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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 42 - Autumn / Winter 1980 / 81

A Matter of Time - A Short Story for Xmas by G N Mann


The shopping bag was quite heavy and I was glad to sit down on the wooden seat on the platform. It is rare for me to travel by rail - the reason today was that my car was out of use having its MOT test. I found myself looking around and taking in details, a luxury in which the car driver can rarely indulge - unless his vehicle is stationary. The long down platform of Hatfield BR (Eastern Region), with its modern waiting room, functional lamp standards, the central drain slot for rainwater and the galvanised steel train indicators, looked very austere on this sunny October evening. I glanced down to the back of the seat on which I sat and found it to be a relic of Great Northern days. The splendid cast iron frame must have seen at least one re-planking, to judge from the state of the paintwork and the work of the latter day vandals. One inscription seemed to have the truth. Deep cut into the wooden seat the letters proclaimed: GN Rules OK ....

I looked up to see a 125 Inter City bearing south, growling fore and aft around the long Hatfield curve. Hardly a jolt at 80 to 90 mph. Fifteen seconds and it was gone up the grade to Marshmoor and beyond. A tik-tak sound made me look back to the North; the sun had gone in now and, at the end of the platform, a man in railway uniform was at a bench knocking a hand lamp with a small hammer. He put down his work and went into a small brick building, which I supposed was the lamp room. Strange, but I had not noticed it before. On the wall of this building was the signalbox repeating bell, a large cast iron box job. It rang loudly (a familiar call) for a light engine - and, only a few seconds later, there was the crash of signal levers being pulled off ... I could not see the Signalbox, but I knew it was there behind the lamp room building.

The empty clank of a locomotive slowing but not braking caused me to look to my left. I realised that the empty roads to the West of the platform were now full of coaching stock, the suburban articulated sets of the early 1950s. The locomotive, an N2, came to a dawdle, as the crew passed some remarks to the man with the lamps - and it then trundled out on to the headshunt, under the road bridge, to the North of the platform.

The sky had grown overcast and the lamps on the platform hissed their warm yellow gassy glow. I thought, how soon the evening comes on at this time of year .... Another ring from the signalbox bell and the clatter of levers heralded an A3 thundering North to Peterborough - no doubt, with a full train of weekend passengers, today being Friday .... Almost crossing the Northbound express at the platform, came a high speed goods, all metal wagons, with a load of fish! The V2 at its head was making smoke, a bit of late firing, I thought, for the last pull up over Marsh moor and the Potter's Bar summit. As the smoke and smell of fish cleared, I wondered how long he had taken heading up from Hull perhaps or Grimsby.

The sound of shovels distracted my attention from the fish train's tail light and, as I turned, I could see some men filling a small gauge 'tub' wagon with coal from a larger wagon. The 'tub' was pushed manually to a lifting device and inverted over the hopper of the small coaling plant. Under the hopper stood a crisp apple-green Thompson L1, her empty bunker awaiting the load .... The line of coaching stock had moved a little, to reveal the depot! Three locomotives were now watering and being cleaned, including the N2 which had recently arrived. The L1 moved forwards, set back into the carriage road and coupled to the rake of artics. Soon she moved away South, crossing the two main lines and reversing into the up platform. A smart bit of work by the signalman, I thought.

A guard in the old LNER livery peered round the end of the up train to check his tail lamp. Two minutes a sharp whistle blast and the L1 pulled away up the curve bound for Brookman's Park, Potter's Bar and all stations to King's Cross .... I was only mildly surprised to see the shape of the old water tower appear through the smoke and steam.

It was the Stirling single wheeler simmering in the up bay which really caught my eye. It was at the head of a short rake of well polished clerestory roofed coaches. The Prime Minister (Lord Salisbury) must be at Hatfield House for the weekend, I thought .... The measured tread of well polished boots on the platform heralded the station master in his smart tail coat and wing collar. He passed by, wishing me good evening and with the rejoinder not to miss my train ....

I looked up to the blazing lights of the carriages just coming in and there sure enough was the Royston bound GN Electric to take me home. It was a pleasant dream.


Notes:
The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1981 and so does not reflect events in the 33+ 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 Matter of Time - A Short Story for Xmas by G N Mann - Quainton News No. 42 - Autumn / Winter 1980 / 81


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