People and places of Middleton
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Railway Stories

Railway Stories of the 60's

When I was discharged from the Navy in 1962, I went onto the railway as a signalman and worked my way up to Middleton Junction West box, which at the time was a highly specialised box as it regulated all the trains into Manchester, from the North East, Newcastle, Leeds Harrogate etc, then the Northwest from the westcoast mainline Glasgow, Preston, Blackpool etc, plus then the Oldham branch via Werneth to Oldham, and of coarse the branch into Middleton and best part, a house came with the signalbox on Fred Street in the Junction, which is now a John Willie Lees warehouse.

It was I who put the train down into Hunt and Moscrop's yard. It was a fully fitted freight and why it went into the yard was because firstly, the driver (steam engines then) did not take my distant signal at Castleton which basically told him to be prepared to stop at Mills Hill. In the Junction which then had four platforms, I had a brewery Burnley coal stopped in the station waiting for the train to come up from Middleton, but they had just put on the new diesels multicar and this one was not getting up the incline into the Junction.

It was 8.10 am and the station was filling up with office workers waiting for the Middleton train on the platform. I then got the usual call "Harrogate at Todmorden" (the express). I knew I then had 20 minutes to move all the trains out of its way and I had already put the slow Bacup train into the slow line, so I just had the Middleton train I was waiting for to board the office workers and then put it on the slow line and the line would be clear for the express. You never stopped them or the paper trains.

I got a call from Jimmy Makin in Mills Hill signalbox " He's Not stopping the frieght train" so I replied "put him in your loop line." When the guy in Middleton Jct east box asked what he should do I replied " Watch a train crash!" and let him go to the buffer ends which he did. Luckily the guard had seen what was going to happen and applied the fitted brake, but too late to stop him going over the embankment into Hunt & Moscrop's yard. The driver and fireman jumped off just before it went down.

If I had let him out of the loop, I had a platform full of people on one side, a train on the other and was still waiting for the Middleton train to get up into the Junction and at the speed the freight train was going, he would have smashed into all the Junction Station causing a lot of casualties so I just let him go into the yard. I only had minutes to decide.

After the plug had removed from the engine firebox, there were people coming from all over Moorclose with prams, boogies, wheel barrows etc. to fill them up with coal from the tender of the engine in the yard and it was swept clean of all its coal. it did not take long for word to get around in those days!

Written by Mr Malcolm Taylor. Submitted March 2009

More Tales from Mr Taylor

I was on duty when they brought the last train out of Middleton Station. The signalman at Middleton at the time was Mr (Billy) Garret, a porter signalman but he was then ready for retiring and had been signalman at Junction West Box. He taught me well. We used to have fun at work too and here are a couple of stories.

In all signal boxes you had a few white signal levers which did nothing and were just spares. When the Werneth Branch line to Oldham was open, we got a new porter on the platform one day. The Station Master told him to ask me if he could come into the signalbox to see how I got the trains away so I said "yes come up, I'm just getting the Oldham train away" then I started to pump the white signal lever.
"What's that for?" he asked.
"Oh you know when the train gets into the tunnel at Werneth," I said, "Where do you think all the smoke goes from the engine so it will not choke the passengers?"
"I dont know." he replied.
I said "At the end of this lever is a pump and when I pull it, it pumps all the air out of the tunnel"
"Does it?" he said fascinated.
"Tell you what" I said, "When I'm on duty, when you see the train off, come up and you can do the pumping for me. It will start off your learning to be a signalman."
I had this poor guy running into the box for months! "Got so see our passengers dont breathe any smoke havent I?" Cruel I am!!!

But I was "got back" one Sunday. I had a coaler puffing up from Moston. He was making heavy weather of it but I was watching him from the box. I had my signal against him to stop as I had a train on going to Castleton, but he did not stop at my signal. I rushed and got a fire bucket full of sand, opened the window and threw it at the engine as it passed me into the Station. It hit the engine causing a real clatter, where as the driver pulled up he was only travelling at a few miles an hour.
"Whats up?" he cried.
"You have just passed a red signal against you." I said.
"Oh, oh dear." he said. This is still a major offence and meant that the driver could be sacked.
I said "Send your fireman up and I'll tell you when you can go."
"Ok Bobby, (that's what drivers call signalmen) do you want some coal?" He asked. You were always after coal in the box for the fire so I was pleased.
"Yes, Thanks." I said.
When I got a clear way for the train to go I told the fireman "Right, tell your driver you can go up to Castleton"
"Thanks Pal," the driver is shouting as his engine hauls the train away in a cloud of steam. I watched him go to see the train was complete, to be treated to a platform full of coal! I was hauling buckets of coal to the box for hours! Good job it was a Sunday and I thought I was going to have a quiet Sunday!

Written by Mr Malcolm Taylor. Submitted March 2009


To Mr Taylor of Middleton, just enjoyed your tale of the train in the street and "who dun it"...But wrong; it was not you, you were but an observer. Because the culprit was Driver Vinnie Turner of Bacup Loco Shed, the last I heard of Vinnie he was in an old person's home in Todmorden Road Bacup.

One of my own claims to fame is that all of my railway books are officially endorsed by my favourite supporter Queen Elizabeth II, and I was the sixteen year old youth who ran away down both Broadfield Bank and the Lickey Line with fully loaded goods trains, no laughing but, my driver Harry Taylor also of Bacup, fell off the engine at Broadfield (and for Harry's benefit I use the words fell off, that is not quite accurate, but perhaps a little kinder than jumped off.) I did stay on the engine myself, despite being ready to abandon ship as it flew down Broadfield Bank completely out of control, and despite never having driven anything faster than a pedal bike previously, I did stop the 600 ton plus coal train, a few feet away from the buffers in Bradley Fold loop line, thanks to the signalman; who had very competently taken my train, my Guard and myself off the main line just before we crashed into a passenger train in our path.

I have almost completed seven DVDs' from by own unpublished books, they are now all in Her Majesty's personal collection at Buckingham Palace.

Cheers and Best Wishes.
Harold Philbin.

Mr Philbin's books are available in disc format at the Bacup and Rawtenstall libraries and he has kindly allowed publication of a couple of his railway stories, relating to Middleton and surrounding areas, here at Middletonia.

My Princess

One glorious day in 1947, Len Yarwood of Bacup Engine Shed was the driver of this unique engine and I was the extremely fortunate, seventeen-year-old fireman...... The true story is here.
The Princess Anne - (Opens a PDF file)

The Tommy Burke Story

Early one morning, four of us went by passenger train to Newton Heath. There was Edwin Ashford, Tommy Burke and myself, the other one was probably Jimmy Brown. We were all about eighteen years of age, except for Tommy who was about twenty-six.......
The Tommy Burke Story - (Opens a PDF file)

Mr Philbin can be contacted at harold.philbin@hotmail.co.uk

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