An interview in June 2009 with Derek Kirkpatrick who spent his childhood years living at Castle Howard Station. Additional recollections and photographs from Derek's sister Maureen Larner.
The changing role of stationmaster in a country station
Derek Kirkpatrick and his sister, Maureen, spent their early childhood years living at Castle Howard Station. Their father, George Douglas Kirkpatrick, was employed there between 1934 and 1944, first as station foreman, then promoted to stationmaster.
There were four children, Betty was the eldest who lived mainly with her grandmother in York. Derek was 5 years old when they moved, then Mervyn who was to die in 1940 of appendicitis and acute peritonitis, and then Maureen, who was just a baby when the family moved to the station.
At that time being stationmaster at a tiny country railway station meant being a jack-of-all-trades. Gone were the glory days, before the First World War, when the stationmaster would have had a whole staff of men under him, and he would have been the railway company’s local representative, envoy for their vitally important role in Britain during those days.
Just to highlight the stationmaster’s high status, in 1915 a proper bathroom was installed in the stationmaster’s house, a great luxury in its day. Situated inside and upstairs, this was a sign of how North Eastern Railways valued these iconic figures.
But things had changed by Mr Kirkpatrick’s time, the only people reporting to him were the platelayers, the workers who inspected and repaired the tracks. Mr Kirkpatrick himself reported to Mr Grant, who was the stationmaster at Kirkham Abbey, by then a much more important station.
Although there was piped water, a bathroom, and a telephone – Whitwell on the Hill 55 was the number, Derek recalls – there was no electricity. All the time they lived there, the family used Aladdin oil lamps, and electricity was a much later addition to the station’s utilities.
As befitted a rural station, Mr Kirkpatrick kept geese, pigs and a goat. He had a greenhouse for tomatoes behind the wooden waiting shed on the York-bound platform, with a vegetable garden on one side and an apple orchard on the other side, where he kept chickens. All of which fulfilled the family’s needs. And it’s interesting to note that although environmental hazards are seen as a fairly recent development in the UK, Derek remembers the River Derwent flooding nearly up to the apple trees, Maureen remembers the cottages on the cinder track to Crambeck flooded too.
Changes in the building – Station House and the introduction of Platform Cottage
The station was closed to public passenger travel late in 1930 and the public booking office, stationmaster’s office and waiting rooms were converted to a second residence named Platform Cottage. A new staircase was installed from the old booking hall to the room above which had been the Earl of Carlisle’s private waiting room, which was from then, sealed off from the stationmaster’s house to become part of Platform Cottage. During the halcyon days of the new railways, the Earl and his family would often use the private waiting room, and could flag down any passing train except the 2.30pm express from York. The small bedroom at the end of the living room on the ground floor of Station House became Mr Kirkpatrick’s office. The family mainly lived in the kitchen as the living room was always kept neat and tidy for ‘for best’. A family named Milson lived at Platform Cottage, and Derek remembers his sister Maureen used to play with Betty Milson although she was a lot younger than Maureen. Maureen's other friends included Colin West (younger brother of Derek) and Michael Hatfield who lived at Crambeck.
An ideal place for a boy to grow up, in spite of the war
Labour was in short supply during the war, and initially, Derek and his friend, Derek West, who lived locally, found they had a job with the District Council. They were paid a man’s wage of 1s 3d per hour between them, and their job was to sort salvage in the large shed. This involved compressing waste paper and cardboard, bailing books and flattening tins to maximise space in the wagons for transportation. These items came from Castle Howard and other local sources, and were taken by train to be recycled towards the war effort. At a later stage the collections and baling etc was put on a more professional basis with a lorry and 2 men coming down to the station from the District Council to carry out these tasks.
Derek West’s cottage was on a cinder track that ran from the other side of the railway crossing at Castle Howard Station, down to Crambeck. Mrs Kirkpatrick used this track to learn to ride her bicycle, cycling down to the coal-yard, going round in a circle and cycling back again.
Derek had another friend, Tony Vasey, who lived in the centre of a row of quarrymen’s cottages in Station Road, halfway up the hill from the station. He would come down some weeks to use the Kirkpatricks’ bath! Tony eventually joined the RAF and became a Wing Commander. He was to go on to take charge of the Dambusters’ Squadron based at Scampton, Lincolnshire in 1956. Mr Harrison lived in the cottage to the left of Tony Vasey, and worked at the Castle Howard Farm School, a reform establishment founded by the Countess of Carlisle. and Mr Brigham, the quarry foreman, lived in the right hand cottage.
A girls’ private boarding school in Bridlington was re-housed in Castle Howard during the war, and this generated a good deal of parcel goods traffic. Parcels were taken from the train to a shed, which stood at the eastern end of the platform complex; a building that is no longer there. The railway lorry collected the parcels and goods for delivery around the local area, which inevitably included a trip to Castle Howard.
Derek was often able spend all day away from the station – sometimes with the delivery lorry driver, helping him on his route, or otherwise building dens in the surrounding woods and playing with his mates. If he really got lucky, an engine driver, shunting goods wagons into the sidings, might let him on to the footplate, but that was a very rare treat. In summer he loved to wander up the track in the Scarborough direction, where there were big patches of delicious wild strawberries growing on the bank.
Derek had various jobs and ways of earning a bob or two – principally potato picking or helping local farmers like Mr Heckley who had 20 acres over the main A64 York to Scarborough road at Hardy Flatts. Mr Heckley was a bachelor who lived with his sister, Bertha. They did not speak to each other, and lived in separate parts of the house – Bertha got to use the stairs and Mr Heckley had to make do with a ladder!
He was a real character, Derek remembers: “He told me off once for priming the pump for Bertha, and said I was to let her get her own water. He always used to keep the connecting door locked against her coming into his part of the house.” Derek learnt to milk the cow which occasionally upset his eccentric milking hours -–because Mr H would milk any time up to 10.30 in the morning and 10-11 at night!”. When Mr Heckley was having his lunch he usually left the door open, and the hens would wander indoors and he would throw them scraps of bread and cheese from his armchair.
Derek’s best recollection was when Mr H bought a horse: “It cost him £20.00 and was probably past anything but a bit of light work around the place. Once a month, he took the horse and cart to Crambeck to collect his coal. and he sometimes had to get behind the cart to push as the poor old horse strained to get the load up the hill from the coal-yard!”
One day when Derek was eating his packed lunch in the only chair, Mr Heckley asked him to go through to the other side of the house and see what had happened to Bertha as he hadn’t seen or heard her for two or three days. Sure enough, Derek found her ill in bed, an alarming experience for a young lad, and he had to summon help from Kathy Mac at local shop in Welburn Lodge.
The school children were given a week’s potato-picking holiday to help bring in the harvest for local farmers. Derek also vividly remembers 31 October 1942, when he was 13 and was helping Mr Heckley in a nearby field, when a Halifax bomber crashed and by some miracle missed the electricity pylons on its way down. Derek and Mr H among the first on the scene at the crash. The plane had tipped out of control on a training flight, and its wing had gouged along the ground. Although the young Australian crew were injured, they all survived. When Derek got back home, his father greeted him with the news that he had a new baby brother, Maurice, but after his afternoon of excitement, Derek was quite unimpressed with this and much more preoccupied with the drama back up the hill.
The family often spent Saturday evening at the Reform School itself, at Crambeck, watching a film or lantern slide shows. He and his brother and sister always walked the mile-and-a-half to school in the village of Welburn, whatever the weather. They would find themselves in serious trouble if they dared be late, no matter how adverse the conditions were, even if there was deep snow.
Holidays and treats
Once the station was closed to passengers, the waiting shed on the York-bound platform on the other side of the line, was converted to a holiday home, which slept between 6-8 people. The Kirkpatrick family had friends from Warrington who used to stay regularly.
There was a space for camping in tents too, beyond the goods yard with its unloading crane, the big shed and his father’s pigs. It was 6d a night to camp there. Derek recalled the campers coming into the house to listen to the wireless on the Sunday morning of 3rd September 1939, when Neville Chamberlain declared war with Germany. Derek remembers: “The young men were ordered to return to their homes to await instructions, and they went, leaving their gear behind them. They never came back for it.”
Derek used to earn odd pennies by going up to the shop in Welburn Lodge at the top of Station Road, to get bottles of Dandelion and Burdock and lemonade for the campers and to return their empty bottles. He also bought his father’s Players Please cigarettes from Kathy Mac, who ran the shop from her house.
Even though the passenger trains had officially stopped for the general public in 1930, two trains stopped every day, one at 7.30am from York to Scarborough and the other to York at 9.30am. Derek’s mother, and occasionally some of the holidaymakers, would board the train to York to shop, and Mrs Kirkpatrick would go to visit her mother. She often took the children with her, and they all travelled on PTs –privilege tickets which offered reduced rates to railwaymen and their families. Derek remembers very clearly, that when they went into York by themselves, there would be trouble if they didn’t go and pay a call on their Grandmother, Nana Bradley.
The family had an Alsatian dog called Bruce who lived in a kennel in the yard. Every morning except Sundays, he would meet the 7.30am train and bring back the newspapers. One of the children’s tasks was to drop off the Yorkshire Post in the drainpipe at the end of farmer Till’s lane on their way to school. Bruce was a lovely dog, and he only ever snapped at the children once, when they were splashing about in the ornamental pond at the other side of the track. Derek used to take him to the top of the road to meet his mother when she returned from York on the bus.Once a year, in a fever of excitement, the local school in Welburn would travel by train from the station for a day trip to Scarborough. Derek’s father would ring up to get a weather report, and the first thing the children did when they left the station, was to buy a bucket and spade in Woolworths on their way to the South Beach. Derek remembers the knitted swimming costume that was supposed to be held up by straps but which, alas, were no match for the weight of water dragging down the sodden material when he emerged, embarrassed from the surf. They would always take their father back a stick of rock and a bucket of sea-side sand as a souvenir of their day out.
The best treat of all though, was the annual trip for the whole family to see Bertram Mills Circus in London, thanks again to the privilege tickets and relatives in London who would put them up for the night.
In1944 Mr Kirkpatrick's job with the railway took him and his family away to Leeds, where he took over running a marshalling yard. It was the end of an era and of many happy times spent living and working at a unique station in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Today Derek lives in Hampshire, but his sister Maureen lives only a few miles from York. Both of them share many fond memories of their early childhood years living at Castle Howard Station and have treasured pictures of the station in pride of place on their walls today.