My very first train ride - to Blackpool - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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My very first train ride - to Blackpool

Grandad Winter, who had move in to live with us after Grandma had died in May 1942, often promised to take me after the war on a railway trip on the Devonian Express to Gloucester to enjoy the ride and to visit some of his relations, presumably my great aunts and uncles. Together we drew simple line diagrams of the route, marking the tunnels, the stations, the running times, and he told me about the many points of interest along the way including the extensive engine sheds at Derby, the famous crooked spire of Chesterfield's Church of St Mary and All Saints, and the well-known breweries at Burton-on-Trent. He also told me about the famous Lickey Incline where the gradient (bank) was so steep over a distance of 2 miles (3.2km) from Bromsgrove towards Birmingham that trains needed an extra push from behind by an additional locomotive known as the 'banker'.

Grandad died in our house in Cotton Street in July 1945, after VE Day but before VJ Day. I came down to breakfast one morning to find Mum crying and Dad comforting her. Dad took me to one side and explained that Grandad had died peacefully during the night and that I should leave Mum alone for a while. I was desperately sad because Grandad and I had got on so well together, not least because of the fascinating stories he used to tell me about his years on the LMS railway.

Although I didn't know it then, Grandad had suffered a stroke some weeks before his death. I had noticed that he'd become very forgetful and his speech was impaired; he had tended to repeat himself quite a lot, especially when reminiscing. Grandad was buried on 31 July in the family plot in Hunslet Cemetery, just a stone's throw away from the home on Westbury Terrace where he and his wife had lived in all their married life and very close to where my infant brother, Michael, was buried. Because my sister and I were still deemed too young to attend a funeral, we stayed at home and one of our kindly neighbours looked after us for the day. So I never did get a railway trip with Grandad but he'd kindled in me a lifelong interest in railways.

Shortly after Grandad's funeral I was given his ex-LMS Railway gold hunter watch, complete with solid gold chain, presented to him on retirement and which he had always promised me would be mine after his death. On the inside there was a small photograph of his wife. "Whenever I had to stay the night away from home," he used to tell me with a twinkle in his eye, "I always had your Grandma with me - keeping an eye on me." Sadly, I had only owned the watch for a few weeks when a disagreement between my Mum and her sister, my Aunty Nellie, resulted in the watch being packed up and sent off to Birmingham. I was distraught, as was my Mum. I never discovered what the disagreement was about but for several years the two sisters never spoke to each other although the cards and parcels for Kathleen and me continued to turn up on time for Christmas and birthdays. I never saw the watch again.

The death of Grandad Winter and the end of the war in Europe brought many changes to our family life. The main one was that the family could now go away for a day trip to Blackpool. We went by train from Wakefield Kirkgate station one Saturday morning in September 1945. We were there early to beat the queues at the booking office; I remember that the return fare for the four of us came to less than £1 because Dad got change from a £1 note.

By the time the lengthy non-corridor special excursion train pulled into Kirkgate's platform 2 from the sidings, there was a seething throng of folk waiting to board. There was a little unseemly pushing and shoving but eventually everyone was seated. In any case, one of the platform porters shouted out at regular intervals that there was another 'relief' train leaving for Blackpool in a few minutes. There were, as I recall, eight people crammed into our 6-seat smoking compartment. Mum and Dad had controlled my liquid intake at breakfast and warned me to go to the toilet before leaving home because there would be no toilets on the train.

This pic, taken in March 2008, shows a train just departed from Wakefield Kirkgate platform 2 for Horbury Junction and on to Sheffield. The low hill in the background is in the middle of Wakefield Park. Our former house in Cotton Street is below that hill out of sight in this pic.
I stood by the window on the right hand side of the compartment because I knew that a few seconds after leaving Kirkgate we would pass by our house at the end of the Cotton Street and I wanted to see what it looked like from that angle. My sister was content to sit on Dad's knee. There were no station stops because everyone on board was going to Blackpool. I jotted down the station names as we passed: Horbury Junction, Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd (which I couldn't pronounce properly), Hebden Bridge, and then across the border at Todmorden into Lancashire.

From Todmorden we went via Stalybridge and then slowly through Manchester's Exchange and Victoria stations which, in those days, were joined together to form what was then the longest continuous platform in the whole country (669 metres). After branching off the main line north of Preston another man in our compartment told me and my sister to watch out and see who caught first glimpse of Blackpool Tower; he did, of course, because he knew when and where to look. We eventually arrived at Blackpool Central station, one of the resort's three railway stations. Blackpool North and South stations are still open in 2015 but Central station has long since disappeared and a large car park now stands on the land it once occupied very close to Blackpool Tower.

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