Tom Swaby

Future trainspotters! Tom Swaby talks to Clifford Brunt and his grandchildren Nicholas and Christopher. Clifford was a wages clerk at Water Haigh colliery and lived on Aberford Road opposite the Ritz picture house.

Tom Boyes Swaby was the station master at Woodlesford from 1953 until 1970 when it became an unmanned halt. He was born in June 1908 at Driffield in the East Riding just a few weeks after the death of his father, Thomas Swaby, who had been the landlord of the Bay Horse Inn. His mother, Annie nee Boyes, continued to run the pub but she too died when Tom was just four years old and he was brought up by his grandmother’s brother and his wife, John and Rachel Stockhill. 

John Stockhill was a signalman on the North Eastern Railway at West Heslerton between Malton and Scarborough and it was there that young Tom spent most of his childhood during and after the First World War. John’s two sons, Robert and Cyril, also  worked on the railway as clerks so it’s perhaps no coincidence that Tom chose to follow in their footsteps.

Around the time of the amalgamation of hundreds of railway companies into just four major groups in 1923 Tom joined the London and North Eastern Railway. Initially he was employed at Scarborough but by the age of 19 had moved to be a booking office clerk at small stations near Dunbar and North Berwick. In 1933 he married Mary Thomson Renwick from Drem in East Lothian and shortly afterwards they moved south when he was given a promotion to be a customs clerk at the port of Parkstone Quay near Harwich in Essex.

In 1940 they went north again to Birtley on the main line between Durham and  Newcastle from where Tom was called up into the army in September 1941. After starting out with the Royal Artillery he was transferred to the Royal Engineers and served in Algeria, Tunisia and Italy. Mentioned in dispatches for his ‘”gallant and distinguished services,” he was discharged in 1946 with the rank of sergeant. 

During the war Mary and their son Sydney, born in 1942 and named after an uncle who had been killed in France during the First World War, had gone to live with relatives back at Sprouston near Kelso in Scotland. After he was demobbed Tom rejoined the L. N. E. R. not far away at  Tweedmouth as a clerk. He then spent two years a few miles inland at Coldstream station which was in Northumberland even though the town it served was across the border in Scotland. His next move was in November 1949 to Leadgate between Consett and Newcastle where Tom was given his first station master posting in the newly nationalised British Railways. The Swabys were there less than two years before he became the station master at Methley North where he was also responsible for the line as far the station at Altofts. 

After a reorganisation the family moved to live in the station house at Woodlesford in 1953 with Tom in charge of the line, signal men, gangers and station staff between Stourton through to just north of Normanton. 

One serious incident Tom had to deal with was on Saturday 13 January 1968 when Leeds City station was completely paralysed after a parcels van was derailed at 4 a. m. The derailment fractured a compressed air pipe controlling all the station’s points and no trains could run in or out. 

Between fifty and sixty early morning trains were cancelled and a plan was put in place to terminate trains on the Midland main line at Woodlesford and Normanton. 

A fleet of buses was organised to take arriving passengers into Leeds and bring departing ones to Woodlesford where they were shepherded onto trains by Tom and his staff. Trainspotters and young helpers were banished from the station for the duration of the emergency!

During their time in Woodlesford Tom and Mary Swaby were active in village life as members of the congregation at Woodlesford church and for a while Tom served on the parish council.

After the staff at Woodlesford were redeployed in 1970 Tom worked for a short while at New Pudsey station between Leeds and Bradford. He retired in 1971 and emigrated with his wife to Australia to join his son Sydney who had already moved there. He died in Melbourne in 1980.

Click on the links below to hear Sydney Swaby talking in 2008 to Howard Benson about his father’s life and career as a railwayman. 

Tom Swaby – Early life and career

Moving to Methley North

Life at Woodlesford

More memories of Woodlesford

Tom Swaby in the station house garden in the early 1960s.
Tom Swaby poses for the Rothwell Advertiser shortly before he emigrated to Australia in 1971.
Sydney Swaby in the station house garden.