10th March 2020 · Hitchin South Diaries

Presenter: George Howe

Our meeting this month was very different from our usual shows. It was based on the material contained in three diaries which were kept in Hitchin South signal box and contained entries from January 1906 until September 1968. The content covered not only railway related events but also national and local events of significance.It was the job of the signalman on each shift to keep a log of all the workings and order items needed in the box.Detonators were a regular order with old stock having to be returned before new stock issued. Stock checking was rigorous with damaged or worn items being returned before replacement or repair.

One of the earliest events mentioned was the Grantham crash of September 1906 which concluded that a brake test (now standard practise) had not been done.It was noted in 1909 that the FA cup final between Manchester Utd. & Bristol City produced 24 special trains. The funeral of Edward VII in July 1910 at Windsor was mentioned and on August 1st that year there were 10 specials to Skegness. The following year, the downside of Hitchin station was rebuilt with the footbridge going and replaced by a subway. In the June of that year, the Coronation of George V was declared a national holiday with the comment “Nice if you can get it” as signalmen had to work. The 1914 Cup Final between Burnley & Liverpool produced 81 special trains.

The speed at which the line re-opened after crashes and derailments was mentioned – hours unlike days and weeks today. In July 1915, a child was thrown from a train and the train was stopped just along the line at Wymondley where the mother was arrested. The first non-stop Kings Cross to Edinburgh with 4472 in May 1928 is noted. On 26th May 1930, a pigeon special from the North East with 40,000 pigeons stopped at Hitchin but due to the weather, were not released until 31st May having provided 200 eggs.

Unlike the First World War, World War 2 produce fewer entries probably for security but in 1942, the box was painted battleship grey. The blackout was removed in May 1945. The following February, a crash at Potters bar was recorded where there were two fatalities. Another crash in 1958 at Hitchin South when our speaker was on duty involved two freight trains and a signal gantry which we had seen earlier was demolished.

This was a very interesting presentation with some nice images to illustrate entries mentioned in the diaries and showed a different side of railway operations.