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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 26 - Winter 1975

A Christmas Mystery - Pegasus


As you sit in the comfort of your home at Christmas, surrounded by family and friends, spare a thought for the railwaymen of long ago (in the days before the railways shut down at Christmas), who kept the trains running th rough the snowy nights. Consider also the mystery of the Overnight Mail, which I will now relate.

One Christmas Eve many years ago, Bill Carter was on duty in Beamore signalbox, a lonely outpost high up on the moors. It had been snowing heavily, and a thick white carpet covered everything; only the lines of steel rail gleamed silver in the moonlight. Bill was one of the old school - a signalman for thirty years, loyal and dependable. He had volunteered for the night shift, even though it meant missing the festivities at home.

Things had been pretty quiet so far, but at 11.50 Bill was aroused by a "ting" on the block bell from Kirkby. This would be the Mail, the most important train on the line, so without delay Bill accepted the train and offered it on to his colleague, Joe Dwyer, at Howgill. (I should mention here that between Beamore and Howgill there was a signalbox called Malham Quarry, but this was only open occasionally, to serve the short single line that led to a quarry. On this occasion, the box was switched out, so Beamore was working through to Howgill). The bell signal was acknowledged, but Bill was a little uneasy - that didn't sound like Joe's "touch" on the bell. However, he was too busy clearing his signals for the Mail, and dealing with shunting in the yard, to give it any further thought. Soon, there was a whistle in the distance, and the Mail came roaring through behind a Midland Compound; a rush of lights, then the red glow of the tail lamp receding into the night. Bill gave Out of Section to Kirkby, and went over to the stove to make some tea. In the distance he thought he heard a whistle. "Must be the Mail passing Malham", he thought. "Strange, they don't normally whistle there; must be a new driver" . He settled in his chair, and was soon asleep.

Bill was woken by the insistent ringing of a telephone. It was a rather worried Joe at the other end. "What's happened to the Mail? It was due here half an hour ago". The two signalmen assumed the only logical explanation - that the train had failed in the section, and they telegraphed the news up to Skipton. Bill and Joe waited in their lonely boxes for a tap on the door that would be one of the crew come to summon assistance. But nobody came. Across the moors, all that could be heard was the low moaning of the wind.

At about 3 am, a rescue loco arrived at Beamore from Skipton with a group of worried officials aboard, and after a brief visit to the signalbox, they set off very slowly towards Howgill. Nearly an hour later, the loco arrived at Howgill and reported the amazing news; there was no sign of the Mail , the line was completely clear. The Operating Superintendent suddenly remembered the quarry branch, and ordered an immediate search to be made. But nothing was found. The rails of the main lines at Malham Quarry box were shiny, but the branch was invisible beneath a mantle of snow. No train had been down there that night. ... .

Bill is long retired now, and often laughs as he tells his grandchildren of his days on the railway. But if anyone mentions the mystery of the Mall all those years ago, he becomes very serious. "I have tried to think of a rational explanation, but I cannot; it is almost as if that train was lifted bodily from the rails and taken to some other place. I look back on that night and a shudder runs up my spine; perhaps there are some things that we shall never know".


Notes:
The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1975 and so does not reflect events in the 40+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Reference:
A Christmas Mystery - Pegasus - Quainton News No. 26 - Winter 1975


Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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