My Story (1)
When we were kids and growing up our lives revolved around the railways with dads shifts and even going to our grandparents as the yellow van would be parked outside. Even our two cats came from Stonebridge Park as kittens. Most of our days out and early holidays were railway travel based and we went many places with packed sandwiches and always someone in a pushchair. As we got a little older my sister and I were allowed to go to Birmingham and Milton Keynes on our own while our school friends got as far as meeting up in town.
I was no stranger to the booking on point (B.O.P.) at Rugby as when dad picked up his wages on Thursdays I liked to go with him and then he would take me into the booking on point so he could check his duties and he would introduce me to everyone. Little did I know that one day I would be working with the very same people, some of which were even my drivers.
310 unit departing Birmingham New Street
With Dad being in the 'know' we went to watch 'Angels' being filmed in the bay with a dummy laying under a train and when the APT (Advanced Passenger Train) was on a test run we went down to Lower Hillmorton, Rugby to watch it go by. This was the 'train of the future' which tilted going round curves and made everyone feel sick, it is now a museum piece at Crewe Heritage Centre.
When dad had his accident, as he was getting into the wiring train and he slipped and fell and had a head injury which caused him to be off work for years, it was down to me to go after school to sign and pick up the wage packet - not bad for a 11 year old.
Then when I was at secondary school everyone had their idea of what they wanted to do after they left school and when the careers officer asked me I think she was stuck for words when I said 'I want to work on the railways'. I had my week of 'Work Experience' at Rugby station and spent Monday in the Red Star parcels office, Tuesday in the Booking on Point making tea and handing out job cards, Wednesday in the Travel Centre just to watch but I was not allowed in the Ticket Office where it was all happening and the local paper 'The Rugby Advertiser' took an interest in where we all were and they came and photographed me in the Travel Centre. On Thursday I went into the Telephone Enquiry Bureau and answered a few calls and Friday I was back in the Booking on Point promoted to putting the drivers hours into a computer for the next week wages, making more tea and booking drivers and guards on and off duty.
My Dad made me an appointment with a manager at Coventry, and we talked about job options and I was handed a leaflet about management training schemes. Meanwhile back at school I took my GCSE's and looked into going into nursing so I stayed on another year to get the one more GCSE grade I needed and realised at the end of the year I still would not be old enough and would need a job for six months or more.
Dad was now working as a ticket collector at Northampton and had a word with the Station Manager Barry Woodgett (now chairman of Mid Norfolk Railway) and I was told to write to Melton House, Watford as there was vacancies coming up in the ticket offices. So I did and a few days later an application form came through the post and soon after that I got an interview. Mum travelled to Watford with me, we went to a big hotel and completed a few tests consisting of reading timetables, working out routes of travel and adding up ticket prices, I found it a bit too easy for it to be real. Then came another letter offering me a job with a start date August 1989 and to be at Melton House, Watford for 9am. It was happening all so quickly that I even told my boyfriend that I would not have time for him anymore.
The first day was exciting, I was 'Miss Independent' and we were told that we would be doing our training in the B.R.S.A club (British Rail Staff Association) at Watford. We spent all week learning about tickets types and reading timetables and Fridays were announced as days out. Our first day out was to Portsmouth and the men stayed in Portsmouth and us 'girls' nipped over to the Isle of Wight for a pub lunch and then straight back. There was a bit of a wind up as we were told to bring back some duty free, yes I fell for it. Other days out were to Bristol and Manchester. The next week we went to Waterloo uniform stores tucked away under the arches and we all came away with a black bin liner of clothing, I remember we finished early that day and I caught the Intercity service from Watford Junction stopping at Rugby, I found a seat and slept all the way home. It was better than being on the local train that stopped at every station taking an hour and a half each way. So next day we all turned up in our uniforms looking smart and we continued our training working out season ticket prices, more timetables and tickets and how to cash up at the end of a shift with an exam at the end. Then on the final day we went next door in the BRSA club for a farewell drink. I found out I was going to Northampton Booking Office.
Susan Bosworth 2nd from right
As I was only 17 years old the hours I could work were restricted, so I worked between 0700 and 1700 and to begin with I started work in the Travel Centre which was next door to the ticket office and started the day filling up the leaflet racks and making tea. I was taught how to use the APTIS machine (All Purpose Ticket Issuing System) it was quite daunting until you got used to it as there were so many rows of buttons. I had to make seat reservations on a computer which I had never used before and I was lucky enough to be taught Continental train travel with reserving couchettes, basic non-private sleeping accommodation on European trains and writing out paper tickets. We issued all types of travel cards and kept written records of them as well as just handing out train times. After a few weeks I was to open the third window in the morning rush hour and learn the ropes in the ticket office, I was supervised and I could not get over how impatient the customers were. I got quicker at issuing tickets and the window closed after the 0911 to Euston had gone and I cashed up and spent the rest of my shift in the travel centre.
Back then two trains left Northampton to London Euston in the morning rush hour made up of slam door coaching stock and nick named 'The Cobblers' and before they were due to depart, the Station Manager Barry Woodgett would come out of his office dressed in his three piece suit and hat and stroll around the platform and concourse and then the glass door to the platforms was closed to stop any passengers attempting to board a moving train. Barry was unofficially called the Fat Controller.
The Locomotive 86 401 was in Network SouthEast livery and named 'NORTHAMPTON TOWN'
One evening when the service returned one carriage clipped the edge of the platform and the Station Manager panicked and declared a full scale emergency.
At dinner times I went with the Cashier into town to see how the banking process was done of cheques and credit card slips. I was sent on an 'Intercity Customer Care' course and stayed in a hotel in Wolverhampton, it was interesting but we did not see any Intercity trains at Northampton unless something had happened on the mainline and they were diverted round by Northampton.
When I turned 18 years old I went onto the shift rota and started full shifts in the ticket office and I was up to speed by then and even knew a few regular commuters including Earl Spencer from Althorp. Some customers had their own names for tickets like 'the bargain bucket' a Travelcard with Network Card discount and 'going to town' a ticket to London. As Simpson Army Barracks was open then we had a lot of soldiers travelling to various places and they issued us with warrants and we gave them a standard ticket. I was unable to make it to Northampton for the early shift so I generally was accommodated on the middle or late shift or in the travel centre. It was a busy place with the odd spell of quietness so it was then time for tea. I had the job of collecting the 'tea money' 50 pence from everyone in the office every week and buying in supplies.
As Northampton station is built on the site of the towns old castle we often had trouble with the drains which run under the offices and a cockroach invasion, they just appeared from no where! We reported it to our Station Manager who was not overly concerned but when you set up in the morning and open the cash drawer and find one creature in it then enough is enough, so I put a dead cockroach into an envelope and left it on the Station Managers desk. It worked as pest control came out and put traps down under the counters.
On Wednesdays the pay slips came from Crewe and had to be separated and put into individual envelopes except for everyone who was on weekly pay. The slips were separated and piled up and often I was asked to help make up the pay, so the Cashier would count out the money and I would recount it and put it in an envelope with the pay slip. Thursday was payday and I helped with paying wages, the staff would come round to a window at the back with their pay card which had their name and pay number on but usually the staff would state their number, I would sign their card and hand them their wages. That is how I got to know so many of the Northampton Train Crew and the notorious family of Italians that worked on the P-way down Bridge Street.
We had two self service ticket machines installed in the station concourse and we were all sent on a course at Marylebone to be shown how to empty them, restock the tickets and sort out faults but it was always me that it was left to help out the cashier empty the ticket machines as well as emptying the car park ticket machines.
As I got more experienced I was asked to do some overtime in the Telephone Enquiry Bureau at Rugby, and you would be surprised at how many calls started with the confusion of where they were starting their journey. I also nipped down to Long Buckby if there were any problems with the APTIS machine even if it was a minor fault that just needed the supervisors key, it got me out for two hours. At that time the original brick built booking office was still standing.
On the late shift ,everything was back to front with a quiet afternoon and then when the commuters got back in the evening they would head straight for the window to moan about why they were late in the morning or the tube barrier had 'eaten' their ticket, it was all my fault and was blamed for everything. I was supposed to close the window at 2100 but to make my train home to Rugby I started cashing up at 2030 and would see the London bound train leave and close up, sort out the money and lock up just in time to make the train or it would be another hour. I used to restock the tickets for the next day, tidy the drawers and even clean the office to make the time go quicker.
We had as a family moved to Northampton and I missed the travelling and made friends with many train crew and they suggested that I train as a guard, so I applied but there were moves to block me from being successful in my application from my dad to my retail manager. First I was being told there were only vacancies at Willesden and 'they' did not think it was right for me and then I was invited to Melton House for tests and interview. I made a mistake on a paper and the Supervisor 'kindly' pointed it out and I corrected it, so I also had people helping me and then I had a start date at Bletchley for February 1991.