I have been watching an interesting documentary on TV called
'Great Railway Journeys of the World'. The last episode showed
a weekly train crossing the Andes and calling at various stations
on the way. The platforms were full of people waiting to board
an already packed train. They pushed their way into over-full
compartments, perched on steps, and a few hardy souls even hauled
themselves onto the roof in their determination to get on the
train. Live chickens, bedding rolls, and huge baskets of produce
accompanied them. The week before I had watched a train travel
across the plains of India. Most of the engines were old steam
driven British engines, long retired from British Rail, but still
going strong under these difficult conditions.
Thinking of the program later, I had the curious feeling I had
seen it all before. Never having been to the Andes or to India,
I could not understand this familiar feeling. Then my subconscious
mind came up with the answer - Bollington railway station on
Wakes Saturday - yes that was it!
All the cotton-producing towns and villages were allocated a
week when the mills were closed for the necessary inspection
and repairs to be made to the engines. Wakes week in Bollington
was always the last week in July and those who could afford it
made their annual visit to Blackpool. Though only about 40 miles
away, preparations were as great as visiting Antarctica.
Around January, when the ice and snow matched the cold winds
in severe weather, the mill worker would begin to allocate a
few coppers each week from the meagre wages and it would be saved
towards the July holiday. Mothers would work out how they could
scrimp and save a few pennies each week. Holidays were not paid
then, and families came home from Blackpool to face a week without
any money until the next payday.
However, that didn't dampen their enthusiasm and once the 'lodgings'
had been booked, it began to seem a reality. No-one stayed in
hotels, the majority of visitors preferred (or could only afford)
to stay at the flamboyantly named houses near Central Pier 'Balmoral
Court', 'Windsor Lodge', 'The Towers', or 'Sandringham Place'
- all for 1/- per night for a double bed and a little extra for
the landlady to cook the food.
Travel to Blackpool in the regular way was by train to Manchester
- London Road Station, and then a long walk to Victoria Station
on the far side of the city for a train to the west coast. For
the convenience of all the passengers at Wakes Week - L.M.S.
ran a special train which was non-stop to Blackpool. It was diverted
somewhere near Staleybridge and around Miles Platting before
rejoining the usual route into Victoria Station. As a concession
to travellers, tickets were put on sale the day before and once
purchased, arrangements could be made for the porter to collect
the baggage on Friday evenings and trundle it on his flat bottomed
truck to the station, where it would be locked up in the waiting
room overnight. The princely sum of 6d was charged for this service.
What excitement this caused amongst the children who ran beside
him and helped to negotiate the bends and curbs.
Mothers had been preparing all week, everything in the house
had been washed, ironed and cleaned. Then Dad brought out the
trunk or bags from their winter hiding places. A great smell
of dust spread everywhere and a few days were needed to air them
out. These bags were heavy before anything went in them, and
once packed, needed a pair of elephants to lift them. Enough
clothes, socks, shoes, towels, etc., had to be taken for the
week's visit and enough staple groceries with which to start
Friday night was hectic, baths were dragged into the house,
and all the children were scrubbed, hair washed, and put in curl
rags (for the girls), then they were sent to bed early. By this
time, excitement and tension were everywhere. Few mothers went
to bed before 2 am, cleaning up the kitchen one last time and
washing a few dirty clothes, raking out the embers and then making
sandwiches for the journey. Dads sat in their armchairs, directing
operations and giving out useless advice.
The special train left about nine o'clock, in between the regular
services. Everyone who was travelling had to be up about 5.00
o'clock to make sure they had an adequate breakfast to sustain
them on this perilous journey.
Many had to walk two or three miles to the station (there was
no bus service) and about seven o'clock they would leave home,
not without turning back once or twice to make sure the door
was locked or for someone who HAD to use the lavatory.
The roads, usually quiet at this time, were crowded with families
making their way to the station, children running on ahead and
being called back by their mothers. Dads, unaccustomed to wearing
their suits, collars and ties with Sunday shoes squeaking at
every step were already working up a sweat.
They were hurrying on ahead to get their bags out of the waiting
room and onto the platform in a position where they hoped the
train would stop. Although it was still about an hour and a half
before train time, mothers were taking no chances, they almost
ran the last half mile, partly to beat other families and partly
to get their children on to the platform.
Our railway station was quite small, maybe 500 yards long. There
were waiting rooms on both sides of the railway's lines and flower
beds, bordered by white painted stones, made a splash of colour.
As each family appeared, Dad would bring over the luggage and
tell them all not to leave it unguarded. As if they would! Then
he would wander down to the end of the platform where it sloped
to meet the level of the line, in order to grab the door handle
of an empty compartment and run with the train as it ground to
a halt. Others, who had travelled before and considered them-selves
worldly in these matters, walked to the top end of the platform
where the engine would stop (they hoped), and thus gain an advantage
of an empty carriage there.
It was now mass confusion. Mothers shouting to Dads to get 't'
bottom end and grab a door handle, Willie was missing and his
frantic mother spotted him up a tree with his friend Joey - what
she wasn't going to do to him if he didn't come down was lost
in the bedlam of noise.
Elsie was quietly throwing up by the railings that divided the
platform from the pathway on the other side. Jimmy was having
a temper tantrum because his mother wouldn't give him his comic
until be got on the train. The bottom fell out of a paper carrier
bag, scattering the jam butties in all directions which were
intended to fortify them until they reached civilization again.
A piercing shriek rent the air - Barry had caught his fingers
in the folding push chair which Mother had got ready to leap
on to the train. Blood streamed everywhere until a hankie was
produced to act as a bandage and a sweet popped into his mouth.
Then as train time approached, Nellie had to 'go'; Mother said
there wasn't time and she'd have to wait until she got to Blackpool.
Nellie started to wail and stood with legs crossed and said she
couldn't wait. Mother thrust the baby to Rose and rushed Nellie
behind the waiting room, berating her for being so naughty. Now
the baby began to cry as Rose's arms were not as cuddly and warm
as she was used to.
Lily dropped the comic she was holding and one page flapped
on to the railway lines; her brother Walter offered to retrieve
it by hanging over the edge of the platform but Dad said he was
in danger of losing his head if he didn't get up. Mother slapped
his legs and shook Lily until her teeth rattled for being so
careless. A fight had broken out between two older boys, cause
unknown, and they were separated by their respective Dads and
told to behave.
Another calamity, the elastic in Freda's knickers snapped and
the offending garment cascaded to her ankles. She began to cry
and then someone found a safety pin and honour was retrieved.
"Where's our Frankie?" cried his mother - Frankie was seen on
the other side of the rails doing a Highland Fling - or what
passed for one. He was threatened with instant death by his Dad
if he didn't get back before the train appeared.
At last someone heard the bell ring, indicating that the train
had passed the signal box higher up the line. "Signal's down"
was the general cry and the light showed green.
The would-be travellers sprang into action. The men and boys
positioned themselves and with outstretched hands prepared for
their moment of glory. As the train came round the last curve,
steam fussily pouring out and swaying like a dancer, it slowly
reduced speed and first one handle was grabbed, then another
and another. Much jostling for positions, toes trodden on and
the 'grabbers' ran along with the train, hanging on to the door
handles with fixed determination. They would have done justice
to any Olympic team.
Once the engine stopped, and with much mopping of brows, Dad
then had to get the family and luggage inside and repel any intruders.
Naturally everyone wanted a window seat and another scuffle broke
out and more slaps were handed out. Next, everyone being established
in their allotted seats, Dad had to get back on the platform
to get the luggage aboard. The carriage doors bad been closed
to prevent the children from hopping in and out and when Dad
came back, puffing and panting with the luggage, he tried to
push it through the window.
In his manoeuvres he often got the logistics confused and tried
to push the long end of the bags through the narrow window. Lots
of helpful suggestions came from the younger boys, who were now
carried away with excitement and full of energy. The more they
pushed and pulled, the more reluctant was the baggage. Then a
friendly porter, seeing the confusion, quietly opened the door,
and all was well again.
Those not going away often walked down to the station and formed
a row of onlookers, standing on the other side of the platform,
watching the antics of the crowd. As everyone knew everyone else,
this would make good entertainment for weeks to come.
There were always the late comers, of course. Looking desperately
for a seat and often having to sit in different compartments.
"Serve them right!" said the smug window seaters. "They should
get up early, like other folk!"
As the moment of departure drew near, the driver hung out of
his cab, steam billowing everywhere, ready to go, all he wanted
was to hear the Guard blow the whistle. All the compartment doors
had been tightly closed and tested by the porters. At last the
whistle blew and the train chuffed into action, and off they
went into the great unknown.
Inside the carriages, several mothers were quietly having a
nervous breakdown, wondering if it was all worth while. Children
were demanding "Summat to eat" before they approached the viaduct
which straddled the main road.
The bystanders wandered quietly home, chuckling at what they
had seen and plenty of stories with which to regale their friends
The station settled back into its usual Saturday quietness,
a few papers scattering in the wind and the porters ready for
their morning cup of tea.
Wakes Week had begun!
© 1985 Enid Simpson