Trains and a cat called Tessa


60s Memories of the Swanwick Colliery Branch

by Ian Castledine


My earliest memories are about two things, a cat and a train, strange I still love both.

Ian Castledine

The cat Tessa I am told, I should simply not be able to remember but you know what, I do! Yeah yeah mother, I know I was only three nearly four when she died but I do remember her! I remember her soft, smooth fur under my little fingers and how warm she was when I grabbed her, oh and not to forget how loud mum shouted when I did. I also remember that Tessa seemed huge to me, kind of like me meeting a small Tiger today, wow!

I remember being annoyed with Tessa that I couldn’t find her one day, she just disappeared. Now mums are very good at this, apparently Tessa just went away for a while, on a holiday! She had died really after a bite got infected from a rodent of some kind. Mum told me this years later and was surprised I remembered Tessa at all. I never did tell mum even to this day that once Tessa had actually curled up in my Pushchair with me and that I remembered her black nose and grey whiskers in my face and that she made a soothing noise, my first purr. Even then I knew Tessa shouldn’t have done that, but you know what? at that age you don’t have to care.

This takes me onto my train. We had a branch line railway at the bottom of the garden behind a tall thick hedge, we all did on Peak Avenue in Riddings. One very early memory was of watching Tessa crouch in the grass pouncing on unseen things in the hedge bottom. I was sat on the lawn watching this whilst mum’s clean white washing blew around in the warm summer breeze in the sun, when suddenly Tessa ran off and the loud noises started to build again, rumble, rumble, clank…..CRASH!!!! I knew what this was, it was the afternoon train coming back. There were two trains that traversed the line daily, one in a morning and sometimes one in the afternoon, the morning train was guaranteed and the afternoon one a bonus.

Mum often used to get me up in a morning and stand me on my bedroom window sill, just so I could wave to the driver of the morning train. I liked this, this was a great routine, very exciting. Every day I would get up and the train would come. From my windowsill you could see over the tall hedge to the locomotive… it was greeny-brown and tall and noisy, it smoked a lot. The driver wore a flat hat and had a fag as mum later described it. I always waved and he would wave back, then he would look backwards down the train and stop waving to me but start waving at something else. Dad later explained that all trains had to stop there so the train guard could close the level crossing gates at Sleetmoor Lane then get back on the train. Anyhow he would often look back up at me one last time, wave again and then with a clash and a bang of the couplings and buffers, drive the train slowly away towards Swanwick Junction. I would watch every wagon with its glistening black coals and then the Smokey wagon would pass (brake van) with its stumpy chimney on the roof. When that was gone it was time for breakfast.

One day the trains stopped, Dad explained the trains were on holiday. The line had actually closed I was to later find out.

I remember briefly thinking, had Tessa gone on holiday with the train?… now that is a happy ending for when you’re three years old.

So here I sit in my lounge, cat on lap, recounting this memory after nearly 33 years of railway service and a whole life of being around trains and railways thanking my lucky stars for that little known colliery branch at the bottom of the garden that started it all. From my chair I am looking up to the top left corner of my lounge firewall where there is an oval, brass, engraved Hudswell Clarke makers plate from a locomotive, can you guess which locomotive it came from?

Copyright 2015 Ian Castledine All Rights Reserved

NB .. Ian Castledine has had a life long love of all things railway and mining, particularly around the Ripley and Heanor area. He is a professional railwayman of 33 years service, having worked within British Railways and the privatised industry, and even exported several locomotives to Bulgaria whilst working for himself. He has a large collection of railwayana including many treasured local items, and a keen interest in railway photography and recording the UK’s Industrial Heritage, in the belief that whilst we can’t save it all we can at least keep a memory of it!  ..  DMcP