Railway Roundabout
Report of talk given by Paul Kenny on 10 February 2016

Restoring a Unique Organ

Clouds of smoke billowing across the sky, the raw power of the engine - there is something about the old steam trains that is essentially photogenic, and captures our imagination. Paul Kenny, by profession a signal-man (including at Hebden Bridge) is also a keen photographer, and shared his slides and his stories with the Hebden Bridge Local History Society.

Some of the names of engines he has captured on camera are familiar even to non train buffs - Mallard, Sir Nigel Gresley, The Duchess of Hamilton - but other engines also have interesting stories. One engine that ended up at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway had travelled through Iran and Egypt; others have taken part in films, like the Railway Children, and even ended their lives in spectacular explosions all for the sake of a film adventure. Nellie was an engine that pulled the trucks carrying waste from the Esholt Sewage works on a private track, and is now at the Bradford Industrial Museum.

The railway age left its mark on the landscape, not only with the tracks, but with often quirky architecture, with castellated towers and elaborately decorated tunnels enhancing a practical structure. Where railway men lived there are often rows of cottages provided by the company, with names like 'Midland Terrace' giving a clue to their origins. Where they died they are sometimes commemorated – in the churchyard at Otley is a Navvies' Monument for the 23 men killed; close to Ribblehead Viaduct a chapel honours the 200 men women and children who died in the shanty villages during the construction of the line.

Inevitably, signal boxes featured in Paul's show - from the Hebden Bridge signal box, now a listed building, to the garden hut that had unexpectedly replaced his usual signal box at Kildwick when he returned from a holiday!
Finally there were the animals - the statue to a faithful collie on the Settle Carlisle line, who uniquely was allowed to sign a petition to save the line by paw print because it was a fare-paying passenger. There was also the Hebden Bridge Signal Box Cat, who lived there for 14 years, and who became something of a celebrity for train passengers.

It seems that steam trains and all things railway have a safe place in our affections even now, with enthusiasts pouring their energy and time into keeping up the engines, and special steam excursions still attracting thousands of keen passengers. And people like Paul taking photographs to share.

The next meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society will feature David Cant talking about Calder Connections to Magna Carta. This will be the first annual Alan Petford Memorial Lecture, commemorating valued local historian Alan Petford who died a year ago.

All are welcome to the talk at Hebden Bridge Methodist Church at 7.30 on Wednesday 24th February. Further details of the programme can be found in local libraries and at www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

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