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Sam Pearce

Above:  Driver Sam Pearce on the footplate of class O2/4 heavy freight locomotive No. 63956 at Grantham in the early 1960s.  Photograph taken by Colin Walker, © Martin Walker.

by Chris Pearce

My grandfather was Sam Pearce who started working on the railway after an early job as a gardener at Belvoir Castle.  He lived at Woolsthorpe by Belvoir at the time and used to cycle to Grantham to work, I think as a cleaner.  He later moved to Springfield Road and was promoted to fireman and then driver during his 47½ years with the railway.

Sam Pearce is third from the left standing at ground level in this large group of engine cleaners at Grantham Loco. Locomotive No. 1401 is one of the famous Ivatt 'Large Atlantic' main line express engines with which Grantham men were very familiar. The photograph was taken before April 1924, because we know that No. 1401 was renumbered '4401' then.
Photograph kindly made available by Chris Pearce.

Sam (his real name was Wallace) and my grandma, Gladys, were a large part of my life as a child.  They lived opposite the turntable which was next to the Top Shed, where the Reads can-making factory was later built.  The turntable (so I was led to believe) was targeted by German bombers and the raid broke the foundations to their house, which caused the windows to rattle every time a lorry passed.

This aerial photograph, taken on 19th April 1950, shows the 'Top Shed' at top right and the adjacent 52-foot turntable. Sam and Gladys Pearce lived in the row of terraced houses at bottom left, facing Springfield Road. Their house was directly opposite the track down to the allotments (where Sam had a double one).  Victoria Street and Stamford Street lead off at the bottom right corner.
© English Heritage
This photograph was taken from just in front of Sam Pearce's house. In the foreground is Springfield Road, on the left through the gateway is the track giving access to the railway-owned allotments, and in the centre is the buffer stop at the south apex of the turning triangle. Every locomotive being turned at Grantham Loco would arrive at this point from the far right, come to a halt and move off along the line which curves sharply towards the tall coaling plant.

I remember Mondays being wash day and the copper being fired up for the water.  My grandfather used to scrub his blue overalls with hot soapy water on the yard, with the yard brush, before a session in a tub with the Dolly peg.  They were then mangled to get the water out.  Wash day dinner was always one to look forward to, being the leftovers from Sunday dinner and the added bonus of bubble and squeak!

There was a very warm railway overcoat that used to get used as an overblanket on my bed when the weather was cold.  He had an enamel lunch box and a container, I think he called his flask, which was made of cream enamel with an enamel cup lid. It was not  a thermos flask as I know one now.  I guess you could mash tea in it with any available boiling water, so more like a kettle really.  Sam was always a very proud railwaymen with great values and ethics, a great role model to my father, and to myself to this day.  Oh, and his pocket watches, of which he had several.  Time keeping was essential to him. 

I remember his tales to this day, especially from the war years.  One of the most vivid memories I have from Sam was when he told me how the German bombers would often follow the steam engines during night air raids, knowing that they would be travelling through Grantham.  Marco’s ammunition factory was a prime target and he told me that if the train drivers spotted a German bomber following the train, they would slow down in the tunnels so that the bombers flew on quicker than the train, therefore losing the train’s guidance.  I went to sleep most nights as a child listening for the sound of 'his' whistle after coming out of Peascliffe tunnel, which he said he would blow for me.  I think he drove a locomotive called Blink Bonny at one stage, and I can remember going in with him on the odd occasion when he was shunting.  Fond memories.

Rail-Online: A1 4-6-2 (Gresley) &emdash; 2550 1928c Kings Cross
No. 2550 'Blink Bonny' was one of the same class of express passenger locomotives as 'Flying Scotsman'. It was based at Grantham shed from 1925 to 1942, and for some shorter periods in the mid-1940s and early-1950s. It is seen here in the loco yard at London King's Cross station about 1928.
This and other photographs are available from Rail-Online: left click on the image.

LNER Gresley A1 pacific no. 2550 Blink Bonny at Marshmoor in 1929. 2550 was built at Doncaster in November 1924 and would be BR branded as no. 60051 in September 1948 whilst allocated to Top Shed. The ensuing years saw Blink Bonny being shuffled around the E & NE regions ending up at Gatesheadwhere she would be withdrawn in November 1964.[Mike Morant collection]

Sid 'Spud' Murphy was one of his firemen.  I met Sid once when he interviewed me for a job at BMARC.

There's a picture of Sam with his devil's head pipe in a book called Trails of Steam Volume 6 - Trails through Grantham by Colin Walker, and it's interesting to see a fuller account of the day when the picture was taken (A Trip to Highdyke in Winter's Chill).

I still have the clock Sam received when he achieved 45 years' service with the railway - and his 1927 Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, which I ride occasionally. I think it may have been purchased from a shop on Dudley Road in Grantham.

The clock presented to Driver Pearce in 1965 by British Railways in appreciation of 45 years' service.
The engraved plaque on the front of the clock.


Driver Pearce was not the only Grantham footplateman to be known as 'Sam' when it wasn't his real name - see 'Sam' Whitaker's page here.

There's more about life on the railway in Grantham during the Second World War on this page, and on  Boris Bennett's page here.

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4 thoughts on “Sam Pearce

  1. Andrew Martell

    Very interesting. Especially like the recollections about WW2 and the German bombers. What it must have felt like to be driving at night with one if them following you. Incredible tales.

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Thanks Andrew. I find it truly remarkable what the generations of men and women who saw us through both world wars achieved - ordinary people doing extraordinary things despite the most difficult and threatening of circumstances.
      John Clayson


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