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15 October 2014
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It was hard work pulling the levers at first, but then I 'got the knack'!

by Hazel Yeadon

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Contributed by 
Hazel Yeadon
People in story: 
Joyce Hughes (nee Bainbridge)
Location of story: 
Middleton-in-Teesdale, Co Durham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 January 2006

Joyce working in the signal box in Middleton-in-Teesdale sixty years ago

JOYCE HUGHES (nee Bainbridge)

Joyce, the youngest of six, was brought up in Romaldkirk. Her father at that time was a quarryman. She went to the village school until it closed when she was 13, however it re-opened briefly for evacuees during WW2.

I was conscripted at 18 and worked in a factory in Darlington. I lived at a lodge in Darlington and came home to Romaldkirk at the weekend, by train. Two of my sisters worked at the munitions factory at Aycliffe, they got more money as it was more dangerous, but I was told not to go as their skin was turning yellow due to the powder. Prior to the War the factory made ladders and levers for the railways, but during the War we made plugs for bombs. They were the size of your palm with two holes in the middle and I worked on a machine which made a thread in one of the holes to take a screw. However, after a few months I got dermatitis due to the oil that lubricated the machine. I had time off until it cleared, but then it started again after a week.

At the time Dad was a signalman at Lartington and the Inspector said to him “You have some girls, Wilf, how about sending one to Middleton”? So I decided to go. I wore black trousers and jacket with brass buttons, a blouse and a peaked cap. I worked shifts, with Jack Bainbridge from Middleton, my mother’s cousin. The early shift was 5.30 am for the goods train from Darlington. The next shift was from 1.30 pm until about 9 pm. I went by bicycle, but the wind was always in front so I got an ‘auto bike’ like a scooter.

It was hard work pulling the levers at first, but then I ‘got the knack’. I went to Darlington station to learn about ‘The block system’ which was used in Romaldkirk and Middleton, but not in Cotherstone or Mickleton as they were on a different line. I learnt to push the bell a different number of times for the different trains and two bells when the train was leaving. When I heard two bells I knew the train from Romaldkirk would arrive in 9 minutes.

As Middleton was the end of the line for passengers, the engines had then to turn round to be at the front again. However, there were three lines altogether and goods trains would continue to the quarries for stones and there was also a tar plant. I had to do the wagon book, taking the numbers of trucks coming in and a person called ‘the shunter’ would write the number of the loaded ones going out. There was also a stationmaster. They were single lines and for safety I had to get a ‘tablet’ (the name for the disc) out of the machine to hand to the driver ~ he wasn’t allowed to continue unless he had this.

After the goods train in the morning, the passenger trains were at 6.30 am, 8 am, 10 am and 5 pm. To fill in my time I would knit for the troops and was given a WVS badge for my knitting. It was dark at night and there were no curtains in the signal box. Italian prisoners based in Middleton would go past singing and I found this scary. However, I had a lovely fire and could boil an egg for lunch. The kettle was always on and we would have a lot of fun and jokes.

During the snow in 1947, I managed to get myself to work and later received a letter from The District Superintendent, London & North Eastern Railway, Darlington saying “Mr Spencer (station master at the time) tells me that during the period of the snow storm you performed yeoman service by your persistence in overcoming difficulties of all sorts. I should like you to know that your assistance to overcome the very exceptional and severer difficulties with which we were beset is very much appreciated and I have no doubt will be remembered for some time to come”. I stopped at the end of the War when the men came home, but would start again tomorrow!

Joyce married and lived in Wales for four years, then came back to Romaldkirk and brought up her family. Her husband drove a railway lorry, then worked at Glaxo when the railway closed in 1964. Joyce did domestic work and is now caretaker and verger of the Church.

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