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Stories from Malcolm

Stories from Malcolm

Another retired former signalman, 'Malcolm', has also sent me a brief history of his early days with the then London Transport Executive..................

When I started with L.T.E.

I joined LUL as a Box Boy in 1955 I was sent to Aldgate for 2 weeks training.

Aldgate was a modern Westinghouse 59 lever frame. It controlled from Liverpool Street (MET) with two reversing Met bay roads and inner and outer Circle lines from Tower Hill, also Aldgate east eastbound & westbound, District Line to Upminster and Earl's Court. It had six signalman - two early, two late turn, one nights and a meal relief man. It had two Box Boys  - one Met boy & one District boy. It was a very busy signal box to learn. I was transferred to Farringdon when a lad was called up for national service.

Coming from a modern box into Farringdon was like working in something that came from Queen Victoria's grotto! It had a manual big lever frame which had slotted signal levers and block bells from Kings Cross Met and High Holborn Low level and Moorgate Met. All the Box Boy did was to book the inner & outer Circle service plus Hammersmith & City service and in the rush hour the Metropolitan extension service (the Jack Wood line). We kept Moorgate informed of the out of turn running to the City plus where his reverser trains were, informed Baker Street Met on the on the state of running of the Jack Wood line service and also Edgware Road.

The telephone panel was another gem from the ark! It was I think the very first phone made by Graham Bell - the handset was made of brass and the panel was also brass. When Smithfield meat market rang to say the western Goods was ready to depart the brass flap on the panel dropped. Some bright spark had drawn little pictures on the flaps to indicate who was calling. The meat market was a little joint of meat, on the Station Masters was an 'Sm' sticking his tongue out at you. On the Controllers flap was a fat, red faced man bellowing at you.

The Smithfield shunter always said when the Western was ready 'rightawaywesternbob! It took me sometime to understand his cockney vocabulary!  If you asked again you got the same said so quick 'rightawaywesternbob'. Whenever he phoned there was always a lot of noise coming from the underground market it seemed he spoke from the deep bowls of the earth. One day I asked him what the weather was like down there? All I got from him was 'rightawaywesternbob'! I had assumed from then on that was the only word that the Shunter ever spoke.

When I left Farringdon I was pretty sure that the GWR shunter was just another gimmick from Queen Vics Grotto. At the other end of the phone a wax recording with the handset hanging on the end of the speaking tube. Queen Vic was proud if it. I was not amused. Now the Station Master was something else at Farringdon More about him later!

Dave, all the best!

Thanks for that Malcolm - sorry it's taken me a while to put up, but I hope you'll send me more stories!

Update added 21 January 2005

I'm delighted to say I've received another story from Malcolm of his early days with the L.T.E. leading on from his last contribution........ 

The Station Master at Farringdon was something else. I lived at Mill Hill East the first train from there was 05:48 connecting with the 05:55 at Finchley Central with the 05:55 to Morden via CX.  I changed at Warren Street then trotted across to Euston square arriving at Farringdon at 06:19. My SM was not satisfied with this and looked for ways of getting me to work by 06:00. After checking that there were no staff trains or buses in my area he changed my early turn roster to start at 06:20 until 14:20 and Sunday 9:00 to 17:00.

I was told a story by my signalman that a Porter on late turn asked the SM if he could go home an hour early every night that week so he could catch his last bus home instead of waiting for the staff bus. 'Of course you can' his SM replied.  The next week the Porter asked why he was seven hours short in his pay packet. The SM replied 'Surely you do not expect to go home an hour early every night and get paid for it?'. The poor old Porter staggered out of his office in a state of bewilderment & shock. (I had at last met scrooge very much alive!).

On a Sunday I went down to his office to get the weekly signal box stores. His store cupboard was behind his desk once you got inside it was like going into Aladdin's cave in all its glory. We had a half pound of soda that was weighed to the exact amount.  The scales had to balance half way and if one lump took the scale down it was removed and a teaspoon of loose soda was sprinkled in until dead right. It was then poured into a bag then it was dated stamped. The old bag was brought back the following week and if any soda was left over it was made up to half a pound. If we needed carbon paper the old sheet was put in front of the fire and heated up until the ink was wet.  Low and behold it was good for another week.  A pencil for booking the train log - a new one was cut in half the end was shaved and the date of issue was put on in ink. When this worn down he would give us an empty 5 amp fuse case which we had to sign for to slot the remains of the pencil in. Everything he issued was given date. I am sure he taught Scrooge all he knew.

Cleaning the cabin on a Sunday was a hard days work. It began by cleaning all the brass work it had plenty - all the brass bells and bell plungers. Then the cabin wall tiles. Clean the quadrangle, polish the oil lamp and trim the wick, clean the windows, sink and toilet then lastly scrub the lino floor and the board along the frame until white then polish the lino floor. Then you wrote a weeks train log sheets out.  Finish early? Not on your life!.

Half way through the week SM would come to the cabin to check on how you are using your stores (by that he knew just what was needed to be issued to you on a Sunday).

I remember in February 1956 it was snowing one Sunday afternoon. I said to my signalman it was too cold to do the windows as the wet cloth was frozen.  He said 'use metal polish that won't freeze'. The Divisional Inspector along the platform and said 'it is too cold for the windows get inside the cabin'. He came in behind me and asked where I live? When I said M.H.E. he said 'go home now as there are problems on that end of the Northern Line with this weather'.  My Signalman said 'He has not finished yet'.  My new friend the DI said 'I am sure as you have nothing to do you can finish then yourself'. I left the cabin with a big smile on my face, but I had overlooked one thing.  My SM saw me going home an hour early!  Lo and behold I was an hour short in my pay packet the next week. I had words with my friend the DI and soon got it back.

I left Farringdon in June 1956 and went to Finchley Central. I was to learn to be a Tunnel Tiger (tube man).

Thanks again Malcolm - I really hope there's many more such tales to follow!

Not to be outdone by Malcolm's contributions, I've received another e-mail from 'Smudgre', whose first story inspired this section.

However, before reproducing the tale, I thought you might like to read how he closed his mail to me.....  'PS. Nice to see one of my ex box lads contributing (Malcolm) I had best get in with a coupe more tales relating to Finchley Central before he does? LOL'  Nothing like some good old friendly rivalry and banter - long may it continue!

On with the story......

'I was working the early shift at Barnet cabin when the train I was expecting to arrive into platform 1 stopped at the outer home signal from whence he called me.

"There's a kangaroo on the track, can you get someone to catch it"?

Thinking this was a leg pull I got him to repeat his message, only a little more agitated this time.

I rang the Station Inspector (Rubber King - who got his title from his trade in condoms during the war),  passed on the message and he replied with a rude word and hung up.

By this time the train crept in and on entering the station sounded his whistle. Looking out into the coal yard happily bouncing along was a small kangaroo.

Just then the phone rang. It was the inspector excitedly telling me he was leaving the office to search for a kangaroo and having told him exactly where it was he hung up.

I watched himself and a couple of spare train crews marshalling this small animal with them darting back as though it was going to attack them. Finally they managed to get a rope around it and it happily followed them to the office, naturally being given tid bits to encourage it.

It turned out that the animal has escaped from its private zoo from one of the gardens south of the station. It was a story that still amuses listeners and one that Inspector King never lived down.'



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