This month, we will be telling visitors all about the history of Swindon Railway Works as part of our bi-annual ‘We’ll Meet Again’ programme. Here, Ed Houghton tells us all about his family connection to the works.
I have always had an interest in railways, which started from a young age. My mum and dad worked in railway works before me. I was looked after by an aunt when I was younger and she used to take me down to the Old Town railway station, back when it was in operation. One day the signalman asked me if I wanted a ride on the engine. He took me over to the driver and I got to see a steam engine up close for the first time. That was the day that I was bitten by the railway bug and I’ve had a passion for steam engines ever since.
In 1961, I started working in the running shed at Swindon Works, aged fifteen. I left school on a Friday and started work on the Monday! The running shed was where the steam engines were kept and serviced. I started there as an engine cleaner; you had to be sixteen to go on footplate. Within that year, I got to do a few extra shed jobs. I worked with one man for a fortnight to clean the tubes out in an engine because his mate was off sick. I was about fifteen and a half at the time and I got about £11 for it. That was a lot of money for a fifteen year old at the time! Within that year, I also passed as a fireman. I would also do little jobs like working as a stock shed pilot. I would go shunting up and down the yard, along with a wonderful man called Stan. Between 15 and 22, I worked on mostly goods train, then diesel came along.
We worked long and awkward hours. Sometimes I would have to start work at 3am! It was dangerous work too; I remember one day that an engine decided to move by itself and crashed into the turntable pit!
I was made redundant around 1967 and then went on to work for WH Smith. I took early retirement and started volunteering in 2004. I’ve been volunteering here ever since.
What I really like about volunteering is being with something that was made years ago; all of the engines are examples of absolutely fantastic engineering. To be involved with something like King George V is a real privilege. I also really enjoy working with the other volunteers, a few of which I know from back in the railway days.