This month’s Mallard celebrations in Grantham brought back happy memories of the railways in the steam age for Bernard Knipe.
Bernard, now 85, was a signalman on the railways for more than 50 years, most of them on the east coast mainline, down which the Mallard ploughed into the record books when it broke the world speed record 75 years ago at Stoke Bank, reaching 126mph.
Working in the signal boxes, Bernard would regularly see the majestic blue Mallard speeding past and it was often his job to make sure the locomotive was put away safely in the sheds at Grantham.
Bernard, who lives with his wife Marjory, at Adamstiles, Barrowby, started his career, aged 14, as a telegraph boy in the Grantham North signal box near Grantham station. At 18, he became a signalman and worked in Biggleswade for a few years before returning to Grantham and working at Ponton. In the early 1950, he moved to Grantham South and then back to Grantham North, the youngest signalman ever to work in those boxes.
Bernard said: “I would let the Mallard out of the loco and then put it back again. Engines were kept in the top sheds and bottom sheds and they went right up to Springfield Road.”
And while the signalmen worked in the shelter of a box, it was still a dangerous job as Bernard explained.
He said: “It was a dangerous job as a signalman. Coal used to come off the top of the tender when they went past. The tenders would rock a bit and I had many a lump of coal smash the windows in the box. I had two come through at Grantham North. One of them came through the middle window and into the box, but I never got hit. They would go past at 60 to 80 miles per hour coming down the bank at Stoke.”
In the early 1970s, Bernard was made redundant when the old boxes were decommissioned and replaced by “power boxes” at Peterborough and Doncaster. He moved to work in a signal box at Sheffield where he stayed until his retirement 20 years later.
He and Marjory, who have twin daughters and a son, later returned to Grantham.