Ex BR railwayman hangs up his hat – after 65 years on the footplate
Jeff Madge joined British Railways 1952, ends train driving career 2017
Jeff and Chris Smith - 145 years between them on 112-year-old locomotive
Ex-BR men in charge for the last time on Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway
Jeff Madge has taken his last turn as a driver on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (on Tuesday 17th October). But at age 80; and after 65 years as a railwayman, he feels it is time to retire although he intends to remain actively involved with the railway’s steam locomotive department.
Jeff, who lives in Caerphilly, South Wales, joined British Railways’ Cardiff Canton depot in August 1952 aged just 15, the following year moving to Old Oak Common in London where he passed out as a fireman. Working his way up the ranks, he returned to Cardiff where he became a ‘passed fireman’ and was put forward for driving.
“As a passed fireman I enjoyed plenty of opportunities to drive locomotives and did an awful lot of work on freight traffic,” he says. “I often worked up to Gloucester and sometimes further north over what we knew as the Honeybourne Line, the route over which the present day Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) operates.
“Unfortunately, although I was due to be passed as a driver, the end of steam came about too soon. Many steam men left the railway then but I decided to continue and became a diesel driver, working on most types including the InterCity 125’s (HST’s) and retired in 1983.
“But railways – and especially steam – ‘gets into your blood’ and I decided to take an interest in the then embryonic GWSR at Toddington. It was a tiny operation with big ambitions then and I have seen it grow and have enjoyed encouraging youngsters as they start their voluntary footplate careers on the railway.
“They are the people who will keep the dream of steam alive for future generations to enjoy. They may never experience the challenge of handling a 700-ton coal train behind a Great Western 2-8-0 such as 2807, which is based at Toddington, or flying along at 80mph or more on a ‘Castle’ with 10 coaches in tow.
"But handling a steam locomotive in today’s safety-conscious world demands the highest levels of skill and professionalism and it is just as satisfying and rewarding. And the engines are much cleaner and better maintained than ever.”
Jeff reflects that with 24 years’ service behind him he has been a driver longer on the GWSR than on British Railways, with whom he was a driver for 18 of his 27 years on the footplate.
Two BR men share the footplate
A couple of weeks earlier, Jeff’s penultimate turn as driver was on 112-year-old locomotive 2807 with another ex-British Railways footplateman, Chris Smith, who is now the GWSR’s only ex-BR man still on the footplate.
Chris, who is 69, lives at Woodmancote, Gloucestershire and joined British Railways in 1964 at Worcester, towards end of steam. He moved to Honeybourne as a young fireman in 1965 and typically fired (and sometimes drove) shunting locomotives such as in the extensive goods yards at Evesham and Honeybourne as well as heavy freight workings towards Oxford or over the Honeybourne Line. But by 1966 he was made redundant when steam came to an end on the Western Region of British Railways.
Says Chris: “The locomotives were filthy and very run-down but they continued to do their job well and I enjoyed every moment ‘on the shovel’. Although both Jeff and I worked over the Honeybourne Line I don’t recall meeting him, although I might well have done – for example taking over a train from him at Gloucester or Cheltenham.
“Working with him for the last time was very special and in some ways, an emotional experience.
“As ex-BR men, it took us right back to our young days. We spoke the same language, if you like. Jeff has so much knowledge and it’s wonderful that he has been passing that on to others in the steam department.
"Two ex-BR men together – it must be a very rare occurrence nowadays.”
Chris joined the GWSR’s steam locomotive department just three years ago, but had continued to take a keen interest in steam railway engineering. He is a model engineer and has a steam railway running round his garden, was involved with the Dowty Railway Society and has been a driver on the Evesham Vale Light Railway.
“But the call of the full-size footplate was just too strong and it has been an amazing time being a fireman once again, in some cases working on locomotives I fired when a teenager.”
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Top: Jeff Madge in charge
Below Chris Smith (left) and Jeff Madge