suppose around the Black Country. We had a pannier loco & went to Stourbridge via Handsworth Junction & Old Hill. We may have then gone to Dudley via Brierley Hill & then on to Swan Village. I can remember Dudley station but whether it was the same day I can't be sure. I did the job for a few days I believe.

I was called in the office at the end of March to be told that I was returning to Shrewsbury, well I couldn't believe it at first I returned home about a fortnight later. Looking back I enjoyed my stay at Stratford-on-Avon for that 6 months or so, once I got over a little homesick at first. All the shed staff were very friendly & willing to help me in any way. It may seem strange but I've never been back until last October 2012. We called there on the way back from Oxford to Coventry for about 2 hours. That's about 52 years later but it hasn't changed all that much. Its seemed much busier now with more tourists & littered with cars as most towns are now. I must include our car of course. But I've never been very excited about motor cars, well after riding on those magnificent steam engines cars seem puny & tinny in comparison. We didn't go near the station area but I have since looked on Google Earth & am able to see the bridge that carried the loop lines over the canal. I can't recall seeing any boats on the canal in 1960, was it disused then? You can make out the tracks of the loop lines as well. As you know there is nothing left of Old Town but the bridge over the Avon, now its all houses & roads. I hope to visit Stratford again this year spending more time there this time.


When I returned to Shrewsbury I missed the bottom shunting link & was put in the Severn Valley link as it was called. We had an afternoon train to Kidderminster along the now famous Severn Valley Railway, but that's another story. I reluctantly left the railway in October 1963 to work in the local Rolls Royce factory making diesel engines, not for locomotives though. I was married by then & the wages were poor for a fireman then. I earned half as much again at Rolls Royce although I never liked working there. I would have had to move to Crewe or somewhere like it to retain my position as a second man as it would become. I did a bit on the diesels but it wasn't the same as the steam engine. For a long time though I regretted my decision to leave but it was for the best, perhaps I could have stayed a little longer looking back. I eventually got a job in another department at Rolls Royce on a big radial drill, at skilled rate as well. This was more interesting & I drilled the holes in the frames of the last diesel shunter they produced.

When Rolls Royce went bust in 1971 I got concerned & managed to get a job on operations at Ironbridge Power Station. Back to coal & Steam eh, well not really the steam was very high pressure, screaming through the pipework & the coal was powdered getting into every crevice. I eventually got promoted to the control room, on merit this time & was sort of able to drive a steam engine. But it didn't move, just going around & around. I am 71 now & long retired but I still look back to those days when if you had a friendly driver, most were & a good steaming engine you it was a pleasure. You were free from any supervision & ready to roam over the lines. You didn't always get a free steaming engine or perhaps a friendly driver but the good times made up for that.

John Davies

1960 Diary

Date Time On Job Driver Loco Return Time Off  
01-Jan-60 5:15 Banker/Shunt          
02-Jan-60 5:15            
03-Jan-60 10:20 Unloading Sleepers Henley       19:40  
04-Jan-60 16:00 Gloucester Iron Ore B Smith   Passenger    
05-Jan-60 10:00 Banker S Lloyd        
06-Jan-60 18:35 Pulled Broken MU to Leamington J Caldwell 2257      
08-Jan-60 4:30 Broome Local B Smith        
09-Jan-60 12:30 Gloucester Iron Ore L Bennet 8F Passenger 11:30  
11-Jan-60 5:15   C A Edkins        
12-Jan-60 6:00 All week Byfield Pick up ? CA Edkins       The starting time is wrong
16-Feb-60 6:00 Possbly Byfield Pick up J Haynes       The starting time is wrong
19-Jan-60 12:40 Afternoon Shunt? All week C Edkins        
25-Jan-60 4:30 Broome Pick-up All week G Robbins        
28-Jan-60 8:04 Leamington MPD Blisworth D Horley     19:02  
30-Jan-60 6:15 Engineering Train to Burton Dasset & Bidford H Bray     19:15  
01-Jan-60 14:00 Yard Shunt until Saturday 6th          
07-Feb-60 0:30 Took LE to Tysley 75XX J Harrison        
09-Feb-60 0:30 Tysley 75XXX          
10-Feb-60 0:30 Gloucester Iron Ore       11:30  
11-Feb-60 0:30 Gloucester Iron Ore       11:30  
12-Feb-60 0:30 Zone          
16-Feb-60 22:00 Zone Driver went piloting D Blicking     5:00  
18-Feb-60 22:00 Gloucester Iron Ore       8:00  
21-Feb-60 8:00 Until Sat 27th Byfield? J Haynes        
28-Feb-60 10:00 Engineering Bearly to Henley G Robbins     21:00  
14-Mar-60 8:00 Byfield Pick-up until Sat 19th E Churches        
21-Mar-60 0:40 All week until Sat 26          
28-Mar-60 8:40 Leamington to work Blisworth Local D Horley     19:20  
30-Mar-60 6:15 Engineering Train to Burton Dasset & Bidford       17:15  
04-Apr-60 14:00 Yard Shunt H Bray        
05-Apr-60 18:00 Zone S Lloyd        
06-Apr-60 18:00 Zone Cheltenham     Change over    
07-Apr-60 18:00 Zone Iron Ore          
08-Apr-60 18:00 Zone          
09-Apr-60 18:00 Zone Tysley       5:00  
12-Apr-60 5:35 Unknown but until Sat 16 except the 13th T Hyde        
18-Apr-60 12:25 Station Shunt until 23rd          
24-Apr-60 17:00 Relief C Diaskol ?        
25-Apr-60 17:10 20.45 Croes Newyd A Williams   LE back 3:00  
26-Apr-60 17:10 LE Mold? May be after 20.45 Croes N.       4:15  
27-Apr-60 17:10 20.45 Croes Newyd     LE back    
29-Apr-60 17:15 Troop Train to Bridgnorth back to Chester     Pigeon Train    
30-Apr-60 17:10 Troop Train to Hereford          
02-May-60 14:15 Prep, Cardiff service & 17.30 Bridgenorth          
03-May-60 14:26 16.05? Hollingswood shunt          
04-May-98 11:50 Hadley shunt (Passenger to Wellington)          
05-May-60 12:20 ?          
09-May-60 6:40 Unknown Donnington Local? Until 14th          
16-May-60 11:50 Unknown? Until 21st          
22-May-60 10:45 Unknown Sunday working          
23-May-60 12:05 Station Pilot until 26th          
27-May-60 12:15 Trips from yard to yard J J Davies        
03-Jun-60 4:45 Unknown Coalport Local perhaps, until 3rd          
07-Jun-60 10:00 Unknown until Sat 11th          
13-Jun-60 13:15 Unknown until Sat?          
20-Jun-60 7:10 Unknown until Sat 24th?          
27-Jun-60 13:05 Unknown until Sat 2nd          
04-Jul-60 5:15 Unknown until Sat 9th          
11-Jul-60 13:45 !3.45 Kidderminster until Fri 15th          
16-Jul-60 13:45 13.45 Hartlebury          
18-Jul-60 7:05 Unknown until Sat 23rd?          
25-Jul-60 13:15 Unknown          
26-Jul-60 13:05 Unknown          
27-Jul-60 9:40 Unknown          
28-Jul-60 12:20 Unknown          
30-Jul-60 4:45 Unknown          
02-Aug-60 6:40 Unknown All week          
08-Aug-60 9:40 Unknown All week except Wed          
14-Aug-60 11:30 Unknown Sunday working G Worthen        
15-Aug-60 12:30 13.40 Hafod          
16-Aug-60 13:20 Worked the 14.10 Saltney to Hereford       23:00  
17-Aug-60 13:13 Spare          
18-Aug-60 13:50 As Passenger? To work Goods to Salop       20:50  
19-Aug-60 14:00 Shed duties          
22-Aug-60 4:45 Unknown all week ? Saturday day off Arthur Page        
29-Aug-60 10:00 Unknown all week presumably          
06-Sep-60 13:15 Unknown all week presumably          
12-Sep-60 7:10 Unknown all week?          
17-Sep-60 6:40 Unknown Saturday working          
19-Sep-60 13:05 Unknown all week          
24-Sep-60 11:00 Trips Special to Machynlleth Arthur Page 9017      
26-Sep-60 5:15 Unknown working all week?          
03-Oct-60 12:20 Unknown working all week?          
10-Oct-60 7:05 Unknown working all week?          
16-Oct-60 6:00 Sunday Shed          
17-Oct-60 13:15 R.D.R. Rosterd day relief?          
18-Oct-60 13:05 R.D.R. Rostered day relief?          
19-Oct-60 13:40 Coleham?          
24-Oct-60 6:40 Unknown working all week?          
31-Oct-60 12:30 13.05 Train to Hereford          
01-Nov-60 12:30 Coton hill shunt          
03-Nov-60 12:30 Coton Hill Shunt          
04-Nov-60 14:00 Shed          
05-Nov-60 14:00 Shed          
06-Nov-60 9:00 Goods to Chester via Whitchurch (Sunday)          
07-Nov-60 9:40 Unknown working all week inc.Sat.          
14-Nov-60 4:45 Unknown working all week?          
05-Dec-60 7:10 Unknown working all week?          
11-Dec-60 6:30 Unknown Sunday working          
12-Dec-60 13:05 Unknown working all week?          
19-Dec-60 5:15 Unknown working all week?          
27-Dec-60 12:20 Unknown working all week, Inc. Sat          

Stratford on Avon Station (76) Stratford on Avon Station - Locomotives (60) Stratford on Avon Shed (22) John Davies - Stratford on Avon Fireman