My recollection of some amusing incidents that took place during the time I worked for the Royal Mail at Grantham station during the early 1980s.
by Steve Philpott
Above: Porters and GPO staff are busy loading mail and parcels onto a northbound passenger train at platform 3 on Thursday 18th April 1963.
Photograph by Cedric Clayson.
From June 1980 until March 1985 I had a spell working for the Royal Mail as a postman and subsequently, as a postal officer (counter staff) before I returned to delivery services as a rural van driver. In later years I eventually returned to my roots within the engineering profession, taking a job at RHP bearings in Newark, but my time at Grantham left me with some good memories, so here are a few of them.
As part of my regular Royal Mail duties I had booked turns working at Grantham railway station. This was when mail was still carried on trains, from autumn 1980 until late 1982; with loading and unloading of all Royal Mail items destined for Grantham sorting office and prior to delivery in and around the town. It seems that for many years, as far as I am aware, the pattern of postal work had largely remained unchanged. This meant that during the daytime whoever was on station duty really only had the mainline semi-fast services to and from York and Hull to deal with (generally, a train in each direction every two hours or so). As a result, quite a lot of time was spent in front of the fire in the cosy P.O. staff ‘cubby-hole’ situated beneath the footbridge staircase on the Up main platform - or, in my case, photographing anything of interest that came through the station!
In those far off days I often did the morning duty (T20) from 05.20 until 13.00 whereupon the afternoon duty man (T21) having booked on at the main sorting office at around noon, would relieve the morning man. His work pattern was very much the same until he subsequently retired at about 18.00.
I think I remember that the late shift duty (T25) was different, as there was much more work to do during the evening, with it all reaching a climax from about 23.00 until the shift ended at 01.00. There was always an abundance of various van and TPO trains to deal with and this is where I witnessed quite a few hilarious incidents. T25 was one of my regular duties and I would book on at the sorting office around 16.30 then undertake some letter or package sorting duties for an hour or so before migrating up to the station to relieve the afternoon man. As mentioned, during the early part of the evening, duties were much as they were for the main daytime hours. After 22.00 however it tended to get a little more ‘exciting’ as from then on other staff members, including the duty postal inspector would appear.
Although I never got involved with it myself, another evening duty required one of my colleagues to travel south on 1A31, the 18.10 York to King’s Cross semi-fast, as far as Peterborough. This was in order to actively sort all of the mail bags in the half brake. There were quite a few that were destined for Peterborough itself and also other areas in East Anglia and to get them ready for a quick exit upon arrival in platform 2 was physically impossible in the booked station dwell time for 1A31 which was only due to stand for two minutes! Some nights were worse than others and, on occasions, there would be a hefty pile of bags on the platform after they’d all been removed! One or two did escape, however, only to turn up again some hours later having gone via King’s Cross! Once that task was completed, the postman in question would return to Grantham, as booked ‘on the cushions’ via 1D08, the 19.40 King’s Cross to Hull semi-fast. I was aware on numerous occasions he’d been asked to produce a valid ticket for his travel by a couple of the ‘less experienced’ members of the on-train team! With this in mind they always found it useful to keep a printed copy of the actual roster about one’s person for such events!
However, back to the story in hand. Postal colleagues appeared at various times to assist with loading and unloading duties ‘as required’ as the volume of mail was quite considerable in those days. Additionally, we had three lorries arriving from Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln, with their respective drivers and mail. This of course was to be loaded for onward transit onto both the Down and Up ‘Postals’ with an equal amount of ‘postal business’ coming the other way for taking back to their respective offices.
The first train to deal with was 3A01 which was the 19.40 Bradford Forster Square to King’s Cross F.T. express parcels service, which called at Grantham at just after 23.00. Ordinarily there would be around 10 or 12 barrow loads of mail, almost all Airmail and LOMO (mail order) with a small amount of residual stuff coming off. Obviously we had to be pretty quick to get it all loaded as the train was only booked to stand for 8 minutes! Those ‘data-post’ bags were (literally) a pain. They were large hessian parcel bags that contained two or more cardboard boxes. If you weren’t careful they would clout you around the back of the legs, just as you were swinging them into the vehicle, and knock you off your feet. That happened to me on more than one occasion, resulting in me very nearly disappearing down the gap between the platform edge and the vehicle I was attempting to load!
The consist was mainly formed of GUVs with the odd BG as well. Some of these vehicles were a bit ropey inside to say the least, with internal body-side planks often missing, where they had been presumably kicked out. Sometimes we found that one or both of the vertical steel droplight bars, which should protect from unwanted external attention, had been removed from various droplight doors in individual vehicles. On one such occasion I fell foul of this, as in my somewhat frenzied efforts to load the numerous unwieldy data-post bags, I actually succeeded in launching one right through the GUV and onto the Down Main. I realised too late that not only were the vertical bars missing, but the droplight was down too, thus creating the perfect storm! I immediately recognised the potential seriousness of the situation… I hoped and prayed that there would not be a down train due within the next 5 minutes as that would certainly have been curtains for the errant data-post bag and probably my job as well!
In no uncertain terms I quickly told my colleagues about the unfortunate situation. Without further hesitation I hotfooted it along the platform and down the ramp out in front of the train engine, which I remember was a Brush class 31. I cautiously checked that the line was still clear for me to cross before enlisting the help of one of the B.R. staff who, much to his amusement, kindly helped me retrieve the absconder! All was well, but not before I’d been challenged by another of my comedic colleagues to attempt the act in reverse, which, of course, I declined with the appropriate amount of sarcasm and soon found myself safely back on the Up platform complete with the escaped item!
Some weeks later I was once again on T25 duty. The usual gang were getting themselves ready when the Duty Station Inspector (Jack Wright) popped his head round the door of the ‘Cubby-Hole’ and uttered ‘3A01’s just passed Barkston lads’, so we knew it was time to drag ourselves away from the warm fireside and brave the chilly night air in readiness for 10 minutes or so of frenzied action once again. We all stood there waiting on the Up platform in anticipation of 3A01’s imminent arrival. I soon noticed that the train indicator lights at the ramp ends had gone from white to orange, thus indicating a train in section. Almost immediately I heard the faint singing of the continuously welded rails as the train approached. I thought to myself that it sounded like a run-through. Sure enough, the next thing I saw was a pair of roof high head-code lights swinging round the bend over Harlaxton Road Bridge. The locomotive entered the platform at speed and I very quickly deduced that ‘if this is 3A01 it definitely ain’t stopping!’ As it came hurtling along the platform towards us Jack Wright very quickly had his Bardic lamp at red and waved it furiously at the Driver, shouting out in his own inimitable way, ‘You silly buggaarrr!!’ just as No. 31190 went thundering past with the mail vans in its wake! This obviously did the trick as almost instantaneously the brakes went on. What followed was akin to witnessing a massive firework display. Sparks cascaded everywhere as 3A01 with brakes squealing came to a very rapid and shuddering halt somewhere up by Spitalgate bridge, followed by a loud thud when it did actually come to a dead stand.
We were all, not surprisingly, a bit taken aback by this and really didn’t know what to expect next. We exchanged glances and waited to see. After a pause of about 5 minutes the whole lot set back into the platform and we got on with loading the mail. As evidence of how heavy a brake application it was, the majority of the brake blocks were still glowing red! I don’t know if it was the same Driver on the following night, but 3A01 came to stand in the proper place and at a much more sedate pace!
Another incident happened on the night of January 8th 1981 when I and the usual crew were servicing the Down postal, 1S72, which in those days was the 22.30 King’s Cross to Edinburgh passenger - T.P.O. service. The consist of the train was about 8 seats coaches formed mainly of second class compartments, with the odd TSO intermingled with them, including a half brake. The last four vehicles were Travelling Post Office vans which were of course populated by our colleagues from London, being the mobile sorters. As you’d expect at this time of year it was a bitterly cold night and the train loco, Deltic No. 55021 Argyll & Sutherland Highlander was producing plenty of steam from her Spanner MkII boiler. In fact there was so much steam that in many places it was difficult to see what was occurring on the platform with it wafting and drifting about all over the place. Anyway, as usual our colleagues, who had come over in their lorries from Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln boarded the forward most T.P.O. vehicle in the consist to assist with the loading of all the many barrow loads of Data-post and letter mail that they’d brought over from their respective offices.
As was always the case there was plenty of banter during the operation and we all had to be on our mettle as 1S72 was only booked to stand for 4 minutes from 00.22 to 00.26 which didn’t give us much time at all. Now on this particular night our duty inspector was a chap called Mick Shannon. 1S72 had arrived a bit behind time and everyone was keen to get it away without too much additional delay. As mentioned before there was plenty of shouting about and associated arm waving, with still lots and lots of steam floating about but the job was well in hand. By now the lorry guys had migrated to one of the other T.P.O.s further back and were helping to lob all of the mail for the East Midlands out onto the platform for the rest of us to load onto the big heavy red wooden barrows that we used. Mr Shannon, however, was surveying the situation from the platform, and getting in the way as usual whilst trying to gee everyone up, but during the confusion and excess steam he mistakenly thought in his attempt to save some time, that one of the flailing arms in the clouds of steam at the back of the train was one of the T.P.O. staff signalling that the job was now complete. He shouted to the guard that we’d finished but did not realise that our chaps were still on board! Almost instantly the guard, quite correctly, was out on the platform with his Bardic at green to give the right away. With that I heard the Deltic give a single blast on her air-horn and 1S72 was moving off. Straight away there was total pandemonium as the T.P.O. doors were still open, the three lorry guys were still in the train and mail was still being unloaded! As the train was gathering momentum the steam was clearing and the staff, both on the train and the platform, were bellowing for all they were worth as they were not where they wanted to be at that juncture! The guard, very fortunately and in the customary manner, was viewing proceedings from the droplight in the half brake and quickly realised that things were not as they should be. He saw a trail of mail bags all the way along the platform and they were still emerging as he put the brake on. 1S72 came to an abrupt stand with the rear vehicle coming to rest about two thirds along the platform. Three very relieved and somewhat annoyed, members of staff alighted from the train having escaped being carted off to Doncaster! Needless to say we soon had a visit from a rather disgruntled Driver who wanted to know what the cause of the sudden arrest of his departure was….! Collectively all fingers pointed towards you-know-who! Needless to say he didn’t fall into that hole again. It was all rather amusing though!
Another incident was a rather rotten trick pulled by my colleagues on another fellow youngster by the name of Paul Garner on his final night of working for the Royal Mail before going off to university. It was sometime in mid-June 1981, I forget the actual date but we were on the T24 - T25 station duties again and I do remember it was a Friday. I knew something was going to happen, but I wasn’t party to it because I think the others thought I may have let Paul know what they were planning, as he was a good friend and we got on really well. Anyway, the evening’s work went without incident and eventually, after dealing with our old friends 3A01 and 1S72, it was the turn of the Up Postal, 1A40, which was the 20.30 Newcastle to King’s Cross and was booked at Grantham from 00.43 to 00.52. On this service the T.P.O. vehicles were at the front of the consist and, as with all other services of this nature, had a resident on-train sorting staff. As usual we assisted with the loading and unloading of mail from and to the East Midlands.
On this particular night, and once the work had been completed, I watched and wondered what, if anything, was going to happen regarding Paul. I’d been made aware that something was going to transpire, but I’d no idea what. I didn’t have to wait long, for just as we were walking back to the 'cubby-hole' Paul was invited by a couple of our colleagues for a ‘farewell celebration’ and was immediately grabbed by several others and unceremoniously bundled into a large parcel bag, which was tied off and then loaded onto 1A40 and sent to Peterborough! Unfortunately, I never saw Paul again after that, but I was reliably informed that he was released from the parcel bag as soon as 1A40 was on the move and plied with cups of strong tea all the way to Peterborough where he alighted. His next train back was 1N12, which was the 00.02 King’s Cross to Newcastle, which he made on a plus 4 minutes and got him back to Grantham at 02.00! Fortunately for me, when I left the job I had no such treatment!
There is an article about Parcels. Mail and Newspaper trains at Grantham in summer 1961 here.