‘Steam in the blood’ Woodford worker remembers rail

Derek Thornton
Derek Thornton

Among the many residents who joined Sunday’s rally was Derek Thornton, who worked as a fireman shovelling coal into the boiler of locomotives for more than 17 years.

He said: “I was amazed actually by the show of enthusiasm that was apparent in the village of Woodford, but I was are absolutely gutted when I found out about the sale as I know there are quite a few rail men’s ashes scattered over the area.

“I started working at the rail yard when I was about 25. They were recruiting staff for the locomotive sheds and I caught it just right.

“It was quite an interesting job really because the idea was of course to help the driver – you would be in his complete control. You would maintain the firebed and steam pressure within the boiler and we had to observe the signals coming along the line.

“There was a lot of affection for the Great Central Line. To lads who took to it was life. One line master said it was like having ‘steam in the blood’.”

Most workers at Woodford started work from the age of 16 cleaning locomotives, though Mr Thornton said this role disappeared after the Second World War.

Workers could progress to firemen and after 50 trips they qualified as passed firemen. For some it was a stop on the route to becoming a locomotive engineer.