Richard Sidney Joby
"Norwich's tentacles stretch far these days... Making the layers
surrounding a city as interesting as are those of rock strata was something
taught me by an old friend, Richard Joby. We travel through Hellesdon, once
an isolated village, now a suburb, on which he has self-published an excellent
book, recording a long and colourful history. This is the very first lively
work I have seen on a suburb, as opposed to a still independent village,
yet many more people live in suburbs and are not automatically uninterested
in how things developed.
Back in D&C days, Richard was a super author of railway books; and he always brought in the human touch. His Railwayrnen, owing much to his father, was an especial triumph. We've kept in touch over the years, and over dinner he presents me with a collection of his latest Norfolk writings.
A weekend at Wells-next-the-Sea started Richard's love affair with Norfolk. He came to Norwich as a geography master at the grammar school. With a later degree in economics, he opened new horizons in all kinds of ways... in his teaching, including adult education lectures he's still giving, and in numerous books. He's another who, when the new owners of D&C gave up interest in railways and such like, used the experience he had gained to start self-publishing. Pointing to the station's great frontage that can be clearly seen across the river from our hotel window table, he talks of the pride and problems of the Eastern Counties and later Great Eastern. The first volume of his system's full history has sold 2000 copies: 'profitable, not bad for an amateur?' Where does our itinerary take us? Did I know that Hunstanton was a planned resort? It was meant to be, but never was, like Essex's Frinton". David St John Thomas Journey through Britain
The railway builders: lives and works of the Victorian
railway contractors. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1983.
Some of the biographical contributions, notably that on William Dargan and on Lucas family (with its East Anglian roots) are lengthy. The following quotation should give a clear indication of what to expect (including the lack of vital data concerning births and deaths). Excellent contribution on Thomas Walker and his completion of tjhe Severn Tunnel..Joby contains entry on Waddell family who constructed Mersey railway tunnel.
William Arrol was very much in the mould of William Fairbairn, although born some two generations later. He trained as a blacksmith, attending evening classes and reading books to repair the huge gaps in his education. By the age of twenty he had become a foreman at the engineering works of Messrs Laidlaw in Glasgow, getting his first large-scale experience in erecting Deal Pier in 1865 and Brighton West Pier in the following year. The company also did some railway bridgework. Young Arrol set up his own rival company in 1868 and, despite his extreme youth, obtained the Caledonian Railway contract to build the great bridge across the Clyde from Glasgow Central Station to the Gorbals. Work also came from the North British Railway, with whom he had a very long and useful association.
The North British plan for a direct route from Edinburgh to Aberdeen involved the building of the Forth Bridge, in addition to the ill-fated first Tay Bridge. The Bouch design for the Forth Bridge was left in abeyance after 1879, so that by the time the NBR considered the new design by Benjamin Baker, the relatively new medium of steel had been developed to the point where it could be used both for that and the new Tay Bridge. By the early 1880s, William Arrol had sufficient experience and capital to tender for both bridges. Much of the work was pioneering, for no similar work of steel had been completed elsewhere in a narrow estuary where the type of storm that had destroyed the Tay Bridge was a commonplace, with the added hazard that the Forth Bridge structure,was 400ft high. Arrol was simultaneously engaged on the replacement Tay Bridge, completing it in 1887, nearly three years before the Forth Bridge. The quality of material this time and the inspection procedures ensured that there was no repeat of the 1879 disaster. The Forth Bridge later became the model for the even more daring Quebec Bridge across the St Lawrence. A lighter note was struck by Arrol's building of Tower Bridge in London. He was also a considerable industrialist, with a large works at Dalmarnock giving his inventiveness an outlet. He gained a knighthood thanks to his sterling work on the Forth Bridge, ending his days in 1913 as the grand old man of Scottish engineering, head of the firm that made cars at a time when Walter Chrysler was still working for the Chicago Great Western Railway. A link with the past during the construction of the Forth and Tay bridges was that Sir James Falshaw, Brassey's old partner, was now the chairman of the North British Railway which gave Arrol his greatest opportunity.
Arrol's other major Scottish cantilever bridge was the Connel Ferry Bridge on the Caledonian Railway's Ballachulish branch, built in the early years of this century. The approaches and stonework were built by the main contractors for the branch, Best & Co of Edinburgh. Arrol's specialist team of erectors and riveters were indispensable in this tricky work and travelled worldwide on their many contracts. The testing of the Connel Ferry Bridge was carried out by a load of 740 tons crossing it, including eight locomotives, a test which it passed with flying colours.
The railwaymen. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1984.
Based mainly on being a railwayman's son who grew up in a community of railwaymen. It is partly autobiographical, especially in its reminiscences of Wharncliffe Gardens, near Marylebone Goods Station in London. These were very basic flats provided by the Great Central Railway to house its staff and most consisted of no more than two rooms plus kitchen and flush toilet. Coal was stored under the draining board to fuel a range. No bathroom was provided. In the 1950s rents were still only 10/- to £1 per week. Stan Joby was a fireman at King's Cross, but began and ended his footplate career at Neasden. He also fired the powerful Y4 0-4-0Ts which shunted the Devonshire Street yard: at this time (during World War II he was based at Stratford, and getting to and from work could be very hazardous.
The author lived in North Walsham, and a considerable amount of the text is coloured by his experiences of Norfolk, including the Midland & Great Northern Railway and its works at Melton Constable which now has no railway nearer than Sheringham, but was once a hub for routes to Norwich, Yarmouth, Cromer and King's Lynn. Rightly, there is a wealth of information about William Marriott, the Company's supremo who lived in Sheringham. But this book is more than a biography of a parent, or an account of the M&GNR; it is a description of a way of life that has disappeared, just as much as the life of the rural peasant who helped to gather in the grain harvest manually. He notes that there used to be over a hundred crossing-keeper's gatehouses in Norfolk: a great many of them are located between North Walsham and Norwich. At North Walsham the canning factory used to forward several wagons of canned vegetables daily in the season. The great flood of 31 August 1912 inundated the M&GNR line at Aylsham and 200 trapped passengers on a holiday train had to be fed and nurtured. Many of the staff worked for thirty-six hours without a break. The stationmaster held a highly responsible position and on the M&GNR before World War I earned between 30/- and 37/6 per week, twice as much as his non-clerical staff. He even qualified for a fortnight's holiday per year.
RAILWAY WORKS TOWNS [or Norfolk's railway Marie Celeste]
A ruined church, a farm and field were all that was to be found in the northern corner of Melton Constable parish before 1881. The site was hardly a natural choice for a major railway junction, being almost the highest point in the county. However, the help from Lord Hastings, both in land and in the House of Lords, was invaluable, so it was prudent to allow him to determine the site. How much coal and fireman's sweat was later wasted on this steep climb to Melton Constable from all directions can never be estimated., but it must have been considerable. A small works was set up and a row of terraced houses, Melton Street, was built. They were just over a mile from the large existing village of Briston. Shortly after the establishment of the railway colony, a young engineer, William Marriott, arrived to take charge of the handful of locomotives and of construction; he was to dominate the village for the next forty years.
The first few years of the system were a mighty struggle for mere survival. In 1883 the line had changed its name from that of the constituent small local lines to the ambitious but untrue Eastern & Midlands Railway. It had large plans but very little money. Its manager, Robert Read, was adept at raising money and obtaining stock and materials before a penny changed hands. He had had a lot of practice at this, running a very similar ramshackle railway in the West Country between Bath and Bournemouth the Somerset. & Dorset. Although the E&MR was largely built by 1883, it had to attract traffic which was not easy in what was a period of depression, especially since the Great Eastern Railway was understandably hostile to this interloper. Only half the intended lines were built. Neither the extension from Norwich to Dereham, nor that across the Broads to Martham, nor the north coast line from Kelling to Blakeney and Wells were even started. By 1887 insufEcient money was coming in to pay for maintenance and wages, let alone for new lines, new equipment and the mounting sum of interest on loans. Since the latter were not paid, the railway went into receivership with a view to early sale. Melton Constable's fIrst few years were very tough indeed.
Railwaymen were recruited from other railways and from farming jobs, then brought to what was described as 'a godforsaken spot' where they lived in cramped conditions in unfamiliar town-type houses with no shops, no entertainments other than those they could provide for themselves, no school, and until the Hastings Arms was built, no pub either. Turnover of labour was high in the fIrst few years. The jobs at Melton Constable were to drive and fire the locomotives, repair and maintain rolling stock and track, and to man the station and the passenger and goods trains. The two terraces of Melton Street were not enough to accommodate such a large body of workers, so in 1886, a third terrace, Astley Terrace was built. This was erected by a local builder on a promise from William Marriott to guarantee the rent of 1/6d per week for each house. Staff who rented these houses had to take up to four lodgers nominated by the railway company as a matter of course, making the houses very overcrowded at times. Other workers rented previously empty houses in surrounding villages such as Briston and Hindolvestone. By 1891, there was not an empty house for miles around, a rare occurrence in rural Norfolk in the late Victorian period. About 600 people in and around Melton Constable depended on the railway for their livelihood by that time, an island of industry in a rather bucolic sea of depressed agriculture.
Despite its poverty, the Eastern & Midlands Railway put on a brave show. Its shiny engines and immaculate stations of neat architectural appearance were noted by the leisure press of the period. It offered through connections from many points in Norfolk to London and the Midlands. Robert Read worked very hard to sell the line to interested parties and to this end projected its image as a going concern that only needed more capital and an upturn in the national economy to flourish. He also wanted to bale out the shareholders who had been without dividends, often from the start of operations. The Great Eastern Railway was not at all interested, as the lines were either competitive with its existing lines or formed poor connections with its own routes. The Great Northern Railway and the Midland Railway were much more alive to the possibilities, seeing in the expansion of resorts and the movement of produce ways of increasing their own traffic. They eventually took over the Eastern & Midlands in 1893 as a joint concern, each owning 50 per cent of the capital.
The poverty of the previous decade was immediately apparent to the engineers of the new parent companies, who, recommended relaying large sections of the track and ordered large numbers of locomotives, coaches and wagons, both to replace the worst of what there was, and also to prepare for the deluge of traffic that the parent companies were to pour on to their new acquisition. A direct connection from the western end of the system to Leicester was built, making for easy running through to the Midlands. As a result, cuts of up to two hours were possible in the timetables of long-distance expresses in the late l890s. The increased capacity also permitted the running of dozens of excursion trains, which became a feature of the Edwardians summer season. It wa.s possible to make the return . trip from King's Cross to Yarmouth via Peterborough and Melton Constable for 4/-, but it was just as well that few of the clients could read maps! All possible traffic from the Midlands and the North was pushed onto the system, and maximum publicity was relayed through the press to make sure that the public heard about the wonders of a Norfolk holiday.
Melton Constable benefited greatly from these changes. New houses of a much higher standard were erected on the south side of Briston Road and also forming the new Colville Road, named after a director of the Great Northern Railway. The houses were made of Fletton bricks rather than local Norfolk Reds, with slated roofs, damp courses, running water, toilets and even bow windows. In the settlement itself, Colman's the grocers set up, the Railway Institute was erected in brick and then enlarged, the primary school and later the secondary school opened to cope with the local baby boom, while on the servicing of the cormmunity, the gasworks and waterworks were greatly enlarged to cope with increased demand. Likewise the engineering shops and locomotive shed grew in scale, the former being so well equipped that it could erect locomotives by the early years of this century. Melton Constable even had a market in the fust decade of the twentieth century.
The busiest days in the year for the little railway community were summer Saturdays, when over a hundred trains moved through the junction from the early hours of the morning until well into the early hours of Sunday morning, connecting the resorts of Norfolk with London and the cities of the East Midlands and even further afield.
In the still of the night, the most active place was the engine shed, where some thirty engines had to be prepared for the coming rush. A few gas lights in the yard and the nearby station lit up polished highlights of the gorse-coloured paintwork and brasswork on the elegant little engines quietly hissing outside the shed. The greenish glare and the long black shadows gave an air of mystery to the cleaning lads who brought kindling and oily waste down the stationary rows of polished engines, tossing it up on to the footplate of each in turn. The rasp of shovel on coal and metal told of engines being lit up, while a dribble of thick, choking smoke from some chimneys and the glimpse of a dull red glow between driving wheels indicated that some were more advanced than others in their steam-raising. The early hours of Saturday mornings were no time for card schools inside fueboxes or practical jokes; work was against the clock for the next twenty-four hours and more. The dawn slowly illuminating the dense pall of smoke inside the shed and the signal gantry on the Norwich line warned the lads detailed to knock up sleeping engine crews that their task was approaching, and that they had better finish off their present duties to the satisfaction of the chargeman.
Just before 4.00am a group of lads scurried across the platform from the engine shed and then fanned out to hammer at the doors of sleeping drivers. If the first tattoo did not have the desired effect, then a handful of gravel directed at the bedroom window was tried, followed by more hammering, until a sleep-drugged curse or missile from a raised window showed evidence of mission accomplished. It was always a problem to know who to wake first when there was a group. It was probably safest to start with the one with the sweetest temper, hoping that the progressing din would have started to arouse those called later. The lads returned to their labours, checking each firebox to see that all was well and adding coal judiciously. As the light strengthened, drivers and firemen started to arrive, climbing aboard their alloqed engines to check that all was well and that steam pressure was increasing. The rattle of coal in the tenders increased in frequency as firemen made up their fires to their liking, thin and hot. The drivers pottered around with their oil cans, filling oil reservoirs, looking for signs of wear. Then it was a matter of taking one's turn in the queue for water and coal, cleaning up the footplate afterwards, giving the metalwork a polish and re-reading instructions before setting down to await an outward train.
The works staff had cursed the shed lads in their half-sleep at dawn, but their turn came to get up after 5.00am. Back-yard chickens and pigs added to the general stirring as the sun crept higher. By 5.45am, doors were beginning to slam as flat-capped men sauntered along Melton Street and Briston Road, over the bridge and down the steep flight of steps into the works. As the time for the hooter neared, steps became faster, until the last were almost frantic, running the last few yards to the time clock, so as to avoid a swingeing fine for lateness.
The 'slap-slap' of the drive belts coming down from the squeaking drive-shafts, the clanging of metal on metal, showers of sparks from grinding wheels and the whirr of the overhead crane overcame the clanking, whistling and banging from outside. For the next couple of hours, tasks unfinished from Friday or new tasks were tackled. The gaffers strolled round, eyes, nose and ears at the ready to detect any breach of rules, but usually little was wrong. The machinery was new, the community much smaller and closer than those at Crewe or Swindon. Some 300 men did every job from painting to erection between them. Until 8.15am work progressed at an even tenor; then there was a blast of the hooter and three-quarters of an hour in the canteen, where boxes of bread, cheese, onions and bottles of cold tea would relieve the pangs of hunger. Work fmished at 1.00pm on Saturday, so it was back to work with a will at the 9.00am hooter for the last session of the week.
When the fmal works' hooter of the week blew at 1.00pm, the machines received their last wipe, the apprentices put their oil cans down and the carpenters in the carriage shop neatly shelved their planes and chisels. It was freedom for a precious day and a half. Like the workmen, the office staff had Saturday afternoons off, but some could be called on to help with paperwork in the station when staff were at breaking point.
In the offIces at the east end of the works, William Marriott oversaw all. He was the respected chief of the M&G N clan who, by the end of the Edwardian era, had been in charge of Melton Constable for nearly thirty years. He was a God-fearing man of high principles and had a great sense of status. Once when a junior clerk was asked to nip up to the drawing offIce to see if the fire was in order just before Marriott was expected, the junior found that it n~eded attention, which he was giving it when Marriott walked in. He was told to desist, as fires were the head messenger's job! As a chapel man, he expected his flock to attend service, but there were both churchmen and men of no church on the staff, so he did not always have his own way. He trained his apprentices thoroughly, teaching them to make the immaculate drawings for which he was famous, giving them a grounding of a breadth that could only be accomplished in a works where everybody knew everybody else.
William Marriott's offIce overlooked the engine shed and station, both the busiest on the M&GN system. Coal economy was a fetish with him, as was the single-heading of even the heaviest trains. A league table of coal usage was posted for all to see, as well as being recorded in the minute book. The thin, white-hot fue was an M&GN characteristic, taught to all new fuemen, and observed unless they wished to incur the Marriott wrath. With it, fourteen coaches were hauled across Norfolk, unassisted on banks, to be handed over to a brace of Midland engines of more recent vintage at South Lynn or Bourne. Yet the engines were not flogged mercilessly to death, as were those black engines on the LNWR; they lasted well the original Beyer Peacock 4-4-0s of 1882 were the oldest 4-4-0s on the LNER when that company took over the M&GN in 1936.
In the village itself, Saturday was the main shopping day. Early trains from the coast brought up fish and shellfish hawkers, who did a brisk house-to-house trade following pay-day. Dripping wickerwork baskets contained the night's catch from the Sheringham boats. The children, free of school, got their ha'penny gobstoppers or everlasting chews from Colman's after mother had reeled off her long list of groceries. Food for the family and the lodgers made shopping a lengthy business. Men coming in from a distance stayed overnight with local families, as did single men who needed a bed. Many of the jobs required them to be within minutes of the station, shed or works, so lodging in distant villages was impossible.
After the midday meal, there was work to be done on the allotments, mucking out oflivestock or gardening for the works men. A highlight of this smallholding tradition was pig-killing, . a spectacle enjoyed by many, young and old alike. The results were shared out between the neighbours, right down to the black pudding and trotters. The brass band often had local engagements on the Saturday afternoon, squeezing aboard a train to an outlying village. The bowling green at the end of Melton Street was much used, but if there was a wedding on, the game gave way to the reception and photographs by tradition. The green was overlooked by a bay where engines awaited their trains, and legend has it that if the railway team was losing, the driver would obligingly send up a shower of cinders from the chimney, which would descend on the green and give a rough ride to the visiting team's bowls.
By mid-afternoon the flow of traffic was predominantly towards the seaside. Long-stay holidaymakers going on holiday replaced the excursionists and returning holidaymakers. They gave the refreshment-room staff a badly needed respite, as they usually still had the remains of picnic baskets brought from home. After a wedding, the 4.08pm was the favourite departure. The guard would be warned to keep a compartment locked until Melton Constable. The happy couple were seen aboard with much ceremony, and then the train departed to the explosions of fog signals according to a code never mentioned in the rule book. Further explosions at intermediate points could be expected, as the signalmen telegraphed the happy news along the line.
At dusk, windows lit up with gas mantles. Tea, as the evening meal is called in Norfolk, was late on Saturdays in summer. Men from the works had fmished their gardening or sport and the children had come in from the fIelds and lanes. Jugs offresh milk had been brought up from the dairy down the Brinton lane, as all was being readied for the day of rest. Not all would partake of rest, especially if traffic was heavy, but the Gospel Hall was always full, while the local church' choir would not have existed but for railwaymen and their wives and daughters. A spelling competition called a spelling-bee at the Railway Institute, a quiet pint and skittles at the Hastings Arms offered relaxation, while talk turned to plans for the annual outing for the children to Cromer on a flag-bedecked train with William Marriott playing uncle to his extended family of over 1,000 employees and their families. The annual shut down of the works for a week also gave families the opportunity of returning to other parts of the country, whence so many of them had come as recruits to the railway in its younger days.
Modest in size though it was, Melton Constable provided a full range of services to its small isolated system in the same way as Crewe, Eastleigh, Doncaster and many others did to their own larger systems. The communities of railway towns were often distant from other large centres, lacked good road connections until well into the twentieth century and were slow to acquire alternative sources of employment; indeed, the companies were hostile to the loss of their monopoly over the work-force, as paternalists often are.
The established railway families in these towns became the local working-class establishment. They were the councillors, mayors when there was no suitable management candidate, church sidesmen, secretaries of societies and later of unions when these became respectable. So long as they played their cards right, there would be apprenticeships, clerical posts or manual positions for their sons, who would have grown up in railway houses situated in streets named after directors or engineers. The sons had railway relatives and were educated in a school endowed by the railway, as a plate mounted above the entrance would remind them. Railway holiday trains took them to resorts where hundreds of their townsfolk would spend a week or fortnight simultaneously. Should misfortune strike the family, the railway-subsidised provident fund would help out and railway orphanages provided a long stop should relatives be unable to help a bereaved family. In such an atmosphere conformity was at a premium, or as a foreman was heard to say to a new boy, 'Keep yer nose clean and yer'll be all right like yer Dad'.
Those who did not conform, were merely different or known troublemakers, had a hard time of it as Alfred Williams at Swindon frequently found to his cost. As a writer whose horizons extended well beyond the pub, allotments, Swindon Town football club and the institute, he did not fit in. His perspectives and feelings were thus very different from those whose bow-windowed 'gaffers houses' in the same Swindon represented security, warmth and a comfortable, predictable future for themselves and their offspring. They were proud of the GWR and enforced its ways on the nonconformists. This unfortunately sometimes took the form of victimisation when labour had to be shed. Slumps and strikes resulted in management asking each department to produce lists of men to be made redundant. Not surprisingly this often included those who did not fit in or who had been agitating for improvements that the company was not prepared to make. Since their skills were often only marketable in railway towns and they had been discharged or even blacklisted, there was little to be gained from migrating to Doncaster from Swindon where there was also likely to be a dearth of work. They drifted away, few knew where.
It is to the credit of the railway companit:s in the inter-war period that they encouraged other companies to set up works in railway towns. Rolls~Royce in Derby and Crewe, and Pressed Steel and Imperial Tobacco in Swindon, provided alternative employment at a time when the railways were making many employees redundant, thus averting what could have been a disastrous situation in the depression years. The monopoly of power held by the company's representative on the shopfloor slipped as alternatives became available, but it took another war and full employment to destroy the old discipline and usher in an age when the railways actively had to seek staff and could not afford to lose skilled men.
In the days before continuous brakes became common on the railways in the 1880s, it was very difficult to stop trains under wet or greasy conditions. On 10 September 1881 a Massey Bromley 0-4-4T of the Great Eastern Railway was working a train of thirteen vehicles, all small light carriages of the period, with a, front and rear brake van, from North Walsham to Cromer. Only one brake van was manned, a new 12 ton vehicle which was considered by the guard and North Walsham stationmaster to be adequate, but in drizzling rain and with greasy rails the engine skidded past Cromer signal box at 5mph. The driver jumped down, shovelling ballast on the rails and in the end jammed his shovel under the wheels of the engine but to no avail. The engine went sailing into two empty carriages at the buffer stops, knocking down the porters' shed and damaging two of the train vehicles. Two guards should have been on the train, and the Westinghouse engine brake applied earlier. It stressed the need for good continuous brakes.