As I have indicated in each of the preceding posts, Jack was heavily involved in the Railway up until his death in 1997, both as a job and as a hobby. This post will highlight the importance of the Railway in Jack’s life, and also his writing, as it allows the reader to understand more clearly the intention of Jack’s memoir. In turn, it is possible to use his writing style and subject matter as an insight into his character.
As the above image of Millers Dale demonstrates, Jack worked a vast number of Railway lines during his career – this is one of many examples. He moved around the Midlands, between Matlock, Chesterfield and Sheffield, holding several positions during this time. Jack even drew a few of these illustrations within the body of his memoir in an effort to indicate the routes that he worked on. This is very interesting, as very few working-class memoir’s had detailed illustrations. However, as Jack’s writing was work-based, these images helped both himself and the reader gain a deeper understanding and makes the writing more logical.
Jack notes that he had an interest in the Railway from a very young age, as his Grandfather and Uncle worked the local lines as Signalmen. He notes experience of sitting to watch his Uncle work shortly after leaving school at the age of fourteen, before becoming a paper boy where he took the opportunity to pick up the papers from the local Train Station, Cromford, morning and evening. This can be noted as the first indication of his interest.
Jack gained his first post as a Porter at Millers Dale at the age of twenty, after he ‘couldn’t see much future’ (Vallance, 2) in his job at the Quarry in Matlock. He notes that he was payed ‘grade two (lowest)…(now 1921/2p) for a 48 hour week’ (Vallance, 2). A low, but average wage for 1934.
He writes in detail for around 30 pages about the features of each platform and station that he worked on. This is very interesting, as he gives an insight into the routes of different trains, companies and the amenities of different stations. He also uses this as an opportunity to showcase his knowledge of the different models of Locomotive. For example, he remembers seeing the ‘first Black Five arrive from Derby’ (Vallance, 2).
He later moved to several stations, upholding the position of Top Guard, Station Master, Signalman, Porter and Porter Signalman. All the while supplying several anecdotal stories throughout the memoir. Including this one from his time at Belle Vue:
‘When it came light the longside for Belle Vue Platform sign had a shunting pole for a flag post and the largest pair of ladies pants I’ve ever seen for a flag’ (Vallance, 6)
Years later after retirement he took the opportunity to become part of a restorative society for Railway lines in his local area. To this day, his legacy is kept alive through the many routes across England on which he worked.
‘Jack of all Grades’ in Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent Eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. 2:780.