Richard Mcfarlane

Dick Macfarlane on the balcony of Leeds City Junction signal box just outside Leeds City station in the early 1960s. The two lines in view were the South Arrival and South Departure which became the Up and Down Main to and from Engine Shed Junction carrying trains to and from the Woodlesford direction. Points to the right of the picture also carried trains towards Whitehall Junction. There were two more running lines close to the box, the North Arrival and North Departure, for trains to and from Whitehall Junction. The bridge in the middle distance carried trains over Globe Road and Water Lane. It butted on to a long brick viaduct towards Farnley which was built by the London and North Western Railway. The route was decommissioned in the 1980s but the viaduct is still there. The buildings in the distance are part of Holbeck’s famous Round Foundry, one of the earliest engineering factories in the world, where Matthew Murray built pioneering steam engines and locomotives. The building with the glass panels in the roof was a garage for the Leeds Industrial Co-operative Society. (Information courtesy Keith Long who worked as a train recorder at Leeds City Junction.)

It wasn’t quite like the film “Brief Encounter” but romance certainly blossomed for Dick Mcfarlane in the unusual setting of Woodlesford station. There, in between pulling off the signals, he struck up a relationship with a girl from Swillington who he later married.

Richard William Mcfarlane was born at Scarborough in 1909. When he was a child he moved with his family to Stourton where his father worked in an engineering works. It was probably whilst living at Ida Mount close to the Midland Railway and their wagon repair shop on the other side of Queen Street that Richard’s interest in railways started.

His first job after leaving school at the age of 14 was in a factory nearby but within a few years he moved to become a porter at Woodlesford station which in 1923 became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway. It’s likely that he would have cycled to work along the canal towpath from Ida Mount.

Pitman’s college in Leeds.

A few years later Dick became a signalman and began to work the signal box at Woodlesford and probably other boxes in the area. He met his future wife, Marianne Gummerson, as she travelled to study shorthand at Pitman’s Secretarial School and College of Commerce in Leeds. They were eventually married at Swillington church in 1936 and their daughter, Joan, was born three years later.

Marianne had been born in 1914 and grew up living in the lodge house at Swillington Bridge. Her father, Edwin, was a colliery blacksmith who followed in the footsteps of his father, a colliery engineman.

Marianne’s mother was Nellie Bean whose father and grandfather had both been tailors in Swillington making clothes for the Lowther family.

With a steady income from the railway Dick and Marianne were able to raise a mortage from the council and buy a house on The Grove at Little Preston. From there he commuted to Woodlesford by bike. Later he graduated to an auto-bike and later still a B.S.A. 250 motorbike.

Dick’s daughter remembers that at some point in his career her father was signalman at Horton-in-Ribblesdale on the Settle and Carlisle line where the signal box was similar to the one at Woodlesford. That suggests he was skilled as a “relief” signalmen qualified to operate a number of boxes.

He also worked at several boxes in Leeds including the main box at Leeds City station, Leeds City Junction on the triangle of lines around Matthew Mrray’s “Steam Hall,” and at Neville Hill on the other side of the city. When he retired in 1974 he was based on the centralised control panel inside the office block at Leeds station which came into operation when the station was remodelled in 1967. It replaced most of the old signal boxes in the Leeds district. 

Dick Mcfarlane would have signalled the Thames – Clyde Express as it passed through Woodlesford. The north and south bound trains are seen here as they reversed at Leeds in the 1950s.