John Andrew: Working at Aberayron Railway Station (2011)
On 5 October 1956 at the age of 20 I was sent to Aberaeron for six months’ training to become a signalman and to learn the duties involved. This was to make me the youngest signalman on British Railways. I had previously worked as a porter in the Goods Department in Aberystwyth Station. The intention was to become a relief signalman on the Aberystwyth –Moat Lane Section, covering holidays and sickness. However, when the time came to return to Aberystwyth, I had got engaged to my landlord’s daughter and had no wish to return to Aberystwyth, so Mr Oliver Veltom, Manager of Oswestry Division, decided I could stay in Aberayron.
Aberayron Station was small: there was an office, a waiting room, a toilet, a stove, an oil store and a concrete cabin where the train staff ate their food. The work in the station was varied and interesting. In the morning I would open up the yard and assist the guard with the shunting to form up the train points on the yard – these were hand-operated for each siding. As signalman I would then contact Felinfach Station and obtain permission for the train to occupy the section of the line between the two stations. This was done with the control of a ‘staff’ (a kind of key) which, when handed to the driver, gave him the right of way for that section: signals and points were set to ‘Go’. If a ‘staff’ failed, a request form permission to take the train forward had to be put in writing and a taxi was called to take the request to the next station. The train could not move forward until a written reply was brought back by the taxi driver (Mrs Ann Jones of Regent Street). Whenever a train departed, all times were recorded on a log book, and again when it reached Felinfach.
The work in the office was more or less that of a clerk, answering telephone enquiries, taking orders for cattle-feed from farmers or the agent of the cattle-food company. I would also assist in making up loads for delivery by lorry and assist in loading the lorry from store, and record all parcels for delivery. Parcels being sent off were weighed, charged and stamped, much as the Post Office does. There were two lorries attached to the station – one for collecting and delivering parcels within the town and the other for collections and deliveries over about a 10 mile radius, as far as Plwmp to the south, Llanrhystud to the north and from Bethania to Trefneter and Felinfach inland.
A lot of pups were sent from Aberayron to Birmingham, London, Manchester and other destinations. We had to arrange for these animals to be fed and watered at various stations they passed through.
We kept a daily rolling-stock return, which had to be submitted to Oswestry every afternoon and usually we would phone them with the details during the morning, especially if we had any unusual rolling stock in the station, things like ‘ crocodiles’ for carrying telegraph poles, as a close watch was kept on specialist vehicles.
We made out the pay-sheets and worked out the PAYE tax codes for all the Station staff. Pay day was on Friday and all cash arrived from Oswestry on Thursday. We sorted wages and each man had a tobacco tin with his name on it to contain his pay. Once a month the pensioners would get paid and they talked of times gone by when they called in the station to collect their pension.
Once a week all signal lamps had to be brought in, cleaned, trimmed, re-oiled and taken out to the signals again. The distant signal was 800 yards out from the station oil store and we could usually jump on the train for a one-way journey and walk back with the old lamp to clean up.
A lot of the day was spent assisting the porter to unload trucks of cattle food, etc. into the stores. We had two, one for Silcock’s feed and the other for Levers Feed, Crosxxxx and Calthrops.
Flour arrived weekly and we delivered it the same day to Bowen, Crown Bakery and Spillars, Quay Parade.
J D Lloyd was a big user of the railway and several truck-loads a week were delivered to their warehouses in Water Street, South Road and behind the Monachty Arms.
Coal merchants were notified of coal deliveries and were given 3 days in which to collect the coal, which was bagged at the station. Failure to collect would lead to a charge for leverage. In practice, we usually gave the coal merchants four days. in my time the cola merchants were Dewi ‘Glo’ (Dewi Jones, Regent Street) and Lewis ‘Y Glo’ (Iorrie Lewis, of Ael y Bryn and later of Weston), whose business was later bought by his assistant Ernie Lewis (father of John ‘Y Glo’).
One troublesome consignment was day-old chicks, arriving at 7 20 p.m. when one had to phone out to a country address and get the farmer to call for them. As a result, the shift could often not finish until 9.00 p.m.
The coffins of those who had died away from Aberaeron were sometimes brought back by train for burial. These would be collected at the station by Mr John Elwyn Evans in his hearse.
When I began work at Aberayron Station, there were two holiday carriages on site. Holiday-makers would send us their grocery orders in advance and we would then pass them on to local grocers, who often gave us a discount in appreciation.
Accidents were rare but I do remember an engine going off the rails, as it was being shunted into a siding and a crane had to be brought from Machynlleth to recover it. This led to an official enquiry. There was also a sad incident when Jim ‘Llain’, a deaf and dumb man, walked along the line between Aberayron and Llanerch Ayron Halt and was struck down by an oncoming train and killed.
As signalmen, Bill Bowen and I were in charge. We worked a shift system – early (5.45 a.m. – 12.55 p.m.) and late (12.40 p.m. – 8.00 p.m.).
On one occasion the auditor’s visit produced an interesting result. For two weeks every year we had to cover the holiday period at Ciliau Aeron. I used my car for the 4 mile journey only to be told that this was not permitted. Instead, I was allowed ‘walking time’ to and fro – 8 miles at 20 minutes per mile, which came to 2hours and 40 minutes a day. I received back pay of around £50 and so I bought my first camera from Thomas the Chemist (Aeron Pharmacy, now Freddie Moulton’s shop in Bridge Street)!
I was at Aberayron Station from 1956 to 1964 and a list of my colleagues during those years is provided overleaf.
ABERAYRON STATION STAFF, 1956
(Supplied by John Andrew) Herbert Evans
John Andrew (Regent Street)
William (Bill) Bowen (Newfoundland Terrace) Evan Jones (Maesycrugiau)
Will Jones (‘Will Dolgader’)
Johnny Jones (Queen Street) David Leonard (Darkgate Street) Bill Williams (Quay Parade)
John (Jack) Evans (Racine) Tommy Owen (Llanilar)
Oswald Evans (Darkgate Street)
Jackie Edwards (Llanbadarn Fawr)
William Griffiths (Will yr Erw) Owen Davies (Cau)
Tommy Handley (Lampeter) Roy Williams (Tenby)
Other staff at different periods
Station Master Replacements:
Gwilym Jones (Ystrad Meurig)
Glyn Roberts (Llithfaen, North Wales)
Haydn Davies (Fireman later in place of D Leonard)
Len Wiseman (in place of Oswald Evans) Idris Evans (in place of Bill Williams)
Bill Andrew (Regent Street) Gerald Davies
Glyn Jones (Pennant)
Ron Evans (Lampeter) Eifion Rees (Carmarthen)