Staff from Days Gone By
Compiled by John Hinson
This section depicts the people that have signalled trains through the years.
In many cases, little information is known about the person or place – anything you can add for the captions will always be appreciated. And, indeed, if you have any photographs to share, they will be most welcome.
(16.12.1809 to 12.5.1895)
George Deudney was a pointsman at Bow Junction in North London in the 1850’s. A pointsman’s job was similar to that of a signalman, but dates back to the days when the block system did not exist and the responsibilities mainly consisted of ensuring points were safely and correctly set for the passage of trains.
This photograph showing Mr Deudney dressed in uniform was taken c1855.
The photograph was kindly provided by Ellis Thornley in Australia, who is George’s Great, Great Grandson.
Mrs Holah and colleagues
This photographs shows John Tennyson, Violet Holah and Fred Holah at the steps of Speeton signal box. Speeton is to be found a few miles south of Filey on the Hull to Scarborough route of the former North Eastern Railway.
Mrs Violet May Holah was born in 1917 and joined the LNER on 23rd February 1942, working as a signalwoman at Speeton. She was initially employed in the capacity of porter but it was common practice to do this whilst signalmen served their apprenticeship. She was one of many female staff recruited during World War II to cover for the shortage of staff whilst men who were away fighting for Britain.
Records do not show Mrs Holah as having attended signalling school at Hull so it is probable that she received all her training at Speeton with her husband, Fred, who already worked at the box.
Violet and Fred shared the two shifts in the box for about four years. It is likely that the picture was taken when she left the company’s service after the war and was replaced by John Tennyson, standing behind her in this view.
Fred Holah retired in 1976 and died in 1978 but Violet continued to live at Speeton until she died in 1999 at the age of 82.
The railway houses in the background were built in 1874 when block signalling was introduced on the line. The signal box in the view was erected in 1913 replacing the original small brick cabin. The level crossing gates are just discernable.
Considerable help was given towards identifying the location of the view and tracing Miss Holah’s railway history (from just a photograph simply marked “Miss Holah”) by Frank Archer and Nicholas Fleetwood to whom I am most grateful for their assistance. In 1948, Frank (at the age of 10) was at school in Speeton with Brian Holah, one of Mrs Holah’s eight children. Although now resident in Australia, he visited Brian in the summer of 2000 and unravelled the mystery.
Bill (Snowy) Didcock
William Reginald Didcock was the youngest of three sons of William George Didcock, Station Master at Weymouth. He was the only one of the three to take up railway work (reluctantly at first!), joining the Great Western Railway in February 1937 as a telegraphist at Weymouth. He became a Signal Porter in 1939 but was called up by the army for war service. However, as his railway work was classed as “essential”, he returned after 18 months of war service to continue his railway career.
From 1940 onwards, he progressed through the grades, working as signalman at Edington & Bratton, Grimston & Frampton, Hay Lane, Rushey Platt, Swindon Goods Yard, Swindon West and Swindon East.
He picked up the name “Snowy” as his hair turned to pure white (as did that of his siblings) when he was in his early thirties.
Having reached the grade of First Class Signalman, Bill did not fancy becoming a District Inspector (which would be the expected line of promotion) and therefore transferred to the relaying Gang as a supervisor. He enjoyed this work which entailed much travelling and made many friends. He retired in 1986.
A view of Bill Didcock, soon after he joined the Great Western Railway as a telegraphist at Weymouth in 1937:
The two Williams – father and son. William George Didcock (on the left in the above view) was Station Master at Weymouth:
Here we see a young Bill Didcock dressed in GWR uniform, holding his cap. It is thought this picture was taken after he transferred to Swindon:
This picture shows the inside of Swindon Goods Yard box, with Bill (left) and his booking boy, Brian Hicks. By coincidence, Brian later worked for the Royal Mail at the same time as Bill’s grand-daughter:
This is Swindon West box, where Bill Didcock worked at one time.
And here is Bill at work at Swindon West around 1955.
He often recalled stories from when he worked here, and remembered historical details that had been passed down from earlier railwaymen. Here are some of them:
West box opened in December 1913 to replace the old Swindon West and Gloucester Junction boxes as well as a small box on the Gloucester branch platform. The new Swindon West originally had 163 levers, but later had a 174 lever frame.
Inside the box was an iron casting of a lions head which used to hang on Swindon “C” cabin in 1880. Around 1965-1966, Bill moved and hid the lions head because the Station Master was after it. Later, it was discovered that the lions head had vanished, and it was generally thought that the Station master had discovered where it was hidden.
On Mr Didcock’s 83rd birthday, his granddaughter showed him this web site, and he commented that whilst many of his colleagues had appeared “in print” he himself had not done so. Regrettably, he passed away whist this article was in preparation, so he was never able to see it.
During research on Mrs. Holah, it was discovered that a T W Holah was working as foreman at nearby Knapton in 1935, although he had transferred away from this area by 1945. Mr. Holah’s son Ray wrote and confirmed that Thomas Warriner Holah was Fred’s brother (Violet Holah’s brother-in-law). Thomas was a railwayman for 51 years starting work as a “Lamplad” at Foggathorpe (near Selby) and after many moves Including Bolton Percy, Ulleskelf, Knapton, Kenton Bank Foot, Coxlodge, Bolton Dearne and finally Selby.
Although Tom was essentially involved with station duties, he was trained in the block system and some of his duties required him to work signal boxes. Ray remembers spending some time in various signal boxes with him and being allowed to pull the levers.
The photograph shows Tom at Selby on the occasion of his presentation for 45 years of service. He retired from railway service at this location in 1972.
Mrs Kathleen Willingham
Mrs Kathleen Willingham, 36 years old and married with children, worked from 9 a.m. until 10.30 p.m. a 91-hour week at a level crossing near Colchester. She had to pull a very heavy lever 144 times a day. The LNER provided a stand-in for only seven hours a week ‘shopping leave’. Her application for a pay rise to compensate for taking over her husband’s duties was declined. She asked to get her hours reduced but the LNER treated her as a part-time employee because she could ‘run home between trains’. They argued further that she knew the duties of the job when she accepted employment. Men were allowed to work only eight-hour shifts.
Ivor Blewitt and Edgar Huggins
Ivor, seen standing in the box doorway, was signalman at Rhondda Fach Junction South from 1960 until the box closed in 1981. He was traditionally known as “The Station Master”.
He transferred to this box from Ynishir, when the staffing there was reduced from three to two signalmen; prior to that he had fulfilled a number of platform and signalling jobs on the former Barry Railway Vale of Glamorgan line.
On the landing is shunter, lampman and general odd-jobman Edgar Huggins whose cabin on the platform regularly had the “S” removed so as the read “HEAD _HUNTER”. As semaphore signalling declined, Edgar’s area expanded and he subsequently became lampman for nearly everything north of Llandaff Loop Junction and the Rhondda and Merthyr valleys. Edgar had started his railway career in the early 1950s as a signalman at the curiously named National box near Maerdy where he remained until it closed in 1966.
Notes provided by Ian Hughes