Reliving one man’s railway journey…


Jim Mason. 191148-1

IT has been a good few years since 93-year-old Jim Mason has been in charge of driving a freight train but he still remembers his days on the railways with a sense of nostalgia.

Jim, of Swinton, worked his way up from cleaner to fireman to driver at two of the county’s busiest railway marshalling yards.

He chose the railways rather than staying on as an office worker at Denaby Colliery and said it was tough work with long hours.

Jim worked on the railways as steam trains were being replaced by diesel. It was a time of change when trains still transported large quantities of freight, as well as passengers.

“I started on the railways when I came out of the Army at the end of the war. I could have gone back to my job at Denaby Colliery but I wanted a change,” said Jim.

“My brother was on the railways.”

In the late 1940s when Jim started work, the newly nationalised British Rail had a large marshalling yard in Mexborough with 500 drivers, foremen and cleaners employed, as well as a fitting section.

Nothing remains of this vast workplace and its engine sheds today.

“It was alright but when I was cleaning the trains and using paraffin sometimes my wife would complain as I would stink of it, and my skin would be black with the dirt,” said Jim.

“But it was a friendly place, and I took an interest in trade unionism and eventually became the branch secretary of ASLEF. We had branch meetings every month,.

“But working there was dangerous. You had to be very careful. The rules were probably not as strict as today but we had a rule book and if you broke a rule you were up in front of the gaffer.”

Jim said he enjoyed working at Mexborough and witnessed the changes in the railway industry at first hand.

He saw electric engined trains based in Wath which were used to take take freight to Manchester, for instance.

Born in Denaby, Jim got his first job at Denaby Colliery where his father worked,. It was an office job recording the men going down the pit and coming back out again.

But when war broke out there was a ballot of workers because it was a restricted occupation where people did not have to sign up due to the importance of their work and Jim ended up becoming a soldier.

He served in the 6th battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

As an engine cleaner at Mexborough, his work was to wipe grease and grime off the locos. He had to clean two engines per shift so it was gruelling work.

He had to climb into the train framings.

“It was not really hard but was just mucky,” said Jim.

After a while he became a fireman, standing on the footplate alongside the driver of steam trains which were used by British rail until eh 1960s when they were phased out.

But having to go on train journeys offered up new challenges for Jim.

“It was the shifts that were more of a problem. We had to work nights and sleep in the days. But it was a living and I could not pick and choose,” said Jim.

Financially, becoming a fireman was a step up. A cleaner got about £4 a week where as a fireman got £5. A driver would be over the £6 mark.

But if he wanted promotion, Jim found that he would have to move away from Mexborough and start work at the railway site in Canklow where there was a vacancy for a driver in 1964.

People may think that to become a train driver would be the result of long periods of intensive training, as would be the case today, but Jim said that there was none back in the day.

New drivers learnt how to drive a train by watching the driver of the train where they worked as a firemen.

Budding drivers would take their final test by driving a train with an inspector watching in the cab. If they got to their destination safely, they would pass!

“When I went o Canklow I didn’t get any training. The only training we got was learning the routes we were going on,” said Jim.

”When I went o pass for driving I had to take control of a passenger train with the inspector behind me. It was a passenger train from Sheffield to Manchester.

“When you got to Manchester the inspector would pass you out. There were chaps who failed because they couldn’t drive a train.

“You just had to watch the driver when you were a fireman to learn how to drive. You followed what drivers were doing. The railway company was getting training on the cheap.

“When you are driving an electric or diesel train you don’t have to think about whether you have enough steam or water.”

Jim said that working in a freight depot meant he did not have much opportunity to drive passenger trains.

But freight was an important feature of the railways back then, much more than is the case today.

“There were thousands of tons of coal going over the Pennines,” said Jim.

“There were different sorts of freight, such as iron to Scunthorpe from the Midlands.”

Jim would drive trains as far afield as Cleethorpes and Birmingham. He said that although he was supposed to do an eight hour shift, that would often be summarily extended to 12 or more if replacement staff did not turn up.

“If control had no one to replace you you had to carry on going,” said Jim.

“You never knew if you were going to get home.”

Jim said that he had been involved in three bad accidents during his time as a train driver. On one occasion he was approaching Masbrough Sorting Sidings when he felt a bump. His train, in foggy weather, had hit a man who had been walking down the line.

“As long as it’s not your fault you don’t feel guilty about it,” said Jim.

Jim later worked at Masbrough and finally at the Tinsley marshalling depot until he retired early aged 62.

Jim has not travelled by train recently but has a high opinion of modern trains which he said are more comfortable and much safer.

“It was harder work when it was steam than with diesels,” said Jim.

“But the drivers now have to be more alert.

“Steam trains were mucky so I don’t really miss them.”

He volunteered as a fireman on the Earl Fitzwilliam steam train based at Elsecar Heritage Centre for a while.

Jim, who has been married to his wife Connie since 1948, looks back at his time on the railways with pride, remembering his former colleagues.

“There were some good people that I worked with,” he said.

This way there be witches…

Pendle Heritage Centre


WHAT have religious nonconformity, witches, architecture and the first man to run a mile in four minutes Sir Roger Bannister got in common?

The answer is that they all form part of what’s on offer at a fascinating museum in the heart of Lancashire.

Pendle Heritage Cnetre, on the edge of Barrowford, offers a wealth of delights to anyone interested in architectural, social or local history.

There is even an art gallery, the chance to shop and the opportunity to take a walk along the river known as Pendle Water.

The Grade II-listed farm buildings and walled garden which make up Pendle Heritage Centre are an attraction for both the history buff but also families.

Traditional building skills have been utilised to redevelop the ancient farmhouse called Park Hill in which the museum is located.

The building is certainly an ancient one and dates from the fifteenth century, built up and adapted over the years as its owners saw fit and offering an insight into ancient building techniques and the way of life of our rural ancestors.

The house, as it stands now, shows remnants of its past for all to see and the centre has done well to bring visitors as close as possible to the fabric of the building. It is like taking a trip through time.

The museum, set within the old house, has a suitably historic atmosphere and covers a number of elements of history relating to the building itself and the wider goings-on across Lancashire.

Inevitably, perhaps, the Pendle Witch Trials is a topic covered in great detail, telling the grim story of the trial and persecution of the alleged witches in the early seventeenth century.

There is an interesting short film on the subject, and displays include a witch’s charm and posters and images from the time.

But religious non-conformity in a more Christian vein was also a feature of the area, as another exhibition reveals.

Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and others found a voice in this part of the world where clearly people liked to think for themselves and live their lives as they wanted.

You can learn about the history of the Bannister family who lived at Park Hill in the 1400s, as well as the Swinglehursts who took on the property later.

Sir Roger stemmed from this Bannister clan and a portrait of him can be found at the musuem.

The centre’s fine brick-walled garden is an eye-catching creation started in Georgian times. It has been restored.

The Cruck Frame Barn at the Heritage Centre dates from the 15th century and originally comes from the Burnley area.

A statue of one of the supposed witch

It was rescued in the 1980s and rebuilt to show off its early construction techniques.

Pendle Heritage Centre is also home to the Pendle Arts Gallery which feature changing exhibitions of art and crafts.

There is also a popular conference centre, The Parlour Shop and Tourist Information Centre.

And, ofoucrse, should all this culture and history enervate you somewhat, you can have a brew and a cake or sandwich at the Garden Tea Room.

Pendle Heritage Centre is a top attraction for your list if you happen to be in Lancashire.

Most people who hear the word Pendle will immediately think of witches.

TV shows like Most Haunted have highlighted the place’s supposed spooky character and thousands of words hve been written on the famous witch trials of the early seventeenth century.

A display showing a historic domestic scene

Driving through the area with its imposing hills, bleak upland lndscapes and, very often, grim and gloomy weather certainly creates an otherworldly sense.

The fact that nowadays most people would see the famous witch trials, along with those at Salem in Massachusetts and elsewhere, as nothing more than the results of ignorance and prejudice is neither here nor there. It remains a great tale from history.

The story is that in 1612 Halifax peddler John Law collapsed in the town of Colne after being cursed by Alison Device for not giving her some pins.

She was dragged before local magistrate Robert Nowell and was so bewildered that she confessed to the ‘crime’ of witchcraft and also named her grandmother, Demdike, and another local matriarch, Chattox.

The two old women were interrogated and came up with bizarre tales such as meeting the devil near Newchurch. Inevitably, this led to Demdike, Chattox, Alison and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearn, being committed for trial at Lancaster Castle.

However, the took on an even more bizarre twist when Demdike, her family and some neighbours held a Good Friday meeting at which they ate some stolen mutton. It was deemed by investigators as a witches’ sabbath, especially when human teeth taken from a graveyard were found.

Those attending were rounded up and imprisoned until the trial on August 17. After various fanciful offerings of evidence were given, the accused were found guilty and hung, except for Demdike who perished in prison.

Weird stories still remain today of spectral witches and weird goings-on, no doubt enhanced by paranormal investigators who flock to the area.

Such is the interest even today, that there are opportunities to take the Walking with Witches Trail, the Eastern and Western loops of which both begin at Barley car park.

The walks offer the chance to explore the rugged countryide that is the backdrop to the story and perhaps experience the isolation of this wild terrain.

You can almost step back in time to the lonely farmsteads of yesteryear and perhaps better understand why the supernatural was an everyday belief in times gone by, particularly in a country where even the monarch, King James I, was obsessed with the subject.

An old document on display

People believed in witchcraft and that the ills that befell them may well have been the devil’s work rather than their own stupidity or plain bad luck.

On the trail, the explorer can walk eastwards to Newchurch, Pendle, Faugh’s Delph Quarry, Drivers Height Farm and back down to Barley with views of Pendle Hill, or eastwards towards White Hough and Roughlee.

Both routes are between three and four miles in length.

On the trail, you will visit various spots important to the Pendle Witches story, such as Faugh’s Delph Quarry where Demdike claimed to have met the devil – so be careful! – and Saddlers Farm where her dwelling may have been.

An intriguing tale from a wild and wonderful part of the world. Explore the Walking with Witches Trail and fall under its strange Pendle spell.

Pendle Heritage Centre is open daily 10am to 5pm, with the museum and gallery open from 11am to 4pm.
Higherford Mill is open by appointment.
Address – Pendle Heritage Centre, Park Hill, Barrowford, Lancashire BB9 6JQ
Telephone – 01282 677152
Email –

A passion for nature – and encouraging others

New chairman of the British Naturalists Association, Steve Rutherford, from Thorpe Hesley, taking a look around the grounds at Wentworth Garden Centre in South Yorkshire. 190756-1


THERE is a new man at the top of a national organisation dedicated to promoting natural history – and he is from South Yorkshire.

Steve Rutherford, of Thorpe Hesley, is the new national chairman of the British Naturalists’ Association (BNA) which is open to lovers of nature and encourages research.

Now, Steve intends to use his time at the top to encourage more vital natural history research and to encourage more people to discover the wild world around them.

He is passionate about fauna and flora and believes that bringing people together will enable the answers to be found to the big environmental crises of our time.

Steve Rutherford with a Great Crested Newt. 190756-2

Steve recently hosted an event in London about protection of UK marine wildlife which featured experts Maya Plass, Professor Sarah Wanless of Aberdeen University and Dr Tom Cameron from the University of Essex.

But on a county level, Steve has helped run wildlife workshops and visited schools to bring nature to children who are keen to learn.

Steve said that he was voted into the role of BNA chairman following the move of the previous incumbent, Roger Tabor, to become the organisation’s national president.

A member of many years standing, Steve said he was delighted to be chosen for the important role.

“It’s wonderful,” he said.

“It was a surprise.

“I have done a lot to try and promote natural history.”

A Great Crested Newt. 190756-3

Indeed, Steve is no stranger to working in the world of natural history. Prior to his retirement, he worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the Dearne Valley for ten years as an information officer which included tasks such as leading guided walks and meeting guests and the public.

But he admitted that since his retirement he been able to throw himself into the BNA’s work of helping people fascinated by natural history.

“I have been able to dedicate my energies to people who wanted to develop as natural historians,” he said.

“With the BNA you can go for a grading system where you can apply for a qualification as part of the BNA.

“It is supporting people who want to learn about and study natural history. People who did not want to go to university but who provide data day by day.

“Anyone can get involved whether they are doing it for the fun of it or are experienced people.

“It’s people who have done extraordinary things like that but have done it in a quiet way.”

Steve Rutherford at Wentworth Garden Centre. 190756-8

The BNA was led for a time by TV botanist and academic Professor David Bellamy.

People can join the BNA as a member, with various opportunities available such as becoming a fellow.

Adding BNA Grade Recognition to membership acknowledges members’ natural history skills and achievements.

It also shows that individuals are furthering the study of natural history as well as building up their skills out in the field.

“I have been a naturalist all my life,” admitted Steve.

“My passion has always been natural history.”

He has written 17 articles for BNA publications on subjects ranging from house sparrows to wild flowers.

Steve set up the South Yorkshire branch of the BNA six years ago and it has already seen five members recognised for natural history work which they have carried out, one example being Mark Dudley’ work on hover flies of which there are 85 species across Britain.

Steve said that the local branch allows people to be recognised for their work and to encourage others.

It currently has 37 members, the oldest being in the mid-seventies and the youngest in their twenties.

Members’ interests are far-ranging covering flowers, frogs and newts, bird life and much more.

“We tend to all go out and learn from each other,” said Steve.

“It helps to develop your individual skills and encourages people to talk about their work. It helps people to develop.

“It’s a mixed group.”

The South Yorkshire branch meets at the Wentworth Garden Centre where members hold special events throughout the school summer holidays on Mondays for children, giving them the opportunity to get up close and personal with wildlife through bug hunts and pond dipping.

New chairman of the British Naturalists Association, Steve Rutherford. 190756-15

“I have also become involved in a number of schools in Rotherham where we have placed bug hotels,” said Steve.

“I want to develop on that theme.

“Children these days are becoming so switched on to what’s happening in the environment. Children do understand. With social media they have learnt so much.”

Steve is also a member of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which has a number of nature reserves across the region including Potteric Carr in Doncaster, Sprotbrough Flash in the Dearne Valley and Denaby Ings near Mexborough.

He also does work for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

But prior to starting work with the RSPB, his professional life was quite different to his natural history interests.

After leaving school, Steve went into nursing for a few years and then switched careers to become a motorcycle instructor in Leeds where he ran a business.

But he has always been a wildlife fan.

Steve believes that now is a good time to be involved in natural history as more and more people become aware of issues such as climate change and habitat destruction via TV documentaries, news reports and the World Wide Web.

Steve said: “I think it’s started to get through to people now. A lot of the public became interested very quickly but we need to get politicians to understand.

“Over the last four to five years we have begun to understand the urgency of the fact that we have to look after the planet.

“David Attenborough has made a difference with his TV programmes.

“We need to act now on climate. We have got to act now, not just talk about it.

“I think the Government does understand but we need to get the urgency across to politicians.

“It’s going to have to change, It’s got to be the whole world involved.
“We can do this and continue to be prosperous.

“It’s a double-edged sword. We talk about climate but we need to talk about biodiversity and how that’s changing. We are having a boom time as more species are being seen around the British coastline. We are having new insects. We are increasing the birds. But the species that were here before are northern species and so they prefer colder and wetter conditions and they are now being pushed further north. Where will they go eventually?

“I think that’s where the BNA is able to help because we are interested on all aspects of natural history and encourage people to record all types of natural history.”

Steve Rutherford. 190756-23

Steve said that everyone can help wildlife by acts such as leaving untidy areas in gardens and elsewhere for natural plants to become established which in turn boost populations of insects and then birds, mammals and so on.

He said that people need to think of the bigger picture with conservation and that it is about helping the whole ecosystem rather than just individual species.

“People tend to think of honey bees but there are 270 bees in Britain which require a range of plants,” said Steve.

“People have concentrated on honey bees but all native bees need support.”

Steve is a man on a mission to encourage a greater awareness of the natural world, to help more people find out about it and to promote conservation.
He has his work cut out but is determined to use his new high-profile role as chairman to get change for the better.