Tenterden Terrier

Potty characters at Kinnerley

The late Bill Willans, cousin of Tom Rolt and son of the originator of the use of Sentinel engines as locomotive, was an apprentice fitter on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire in the late 1920s. He recounted his experiences for The Colonel the journal of the Colonel Stephens Society, which by kind permission we reproduce here.

The Colonel Stephens Society website is at www.colonelstephenssociety.co.uk

Part 1

On the sixteenth of January 1928, I made my way to Kinnerley shed! Not a soul in sight! There were no lights of any sort and a general air of abandonment. I found my way into the shop where a vertical boiler was sizzling gently to itself! Someone must have been about. On a wall adjacent to the shed was a blackboard upon which was written in chalk the following:

  • LOCO No 8 - 7 - 0
  • LIGHT UP SHOP
  • BOILER AND PUT FIRE ONE SIDE

It was quite some time before I interpreted this to mean that Loco No 8 was required at 7.00 am, and “light up” did not refer to illumination. If “boiler” had been on the same line as “light up shop”, I might have understood.

Shortly afterwards, Arthur Fardoe - known as “Tootie”, don’t ask me why - arrived. He warned me that the boiler was inclined to roar at times. If it did, “open the fire door a crack”, he said. The next arrival was the early morning train from Criggion hauled by Loco No 8 crewed by driver Frank King and fireman Teddy “Burbie” Jones. I think that Bill Cole was guard on this occasion.

Then came my boss, Charlie Owen. If he was in any way pleased or interested in my presence he very successfully concealed the fact. Handing me a wad of waste, he told me to clean the machine tools.

Kinnerley in June 1932Things were gradually coming to life. George Beeston, the senior apprentice, arrived next. He viewed me with a mixture of disbelief and suspicion. When I look back on those days, I am not surprised. George and I however, got on very well and I soon took over such tasks as heaving coal for the shop boiler, maintaining steam and - to my disgust - drying and sieving sand. I should mention that I had received firm parental instruction to do whatever I was told without question. If word ever reached my father that I had jibbed at any job, my life would not have been worth living.

The layout at Kinnerley is well known to many, but for general interest, such details as I remember will follow. The shed was adjacent to the Criggion branch, on the right hand when walking from the station. Two roads entered the shed: at the side of the right road was a coal dock, at the end of -which was a high-level water tank for filling locomotive tanks.

At the back of the coal dock was a siding which in my time was generally occupied by Gazelle. To the right of the shed was a wind pump, an oil store and the “usual office”. I am unable to recall the pump ever lifting any water.

In the roof of the shed were the usual vents to get rid of smoke when lighting up. However, considerable skill seemed to be used to ensure that an engine was never positioned under one of these, so that when an engine was raising steam, the atmosphere closely resembled that of the infernal regions. In the far right hand corner was the general stores where, if one sought diligently one could generally find anything that was required!

In the shop were several ancient machine tools: a centre lathe, a stiff spindle drilling machine, a very ancient planing machine, the usual grinding wheels and a forge. At the extreme end was a small steam hammer.

All the machines were belt driven from a line shaft which extended the full length of the shop. From the same shaft were driven the forge blower and a small dynamo for lighting the shop and shed. During the summer of 1928, everywhere was rewired and tested. This was the only occasion upon which the dynamo was used while I was there.

kinnerley_fitters_shopThe shaft was driven by an ancient, single-cylinder horizontal steam engine, supplied with steam by a vertical, centre-flue boiler built by Cochranes of Annan. I hasten to point out that it was not one of the well-known “Cochrane Patent” boilers.

Steam was also supplied to two Worthington duplex pumps. These drew water from a somewhat muddy stream and delivered it to the high-level tank. Water from this tank flowed by gravity to the tank at the end of the station platform and was controlled by a ball valve.

On the bank of the stream above the suction point was a creamery, which periodically discharged a repulsive waste product into the watercourse. At such times, the authorities sent a messenger to us and pumping was suspended for about thirty minutes.

It soon became my regular job to spread the fire in the boiler, raise steam and start one of the pumps. It also fell to me to get in enough coal to last for the day. Early in 1929 there was a very severe spell of cold weather and when I arrived one morning I found the line almost at a standstill. Shortage of water had prevented any locomotive from being moved. I say almost because the Rattlers (the petrol railcars) were not affected. Much time was spent siting “devils” and thawing out frozen ball valves.

Just beyond the shed were stored Loco No. 2 “Severn” and the Royal Coach. I never got into the latter and while I have no exact memory of it I think it must have been locked. Had it been open I’m sure I would have got in.

In charge of the shed was Charlie Owen, a blacksmith by training and a most versatile character. His general knowledge of steam locomotives was immense, and this extended to driving when necessary. If Gazelle and tramcar deputised for the Rattlers, Charlie invariably was the driver.

I say invariably, but on one occasion when he was ill, the job was done by Bill Austen with George Beeston as fireman! Similarly if the service was run by a Terrier and one coach, Charlie was the driver.

Next came George Beeston, apprentice. I do not know when he joined the railway, but he was there at the time of the General Strike of 1926. At that time, the staff must have been somewhat greater than in 1928-29 because George spoke of a boilermaker of all trades remaining at work. He and George had proceeded with general retubing and so on.

Kinnerley Engine ShedA floating character was Arthur Fardoe; as well as lighting up he fired and, upon rare occasions, drove locomotives. He invariably pronounced “steam” as “stem”. On one memorable occasion he was driving one of the Terriers (probably No 7 Hecate) on shunting duties without a fireman. He entered the shed in a state of great agitation and approached Charlie with the outburst:

“I can’t do anything with ‘er. ‘ER won’t stem. I’ve got no stem nor wayter. I’ve got no bloody wayter in the boiler nor in the bloody tank!”

As is well known, the Terriers had no injectors, only crosshead-driven feed pumps and this was at times highly inconvenient. On this occasion, Charlie, having ensured that there was water in the tank examined the fire. He rounded on “Tootie” and said:

“You have not got enough fire to boil a kettle, let alone melt a lead plug!”

He took No. 7 out and, in the manner of Jehu, drove her furiously to and fro until the situation was restored.

The footplate staff consisted of one driver, Frank King, and one fireman, Teddy “Burbie” Jones. To these must be added Sid Nevitt, the railcar driver. Frank King must have at one time worked on the Kent & East Sussex, as he often remarked “when I was on the Kent”. Prior to this, however, he was a driver or fireman on the L&SWR and talked of his days as a cleaner at Nine Elms (I think). Later he went to India as driver on the Bengal Nagpur Railway.

Of Teddy Jones I know very little, other than that he was a most genial man. In the period that the Sentinels were on trial, there were two locomotive crews and Teddy was a driver. The firemen then were Jimmy Congram, son of the local coal merchant Joe Congram, and Dick Ainsworth. Jimmy seemed to revert to the coal trade, but Dick, having been unemployed for a while, was helped by Colonel Stephens to go to India and become a driver on the Madras and South Marhatta railway.

Sid Nevitt was a most jovial character, and at times I was detailed to assist him. At first I considered this somewhat infra dig, especially if the railcars came to the shed for repairs. But Sid was such a congenial fellow with whom to work that I came to enjoy it.

I particularly enjoyed this work when the Rattlers broke down away from Kinnerley. A platelayers’ trolley was acquired, and Sid and myself pumped our way to the scene of the disaster. This seemed to often take place when they were doing a run to Criggion, and failure usually took place in the vicinity of the Tontine Hotel! Amongst other things he taught me that classic “It was Christmas Day in the Workhouse”