Hilary's Diaries - Hilary Townsend President of Stalbridge History Society
Titles by Hilary Townsend
In previous columns recently I have written about Stalbridge dressmakers, shirt makers, glove makers and tailors so this time let’s look at working on the railway. Our railway station was opened on 10 September 1863 with the rest of the Blandford to Templecombe line. In 1874 the railway line was extended to run between Bath and Bournemouth and a year later the beloved Somerset and Dorset joint railway, nicknamed the Slow and Doubtful, ran from Bath to Bournemouth.
Stalbridge station soon included cattle pens, a goods yard, a siding that passed through the goods shed and a siding for the nearby gasworks. All this promoted trade but the trains also gave cheap day excursions to London football matches or the sea for ordinary people.
Permanent jobs on the railway were sought after and much respected. They gave the men prestige, a practical uniform and rail travel concessions and the strict discipline and ready sacking for mistakes resulted in great comradeship among them. It also meant great kindness to Stalbridge passengers. I sometimes saw a train that had started for Henstridge being signalled back to Stalbridge station because someone had arrived late.
I went to Gillingham on the train all through the war and on cold, wet, freezing days we children were always welcome round the fire in the tiny porters room. Early one fine morning a signalman named Dredge took a group of us children up to the signal box as a treat. A fox was sauntering home through the fields below. Mr. Dredge made a noise like a hunting horn and the fox vanished so fast.
The evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940 meant that trains full of soldiers took precedence over local trains. The men had been hauled off the beaches by little ships and if the troop trains had been spotted from the air they might have been bombed. We children got as far as Templecombe then spent the next two hours in terrific heat taking billy cans of water to the locked-in soldiers before their trains set off again. We finally got to Stalbridge at 7 o’clock each day. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ravenously hungry.
© Hilary Townsend