The History of The GWR Pembroke and Tenby Section Mr. Frank Willey was the son of the stationmaster of St. Clears. Sadly Mr. Willey died in 2010. Frank passed on some papers to the editor, which included an original manuscript of his father’s diary. This contains a detailed description of life as a railwayman in the late 1800’s and details of the Pembroke and Tenby section of the GWR line. We are pleased to include an excerpt from the new book in this issue.

I left Mullion near Helston in 1864, no rail to Helston then. There was a bus either to Cambourne or Penryn. I remember my first leave in October 1866. I had a Great Western pass to Bristol (Bristol and Exeter) pass to Exeter, (South Devon Railway) pass to Plymouth (Cornwall Railway to Penryn). In those days we had one pass for the up line and one for the down line. A bundle of passes and two days’ journey. Now it’s one pass, one day.

The West Cornwall Railway, Chacewater to Penzance came into Truro, but Truro Station was Cornwall Railway. West Cornwall Railway was originally narrow gauge. Everything had to be transhipped to broad gauge at Truro. Afterwards a rail was laid down outside, so a mixed train was run, part narrow gauge and part broad gauge.

The Government mail coach and perishables were sent through from Penzance to Paddington (broadgauge). The first stationmaster at Helston was Mr. Reed who recently retired at Carmarthen. Mr. John Henry (ex Caledonian Railway) came to Pembroke Dock in 1871 or 1872 and remained there as station master until recently when he retired. He is the next oldest to myself.

I was appointed stationmaster at Saundersfoot in 1870 at 20/0d per week. I did not have a uniform and worked single handed for two years. A staff stationmaster had everything to do from lamps to balance sheet, 14 or 15 hours a day. I had a boy assistant, James Morris, afterwards at 2/6d or 3/0d per week. He is now stationmaster at Cinderford on the S & Wye Railway.

I was at Narberth in 1873 at 25/0d per week, and it was advanced to 30/0d per week. I had a lad clerk at first at 5/0d or 6/0d per week and one of them is still there as a goods clerk. Over 40 years ago he came from the village school in Stepaside.

When the Great Western took us over I had 30/0d as stationmaster. The goods clerk had 16/0d, the fireman and the porter 14/0d or 18/0d and the other men porter less and a lad received 7/Od or 8/0d. Our signal box was worked from 17/0d to 20/0d per week. I was taken over as a clerical stationmaster and altered to uniform staff. I was too old for superannuation fund. The Pembroke and Tenby had no fund. I served 40 years, the last 34 years as station master, and had an allowance of 7/4 per week, which I still receive aged 80 years.

St Clears railway station was a fine example of Brunel’s work. It like many others fell victim to Beeching’s axe in the 1950’s, which saw large numbers of small stations and lines demolished. It is probably one of the most controversial decisions regarding public transport in the last 100 years.

Published on 27 March 1963, Beeching’s report, The Restructuring of British Railways, outlined plans to cut more than 5,000 miles of track and more than 2,000 stations. Dozens of branch lines that linked villages with market towns were rated egregious loss-makers to be culled, along with great chunks of mainline.
The car would replace the train, Beeching decreed. In doing so, he ushered in an era of vast motorway expansion and cheap motorised transport. The train, deemed dirty and smoky, was earmarked for extinction. The legacy of Beeching – dug-up lines, sold-off track beds and demolished bridges – has only hindered plans to revitalise the network.

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