John Williams Pierce

Woodlesford station in the 1950s looking much the same as it would have done during John Williams Pierce’s time in the 1940s.

John Williams Pierce was in charge at Woodlesford station throughout the Second World War. He took over following the retirement of Robert Harold Roberts through ill-health in 1939 and was in the post for the next eight years. Like his predecessor he was also from a Welsh railway family and he too had worked for the London and North Western Railway before the railways were amalgamated in 1923.

John Williams was born at Llanarthney in Carmarthenshire in July 1897 where his father, Thomas James Pierce, was the station master on the 14 mile single track line between Llandeilo and Carmarthen, part of the Central Wales and Carmarthen Junction Railway. Thomas came from Borth on Cardigan Bay near Aberystwyth where his father was a mariner or fisherman and his mother ran a grocery shop. His wife, Jane, was from nearby Machynlleth.

After their marriage, in about 1889, Thomas and Jane moved south and by the time of the 1891 census, at the age of 23, he was already the station master at Llandeilo Bridge earning 19 shillings a week. A year later as the L.N.W.R. took over the management of the line his status improved considerably and he was made a member of the salaried staff on £65 a year. 

Two daughters were born at Llandeilo before the family moved six miles along the line to Llanarthney in April 1897, just before John Williams came along. Then, when he was about three years old, and after the birth of another son, they moved another couple of miles to the next station at Nantgaredig.

The family put down roots at Nantgaredig and they were still there in 1911 with an additional two brothers and a sister joining them. It must have been something of an idyllic Edwardian country existence for the young John Williams as he watched, and no doubt helped, his father deal with the five or six trains a day in each direction shuttling between Carmarthen and Llandeilo.   

At the age of 14, in May 1912, John Williams Pierce, joined the L.N.W.R. at Carmarthen goods station where he was taken on as a junior clerk at £20 a year. By July 1915 it had risen to £50 a year.

In March 1916 he moved to Swansea but after that there are no records tracking his career before he came to Woodlesford. In 1925, in Swansea, he married miner’s daughter Elizabeth Jenkins who, appropriately, was living on Station Road in the Swansea suburb of Cockett. It’s known they had a daughter called Margaret, who appears to have been born at Knighton in Powys in 1931, a credible location on the railway line through central Wales between Shrewsbury and the coast. After that the trail runs dry.

During John Williams Pierce’s time at Woodlesford almost nothing is known of what happened in the life of the station. A large amount of wartime traffic passed through, including freight trains carrying armaments and troop trains, but, apart from the death of ganger Reader Free in 1944, nothing was recorded in the newspaprs, perhaps because of wartime secrecy rules. A government storage depot at Patrick Green meant there were often consignments of food rations to be unloaded and transferred by lorry.    

The only recollection of the family comes from John Walsh who was a schoolboy during the war. He remembered playing with a boy called Ronnie who he understood to be John Williams’ nephew, sent to live with his uncle to avoid German bombing in South Wales.

John Williams Pierce and his family left Woodlesford towards the end of 1947 or the beginning of 1948. They appear to have moved first to Rotherham, and then to Willesden in north London, the heartland of his original employer – the former London and North Western Railway.