The unusual upsurge of Sabbath day commuters on January 15, 1950, is described in the opening chapter of a book about the golden age of steam that’s being reprinted on behalf of a cancer charity.
“More than 300 passengers travelled on the last (Newcastle to Belfast) train compared to the usual 60 or so on the preceding Sundays. The station staff turned out in force to see the train off and to watch as the signalman, high in his box, waved his own farewell. Passengers searched for mementoes from the carriages and autograph hunters pursued members of the train’s crew – elevated that evening to celebrity status.”
A local history book which captured the public’s imagination back in the early 1990s, but has been unavailable for more than 25 years, has been reprinted with the aim of raising vital funds for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.
Railway Memories, the work of three weekly newspaper journalists at the Mourne Observer in Newcastle, offered a fascinating insight on life on the railways in Northern Ireland back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Edited by Terence Bowman from interviews by reporters Amy Dempster and David Telford, Railway Memories compiles the recollections of a number of railway employees and their passengers in its 84 pages.
Included were a Castlewellan man who began working as a clerk in Crossgar at the tender age of 14, three brothers from Newry, and a Katesbridge man who recalled the arrival of American troops at his local station during the Second World War.
The 18 chapters cover the “golden years” and ultimate demise of the Belfast and County Down Railway and the Great Northern Railway.
The original articles, including humorous anecdotes and poignant memories, were serialised in the Mourne Observer between January and June 1991.
There are all sorts of “steamy reminiscences” – from firemen and drivers, track layers and ticket collectors, carriage cleaners, number takers and signal men – long defunct job titles evocative of days of yore when steam trains sped across the countryside, signing our skies with long plumes of sooty smoke.
When it was first published almost 1,700 copies of the book were purchased by railway enthusiasts throughout Co Down and beyond – with a number of orders arriving from heritage museums in England and Scotland, along with faraway sales in the USA and Canada.
There were three print runs in total, with substantial interest continuing for around a year.
Even today, copies change hands through Amazon for as much as £20 a time.
Terence Bowman, who stepped down as editor of the Mourne Observer almost seven years ago, had long held the hope that the book might one day find a new audience with little if any knowledge of the railway stations that existed in virtually every local town and village.
Sadly, it took the death, three years ago, of David Telford’s wife Lorna, to spur Terence into action.
David, a stalwart at the Down Recorder for the past 25 years, has expended considerable effort in the intervening time, along with daughters Emma and Evie to highlight the work of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.
This local charity, which receives no government support, helped, and continues to help, the Telford family through their traumatic journey.
Lorna, who was just 49, passed away in September 2014.
An assistant director with the South Eastern Trust, Lorna fought courageously for four years following the devastating cancer diagnosis.
Cancer Focus Northern Ireland’s Family Support Service helps families to cope with the disruption to family life and minimises the long-term impact on children’s emotional well-being. Family support workers discuss individual needs and arrange whatever support is best for a family.
All profits from the sale of Railway Memories will be donated to the charity’s Lorna Telford Forget Me Not Fund and will go towards helping families – a gesture welcomed by the Telford family and also by co-contributor Amy Dempster, now the mother of two teenage daughters.
Railway Memories was formally launched in the summer of 1991 at the Downpatrick and Ardglass Railway Company (now BCDR) museum in Downpatrick.
Fittingly, it is available at the shop there at £5, a relatively modest increase from the original cost of £2.95.
It is also available at the St Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick, Smyth’s at Railway Street (where some 250 copies of the original book were sold) and Lindsay Graham Estate Agents, Main Street, both Newcastle, along with the offices of the Mourne Observer in Newcastle and the Down Recorder in Downpatrick.
Copies at £6 (including postage, UK and Ireland) can be ordered by email from [email protected] or by post directly from Terence Bowman, 8 Mountnorris, Newcastle, Co Down, BT33 0QZ.
Every page of the book is packed with memorable railway lines from the golden age of steam: “That was the joy of the railway. Rain, hail, sleet or snow, the engine had to be kept going.”
“We would buy steak or sausages in Newcastle and after coating the coal shovel in some dripping we cooked the meat and eggs over the engine fire.”
“It was fantastic to see them (the American soldiers) in their long puttees and boots, all dressed for war. One of them asked me, ‘What are the chicks like around here?’ and I told him, ‘They’ve got two legs just like everywhere else.’”