Short Story: Bringing coals from Yorkshire

Bringing coals from Yorkshire

Paul Salveson

A fine Spring morning, not quite daylight. May 1st, 1913. Bolton loco fireman Jim Heaton signed on at 4 a.m. He’d cycled down from Astley Bridge, where he lived with his parents. Dad was an old-hand driver at Bolton shed and mum worked in the Card Room at Hesketh’s mill on Blackburn Road. He’d been with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway since he was 13, starting as a cleaner at Crescent Road sheds in 1906. He’d got ‘booked’ as a fireman in January after seven years service.

Joe Coyle, the shed time-keeper, looked up from his desk. His mournful expression said it wasn’t good news. “Mornin’ Jim. Tha’s geet an A Class this mornin’. Loco number 1303. Booked engine’s bin pinched by Control for another job. Tha’ll have fert manage. Nowt we could do lad.”

Jim’s rostered job was to take a train of empty wagons from Halliwell Sidings to Crofton, near Wakefield, with his regular driver Bill Brotherton. Easy enough task with a small loco like an ‘A’ class if they weren’t over-loaded. Coming back would be a different proposition. Normally it was 50 wagons of loaded coal from the Yorkshire pits for Lancashire’s mills. The job was booked for a big eight-wheeled freight engine – a ‘Sea Pig’ as the locomen called them. They’d pull anything. An A Class could only manage half of what a Sea Pig could take up the gradients coming back from Yorkshire. All steam locos are different, even members of the same class which were built to the same specification. And this one, 1303, was a notorious ‘bad ‘un’. Often ‘shy’ of steam and not as powerful as most of her classmates, even though she’d been given a new boiler at Horwich Works only two years ago.

“Aw suppose we’ll have fert mek do. Hast spoken to mi driver?”

“Aye, Bill’s havin’ a look at her neaw. He’s noan so happy noather.”

When Jim got to number 9 road he could see Bill oiling round the engine. He’d been firing for Bill for six months and it was a good relationship. Bill was in his 50s and had started on ‘The Lanky’ when he was 10, as a cleaner. He’d been booked a driver for 10 years and was one of the shed’s most respected enginemen. He was well-known for his fine tenor voice – he sang in his chapel choir and these last two Christmases had taken lead roles in ‘Messiah’. This morning, piety was notably absent.

“A right shower o’shit they’ve gi’n us Jim. This bugger’s notorious for bein’ a poor steamer. Weak too. Won’t pull th’skin off a rice pudding’. Aw hope tha’s not on a promise wi’that lass o’thine?”

“We’re goin to th’ May Day demonstration this afternoon, aw said aw’d be theer for 1.00.” Jim had been ‘courting’ Sarah for six months now. They’d met at the Independent Labour Party one evening at a lecture by the well-known local feminist Miss Sarah Redddish on ‘Co-operation and Mutual Aid: the Way Forward’. Taking her literally, they agreed to meet again the following Sunday for one of the Clarion’s cycling runs to the Ribble Valley, with tea at Clarion House near Ribchester.

“Tha’ll be bloody lucky lad, but between us let’s do eawr best. Th’revolution meyt have fert start beawt thi. An’ aw were lookin’ forward to a pint or two in Th’Church after we’d

The Clarion House at Ribchester

signed off.“

At 4.45 they were ready to go. It was nearly light though Beehive Mill was yet to ‘get agate’ and the air felt fresh. They were running ‘tender first’ to Halliwell where they’d pick up their train and return through Bolton and head eastwards into Yorkshire. Bill eased open the locomotive’s regulator and slowly moved out of the shed, into the daylight. They’d got a full tender of coal and a tank of water. At the top of the shed yard Jim jumped down to phone the signalman at Burnden Junction they were ‘light engine to Halliwell’.

Within seconds the signal came off and they steamed past the box, to a friendly wave from Ted Blackburn, one of the regular ‘bobbies’.

“What’ve they given you today then?” Ted shouted from the veranda. “Tha’ll be lucky fert get as far as Rochdale wi’that owd crock!”

“Aye, thanks Ted, thee get back to thi nice warm stove and read your bloody newspaper.”

The engine trundled through the recently rebuilt Trinity Street station with its elegant long platforms. The engine stopped for a moment  by the Guard’s Messroom, to pick up Sam Hopkinson, one of Bolton’s most experienced goods guards –  a man with a foul temper and language to match.

“What the fuckin’ ‘ell’s this they’ve given us? A fuckin’ A Class? Aw just hope Control know fert reduce th’ load comin’ back from Crofton. We’ll ne’er get whom. An’ aw’ve  a darts match toneet. “

“Aye, but it’s not thee as’ll be shovellin’ th’ rock Sam,” Jim said as his mate climbed onto the footplate.

“Thank Christ for that, aw durnt envy yo’.”

They branched off at the far end of the station – Bolton West Junction – towards Blackburn through the short tunnel under Bradshawgate.  Approaching the junction for Halliwell Sidings they slowed down to wait for the ‘bobby’ – Joe Croston – to pull off the signal for the branch line. The engine slowly eased round the curve onto the branch and stopped by the Yard Foreman’s cabin. Jack Nelson came out to see them.

“Tha’s geet forty empties – 25 for Crofton but detach 15 at Sowerby Bridge. Report to th’Yard Master at Crofton for your return working. And bloody good luck!”

“Aye we’ll need it,” said Bill. “Jack, sithee, get on to Control and make sure we get a banker at Bury. We’ll struggle gettin’ up Broadfield with this bugger.”

The engine backed down onto the train of empty coal wagons – about 400 tons behind the tender. Normally an easy job for a large freight loco but a big job for the modest A Class.

Sam walked back to his van and gave the ‘tip’ to the driver, in the shape of a folded up Bolton Evening News. A long shrill whistle and the train juddered into motion. Joe had already pulled off his signals to get the train out onto the ‘main line’ back down to Bolton. The first challenge was Bradshawgate Tunnel ‘dip’.  The line dropped down from the junction and over the River Croal at a steep gradient, then half way through the tunnel the line started climbing again up to the station. With 40 loose-coupled wagons it was a  challenge to a driver’s expertise to keep the couplings ‘taught’. If they bunched up in the dip you’d get a nasty snatch which would throw the guard across his van and risk breaking couplings. The guard had to keep his brake screwed down hard to assist the driver.

“Here we goo then,” Bill shouted across to his fireman. “Howd on. An’ aw hope Sam is doin’ too!”

Bill’s technique was to go slowly over the Croal Viaduct then open up the engine and charge through the tunnel keeping all the wagon couplings taught – ‘on the stretch’. An added touch was to burst into one of his favourite Verdi choruses to add a touch of drama to the occasion, not that it was required. On this occasion, it was ‘The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ was appropriate.

“Va’, pensiero, sull’ali dorate;
Va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l’aure dolci del suolo natal!
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate…
Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta!”

(Go, thoughts, on golden wings;
Go, settle upon the slopes and hills,
where warm and soft and fragrant are
the breezes of our sweet native land!
Greet the banks of the Jordan,
the towers of Zion …
Oh my country so beautiful and lost!)

Perhaps stirred by Bill’s aria, that morning the signalmen at West were on the ball and made sure the train had a clear run through the station. Bill had the engine working close to full power, with the cut-off extended to the maximum 75% and the regulator thrown right across. So far so good. Loco 1303 responded well and was steaming nicely as Jim shovelled more coal into the firebox. At East box Bill slowed to take the junction onto the Bury and Rochdale line, looking back as they negotiated the tight curve to make sure they hadn’t had a break-away. They wagons were all coming and he was able to give guard Sam a wave, as he leaned out from his veranda.

They crossed Burnden Viaduct after passing Rose Hill Junction and the Wanderers’ new ground. Then Darcy Lever Viaduct, looking down to the mills below, which were just starting to get into action at 6.00 a.m. Approaching Bury there’s another ‘dip’, even worse than that at Bradshawgate – ‘Bury Hollow’ as locomen called it.

This time, Bill wasn’t so lucky with the signals. Approaching Bury the distant signal was ‘on’ meaning he might have to stop at the next signal, before the dip. As the train crept up to the ‘home’ board it came off and Bill opened the regulator to do his customary charge, but only to find the next signal was against him. He managed to control the train without too big a ‘snatch’ that would have knocked Sam around in his van. At the next box – Bury East – the signalman was stood outside.

“What’re yo’ playin’ at bobby?” Bill yelled. “We need to get a good road with this, not stoppin’ at every bloody peg.”

“Calm down owd lad, aw’m stoppin’ thi because yo’ asked for a banker, and tha’s gerrin’ one. Draw forward and th’ banker ull come up behind thi. Aw reet?”

“Aye, aw reet.” Bill grudgingly replied.”Aw suppose aw’d better say ‘thank you’.”

After a few minutes they saw another A class come down onto the back of their train, ready to push them up the steeply-graded line through Broadfield towards Heywood. The driver of the ‘banker’ loco whistled, Bill replied and off they went.

It was still hard work going up the 1 in 82 climb past Heap Bridge Junction and Broadfield but they made it, though boiler pressure was starting to reduce. The assisting engine dropped back after Broadfield to leave Bill, Jim and Sam to continue their way forward alone. At that time of day traffic was light and they ‘got a run’ at Castleton East Junction, where they joined the main Manchester – Bradford line. On the west side of the Pennines the gradients are not as severe as coming from the east, so 1303 was able to shift the 40 wagons comfortably, though not without some collar work by Jim. Beyond Rochdale were Clegg Hall water troughs. Jim got ready to drop ‘the scoop’ to pick up water as the engine passed over. The amount a slow-moving train could pick up was limited but, in most driver’s view, every bit helps.

The landscape between Bolton, Bury and Rochdale was heavily industrialised punctuated by short stretches of open fields which hadn’t yet succumbed to development. From Heywood it was hard to see any sign of greenery, with mills and weaving sheds clustered along the lineside, many with their own sidings to take in coal to power the boilers and send out the finished cloth or yarn. The scenery began to open up by Clegg Hall, a famous old house reputed to have its own resident ghost – or ‘boggart’. The Pennine hills were getting closer, with Knowl Hill rising up above Littlebrough on the left.

“We’ll tek water at SowerbyBridge,” said Bill to his fireman. The line is still climbing as it enters Summit Tunnel and the exposed footplate was shrouded in smoke and steam as 1303 settled down to about 25 mph, with steam pressure starting to drop. “We’ll soon be over th’top, don’t worry,” Bill shouted across to Jim. “Downhill aw th’road then.”

“It’s not that aw’m worried about,” yelled Jim above the racket. “It’s comin’ back!”

“Aye lad. But let’s not meet trouble hauf way shall we?”

Bill eased off the regulator just over half way through the tunnel and the train drifted out the other side, through Walsden, Todmorden and Eastwood. It was a different landscape – of three or four-storey stone terraces, a narrow valley with the River Calder hugging the land with the Rochdale Canal vying for space. The mills were smaller than the huge cotton spinning factories of Bolton, Bury and Rochdale. There was more weaving out this way, around Walsden, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. Cotton was gradually displaced by wool as they moved east.

“By gum we’re in Yorkshire neaw!” Bill shouted across, with irony. We’st be mashin’ a brew before long…I think it calls for a song…”

Bill broke into ‘The Anvil Chorus’ from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, one of his favourites. He’d seen it performed in Manchester last year and dreamt of hearing Caruso perform it at La Scala.

“Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie
De’ cieli sveste l’immensa volta;
Sembra una vedova che alfin si toglie
i bruni panni ond’era involta.
All’opra! all’opra!
Dàgli, martella.”

(See how the clouds melt away
from the face of the sky when the sun shines, its brightness beaming;
just as a widow, discarding her black robes,
shows all her beauty in brilliance gleaming.
So, to work now!
Lift up your hammers
!”)

After Jim sat down, the hard firing work done for now, he offered a polite round of applause.

“Tha wants fert get in that Clarion Choir, ne’er mind aw this cyclin’ stuff.”

“Maybe one o’those days but my voice isn’t owt fert write whum abeawt.”

“That’s what they all say,” Bill answered. “Tha should give it a try. Anyroad – we’ve got the distant off at Hebden Bridge so we’ll get a run to Sowerby aw reckon.”

After Hebden Bridge they passed Mytholmroyd and approached Luddendenfoot. “Neaw then,” announced Bill. “Famous railway literary shrine – wheer Branwell Bronte were station master but spent most of his time suppin’ ale in th’ village pub.”

Within a few minutes, they plunged into Sowerby Bridge Tunnel, preparing to stop for their shunting operation. Detaching wagons at Sowerby Bridge was a complicated job involving reversing back onto the up line, then drawing forward into sidings. At least there’d be yard staff on duty to assist, and a lighter load going forward.

The train came to a halt just west of the station, waiting for the signal to draw forward across to the up main. A minute later a sharp whistle was heard in the distance and one of the Lancashire and Yorkshire’s crack expresses, from York to Liverpool, roared past towards Manchester with one of the new Horwich-built ‘Highflyers’ at the front.

“They durnt know heaw lucky those Newton Heath men are wi’ them injuns,” said Bill. “While we’re stuck with this.”

Seconds after the express had passed, the ground signal cleared to allow the goods train to cross over and then reverse into the sidings. The yard staff did their job well, detaching the first fifteen wagons under Sam’s watchful eye and getting Bill to shunt them onto another road. They stopped next to a water column and Jim jumped up onto the tender to ‘put the bag in’ and get the tender filled. Then draw forward again and set back onto the remaining 25 wagons for Crofton, before reversing onto the main line. The signalman changed the points to enable the train to access the east-bound ‘down’ line and they were away once again.

The loss of the 15 wagons made the load more manageable, though it was mostly flat or downhill. Apart from a stop near Thornhill to let a ‘passenger’ come across from Dewsbury, they got a clear run. The landscape changed from rugged moorland to industrial, with a succession of collieries and factories and dozens of lines branching off in all directions.

They passed through Wakefield’s Kirkgate station and could smell the cooking wafting over the tracks from the refreshment room. “Eh, aw could just do wi’ pie an’ peas, served by that sweet Yorkshire rose,” Bill said, leaning out of the cab to give a wave to Sarah-Ann the manageress as they passed. “But we’st mek do wi cheese butties at Crofton.”

At Wakefield they left the ‘main line’ and edged slowly on to Calder Bridge and onto Crofton Sidings, one of the biggest yards in the West Riding and only opened three years ago, a collecting point for coal from the pits around Wakefield, Castleford and Featherstone.

The train was met at the yard entrance by a shunter who jumped into the cab to direct them to their arrival road.

“Han’ yo’ lads coom aw th’way fro’ Bolton wi’this little injun?” he asked in a  nearly incomprehensible Wakefield dialect. “Why doesn’t ta ask th’shed foreman at Wakefield if he con gi’ yo’ owt better to geet whoam?”

“Aye it crossed mi mind,” replied Bill. “But bi th’ time we’d finish buggerin’ abeawt we could be whom anyroad. But thanks owd lad.”

The shunter uncoupled the 25 wagons and got back into the cab. You’re train’s on number six road, 25 loaded coal for Bullfield Sidings, wherever that is. Aw hope tha does?”

“Oh we do, well enough” said Bill. “But 25 o’coal wi’ this is un’s gooin t’ be bloody hard wark.”

“Aye, tha’s reet. Onyroad goo an get thi snap for neaw. Tha’s not due eawt while 9.30.”

Bill, Jim and Sam left their engine at the head of the train of loaded coal and made their way to the cabin. There were a couple of Yorkshire crews there, Normanton men, mashing their tea and having a fry up.

“Bowtun men eh?” said one of the Normanton drivers said to Jim while he was making his brew. “A long way from hooam wi’ an A Class aren’t tha?”

“Aye, we got lumbered wi’ this instead of eawr usual engine. An’ we’re purgin’ to get whom this afternoon.”

“Footbaw’? Didn’t know th’Wanderers were playin’ today.”

“Neaw, it’s a demonstration – an’ aw’m meetin’ someone.”

“Oh aye, what sort of demonstration’s that then? A union job?”

“Sort of – a socialist meeting. We’ve got one o’thi fellow countrymen speaking, Philip Snowden from Keighley.”

“Oh we know him! A gradely lad. We’ve had him at our ILP meetings mony a time. He’s one of us. Doesn’t look up to much, but when he gets goin’…a sort of political equivalent of one of eawr ‘Highflyers’.”

The conversation over the tea urn continued for several minutes. The driver was the union branch secretary at Normanton and chairman of the local ILP branch. Walter Hampson, a name that rang a bell with Jim.

“Haven’t you been over to Bolton Socialist Club to speak on something? “

“Might have done, a year or two back. On the need for one union for all railwaymen, if I remember right. The idea still falls on stony ground with mony of ‘em round here.”

Bill motioned to Jim that they it was time to get back to their engine for the haul back over the Pennines. A prospect neither was looking forward to.

“Listen,” Walter said to Bill and Jim as they finished their brew. “Why not fail your engine. Leakin’ tubes, summat like that. I know the shed foreman down the road at Wakefield, I’ll square it if any questions are asked. “ I’ll get onto Control and make sure I speak to one of our ILP comrades who’s on early shift today, and get ‘em to agree a swop. We’ll take your A Class back to Normanton shed and get the fitters to tek a look. You have our engine. It’s a large-boilered eight-wheeler. It’ll waltz away wi’ 25 o’coal.”

Bill and Jim exchanged glances, but needed little persuasion. As senior man, it was Bill’s decision.

“Well, it had been givin’ trouble comin’ over Summit on th’way here. Aw think those tubes do need a proper look. Aw think it best if we failed her.”

Walter was on the phone to Wakefield Control. He got straight through to Jeremy Martlew, his ILP comrade who was manning the ‘loco’ desk that morning. “Sure Walter, tell the Bolton lads to take your engine and we’ll square it with Manchester Control. We’ll get our loco sent back on Monday morning’s Halliwell-Crofton.”

The men shook hands. “It’s what brotherhood is all about,” Walter said to Bill and Jim. “Lancashire and Yorkshire workers united! And you might just mek it back in time to hear Philip, an’ see that lass o’thine, which aw think is the more urgent question.”

The swop was done. All Walter and his mate Gordon had to do was take the ‘failed’ A Class number 1303 back to Normanton shed, drop the fire and sign off. Bill and Jim climbed up onto the footplate of the big ‘Coal Engine’ that they’d seen working into Bolton with Sowerby Bridge men, but hadn’t worked one themselves.

“Just make sure she gets a good even fire,” called up Walter’s mate, who added “and durnt be scared o’working her hard. That’s how they like it. Plenty o’welly. Full regulator an’ a long cut-off.”

The ‘arrangements’ had made them a bit late leaving the yard. They got the right away from Sam just after 10.00 and Bill moved his new steed down to the signalbox that gave access onto the main line. They were away, swinging their train out onto the main line and past Wakefield loco shed, over Calder Bridge and through Kirkgate station, with a saucy wave from Sarah-Ann as they steamed through.

“What d’you reckon then?” Bill asked his fireman. “Con yo’ manage? It teks time gettin’ used to a new class o’loco and she’s a big firebox.”

“Aye, aw think aw’ll manage, Joe replied. “Aw’m gettin’ used.”

It was a dream compared to the abandoned A Class. She had power in plenty and was a good steamer. Fire all round the firebox, nice and even. Regular and often. Coal the size of a man’s fist. Keep at it. Watch the water level in the boiler. Look out for signals ahead.

All was well. Horbury Junction passed, then Thornhill, Anchor Pit Junction, Brighouse and Elland. They weren’t going at any great pace – a nice steady 35 would get them back to Bolton in good time.

Could anything go wrong? On the railway, anything could – and often did. They were galloping nicely through Mytholmroyd then saw the distant signal ‘on’ as they approached Hebden Bridge. The home signal cleared as they approached, but they could see the signalman stood on the veranda with a red flag. They ground to a halt.

“Tha’s geet an hot box, reawnd about 15th wagon back,” the signalman shouted. “Detach it in th’ up refuge siding an’ we’ll thee on your way.” Looking back they could see smoke and some flames coming from one of the wagons. Sam was running up by the side of the train to have a look. The ageing wagon had developed a hot axlebox, all too common with some of the ancient wagons that the L&Y were still, mostly owned by the collieries rather than the company. This one belonged to ‘Fryston Colliery’, out Castleford way. Sometimes it would be lack of lubrication, or slurry had got into the axlebox. Whatever the reason, if it was allowed to continue the axle could break and the wagon derail. Carrying on wasn’t an option.

“Bloody hell,” thought Jim. “This’ll set us back half an hour.” The chances of getting to Bolton for 1.00 were receding rapidly. Jim helped Sam uncouple the wagon and drew the train forward past the box. The bobby shifted the points to allow Bill to reverse the front portion of the train into the refuge siding where Sam would hook off the defective wagon. Then they’d have to move forward again, out onto the main line and reverse onto the rest of the train. Then they’d be away.

They waved goodbye to the Hebden Bridge ‘bobby’ at 11.15, with Bill shoving the regulator over to full as the gradient up to Summit started to bite.

“If we get a road we’ll have you back for your bloody meeting in time,” Bill shouted above the loud exhaust of the engine as Jim started shovelling regular rounds of coal into the firebox. The train was picking up speed as they rounded Charlestown Curve to see Eastwood’s distant signal on.

“Bloody hell, what’s goin’ on neaw?” Bill shouted to his mate. They drew up to the signalbox and the signalman leant out of the window.

“Sorry lads, Control orders. You’re running out o’course and unless we get you eawt oth’road you’lll delay th’ Liverpool express. You’re goin’ inside the up loop. Tha’s reet to draw forrud.”

Bloody Control, but not much they could do about it. Bill gently opened the regulator and the train drew forward into the loop to allow the express to pass. They must have been there 15 minutes before the Liverpool ‘flyer’ shot past with another ‘Highflyer’ on the front. The Newton Heath men waved to Bill as they galloped past.

A minute later the signal cleared to let the coal train out onto the main line and they were away. It was 12.00 and the meeting on the town hall steps was just starting, Jim remembered.

“Go for it Bill, we’ve a tender full o’coal, th’sooner we get back to Bowtun the better.”

Bill opened the regulator to full once more, extending cut-off on the valve gear to 50%. The train belched a pall of smoke over Todmorden as Jim put on more coal. The sound from the hard-working loco would have woken the dead from the nearby cemetery at Walsden, before they plunged into Winterbutlee Tunnel, and then the longer Summit bore.

From the top of the climb, in the middle of the tunnel, Bill was able to ease off steam and drift down through Littlebrough and into Rochdale. They passed Castleton East at 12.35. This time they were going down Broadfield Bank instead of up it, and careful management of the train through ‘Bury Hollow’ had them approaching Radcliffe just before 1.00.

“Well Jim young lad, tha con have a bit o’rest neaw an’ look forrud to seein’ that lass o’thine.”

This time Bill broke into Bizet’s Carmen, singing in ‘Lancashire English’ this time:

Let’s go, en guard! Let’s goo! Let’s goo! Ah!
Toreador, en guard! Toreador, Toreador!
And dream away, aye, dream in combat,
That a black eye is watching thee,
An’ that love awaits thee,
Toreador, love awaits thee!
An’ dream away, aye dream in combat,
That a black eye is watchin’ thee
And may love await you,
Fireman, love await you!”

“Heaw abeawt that then?” Bill looked across the footplate with a twinkle in his eye. Jim smiled back and looked out for the signals for Rose Hill Junction. All clear.

The drifted down towards Bolton East Junction and the signals remained clear for them to get  through Bolton station. They still had to get their 25 wagons into Bullfield Sidings, hook off and get back to shed to dispose of the loco. Bullfield was less than half a mikle beyond the station, on the route to Lostock. The signalman at Bullfield East was ready for them, and got them into the sidings without delay. Jim jumped down to uncouple the loco and Sam had run up to join them on the footplate.

“Light engine, shed, bobby!” Jim shouted up the signalman.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get thi whom,” Eric Mayoh called back. “What’s the big rush?”

They shot off through the series of tunnels before Bolton station, dropping Sam off on the platform as they slowed down to walking pace. Then Bill opened up the engine up again to race towards the shed. It was 1.25.

They came onto the arrival road where the engine would be coaled and then fire cleaned. That would be another 15 minutes or more. Fortunately there were no other engines on the disposal road and Harry Aldred and Joe Withers were the disposal team on duty.

“You two look like tha’s done moor than a day’s work awready. Bugger off an’ we’ll sort out the engine. What is it? Aw’ve nur sin one o’these fuckers before.”

“Oh, we’ve kidnapped it from Yorkshire…”

When Bill and Jim signed off , they realised what Harry Aldred meant. Jim’s face was black from coal dust and the rest of him was filthy as well.

“Listen lad, tha cornt go an’ see that lass o’thine lookin’ like that. Aw’ve a change o’clothes in mi locker, meyt be a bit big for thi but they’ll do…”

Within a couple of minutes Jim had washed the surface coal dust off and changed into Bill’s spares. They were several times too big but they’d have to do.

He jumped onto his bike and pedalled off towards town, hoping to hear the strains of the Milnsbridge Socialist Brass Band who’d been hired for the occasion. He caught sight of the procession coming down Deansgate, with the Clarion cyclists – and Sally looking resplendent, with her red bicycle at the front.

Where the ‘eck have you been? And what’re those clothes you’re wearing?” Sally laughed. “You look a proper sight. Come here an’ give us a kiss, thought your train had got lost…”

“It has, but we pinched another one. Co-operation and mutual aid work in lots of different ways.”

With thanks to Noel Coates and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society