Semi-retirement has resulted in us working harder than ever in order to fit everything we wish to do into an already crowded schedule. There are now however three new W images on offer, including the landmark W100 and having finally managed to reach the century I do not intend to produce any further PBLR images, enough is surely enough after all? The little railway seems to have the rather sly habit of cropping up in the most unexpected manner however, just when you thought you'd given it the slip, and having lived with it for so many years now I wonder if it really has gone on its way forever...........?
The picture above is typical of the way the PBLR insists in capturing my continued interest. It came to light as a result of the publication of a photograph in our last issue taken on the main line near Portersfoote Bunting itself. This particular rather sub standard photo also purports to feature the main line but in fact it shows the final section of the Bradforde Longflap branch. The actual terminus, including the Steam Pencil Manufactory and village, are out of sight behind the large tree on the right. The railway has just crossed Betony Brook on a stone and timber bridge and this actual location is confirmed by the lack of any fence or hedge on the left of the line and the presence of some trackside telegraph poles which proceed no further than the one
nearest to the camera.
Poles were rarely used alongside the PBLR as the directors felt they were an unnecessary expense as well as an eyesore and preferred that cables were laid either along the ground or a convenient fence or hedge. As was made apparent on many occasions, this ruling did little to aid the reliability of the railway's telegraph and telephone system. The poles in the picture formed an experimental section which stretched from the terminus for some 450 yards towards the river crossing. They did not meet with board approval and were abandoned, though some remained standing, wireless and at drunken angles, for a number of years before they were removed.
When the Portersfoote Bunting Light Railway was formed in 1898 it appears that a local artist was commissioned to design a suitable coat of arms. This was a local initiative in that it did not involve the College of Heralds, the resulting device being in no way officially granted. The PBLR was not alone in acting unofficially as plenty of other railway companies of this era thought nothing of borrowing existing coats of arms and using them within their own designs, e.g. the GWR.
The illustration here is based on material found in the County Archives and shows that the PBLR pilfered part of the official coats of arms of Quill, the ship lower left, and the bells of Whiminster, lower right. Above these traditional images sit something designed to indicate the Vermilion Mining Co. of Sepia Foliate, upper left, and the Whimshire Handmade Paper and Stationery Co., with its Steam Pencil Manufactory at Bradforde Longflap, upper right. These four represent all the terminal stations of the railway with the exception of Great Bunting which is symbolized by one of Whimshire's feral cats at the foot of the garter.
The crest surmounting this garter is a trifle optimistic and rather misleading in that it has a PBLR locomotive flanked by the wings of Mercury, indicating speed - unknown in Whimshire! Around 1899 the company started applying the device to the sides of carriages and at least some locomotives. It has been said that once the initial stock of transfers had run out no more were ever ordered and that this led to its gradual disappearance. This is not the case however as there were in fact two versions, the 1899 version showing a locomotive with rounded spectacle windows whereas in the later version these were replaced by the ogee arches shown above. One might have thought that with such attention to detail the designer would also have depicted the distinctive clerestory roof ventilator with which these locomotives were later fitted. The reason for the gradual disappearance of the device is thought to be lack of cleaning, since it continued to lurk somewhere beneath the grime! A black and white version was used on letterheads and notices and it also appeared on some staff caps and brass buttons.
RETURN TO GRINGE-UNDER-LEAFMOULD
Earlier this year we visited the site of the old station at Gringe-Under-Leafmould (famously mis-spelt Cringe in the railway timetable and Leafmold on the station running-in board). The lovely old ash tree survives and the station building, although slightly altered and rather overgrown with vines, is still in good condition. Its present inhabitants are direct descendants of the original stationmaster's family and the oldest can still just remember the trains calling and bringing the groceries each week. The picturesque engine shed has long since been moved to make room for a pleasant garden and rebuilt as a large potting shed further along the old trackbed. We were shown the metal brackets which had at one time supported the double armed signal high up in the tree, and the former platform bench, still in regular use near the potting shed. A few of the platform edging stones remain, but most have been replaced with dressed stones which now form a pathway where the trains once ran.
A LETTER TO THE COLONEL
In May 1902 PBLR Manager Earnest Ditherpoole became engaged in protracted correspondence with the Railway Inspectorate which, it seems, had just become aware of the line's existence. Below is a letter to one Colonel H Girth Ballast.......
Re. yr. report of 2nd May: I confirm that no re-railing device is fitted to any of our locomotive engines. My directors feel that such equipment might encourage reckless driving since the men would think it much easier to put said locomotive engines back on the track in the event of them falling off. This equipment is therefore omitted for safety reasons.
Gauge of Line: Our engineer informs me that this is 'variable', but the writer can confirm that it is somewhere between 2ft 5in & 2ft 8in depending where one actually measures. Plans held by my Company would seem to suggest a gauge of two feet, seven and three sixteenths of an inch, but so far we have not been able to discover the whereabouts of this particular section.
Staff conditions: Regulation T4-2. All signal boxes are equipped with kettles etc. and signalmen indicate 'tea ready' by displaying a hanging mug outside the front window. This is not applicable to train crews however since all locomotive engines are fitted with tea kettles as standard. These appliances can be brought to the boil whilst trains are in motion, thus tea breaks are classified as 'continuous'.
I sincerely hope aforementioned meets with approval and beg to remain yrs. vry. trly. etc. etc.
The 'variable' gauge quoted above probably precipitated the patent taken out in 1903 by Isaac Plogg for variable gauge axles. These had two stub axles sliding within a centre section which was spring loaded, the wheels always being pushed outwards to fit widening track but retracting again if the gauge became narrower. Apparently these axles were fitted experimentally to some of the PBLR carriages.
Based on information found in the Whimshire Records Office.
From the WHIMSHIRE GAZETTE 7 DEC.1912
The PBLR advertised in the local press for a 'qualified' signalman at Over Bucolia station. Apart from being conversant with the Company Rule Book, the applicant apparently required 'a working knowledge of flag and heliograph signalling, the ability to send smoke signals, regulate hour glasses and read sundials'. It was stated that although it was not essential to be able to read or write 'to any great extent', the signalman 'should have no fear of heights or rope ladders, due to the elevated position of the signal box'. This was in fact perched on the top of a handy tree, which was there long before the railway was thought of. Because of the thatched roof, potential personnel were warned to exercise care with oil lamps and heating stove, 'and to be vigilant during the passing of trains drawn by locomotive engines, which are inclined to emit sparks'. Other duties included feeding the station cat, birds and waterfowl, protecting said feathered friends from said station cat, assisting the station staff with gardening, cleaning, decorating, general repairs and maintenance and controlling the aggressive geese resident at the adjacent Railway Inn. This must have been quite an interesting job one way and another!
The station was featured in card W43, which is long since out of print but we include a detail below showing the 'elevated' box reached only via its precarious rope ladder. Note the up & down signals on tree branches, one of which grows through the station roof!
Produced by PB Graphics Printed by Whimshire Steam Printing Co. Snuff Alley, Whiminster