Operating signal box was a childhood thrill
Alsager Railway Station was a place full of childhood adventures for a young Philip Eardley – including operating levers in the signal box. He reminisces with Jenny Amphlett.
Philip Eardley was more than familiar with Alsager Railway Station as a boy – he was allowed to operate the levers in the signal box.
The retired teacher, who now works as a magician and toastmaster, grew up close to the station, in Audley Road.
The 64-year-old, now from Winston Avenue, Alsager, got to know the station's staff well.
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He says: "From our house we could see the station gates and the signals.
"Dad used to work at Crewe Works and used the trains regularly.
"He didn't like waiting at the station so would look for the gates to be closed and the signal raised, then he would slowly walk down the road and catch the train as it arrived at the platform.
"As the train pulled away he would wave to my mum and his children, who by then had positioned themselves in the back garden.
"On his return from work we would know what time train he would be coming home on, so again we would wave to him from the garden and await his return at the front gate a few minutes later.
"Mum of course then gave him a welcome cup of tea before we all sat down to our evening meal, which we called tea in those days."
Among the station characters Philip recalls is Mr Nind, the station master.
"Mr Nind was a lovely man and there were a couple of porters called Derek and Terry who tended the platform gardens, which actually won prizes.
"On one occasion they let me borrow a flatbed trolley to move a piano from our house in Audley Road to a manse in Station Road, a distance of maybe half a mile.
"Station trolleys had steel wheels, so you can imagine what a noise it made being pushed down the roads and over the railway track.
"Incidentally, at the end of the journey, the piano was still in tune I think."
It was the man who worked the signal box who gave Philip one of the most memorable experiences of his young life.
He says: "There was a Scottish character who manned the signal box for some time, and of course we gave him the nickname of 'Jock in the Box'.
"A recent edition of The Way We Were showed a photograph of another signal box man who I remember, standing beside the levers in the Alsager Station signal box, the very same levers Jock used to allow me, legally or illegally, to pull.
"Whether it was legal or not, it was a great thrill for me at the time.
"I bet some people will say that I shouldn't have been in there, but I often was."
Philip and his friends clearly liked 'Jock' and they helped him to solve the problem of getting comfortable during his shifts in the box.
"When he was doing nights he found it difficult to sit comfortably and take a nap.
"I had a friend who lived in Station Road and they had a very nice chair, which we gave to him."
Philip says he remembers the book stall in the station, from where his father used to deliver papers as a boy, and the roaring fire in the waiting room.
"It was free to go into the waiting room at any time of the day or night, so if we were out playing we would often go in to warm up."
Philip was prompted to share his own memories after reading recent articles about the sidings and signal box at Alsager Station.
He was also interested to spot a photograph of a The Blue Rhythm Band.
"My father, Reg Eardley, played in a band called the Blue Rhythm Boys and I just wondered if it was one and the same band but years apart.
"I've recently tracked down the pianist via his son, and his father says a trumpeter occasionally played in the band.
"I wonder if anybody knows his name or has any other photos of the band.
"Maybe people will remember dancing to this band, particularly as they sometimes played at Trentham.
"I well remember my dad's double bass standing in the corner of our front room, unless of course Dad was using it at a dance somewhere in and around Stoke-on-Trent and Cheshire.
"Mum always turned him out looking so smart, with pristine white shirt and making sure his fingers had plasters on them."
Philip adds: "I hope I can help to jog some memories."
Philip is married to Lynne and they have two sons.
Would you like to share your own memories of Alsager Station, or do you recall dancing to The Blue Rhythm Band? Write to Jenny Amphlett, including your name, address and telephone number, at Features Desk, The Sentinel, Etruria, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.