Christopher Lowis

This photo looking towards Leeds was taken on 30 May 1916 by an official photographer of the Midland Railway. It shows repairs being made to the stone work on the parapets of the main arch of Bridge 238 over Aberford Road. The original 1840 stonework of the arch itself had been replaced by a new arch made of brick. Shovels and other tools have been left by workmen leaning against the right hand parapet. Wooden safety fencing has been erected on both sides of the track where half of the original parapets have been removed. In the goods yard sidings are trucks from an Engineering Department train and a travelling steam crane. Also visible is the wooden goods shed which was demolished in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Kidderminster Railway Museum and the Roy F. Burrows Midland Collection Trust.)

Christopher Lowis was station master at Woodlesford during the First World War. He arrived in December 1911 and stayed until 1924. His salary in August 1914 was £130 a year. 

He was born in 1872 at on a small farm at Satron near Muker in Swaledale, North Yorkshire. During his early childhood, several miles away to the west on the other side of Angram Common, one of the greatest engineering feats of the Victorian era was underway – construction of the Settle and Carlisle line of the Midland Railway. Thousands of navvies were in the area building tunnels under the moors and the soaring viaduct at Ribblehead. 

Lowis’s father was a lead miner and it’s possible that for a few years he also worked on the railway. When Christopher was 6 years old Hawes station was opened a few miles from the family home, although to reach it he would have had to climb over Butter Tubs Pass. 

In the 1880s the whole family moved to Lees between Oakworth and Haworth in “Bronte Country” where Christopher began his railway career at Oakworth station in 1889, a location which much later was made famous by the film production of Edith Nesbit’s “The Railway Children” starring Bernard Cribbins and Jenny Agutter. Christopher’s first job was as an assistant porter weighing freight on a large pair of scales. After about a year he was made a clerk in the booking office. He then transferred as a porter to Holbeck station in Leeds where he stayed for about two years before getting a job at the main Leeds Wellington station as a general relief man in June 1894. This probably meant he was sent to stations in the Leeds area to act as a holiday and sick relief for porters and possibly for station masters at some of the smaller stations.

In 1897 Christopher married Mary Blenkiron. Like many others from Swaledale their two fathers had been attracted by better prospects in the more prosperous West Riding and Mary and her sisters had found work in the local woollen mills. 

Their first child, Mary Alice, was born in Oakworth. Shortly afterwards Christopher Lowis was promoted to be the station master at Altofts between Methley and Normanton. There they had a baby boy called Clarence.

After Altofts they moved to Addingham, between Ilkley and Skipton, from 1902 to 1904. They moved south again in December 1905 for Christopher to become station master at Methley for six years. A third child, Christopher, was born in 1907. Clarence Lowis, who spent most of his teenage years at Woodlesford, joined the army at Pontefract a few weeks before the end of the First World War. After he was demobbed he followed in his father’s footsteps with the 1921 census recording him as a goods clerk at Normanton but still living at home. He had married but was still a clerk at Sutton Coldfield at the outbreak of the Second World War. His younger brother also joined the transport industry and became the senior clerk for Colne Corporation buses.

A road level view of the new brick arch of Bridge 238 in May 1916. On the right is the gated entrance to Bentley’s brewery. The wooden notice above the smaller second arch warns against trespassers and was still there a century later. Just visible through the main arch is the pipe spanning Aberford Road which carried water into the brewery. 

Very little has come to light so far about events at Woodlesford station during Lowis’s time there. Midland Railway staff records show that in 1914 there were three other salaried staff, all of them general clerks. The senior one was Francis J. Ferrett who was earning £105 a year, whilst Frank Barlow Burnley earned £90, and Frank Jackson £55. 

Frank Ferrett, who was born at Slymbridge in Gloucestershire in 1875, had been at Woodlesford since at least 1901. At that time he was still single and lodging with a signalman and another station clerk at the home of a widow, Jane Hobkinson, on Princes Street. He married shortly afterwards and by 1911 he was living at 44 Alma Street with his wife Winnefred who came from Halifax. They had a son, also called Francis, and a daughter, Elsie, both born in Woodlesford. 

It appears that in his spare time Frank was a keen gardener, enough to get him a mention in the Rothwell Courier and Times for having wallflowers and primroses growing in his garden on Alma Street in January 1913. It’s highly likely that his “green fingers” were also put to good use down at the station because a couple of weeks later the same paper reported that Woodlesford had won a prize in the annual competition for the most neatly kept platform gardens on the Midland Railway in which 214 stations took part.

In 1916 Christopher Lowis and the rest of his staff witnessed several weeks of intense activity as the main arch of Bridge 238 over Aberford Road was rebuilt, with the original stone of the arch being replaced by brick. 

To carry out the work the points on the bridge had to be moved a few feet and a connection into the goods yard taken out completely. Permission for changes to the track had to be granted by the Board of Trade at Whitehall Gardens in London and correspondence between them and Sir William Guy Granet, the Midland Railway’s General Manager at the time, has been retained by the National Archives at Kew. 

The first letter to the Railway Department at the Board, was sent from Derby by Granet on 14 February 1916. Attached to it was a plan “shewing temporary connections with the main line at Woodlesford.” It went on: “I shall be glad to hear that the Department sanction the work being proceeded with and brought into use, subject to the requirements, if any, of the Inspecting Officer being complied with after he shall have visited the place. I am, Sir, Your obedient servant, W. Guy Granet.

Assistant Secretary W. F. Marwood replied immediately by filling in the location and date on a pre-printed acknowledgement which approved the works and granted “provisional sanction to bring them into use as and when required.” 

The work itself was carried out during the spring and summer with an Engineer’s Department train including a steam crane being stabled in the goods yard sidings. An official Midland Railway photographer was sent to the site on 30 May and two of his photographs have also survived. The changes were completed by 28 August 1916, when Granet wrote again to the Board of Trade advising that “the main lines and connections restored to their original position.” 

By all accounts Christopher Lowis was a well respected member of the Woodlesford and Oulton community. Although he never took the temperance “pledge” he was a teetotaller and a “staunch” member of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Calverley Road in Oulton dividing his time between there and the station. He must have been well known locally as he walked between the two along Aberford Road.

On his promotion to be the station master at Colne in Lancashire in November 1924 the Wakefield Express said: “Assiduous in his attention to duty, and most obliging to inquirers, a smiling face and a cheery passing of the time of day, Mr. Lowis gained a great popularity. The Leeds – Normanton stretch of the London, Midland, and Scottish line and Mr. Lowis were so inter-related that it has been remarked: “The line does not seem the same without him.”

Just before they left Christopher and his family were given a grand send off after a Sunday evening service at the chapel. According to the Express “a large company of friends met to show their esteem.” They were presented with a silver teapot, cream jug, and sugar basin by the Reverend Herbert James Haslam who lived with his wife Lucy at The Laurels on Alma Street. Mary Alice Lowis, who had been the chapel organist, was given a gold brooch. 

Station master Lowis spent much of his retirement at Sutton near Thirsk. He died in Hawes in the Wensleydale district in 1951. His wife passed away a few weeks later. They are both buried in Oakworth. 

It’s interesting to note that if you want to gain an impression of the sights and sounds of station master Lowis’s life, two of the places with which he was associated have strong present day links to the Midland Railway. Oakworth is on the preserved Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and Addingham is not far from the Embsay and Bolton Steam Railway. There you can ride in restored carriages which would have been familiar to day trippers from Woodlesford visiting Bolton Abbey over a century ago.