Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 21st February 2011 by Jenny Porter
Full length interview with Dennis Flood
Interviewee: Dennis Flood
Interviewee Age: 58
Interviewee Gender: Male
Interviewee Address: South Wales
Date of Interview: 8th August 2009
Dennis Flood Transcript
MR - Your name I understand is Dennis Flood
DF – Yes, It is indeed
MR – And, are you resident in Edge Hill?
DF – I was for many many years, I lived just off Edge Lane
MR – Do you mind me asking how old you are?
DF – I’m 58 years of age
MR – Lovely, thank you for that. I understand you were rail man for many years
DF – Yes, I still am actually, I work for Freight Line and Crew now. We used to work into Edge Hill up to last year, it was a Freight Line service that came through from Seaforth. The train of course came in to the cutting there at Wapping. The Engine used to turn round and go back towards Crewe. The station itself I’ve known for 50 years. I started coming down here in the late 50s early 60s when I was a youngster and I got to know all of the station staff who were here at the time. I used to come down and ask them if they’d let me go on the station and they’d let me go on the station for a period of time, you get to know them. The guys here will need to be named I think because none of them are with us now, bless them all. But they are all characters. There were two foremen here – Bill Harrison who lived off Picton Road and Sid Whitewick, two different men altogether. Bill was almost so laid back he was comatose but got the job done anyway and Sid Whitewick was an ex military man. You know, ramrod straight, smart as a new pin you can have a shave in his shoes, tremendous individual. The station staff themselves, they called them porters in those days but latterly they call them rail men and senior rail men they were Jim Mcmanus, Jim of course liked his beer. Spent half of his time in the Durning Arms pub I can say this now of course because he’s no longer with us. But again, he got the job done when he was sober – when he was drunk he used to lock himself in the booking office and shout at the passengers ‘pay at the other end’.
There was Charlie Fawkes, his first name was Price because he was a Welsh descent Charlie. He was called Charlie to his friends – a Mr Pickwick character, a very ale man Charlie. To be honest he was probably. . .out of all of the staff here, I got on very well with Charlie. He gave me the run of the place, you know, was tremendous to me – anything I needed I could have, tickets, anything – help yourself, take what you want you know. Always helpful, always amiable to everybody – passengers, animals, anybody who ever came here he was always pleasant to.
Then there was Sam Leaventhall and you can tell by his name that he was of the Jewish faith. Sam of course was very, very proper but again nonetheless another character would not eat bacon on a Friday because of his faith. What the staff used to do to wind him up was have bacon fry ups on a Friday in what was the staff waiting room just out on the platform here. The smell of bacon was lovely wasn’t it you see, Sam would come in there, sit in the corner and of course he’d have his skullcap on sat in the corner you see just to emphasise that you can’t eat bacon on a Friday you see. The smell of bacon wafting across the mess room must have been too much for him and of course Jimmy Mcmanus – one of the Rail Men here took the frying pan across to him, wafted it across his nose and said ‘come on Sam, have a bacon butty, put some brown sauce on it’. ‘Nooo’ said Sam ‘I can’t have it, my faith wont allow it’ ‘Come on, we won’t tell the Rabbi’ . . . After a few more minutes now, the smell of Bacon and when the brown sauce came out, you know that was too much for him. Of came the Skullcap, in his bag and he said – and I’ll be quite diplomatic, he said ‘Blow the Rabbi, he won’t find out, give me a bacon butty!’ So from there on afterwards, he always ate bacon on a Friday and no one ever told anybody and of course what would happen then is he would say ‘If you see the Rabbi, don’t tell him’. Well of course the good Rabbi never came to Edge Hill Station did he you see. But they were all characters, all characters and I had the run of this station.
MR – ‘What was your job?’
DF – At that time, I worked in Birkenhead at the time I was a fireman in the railway at Birkenhead, and I got my job as a driver over there. When I used to come down in the late 50s of course I was still in school obviously and when I started on the railway in the 60s then, I still came down here as a trainspotter, I was always interested in taking engine numbers you see and thats what made me start on the railway quite frankly. I suppose because of the kindness of the staff here – they could have told me to clear off and I probably would have thought then that was representing of all railwaymen. But its not, because they’re the salt of the earth Railwaymen, in my railway career which is over 40 years now you’ll find most Railwaymen are the salt of the Earth, they really are and the fact that people like Charlie Fawkes, Jim Mcmanus and Sam Leaventhall round here were so good to me, that just set me off then and I’ve worked there all of my life now.
MR – What was the fascination with Edge Hill Station itself? What was special about it?
DF - The Station itself, its the history of the station you know, when you get to know its history that’s what has been a magnet to me all my life you see but nonetheless, given the fact that the Edge Hill area was so important to the railway industry given its history and Edge Hill station was the centrepiece of it, that’s what made the place so special and I think its tremendous now that what your doing here, you know with Metal, I think its wonderful to put the station back on the map again because certainly you know, in recent years its importance now has waned a bit, its still a very busy station but its important in terms of railway operations you know has waned over the years, you know because peoples travel habits change obviously don’t they. But nonetheless, the station itself always fascinates me because of its overall roof that was here, the luggage lift that was here, the sheer size of the place and the sheer happenings that were taking place. I used to come down here on a Sunday night and they had Pigeon traffic to Craven arms and there’d be a lorry that would come down the slope here, down the passenger slope here with about 50 or 75 baskets of pigeons on board, the station staff would load them on to the Cardiff train. The Cardiff train used to leave Lime Street I remember at about 00:10 in the morning and they had to stay here to load on the Cardiff train and they put all of the Pigeon baskets in the guard’s van. The train would then go forward to Cardiff, it would stop at the Craven Arms of all places at the start of Shrewsbury where the pigeon baskets would be offloaded, put in the booking office there for overnight keeping and the following day at first light, the staff would let them go and of course the pigeons would fly back to where they came from. On this occasion, Jimmy Mcmanus had spent a few hours in the Durning Arms pub well oiled shall we say, to be fair to Jim and he was loading these pigeon baskets with Charlie Fawkes into the van, Charlie was very amiable – he used to talk to the pigeons, you know and put them in the van. Whereas Jimmy didn’t think much of the pigeons – he used to say ‘best thing for these is pigeon pie’ you know. On one occasion for some reason, because he was a bit worse for wear he actually opened one of these baskets and of course 2 or 3 pigeons flew out and in the panic now, he dropped the basket on the floor, frightened the other pigeons, they all came out, and he’s trying to catch them now chasing them down the platform as they are trying to take off. He didn’t catch any of them, but to see him waving his arms about, flailing around was hilarious and these pigeons all went back to where they came from. I often thought about their owners now expecting them back about 7 o’clock the following morning, they get back twenty minutes after they’ve left the house, and they think how’s that happened?
So it was all these little things, the station staff, I used to come here to do trainspotting but it was the station staff who were so good to me, thats what makes the place so special. The fact now, that they are no longer here – the fact you can talk about them in the building that they actually worked because they all worked down below this very room. I think Jimmy’s been gone now for 20 years, Bill’s been gone for 35 years, Sid Whitewhit’s been gone for 30 odd years, Sam’s been gone for 30 odd years. The last man standing if you like was Jim Mcmanus and Jim one night, if you look up Tunnel road there towards the furniture store you’ll see the paving slabs have been replaced over the past few years, well Jimmy came down there one night bit worse for wear shall we say from the Durning arms pub and fell over. He had me then taking photographs of the broken concrete slabs so he could make a claim, I went up there with my camera thinking what the hell am I doing here you see. ‘You take a good photograph, I’ve been coming here for years, I’m going to make a good claim and get thousands’. I said ‘Jimmy, are you sure you weren’t drunk, and fell over’ ‘no, no definitely not, definitely not’ but when I saw some of the cracks in the pavement I thought, he couldn’t possibly have fell over this. ‘Well i’m going to send them off and see my solicitor’. He never did, it was just bravado really, but I actually put these films in – 36 photographs of broken paving slabs. I gave them to him and he was absolutely over the moon with these things, and as a result of all this. ‘Thats it when I get a payout, when I get a payout’ he said ‘I’ll give you a fiver’. It cost me a fiver to get the films developed! In the end I think he realised, you know he knew that he’d be asked the question ‘were you under the influence of drink or drugs’. Drugs were never the case in those days, it was always drink with Jimmy he liked Higsons bitter, in reality of course he fell over because he was drunk. Muggings here of course was taking the photographs, all 36 of them you see. That’s what fascinates me with this place – the men who worked here, the history of the station, how busy it was, how important it was to the area at the time. It’s certainly an important location, but its not as important as it used to be in railway terms. Its nice to see what’s taking place, I think its tremendous what you are doing here, I think its a good idea – the whole concept of what you are doing is wonderful.
MR – Tell us about the trains from London that used to go to Southport, most people have never heard of that.
DF – Yes, well outside there as you’ll see is what was called the Southport bay which is covered in weeds now and of course that gave the good people of Southport a service from London direct to Southport so we’d have two expresses that would stop here. We’d have the Red Rose, a named express and the Merseyside Express as well and they would stop here on the fast line from London a little tank engine – steam loco would be waiting in the bay simmering away. The train would come here, stop on the fast line in the station. This little engine would go underneath Picton Road bridge, back on to the train detach the rear two coaches at the London end, underneath Picton Road bridge again. The express would then go forwards to Lime Street and of course this train then, the tank Engine with two coaches on it was propelled back to Southport Bay, stand there for about 15 minutes and then saunter off, it got to Southport – if you include the time it took from Euston around about half 7 in the evening but it just gave the people of Southport a through service from London, not to London – only from London so how they got there wasn’t quite clear but that lasted for a few years and of course, eventually, when steam finished that went. But the bay platform is still there to this day thats why its called the Southport bay. If you look on the map which I’ve given from the Museum you’ll see the Southport bay shown there and thats why it was to give the people of Southport a service from Euston to Southport not Southport to Euston.
MR – Lets turn to the diagram or drawing that you’ve very kindly brought in with the Grid iron, tell us a bit about the grid iron because most people in Liverpool have probably never heard of it.
DF – Well the grid, if you look on an ordinance survey map thats why it was called the grid there was one at Aintree, the Aintree Grid Iron, a song made famous by the scaffholders - thank you very much for the Aintree Iron, you know. Of course Edge Hill was much bigger, it was based on the American system of lines which looked like patterns of grids hence the term the Grid iron. A colossal siding, it was at least two miles long from the bottom of the grid, which effectively was Picton road bridge to the top of the grid which was way beyond Rathbone road. If you go to Rathbone road now theres an old folks home there you can see the sandstone wall rising up from the lines of the grid and what they used to do, you would get traffic from all around the country towards Spekeland road goods, into Edge Hill and moreso from Aintree, from the Aintree grid iron so what they would do effectively, a train would come in from Aintree grid iron, past Picton road junction signal box which is shown on the map, the locomotive would come towards Waterloo tunnel mouth here where the trains used to go down to riverside then propel the trains at the top of the grid, propel it for 2 miles and then when the train got to the top of the grid it would be re marshalled there for various ports of call around the country. The shunt of the gravity would feed the wagons, and in other words what they would do is detach the wagons from the locomotive and train and they would just come down under their own weight, under gravity. The shunters then would control the brake sticks. They’d ram the brake sticks above the brake handles, you know leaver brake handles and just control them as they came down the grid. They would actually split a train into 6 or 7 different portions and these wagons used to go down various sidings say, a wagon for Willaston, a wagon for Leeds thats how they could do it you see and many was a time you’d see the shunters coming down riding on the brake sticks – the health and safety demons these days would have a field day but no one ever got hurt because the men knew what they were doing that was the important thing. Yet some of the wagons would be gravity fed from the top of the grid to the bottom – 2 miles! And they’d be controlled by shunters using the brake sticks you know, amazing! Occasionally they got a few mishaps, there was one occasion I remember in 1967, there was a black five steam engine, 44772 an Edge Hill Engine since it was built in the 30s and that was in the middle, stood in the middle of the grid iron simmering away and of course a wagon came down – a rogue wagon which they’d lost control of you see – obviously started off very slowly at the top of the grid and eventually lost control of it so they rang the grid inspector and said this wagons coming down so stand clear, you see. So the only road – sidings are called roads on the railway you see, the only road they could put it on was where this black five – the steam loco was. So of course stand clear, and they all stood there and watched and this wagon came down you know, and you could hear it coming down ‘squeak, squeak, squeak’. It was only a 7 tonne wagon, next thing you know it came in, hit the front of this loco, a hell of a bang, a cloud of dust and rust, and when the dust settled, this black five must have just shook its head you see and this wagon was in pieces, in bits and the yard inspector, they all just fell apart laughing just cleared the mess and just carried on. The only damage I think to the loco was a slightly bent buffer, but the wagon was in pieces. Now these days – 2009, that would be a scene of crime now, they’d get the police there, and they’d tape the place off the scene of crime officer would be there. They’d get the staff blowing into this bag, drug screenings, there’d be all sorts of things. But in those days of course, yeah the odd occasion the odd accident did occur – but the guys got on with it. If no one was hurt, if goods got damaged well that was just unfortunate they’d write a special report out and that would be the end of it so they were different times clearly weren’t they – things have moved on in 40 odd years, but the grid iron was immense as you can see on the map and anyone who comes into the building because the maps here permanently now. Traffic volumes here over the years obviously have dropped off because peoples travel habits change, most people have got cars, some have got two haven’t they really but clearly in the 60s when cars were, shall we say not as mass produced as they are now, the station was an immense place.
I think I said earlier on that the station staff here, the tickets that they collected here would go into a big bag and every Sunday it was sent into Derby. Every station in Britain – can you believe this, whether it be small station or a major station, all the tickets that were collected at the barriers and they had staff at Derby – millions of tickets a year, who would check them all and woe betide any station that sent a bag in with the wrong ticket in, in other words – when I say ‘wrong ticket’, I don’t mean that a ticket from Broad Green to Huyton ends up at Edge Hill. I mean a theatre ticket or an old bus ticket, you know. They’d ne right back to the foreman saying ‘we’ve found a bus ticket, this must not happen again – otherwise we’ll do an audit’ so when I used to come down here trainspotting, Charlie Fawkes, who as I said was a tremendous man that was my job, I was to empty the bag onto the floor of the booking office and go through all these tickets and make sure there’s no theatre tickets in there you know, or old tram tickets or old bus tickets or whatever. What used to happen is, these days you know, you’ve got people who’ve made fare dipping an art form and I won’t go in to that but in those days, it wasn’t right but there was nothing sinister in it, you’d get people jumping on the train and hoping the ticket inspector wouldn’t come round or the guard and if they got to Edge Hill or anywhere else and didn’t have any money to pay for the ticket the station staff who they all knew anyway would be at the barriers. On many occasion I’d be stood there with Charlie when the barrier was there and they’d come through and say ‘Charlie, I got on at Broadgreen, I’ve got no money but have a kipper it’ll do you the world of good’ or an apple or a banana or something, you know and Charlie would accept this and say ‘make sure you pay your fare when you get on the train again tomorrow’. I never found a kipper in the bag but I did find empire theatre tickets, Royal Court tickets all sorts of strange and wonderful things and it was my job as a trainspotter if you like, just to make sure that none of these tickets ended up in Derby because if they did they’d get a sharp letter back you see and what happened was, over the years that I was doing this – the tickets on the railways those days were called Edmundson tickets – a man named Edmunson invented the railway ticket – the small cardboard type ticket that we had, and of course you don’t see many of these type these days except on privatised railways, I eventually sat down in the booking office with all of these tickets and Charlie said if there’s anything you want there, just help yourself because the fairs have been paid so of course ‘oh, I’ll have this, I’ll have that’ over the years I collected quite a few of them and what I intend to do is go through them again and bring them back where they actually started from so they’ll go on display here and that will remember Charlie for letting me do it and it’ll also remember that if you send a bus ticket into Derby or a theatre ticket they’ll soon pick it up, they must’ve been sharp at Derby – no computers in those days I used to think they must have had thousands of staff there checking these tickets with magnifying glasses but if one ticket went in there which wasn’t of the right type – not a railway ticket – you’d get a sharp letter back to the foreman saying if this happens again there’ll be an audit done it was a very serious thing you see. But nonetheless, some of these tickets need to come back you see just to remember Charlie really and the wonderful guys that worked here.
MR – And finally, what are your earliest memories of Edge Hill?
DF – My earliest memories of Edge Hill are seeing the prototype Deltic in the 1950s, there was a diesel locomotive called a Deltic which is now in the York museum.
MR – That was the first one?
DF – The first Deltic yes, the engine the power unit was built at Napiers on the East Lancashire road and my first memory of coming down here was with my dad – we were going to see the Deltic, I asked him what it was ‘A brand new diesel locomotive’ we came down here and I remember it coming up the cutting and it sounded a thousand bomb raid over cologne. You know, what on earth is this? Big headlight at the front, my dad and I watched it come up from the cutting it came through the station blue with yellow stripes – it looked like a colossal machine, it made a hell of a noise and that made a big impression on me that did, I was amazed at this machine and when you see it now in the York museum the NRM in York, it looks quite small because its 50 years ago isn’t it and that was my first major memory of Edge Hill station and the fact that this Deltic was on the London Liverpool trains and the fact that I came down to Edge Hill Station to see it – it made a big impression on me. I could have ended up going to Mossley Hill and who knows, I would have spent my time at Mossley Hill but the fact that I came down to Edge Hill it was so accessible being ten minutes walk across the park, the Botanic park near where we used to live, it was so accessible to me – it was easy to get here. And I always think that my dad brought me down here when I was a youngster to see the Deltic and of course from then on I came down taking engine numbers, and then joined the railway and the rest is history really you know and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. And as I’ve said, I’ll repeat this again its tremendous that what you are doing here is really putting the station back on the map again and I’ll do everything I possibly can in terms of exhibiting things and stuff
MR – Mr Flood, thank you very much for your memories
DF – Thank you
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