Sidmouth Station – a lifetime ago
- Credit: Archant
Charles Victor Greening became station master at Sidmouth in 1936 and moved into the Station House with his wife Freda, 11-year-old son Bob and daughter Sheila, nine.
Mr Greening’s predecessor was ‘Puggy’ Faulkner (see the photograph on page 31) and before that the station master was Mr Perry. Sidmouth’s first station master was Stan Bakewell, from 1874.
Bob is now 92 and has many memories of life at the busy station.
“I do remember how busy it was pre-war with through trains from Waterloo and on Saturdays with a restaurant car attached,” he said.
“In the summer months, the platform was stacked with ‘Passenger Luggage in Advance’ and camping equipment for guides and scouts, who were staying on farms around Sidmouth, all delivered by the parcel van driven by Earn Channing.
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“Taxis queued past the station and up Station Road to meet the incoming London trains. A regular bus service served the town and hotels. A bookstall was at the end of the platform.
“The goods department in the station yard was equally busy with coal traffic from Wales, casks of beer for the brewery, and traffic from and to the businesses in and around Sidmouth, delivered by Scammel and two lorries based at Sidmouth. At peak times, relief lorries were brought in from Exeter and Honiton.
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“Fish came from Billingsgate on the first train, in boxes packed in ice, and met by local fishmongers who would wash and prepare it at facilities. There was a tap, then later a tap and concrete block, provided at first in the station, then in the goods yard. The fish would be delivered around the town.
“Fish such as herring, mackerel, and sardines, caught by local fishermen, would be sent away in boxes and barrels by train.
“I remember on at least one occasion, animals for a visiting circus arriving by train and elephants and other animals being led down Alexandria Road.”
Bob said his sister Sheila had a much better memory and, unlike Bob, who moved away in 1943 when he joined the forces, she has lived in Sidmouth continuously since 1936.
Sheila has many tales of their life at Sidmouth Station during the war and the post-war period until her father retired in 1952, when the family left the station house.
Her photographs record life at the station. Sheila’s mementos include a German bullet that was dug out of the platform. The bullet was fired, one moonlit night, from an aeroplane that was following the railway track to the coast and was returning home after a bombing raid over Exeter.
During the war, hotels in Sidmouth were requisitioned by the RAF and there were special trains on a Monday and a Thursday. The late train on Thursday arrived just before 9pm, when the station closed. Some of the men who arrived on that train were going up to the Branscombe radar station and had to wait to be collected. Their transport was usually late, so Mr Greening would insist that they came into the house to wait. Mrs Greening – even in wartime when food was rationed – would always find something to give them while they waited.
After the war, holidaymakers were still coming by train to enjoy the delights of Sidmouth and still using the Passenger Luggage in Advance (PLA) system. The luggage would be collected from the passengers’ homes by the railway van, one or two days before they travelled, then sent by rail to their destination station and delivered to the passengers’ hotels, guest houses or other location. After the holiday, their luggage would be collected and in a few days be delivered back to them. In 1946, it cost 1s.3d. for one-way and 2s.6d. return to use the PLA anywhere in the country.
In February 1947, Mr Greening had the sad duty of saying goodbye to a very long-serving employee of Sidmouth Station, Jack Foyle. In the 1920s photograph of the station staff, he is sitting on the ground and has a large moustache. In the photograph of the ‘handshake’ (previous page), they both looked smart and were ignoring the awful weather.
After the war, in June 1946, Sidmouth Station was the venue for the ceremony to name Southern Railway’s new West Country Class Engine, Sidmouth. Lancaster Smith, a member of the Urban District Council, performed the ceremony in front of a large gathering, and was presented with an inscribed coffee table, together with a signed photograph of the engine. After the naming ceremony the railway entertained the guests to lunch on the train.
Leo Dolling was a relief booking clerk and he remembers one August in the late 1940s. He was working in the booking office at Sidmouth when Mr Greening reminded him that he was to do the month-end paperwork after the 5.45pm train had pulled out. This had to be signed off by the station master and sent through to Exeter. A few days later, Mr Greening asked for the sheets to sign. The figures did not look quite right and he asked if they had emptied the ladies’ toilet door penny slot containers.
‘No’ was the answer, so Mr Greening took a cap from the hooks and emptied the containers, which, after counting the pennies, came to more than seventeen shillings. It was decided to add it into the September cash total. In Mid-October, Mr Greening received a letter from the divisional manager in Exeter asking why the September figures for the toilets were so high. He was not in the habit of writing letters. Instead he would fold back the corner of any correspondence he received and write his brief reply on the corner and post it back. On this occasion he wrote two words: ‘Plum season’.
During their time at the station, the Greenings’ cat ‘Fluff’ was an essential member of the team, catching the mice around the station yard. However, when she was off duty on sunny days, she liked to sleep on the railway line, so not only did the drivers look out for the signals, they would always look out for the cat.
If you have enjoyed the article and photographs there will be more memories and photographs of Sidmouth Station from many other contributors at the Model Railway Exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of its closure.
It is being organised by the museum at Kennaway House from August 22 to 24. n
Anyone with photos or memories of Sidmouth Station they would like included in the exhibition is asked to email email@example.com.