“Woodlesford Station Has Had Its Moments” was the headline in the Wakefield Express in February 1971 when the paper interviewed 79 year old Frank Jackson. By then the station had lost all its staff, apart from two signal men, and the station building had been vandalised and was boarded up.
“You won’t find a porter to carry your bags or anyone to answer timetable enquiries. In fact, it is all rather ghostly, with its boarded up windows and hissing lamps,” said the paper.
Frank Jackson told the Express that he’d worked as a clerk at Woodlesford from 1911 until 1931. It’s not clear where he worked in the years after that but from June 1943 he was the Class 4 chief clerk at Normanton and it’s believed that he retired from there in 1952 when he was 60 years old. For a few years after that he had a part time job travelling to Leeds City station early in the morning to receive consignments of fresh fish from the coast destined for the Leeds markets.
Frank was the youngest son of a miner. He was born in Fazeley near Tamworth in April 1891 and, like many Staffordshire mining families, they moved to Yorkshire a few years later. They settled in Normanton where Franks’s father, Henry James Jackson, probably worked at one of the Henry Briggs pits, as did his two eldest sons.
By the 1911 census Frank was 19 years old and still living with his parents, brothers, and a sister, on Castleford Road in Normanton. It’s likely he started his railway career at Normanton, although there are no surviving Midland Railway documents to show when he was first employed by them.
An entry from the salaried staff list from 1914 records him as the junior of four men at Woodlesford earning £55 a year. His boss was station master Christopher Lowis and he worked alongside Frank Barlow Burnley and the chief clerk, Frank Ferrett, who lived on Alma Street.
In 1915, at St Thomas’s church in Purston near Featherstone, Frank Jackson married Annie Williams, the daugher of Simon Williams, a miner who had come with his family from Flintshire in North Wales.
At first Frank and Annie lived near the quarry on Bernard Street which had been built by Armitage’s and named after a member of their family. Frank’s parents were also living nearby on Sydney Street. His father had probably moved to Briggs’ Water Haigh colliery at some point after it opened in 1911 but died, aged 59, in 1917. Frank served as a private with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in France during the First World War and was wounded in the leg near the town of Nancy in 1918.
After the war Frank and Annie lived with their four children in a newly built council house on Holmsley Field Lane. Later they moved to a terraced house closer to the station on Aberford Road. Frank was an accomplished pianist and accompanied silent movies at the Woodlesford picture house. He taught music privately and railway friends visited his house for musical evenings. During the Second World War he served as an officer in the local unit of the Home Guard.
In his newspaper interview Frank described the “Dickensian” conditions in the station office at Woodlesford, with the clerks having to dip their pens into ink as they “scratched on paperwork and filled in ledgers under the gaslight.” Almost everything went by train in those days, as there was scarcely any road traffic. The passenger trains were packed. “People came from Woodlesford, Oulton, Rothwell and Swillington to use our station,” he said.
Frank remembered two trains, one which he called the Drunken Special which was the last train from Leeds on a Saturday night, and the other, the early morning Paddy Mail which brought miners to work from their homes in Leeds and Hunslet. Frank said the carriages were crude and had wooden seats with no upholstery.
“The Drunken Special was so long it had to pull up at the platform three times to let everyone get off. When they did get off at Woodlesford many of the passengers realised they had boarded the wrong train, so it was our job to herd them down to Cooper’s Garage, where a taxi shuttle service took them back to Leeds,” Frank said.
Another of Frank’s fellow clerks was Edgar Cooper from North Lane in Oulton. He was at Woodlesford from 1928 until 1934, before he left to work in the Control Office in Leeds. He told the Express there was a horse at the station. “It was used for manoeuvering wagons around the crane in loading and unloading operations. Armitage’s used to export grindstones all over the world from here,” he said.
Edgar was on duty at Leeds one morning in October 1944 when he took a message from Woodlesford saying the ganger, Reader Free, had been killed by the south bound “Devonian” express.
Annie Jackson passed away in 1972. Frank Jackson was 90 years old when he died in 1982.