Goods and Parcels

One of the two railway delivery lorries which were based at Hunslet Lane goods station in Leeds and driven by brothers Jack and Jake Gibbs. The identity of the man leaning on the cab is unknown. Photo taken in the 1950s by Colin Cowell. Note the man carrying a sack across the line.

The clatter of clogs on cobbled streets was an unmistakeable sound of working class life in the industrial north of England. In Woodlesford by the 1960s the clogs, which were made of wood, had largely disappeared but there was one place where you could hear them on genuine cobbles, and that was in the station yard at Woodlesford. Remarkably most of the cobbles survive today as part of the car park, and the last two pairs of clogs could still be seen and heard there up until the late 1960s.

They belonged to brothers Jack and Jake Gibbs, the last in a long line of railway delivery drivers, or carters, who had worked at the station since its opening in 1840.

In the early days coal and other freight came on wagons attached to trains which were also carrying passengers. They would have to wait whilst the engine shunted the freight wagons into the sidings and picked up outgoing consignments. Indeed third class passengers travelled in the same type of open wagons as the freight with just wooden benches to sit on.

The hand operated crane with its stone balancing weight was capable of lifting 10 tons.

There were three sidings off the “Down” line at Woodlesford, and because of the restricted area in the yard a small turntable was used to switch wagons between them. The third siding from the main line was adjacent to a stone built bay platform with a hand operated crane for loads weighing up to 10 tons. The goods shed was near to the station entrance gate on the site of what is now the ramp into the car park extension. Its track was at right angles to the others and another turntable was used for wagons needing to be switched and unloaded under cover. A horse would have been used to pull the heavier wagons with a rope but some would have just been manhandled by the porters. The horse also pulled a small dray for making deliveries in the immediate area.

Before Water Haigh colliery started production in 1911 coal for the village came to the station goods yard from further afield including pits such as T. & R. W. Bower’s Allerton Main Collieries. One of their pits was at Fleakingley Beck at Astley on the northern side of the River Aire and under a mile from the station. Wagons from there would however have had to travel about ten miles via Castleford to reach Woodlesford.

Local farmers took deliveries of live cattle via the station and the Armitage quarry and brickworks sent grindstones and bricks worldwide. Their loaded wagons came via a long siding which ran across Eshald Lane, under the main line, and looped up an incline to sidings adjacent to the “Up” line. In season rhubarb went in large quantities in full vans and smaller amounts for the London markets were put in the guard’s compartment on passenger trains. Loaded wagons of beer were sent out from the brewery and they took in supplies of coal, malt and hops. Hulse’s factory along Alma Street also despatched its products nationwide.  

In the 1930s there were two “trip” workings of a stopping goods train from Hunslet marshalling yard, one in the morning and and another in the afternoon. The engine and wagons would arrive from the Leeds direction and then reverse onto the “Down” side though a trailing set of crossover points opposite the signal box.

An unidentified relief driver with Jake Gibbs’ wagon.

Freight traffic through Woodlesford probably peaked during the Second World War when large quantities of rationed foodstuffs including sugar, butter, and margerine were transferred for storage at a government “buffer” depot two miles away at Royds Green. 

The wooden goods shed was demolished in the 1950s after it started to rot. It was also infested with rats. Most incoming and outgoing freight for the district was then dealt with at the large Hunslet Lane goods station in Leeds. However some full wagon loads, including vans of whisky for the brewery, were still dropped off at the sidings by the trip trains, but as more and more traffic transferred to road haulage the sidings were closed on 27 April 1964. One of the last consigmnents of general freight was a van load of camping equipment for Rothwell Grammar Schoool in 1963.

A connection to the branch into the extensive internal sidings at Water Haigh colliery was put in by the Midland Railway in 1910. It could only be reached via one trailing point from the “Down” line. This meant that crews bringing trains of empty wagons from the Leeds direction had to perform a complicated shunting manoevre. This involved detaching the engine from the wagons, running to Methley, then crossing over onto the “Down” line, then returning to Woodlesford, crossing again to couple to the rear of the train, before drawing back across the crossing, and propelling the wagons into the colliery branch!

This naturally blocked the “Up” line to through trains for quite a while, so eventually permission was granted for trains of empty wagons to be propelled into Water Haigh on the “Down” line from Waterloo sidings over a mile away, where it was easier to cross over. This meant that the trains travelled “wrong line” through the station. Unfortunately in 1965 porter Harold Ellis was run over and lost one of his legs below the knee when he was caught unawares by a light engine using this method to reach the colliery branch. He was walking in the “four foot” between the rails of the “Down” line towards what he thought was any oncoming train, but the engine crept up on him from behind, the driver’s view being obscured by the tender.

After the closure of the goods yard the paperwork for coal traffic, out from Water Haigh, and from other pits further afield into the sidings at Waterloo for Skelton Grange power station, continued to be dealt with at Woodlesford until the station became an unmanned halt on 4 January 1970.

With the transfer of most freight handling to Hunslet Lane, Jack and Jake Gibbs became the designated Woodlesford drivers. The brothers grew up at Ashley Street in Hunslet which was just round the corner from the goods station which had been the original North Midland railway passenger terminus. Born in 1909 Jake was over a year older than Jack, but dressed in their flat caps and black serge railway uniforms, and with their clogs, they could easily have been mistaken for twins.

Its more than likely that Jake got a job at Hunslet Lane with the Midland Railway when he was 13 in 1922 and Jack would have followed, joining the newly formed London Midland and Scottish company a couple of years later. In their early years they would have worked with shire horses. By the 1960s they were motor drivers each with a Thames Trader lorry in the red and cream British Railways colours.

The bonded warehouse at Hunslet Lane in 1964 as seen from Junction Street which is now the entrance road to the Crown Point Shopping Park. The site is now occupied by the Comet electrical store and Allied Carpets. Photo courtesy Sheila Bye, Middleton Railway.

Jake was slightly taller than Jack and was a more taciturn man who kept himself to himself. Jack was more outgoing and had a tradition of allowing young boys to travel with him to help make deliveries. They could also be distinguished because Jack’s lorry had a wooden frame for the sheets with which he used to cover his loads against rain and snow. Their routine was to deliver freight from Hunslet Lane first thing in the morning. Jack’s area included Woodlesford, Oulton, Rothwell, Carlton and Robin Hood. Amongst the businesses he visited were Bryant and May’s match warehouse, Pelican, and the rope and twine works at Carlton. Jake’s area took in Methley and Swillington including the brewery and the Rocol factory alongside the canal.

After dropping their loads they would then drive to Woodlesford station to pick up parcels which had arrived by train. At certain times of the year, especially Christmas, there were large quantities from mail order companies such as Grattans and Kays in Bradford and Leeds, and Littlewoods in Liverpool. Most would come via Leeds City station either on a stopping parcels train in the morning or on the two evening steam passenger trains to Sheffield via Cudworth which would often wait for ten minutes or more to be unloaded. The parcels were put on large barrows and then pushed precariously across the foot crossing and into the station building. They were then sorted into the two rounds, the delivery addresses being written or “sheeted up” on special forms.

The brothers would then set off on their rounds often returning to the station at lunchtime to eat fish and chips with the station staff in the “bug hutch”, an old Midland Railway signal cabin which had been moved behind the station building. In the afternoon they finished off the parcels deliveries and would then pick up larger outgoing loads and take them to Hunslet Lane to be sent by the evening express good trains. By the 1960s this included the rhubarb from the heated forcing sheds dotted around Rothwell, which also doubled up as turkey farms during the winter.   
 
Click on the links below to hear Peter Daniels who was a driver at Hunslet Lane before he joined the Freightliner operation at Stourton. He knew Jack and Jake Gibbs and acted as a relief driver on their rounds when they were on holiday. 

On Saturday 11 May 1957 Jacob William Gibbs was presented with a gold medal for ten years safe driving by the British Railways Goods Agent, Mr A R Patrick. He’s pictured here in the Yorkshire Evening News along with other award wining drivers.
Jake Gibbs.