Arthur Edward Fletcher

Woodlesford station in about 1910. The signalman looking out of the signal box window could be Arthur Fletcher. The photographer was just to the south of Bridge 238 over Aberford Road next to the Up line in the “four foot” of the siding leading to Bentley’s brewery. The large wooden building on the left was the goods shed. Also visible are wagons in the goods yard, a loading guage, and the jib of the station crane. Next to the crane are two horse drawn wagons, one of which is carrying a block of stone from Armitage’s quarry. The locomotive is an open cab 0-6-0 tank painted in the distinctive maroon livery of the Midland Railway. It was probably based at Stourton shed where about six engines of its class are known to have been allocated at this period. The positioning of three lamps on the tender, two in the middle and one on the side, show it was an ordinary goods or mineral train stopping and shunting at intermediate stations. Behind the engine is a guard’s van and it’s likely the train would have been on a “trip” working from the marshalling yards at Stourton or Hunslet bringing and taking away wagons from Woodlesford. The driver and fireman are standing on the footplate framed by the cab “spectacles.” The guard is standing on the step of his van and the man on the platform was either a signalman or porter. Strung across the tracks are about 8 to 10 copper wires from the main telegraph pole route to the “box pole.” This was standard practice and the wires would carry block instrument circuits, electrical repeaters for signals, and some telephones. Other wires carried Sheffield – Leeds trunk telephone circuits. Just visible on one of the corner posts of the signal box is an oval telegraph fault board. It was Oxford blue on one side and black on the other and used to indicate to train drivers whether the telegraph instruments were working correctly. Placed horizontally, with the blue side facing out, it meant the block and other instruments were in order. With the black side facing out it meant the equipment was faulty. When hung vertically, black side outermost, the telephone or telegraph messaging equipment was faulty. The boards were discontinued after 1913 when telephones became more widespread. The postcard was sent from Woodlesford, with birthday greetings from his Auntie Alice, to Clifford Brown who was staying at 28 Woodbine Avenue off Kirkstall Road in Leeds and recovering after an illness. The view would have been very familiar to him as the family home was on Eshald Place across the line from where the photographer was standing. In 1911 Clifford was 12 years old and back in Woodlesford where his father and grandfather were coopers at the brewery.

One of the longest serving signalmen at Woodlesford was Arthur Fletcher who retired at the age of 65 in 1937 after completing 45 years of service with the Midland Railway.

Born at Avening near Stroud in Gloucestershire in 1872 Arthur Edward Fletcher came from a farming family. His father was a shepherd and Arthur had been an agricultural labourer before he joined the Midland Railway in November 1891 when he was 19 years old. His first job was as a goods porter paid 16 shillings a week at Radford station in the suburbs of Nottingham.  

A year and a half later he moved to Armley station in Leeds where he became a signal lamp lighter. Within a few months he’d been promoted to be a porter but his big break came in 1895 when he went as an assistant signalman to Leeds Junction just outside Wellington Station in the city centre. The signal box there was the largest on the approach to the Midland’s terminus and controlled trains arriving and departing from the main line south through Woodlesford as well those heading for Bradford and the north.  

By January 1899, when he was fully trained, Arthur could look forward to a lifetime in a secure position with steady wages of 24 shillings a week, a situation that seems to have prompted his wedding in June that year.

His bride, Jane Price Partridge, possibly a childhood sweetheart, came from Edge near Painswick in Gloucestershire. After leaving home she had been a servant in the home of a solicitor in Cheltenham. When they got married at Edge parish church Arthur was lodging at Pickering Street just round the corner from Armley station. Shortly afterwards they moved to St. Matthias Street about half a mile away in Burley where they were still living when the census was taken in March 1901.

The Midland Railway’s staff records are unclear as to precisely when Arthur moved to Woodlesford to work in the station signal box on the southbound, or Up, platform overlooking the bridge over Aberford Road. Just after he retired a report in the L.M.S staff magazine in June 1937 said he’d been there for 37 years which would imply he arrived in the first months of 1900 whilst he was still living in Armley.

Although there was a service of passenger trains into Leeds Wellington and on to Woodlesford Arthur would not have found it an easy commute as he would have had to work shifts. Railway records show there were three permanent signalmen at Woodlesford but their shift pattern isn’t clear. At that time the box was open day and night seven days a week so it’s likely there were 8 hour long “turns”, most likely earlies (6am to 2pm), lates (2pm to 10pm) and nights (10pm to 6am) with a “relief” signalman doing some shifts so the permanent men could have time off and holidays. If the box had to be closed or “locked out” the signals would have been left in the “off” position allowing trains to pass through non-stop.

By the birth, in spring 1902, of their only daughter, Jane Alice Dorothy, known in the family as Jenny, the Fletchers had relocated to Woodlesford. They still had strong family ties to Gloucestershire though and no doubt travelled by a Midland express from Leeds to Gloucester when they took their new baby to be baptised at Edge parish church that September. 

Later they were recorded in the 1911 census at a house in Swillington close to the church. 

A plan drawn in 1916, for the rebuilding of Bridge 238 over Aberford Road, showing the layout of the track at Woodlesford.

Little else is known about Arthur Fletcher’s long career with the Midland and then the London Midland & Scottish Railway after the “grouping” in 1923. Throughout most of the Edwardian period he had at least one colleague working the Woodlesford signal box shifts who, like him, had migrated to Yorkshire from elsewhere.

George Sinfield came from Battlesden near Woburn in Bedfordshire. He was born in 1871 and had started his railway career with 8 months service on the London & North Western Railway. In 1892, at the age of 20, he joined the Midland at St. Pancras in London working first as a carriage cleaner. By 1896, when his first son was born, he was a porter at Chapel-en-le-Frith on the route between Derby and Manchester.

Next came a move to Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale in 1897 where he was first a porter/signalman and then a full time signalman in the station box. After 18 months he moved again to the box at Altofts station between Methley and Normanton, eventually arriving at Woodlesford in March 1903. When the 1911 census was taken he was living at Bondfield Terrace at Woodrow in Methley.

Waterloo Colliery Sidings signal box, just under a mile towards Leeds, also came under the control of the Woodlesford stationmaster so Arthur and George would have had close working relationships with the men there along with those at Methley, the next box to the south. 

Whether it was by coincidence or design two of the Waterloo men in that era also came from south of Birmingham. George Henry Leadbetter was born at Cow Honeybourne in Gloucestershire and he too had joined the Midland Railway as a 19 year old carriage cleaner, at Bradford in July 1891. From there he went to Wennington Junction in Lancashire where he was first a porter/guard and then station porter.  

Five years later he travelled south on the Midland system to become a signalman at Castle Donnington in Leicestershire, leaving there in 1899 for a series of postings in Derbyshire including Derby, Ripley Old Yard, and then Repton and Willington. He returned to Yorkshire in June 1903 to work the box at Newlay on the main line from Leeds to Shipley. From there he went to Saltaire on the other side of Shipley before moving back down the line to Waterloo Colliery Sidings in April 1905.

A few months earlier he had married Mabel Jane Berridge, the daughter of fellow signalman Alfred Berridge, who he had met whilst working in Derbyshire. She came to live with him in Woodlesford where they lived at a number of addresses including Airedale View, Church Street and Park View. Their first son was born in the village in 1907. By 1918 they had moved to Cudworth and were still there in the 1930s.

The other Waterloo man was George Hall who arrived in October 1899. He too came from a farming family and was born in 1871 at Abbots Morton in Worcestershire. Again his first job on the railway was a few months as a carriage washer in Leeds before he was appointed to be a porter at Holbeck Low Level station in 1891. From there he went as a porter to Bolton Abbey in 1893, then Yeadon as a porter/signalman in 1896, followed by full time signalman at Guiseley in 1897.

There he married domestic servant Lucy Emily Coates, the daughter of a cabinet maker from Leeds. Their first child, George, was born about a year later followed by Florence Mary in 1900 and Albert Edward in 1911. After their father went to the Waterloo box the family lived first at an unknown address on Rothwell Haigh before moving to Airedale Terrace by 1901 and then 10 Kitchener Street off Midland Street where they were to be found in the 1911 census.

By that time young George had left Woodlesford school and was engaged as a brick presser at Armitage’s brickworks. A few years later George Hall and his family left the village when he moved on to work at a signal box in Shipley. 

As for Arthur Fletcher he continued to operate the Woodlesford station box throughout the First World War and into the 1920s and 30s. In 1924 he and his wife and daughter, a clerk at Bentley’s brewery, were still living in Swillington, but by 1928 they had moved to a new council house at 24 North Lane in Oulton. Eventually they settled further up the road at No. 74.
It’s not recorded where Arthur’s retirement party took place but the L.M.S. staff magazine reported that he was presented with a chiming clock by his workmates at Woodlesford. It was handed over by the fourth stationmaster he had worked under, Robert Harold Roberts, who had arrived from North Wales in 1930. Mr. Roberts wished him “a happy and prosperous retirement”.

Within a year Arthur, Jane and Jenny had moved to live at Pershore in Worcestershire. Both Jane and Jenny died there in June 1944 suggesting they may have been involved in an accident or perhaps were the victims of a German bombing raid. Arthur returned to his birthplace and died at Avening, at the age of 84, in 1956.