Coaley Signalman

Recollections of Derek Markey

Transcribed from a recorded interview made by Allan Guy (2001)

[AG] "Derek, you worked down at Coaley Junction as a signalman."

[DM) "Yes I did, I was there for about five years roughly, from 1958 until about 1963."

[AG] "And what was Coaley Junction and the railway like at that time?"

[DM] "Far busier than it is today. You were on the go most of the time. As you can imagine, when you were in the signalbox there, course it was the... you had the big levers to pull and the bells to ring, and was ringing, as well as seeing to the Dursley branch, Course you had the main line which was the busier of the two things."

[AG] "What sorts of things happened. What do you remember from those five years in the box?"

[DM] "On the main line, not much. You just kept the trains running, it was busy, especially on summer Saturdays, it was always very, very, busy. Friday night, Saturday morning, during the summer, especially at the peak weekends you were on the go all night. Otherwise then... course at the same time, in the daytime, you were seeing to the Dursley branch which... the train just shuffled backwards and forwards. Well, that was about it really."

[AG] "When you say you were busy all night, what were these, freight trains running in between the passenger trains during the day?"

[DM] "At night, on a Friday night, Saturday morning, in the summer months, it was all passenger trains. All... nearly all, from the north and eastern England to the west of England and Bournemouth because, when I was at Coaley in those the line to Bournemouth from Bath was still open and you were extremely busy on a... especially the peak weekends, when as you know, years ago, all the factories in the midlands and the north all shut down, end of July, beginning of August."

"When you used to look out from Coaley signalbox, you looked across fields. You didn't see any motorway, it was just plain fields, which was very nice. You could see all the animals and at night you could hear all the birds because it was so very quiet then."

[AG] "What sorts of things happened on the Dursley Donkey line then? You said the
main line was rather quiet."

[DM] "Well, you couldn't keep all the wagons on the road... on the rails or on the road as they used to call it. But in general... I suppose... one of the most interesting things I can remember happening was when the donkey nearly ran out of water. When it happened there was a novice fireman on the train that particular Saturday and when the train come down from Dursley, the last one at night, they hadn't taken water at Dursley. On getting to Coaley, the driver realised that they were getting short of water, and if they didn't get water, it had to be a serious thing of what they called dropping the plug to put the fire out. So their first attempt was to fill the engine with water from fire buckets and a tap on the station which quite literally just dribbled water. They failed in their attempts and the engine then made a quick dash back to Dursley and just made it in time to take water to save the day. He then had to return back to Coaley to pick up his coach to return to Dursley where he stayed then for the night, or in this case on a Saturday night, he stayed there until Monday morning."

[AG] "Normally would it have been shedded at Dursley?"

[DM] "Yes, the engine was always shedded at Dursley and the coaches left at Dursley on a Saturday night until... well every night until next morning."

[AG] "'Cos Dursley branch line was quite busy then with stuff going up to Lister's and Mawdsley's and..."

[DM] "That's right, Lister's in particular always produced a lot of traffic for the railway."

"I was the signalman on duty when the very last train, the last passenger train, left Coaley Junction, September the 8th 1962. I was the man who had the honour, if that's the right... or privilege, of pulling off the signals for the last train to leave. I can remember it well, the stationmaster come up in the box with me and the guard off the train and a few other people who was on the station. They all come up and they saw me pull off and then to a lot of cheering and a lot of detonators had been placed on the rails, which you may know the detonators were fog signals really. They were all exploding as the engine left and made its way for the final journey to Dursley which... yes, was a sad occasion really."

[AG] "Were there many people there to see it off?"

[DM] "There was many people, the train was packed and there was still a lot of people just on the station just to see him... just to see the train leave, but, again if you'd have had that many people all the time I don't suppose they would have shut the line."

[AG] "Derek Markey, many thanks."