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Hitting the ceiling at Southall!

In 1962 I joined British Railways (Western Region), as the adverts put it to “do a Man’s job in a vital industry” (note the capital letter ‘M’). I started work in the booking office at Southall. It was an all-Men, unpleasant, grimy place in the 1877 station bridge building directly over the up and down main lines into Paddington.

Southall Booking Office in 1964 after my cleaning efforts! Photo: Mike Peart.

In 1963 along came the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. “All premises to which this Act applies, and all furniture, furnishings and fittings in such premises shall be kept in a clean state.” It went on, “No dirt or refuse shall be allowed to accumulate in any part of premises to which this Act applies…..” “All glazed windows …… so far as reasonably practicable, be kept clean on both the inner and outer surfaces and free from obstruction.” A cleaner did come in once a week to mop the holey lino on the floor and polish two tables – that was it. I tried to clean paintwork within reach on quieter turns, and I attacked the smoke-stained windows over the main lines with BR scouring powder to try to let daylight in. Other window-cleaning products just wouldn’t cut it! Quoting the Act, I made repeated representations to get the place redecorated, but nothing happened.

I had been taking courses on rules, safety and station accounting, and in 1964 the area manager put my name forward for the Traffic Apprenticeship scheme. It was known by the powers that be that I was a founder member and Honorary Secretary of the Great Western Society, intent on preserving and running GWR steam locomotives and rolling stock. It was the brave, yet short-lived, new world of hydraulic dieselisation on Western Region at the time. There was a clear policy to get some dyed-in-the-wool staff to think BR instead of GWR. Thus, it was made clear to me by the region’s General Manager, Stanley Raymond, that I had to decide between preservation or promotion as I was actively preserving what he was trying to kill off in terms of hardware and culture! One of our Great Western Society allies, BR (WR) London Division Manager David Pattison was on a train with Stanley Raymond travelling past Taplow station one day. Raymond saw our Society’s second preserved loco 2-6-2T 6106 outside the goods shed where it was temporarily kept. “Funny”, said Raymond, “I thought we had scrapped all those.” That prompted our drive to get away from the main line and the Society finally got its stock into Didcot motive power depot in 1967. [Stanley Raymond replaced Dr Beeching to become Chairman of British Railway Board in 1965, was knighted in 1966 and suddenly resigned his £12,500 a year post in late 1967. This was before the end of his contract to 1970 and happened after disagreements with Secretary of State for Transport, Barbara Castle. He had also fallen out with Gerard Fiennes, Eastern Region General Manager and author of the book “I Tried to Run a Railway”. Raymond received a £28,000 pay-off (over £½m at current values) and this was questioned in Parliament.]

It turned out that my colour vision wasn’t up to the required standard for operations management near running lines, although I was offered station auditing work which I didn’t want. Like Stanley Raymond I resigned suddenly but without the big pay-off! As I was on the way out, I showed my true feelings one quiet Sunday turn by piling up furniture to get to the high ceiling of the 1877 booking office which I then attacked with BR scouring powder. I don’t think it had ever been repainted in those 87 years. But it was refurbished - very comprehensively and very quickly afterwards. Thanks to Crossrail, 57 years later a new glazed station building is now being erected at Southall, so the old building will eventually be demolished. That’s a piece of GWR history I wouldn’t want preserved!

My graffitied Southall Booking Office ceiling in 1964. Photo: Mike Peart.

My graffitied Southall Booking Office ceiling in 1964. Photo: Mike Peart.

Mike Peart

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