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By Sally Sculthorpe on

Station Stories: Gateshead Railway Club

As part of our ongoing Station Stories project, we've been visiting different railway locations in search of stories.

At Gateshead Railway Club, the team working on our Station Stories project met a group of former railway workers who’d started work as young lads in the 1940s and worked together through to their retirement.

The lads started out working at Borough Gardens shed in Newcastle as engine cleaners. Here’s a few anecdotes about those early days:

We started on two pound and six pence a week. I just give mine to me mother. We were all fifteen or sixteen. When you cleaned the engines all the dirty cotton waste used to run down your arms. To stop this you’d put a rag round your wrist. It always got soaking wet with paraffin. It wasn’t very nice.

We worked such long hours. Once, tired from our shift, and with only an hour to go until our next one started, my mate and I thought it wasn’t worth going home. We fell asleep in a Ritz cinema doorway. We were only young lads. We were woken up by a couple of policemen.

The lads in the 1940s.

The lads all socialised together too:

When you started on the railway you lost touch with a lot of your old school friends. Your railway friends became your life. We had a football team at the Borough Gardens depot. It was formed for one purpose only: the annual charity game against Gateshead shed. Apart from the occasional kickabout, the team never played together until the charity match which was always Good Friday. The match was followed by the annual Good Friday Dance in Gateshead Town Hall. Both events were in aid of the Railwaymen’s Widows and Orphans Fund.

Borough Gardens football team in the early 1950s.

The lads all progressed up the career ladder at the same time:

You did a year or so as an engine cleaner, then you got passed as a fireman, and eventually after about thirty years you got made a driver. But being an engine cleaner wasn’t a lowly job, it was part of the line of promotion to be a driver.

You sometimes got a tip on the London trains. I’d heard a rumour about this driver that used to say to passengers, “Give it to the boy” – meaning the fireman. One time I was on with this driver, and a bloke approached us with a pound note for the driver. Foolishly I said, “I’m not the driver, he is”. Well, he didn’t “give it to the boy” that time.

You were waiting for dead man’s shoes. If there was a vacancy for a driver you got it in order of who’d been in the job the longest. Seniority wasn’t based on ability. You often had to wait for someone to retire. That was how it worked.

A couple of the lads on an outing with some older drivers in 1955.

The lads started out as engine drivers in age of steam:

In the steam days everything was more casual, particularly on the branch lines. If you were trundling along in a rural area and you saw someone running for the train you’d say, “Come on now, hurry up,” and you could stop and let them on. There was plenty of time.

They experienced the transition from steam to diesel:

Drivers who had worked on steam locos for forty or more years were not convinced that these clean shiny noisy brutes could do the job they knew steam engines could.

Training course for inspectors.

As HST drivers they regularly worked the Edinburgh to Kings Cross main line:

I was never given any money but once an old lady came up to me at Kings Cross. She said, “Eee driver you were right in on time, there’s a couple of sweets for yer.”

When you worked the Kings Cross mainline down from Newcastle you lodged overnight in Kentish town. There were open top cubicles in the hostel rooms. One night I was in with this other driver, and boy did he snore. In the morning he complained, “I cannae sleep in those bunks.” I said, “Well we must have had a pig in the room”.

We’re still looking for your station stories. If you’re a former station worker with a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch by filling in our online Station Stories form or emailing your story to

13 comments on “Station Stories: Gateshead Railway Club

  1. The last photo is not of HST training in the 1970’s; it is of Class 91/Mk4 training in the late 1980’s (at a guess).

  2. Has anyone ?.. to lend/or purchase etc,…….. Re Gateshead Tyneside Central Railway Freight Depot, (off Felling By-pass alongside old Borough Gardens, Railway site),…… any Railway Photographs, Booklets, labels or known where I could obtain any items ?. Thank You for your time and patience.

  3. my father was also a driver at borough gardens also my grandfather ie Frankie Grist and Bertie Grist David Grist

  4. My Gradad worked out of Gateshead shed and was a to link driver but we cant find anything about him , his name was Charles Hornsey anyone know anyting, would love to know

  5. Have successfully had published, ****Constable on the Freight Track***(Tyneside Central Railway Freight Depot, Felling, GATESHEAD. Article in HERITAGE Railway Magazine, September/October edition (Issue 194) Article both hairy and Humorous, British Transport Police (Railway police Bobby 1960s reminiscences.

  6. My grandfather was John Swaddle know as Jacky. He was a train driver and worked from Gateshead sheds and drank in the railway club with Jimmy Major another driver

  7. My husbands grandad, Alfred Roberts was a fireman and then a driver from 1919 to 1964. We’re trying to find any photographs of him wit the trains. If anyone might have anything I’d be really pleased to see them. Thank you

  8. My grandfather was a driver at Gateshead, his name was William Reynolds. I think he retired sometime in the mid 40s. My dad who was a signalman Ernest Reynolds told me that his dad William used to drive 10000 Hush Hush.
    I would really like to know which locos my grandfather drove.
    Does anyone have any information?

    Keith Reynolds

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