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Authors: James Smiley

A Station In Life

BOOK: A Station In Life
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Station In Life










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Copyright 2013 by James Smiley - All Rights Reserved

Language: UK English Spellings and Word Usage





Chapter One

Unshared pride

Chapter Two

Ominous stirrings

Chapter Three

Threats from a pig farmer

Chapter Four

Too distracted to be diverted

Chapter Five

Reverie on the footbridge, then bang!

Chapter Six

Woe overload

Chapter Seven

Peculiar people, at Upshott

Chapter Eight

Downhill struggle

Chapter Nine

The handless stranger

Chapter Ten

First day ends with kissing conundrum

Chapter Eleven
— Second day begins with bully conundrum

Chapter Twelve
— Accident on the viaduct

Chapter Thirteen
— Dream or reality?

Chapter Fourteen
— Big stones and bigwigs

Chapter Fifteen
— Porter hunted by women

Chapter Sixteen
— Third day brings a sad tale

Chapter Seventeen
— Fisticuffs

Chapter Eighteen
— Unrest in the spirit world

Chapter Nineteen
— Perpetual something or other

Chapter Twenty
— Spoiled Bloomers

Chapter Twenty-One
— The walking hog pudding

Chapter Twenty-Two
— The terror of a moorland storm

Chapter Twenty-Three
— Morse code sickness

Chapter Twenty-Four
— A spook comes to stay

Chapter Twenty-Five
— The trouble with progress

Chapter Twenty-Six
— Shop talk

Chapter Twenty-Seven
— Snow on the line

Chapter Twenty-Eight
— Mistletoe bliss

Chapter Twenty-Nine
— A station in life



This my era, this my age

Steam, not muscle, turns this page

And want drives the peasant from the farmland raw

To the pit, the crucible, and factory floor


Forge and hardship, street and row

Rivers of white hot metal flow

And run through the valleys to set rock hard

In rail, and junction, and marshalling yard


Not my era, not my age

Oil, not steam, turns this page

When frenzied souls must bide their game

To toil, by legion, each day the same


Methinks they’ll say of this land of scars

When scarce there is room between the cars

That the steel which once in these valleys shone

Has been, and now, alas has gone



Horace Ignatius Jay
  1838 - 1911


Back to contents page




How can it work?  How
can fledgling stationmaster, Horace Jay, journey from erotic fantasist to
devoted husband in the face of such distraction?  Endangered by the charms of a
scheming music hall dancer and burdened daily by the wiles and whims of
arrogant aristocrats, devious local peasants and artful railway employees, how
can this troubled bachelor gain the upper hand and find time to woo the woman
he really loves, at the same time keeping his job by concealing from the company
his fear of the electric telegraph?  Horace’s struggle can lead only to rapture
or ruin.


A quirky romance set in Victorian
England, told with authenticity and humour.


Back to contents page


  This book was written,
produced and edited in the UK where some of the spellings and word usage vary
slightly from U.S. English. We know from reviews of professionally edited
books, that these differences can sometimes be wrongly interpreted as
typographical errors.


Chapter One — Unshared pride


Imagine utter silence. 
Imagine not one aeroplane or motorcar anywhere on Earth.  Imagine a world in
which the loudest manmade sound is the clatter of a horse-drawn carriage
running over cobbles or the strike of a smith’s hammer.  Imagine, then, the all
pervading stillness of pre Victorian England.

Now imagine the coming
of the railways.

The year is
Eighteen-Seventy-Four and the tentacles of Britain’s railway network continue
to grow, most of the earlier lines now convulsing in the demands of rapid
progress.  This is the story of Horace Ignatius Jay, a fledgling stationmaster
on one such railway, the rustic South Exmoor line.  Horace begins…

I reported for duty at
Upshott station on a fine Monday morning in June, having arrived by the 5.05am
Mail train.  The former stationmaster, Mr Mildenhew, had vacated his rooms in
the station house to meet me on Platform One.  The gentleman insisted upon a
formal handing down of the books and keys with a solemnity that I believe was
intended to sober me to my new post, but as a time-served railway employee I
required no such ceremony.  Afterwards, with a glance at his silver
pocket-watch, Mr Mildenhew reminded me that I had but half-an-hour to unpack my
trunk, don my top-hat and frock-coat, and receive the 6.45am Market Goods

As a final gesture, Mr
Mildenhew handed me his company time-piece, declaring that I had inherited it
with the job.  His stoicism now betrayed by a tear, and no longer able to
speak, he shook my hand lingeringly and turned away.  This was a melancholic
episode which left me somewhat troubled, for in his faltering farewell I
detected an unspoken warning.

I summoned porters to
assist me, one to carry my bags to my new quarters, and two others to ship a
heavy wooden crate to my new office.  This crate raised eyebrows but I said
nothing of its contents.

I found my South Exmoor
Railway company uniform both comfortable and discriminating.  The proximity of
steam locomotives necessitated a strong black twill, and this serviceable livery
rendered all the more relief to the company’s vivid crest.  The crest had
resulted from the railway being capitalised jointly by the local business
community and landed aristocracy in the valley and was equitably distilled from
the shareholders’ coats of arms, although dominating the motif was the shield
of the Lacy family of Upshott.  Each variant of the uniform bore the crest
embroidered in gold and cherry thread by the mother of a junior member of

I watched a young horse
rider gallop into the station with an artefact known to railwaymen as a ‘token’
or ‘baton’.  This was a carved length of wood used to prevent head-on
collisions between trains travelling in opposite directions upon a single line
railway.  The passing of wooden batons to and fro between stations was an early
practise which I shall describe later because, used in conjunction with horses,
it characterised most aptly this peculiar little railway. 

Having seen to it that
the boy’s horse was watered and stabled I took a pinch of snuff and whiled away
the following few minutes anticipating the arrival of the Market Goods, at the
same time acquainting myself with the layout of the station.  Fatigued by my
journey to Upshott, I refreshed myself by patrolling the platforms in leisurely
style savouring the cool, moist air of Devonshire with its landscape still
glistening with morning dew.

In my solitude I
reflected upon Mr Mildenhew’s reluctance to introduce me to the station staff. 
Whilst I could appreciate that many of them were indisposed to muster at this
time, it would have been gracious of the fellow to at least summon the Booking
Clerk and Senior Porter, if not the Switchman.  Instead, he had sullenly
deposited his trunk in the Parcels office for safe keeping and wandered away to
the village, presumably to bid old friends farewell.  Attached to his trunk was
a company pass to travel by the first passenger train of the day, and so it was
that I knew he would return in time for the 7.47am Giddiford Junction train.

Despite his terse manner,
I felt sure that the former stationmaster was really of a kindly disposition. 
Indeed I saw in him much of myself.  Like me he had received little formal
education and seized upon the railways to better himself unhampered by
society’s class barriers.  This relatively new vocation could, given time,
reward the determined and self-disciplined equally with the privileged.  As in
my case, Upshott station had been Mr Mildenhew’s first permanent appointment
after having served as a relief master, he for the London Brighton & South
Coast railway and I for the London & South Western.  Because it was
customary for the South Western to supply the South Exmoor with relief
stationmasters I was already partially familiar with this beautiful valley and
its tortuous, eleven mile line.

A man of about my own
calibre, Mr Mildenhew had been dismissed for incompetence, and it was this
aspect of his fate which worried me.  You see, it was not a railway ethic to
offer an employee a second chance of promotion, even if the employee had
declined the first opportunity out of concern for his limitations.  Put in
plain English, you either seized every promotion offered or you became a dead
duck.  The result of this admirable precept was that the typical railway
employee stopped elevating himself through the ranks only when already out of
his depth.

Of course, a cunning
relief stationmaster could defer the knottier problems until the return of the
full-time incumbent, but when poor Mr Mildenhew had become the latter he
discovered that he simply could not balance the books in the long term.  And
since the company did not indulge in reappointing over-stretched stationmasters,
I knew that he was not leaving Upshott for a less demanding railway position
elsewhere.  Sadly he was leaving the railway community indefinitely and would
probably never hold a salaried position again.

To my aunt’s wise advice
‘in all circumstances think constructively’
I had long since added
deport one’s self with due bearing’
.  Mindful of this I squared my shoulders
and forbade myself reflection upon Mr Mildenhew’s fate.  Also I determined to
gather my staff for a formal introduction at the approach of Noon when no train
was due.

From the top of the
wooden footbridge connecting platforms One and Two I surveyed the tranquil and
reassuring scene that was Upshott station, nestling halfway up the south facing
slope of Ondle Valley.  The station house had been constructed of stone hewn
from nearby Splashgate quarry, the base of its salmon pink walls having yielded
to dappled mosses and its grey roof-slates to bright yellow lichens.  As if
inspired by architectural megalomania, the little square building was top heavy
with mock Tudor chimneys reaching impudently for the sky, yet still it remained
dwarfed by the tribe of hills surrounding it.  For here nature, not man,
determined the skyline.  The moorland’s natural steeples were founded in
emerald, rose through vast expanses of wind-scorched heather, and aspired to
granite peaks attracting lonely clouds.

The creak of timbers
beneath my feet and the rising smell of creosote transported me to my
childhood.  As a joiner my father had made his living building bridges just
like this one, until gambling debts overtook him and destroyed his work and his
reputation.  His fall from grace tore our family apart.

Upshott station,
although serving only a single-line railway, boasted three platforms. 
Platforms One and Two flanked a crossing loop which allowed opposing trains to
cross each other, and platform Three neighboured a short siding for handling
parcels and goods.  Beyond the goods shed were longer sidings serving a small
grain dock, weighbridge, and horsebox shelter.  Upshott station had no engine
house but located in the forecourt were stables accommodating two shunting
horses and two riding horses.

This peaceful morning
there were but two sounds upon the breeze; the station cock crowing from the
signalbox steps and the punctuating crunch of a fuel merchant filling his
handcart in the coal siding.  In the distance I could see the viaduct that
carried the railway across the valley.  This elegant structure had all but lost
its piers to a lake of mist, the streaky eoan light turning it into a giant
pink comb in the silver hair of dawn.  Soon its lofty arches would deliver a peace
wrecker whose plumes of smoke and steam would stain the daylight and broadcast
an intrusive clatter of wheels.  Soon the dawn chorus would be subsumed by the
asthmatic beat of a locomotive engaging the harsh incline through Upford

I believe that my father
would have been proud to see me standing here, his only surviving son
top-hatted upon a railway bridge, master of all below.  Sadly his pride was
something I could only imagine because when I was a child he had run away to
sea to avoid the consequences of his gambling obsession and was now, to the
best of my knowledge, somewhere in Australia.  The merchant navy may have
gained a competent carpenter but I had lost both parents and a formal
education, the work of the bailiffs leaving my mother in the workhouse and me
in the care of an impecunious maiden aunt.

The addition of an early
‘down’ goods train on Mondays, this being market day in Blodcaster, gave rise
to increased activity around the station.  Local farmers and drovers were
arriving with their reluctant livestock in tow, warily traversing the level
crossing that served the cattle pens.

The Goods clerk, a
fellow by the name of Phillips, emerged to rule over the loading and
documentation of these noisome creatures.  The plaintive bleating of black-headed
sheep and the bellowing of disgruntled longhorn cattle grew to a comical
symphony of protest during the boarding operation but the clamour ceased
abruptly once this was over, whereupon the hapless creatures awaited in
restless silence their next trauma.  This would come in the form of some very
rough shunting, for the schedule allowed the locomotive crew of the Market
goods train just thirty minutes to marshal and entrain the miscellany of wagons
strung out along Upshott’s grassy sidings.

When I was a child my
aunt had hired for me the services of a part-time tutor and this was the kind
of scene that the tutor would have taken me to witness as part of my education
in the modern world.  The precious hours I had spent with this inspiring lady
each week were the making of me and I reflected with embarrassment that I
developed romantic feelings for her.  Because my formative years had been
shaped by this woman’s love of learning and energetic influence I had come to
find all knowledgeable women alluring.  Even now, as a scarred cynic, I still
regarded women as superior to men.

I sighed and lowered my
head with dismay.  My mother having passed away in a workhouse and my aunt
likewise in an infirmary, there was no one with whom I could share this proud
moment and it diminished me.

All around me
preparations were in hand to dispatch the community’s produce.  On platform
Three, watercress from Hunt farm was being weighed upon the platform scales
before going aboard a rake of ventilated vans.  Rabbit carcasses were heaped
everywhere, and parcels marked ‘fragile’, containing pottery from Bessam, were
being strapped judiciously aboard a flat-truck.  On any railway, smell was a
prominent feature of mixed goods going to market and Upshott was no exception. 
Stirred into the station’s unctuous atmosphere was the sweet fragrance of
greenhouse fruits, the musty odour of edible mushrooms, the starch waft of
local lace and the peppery reek of dipped livestock.

Elaborate mechanical
linkages had been laid underground in the station to allow the Switchman, or
Signalman as he was now known, to swing the level crossing gates remotely by
turning a hand-wheel inside his box.  With all the merchants’ wagons and carts
gathered he set the hand-wheel spinning, and with a wild, hesitant swing the
frail level crossing gates clattered across the cobbled road that served the
station yard.

A stout company
dray-horse snorted as it struggled to pull a truck loaded with milk churns from
the dairy siding to the south siding via the running line, dewy sleepers
denying its hooves adhesion.  The Horse Superintendent had no time to be
sympathetic towards the beast and applied the crop, for looking down upon him
impatiently from the signalbox was the occupant awaiting completion of the
manoeuvre so that he could set the points and signals in favour of the
approaching train. 

A few minutes after the
dairy truck had been parked alongside all the other trucks on the weighbridge
loop, the Market Goods became audible descending the far side of the valley and
the atmosphere changed.  To permit the train to enter the station, the
signalman pulled one of his many levers and caused a disc signal located on a
forty-foot post to ring out like a cracked bell as it changed aspect.  Then, as
if in response, the distant and elusive rhythm of the approaching steam
locomotive increased in urgency and became the beat of a Zulu drum.

BOOK: A Station In Life
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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