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.
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.