Bridges and Trains

David Joyce’s childhood vantage point from the family farm on Brilley Mountain was perfect for spotting trains along the Hereford to Brecon line: ‘From high on the ridge, we had the whole vista of Herefordshire before us. As children, we used to watch the trains puffing their way along the valley, all the way up to Norton Cannon and then to Credenhill and into Hereford.

My brother was fascinated by steam and he used to sit in his bedroom window and watch them all day. At that time, we used to use the railway and when we were older we could cycle down to Whitney and get on the train to Hay or to Hereford. It was like getting a bus, it was normal, nothing special about it. There was a station master there and we could leave the bike and it would still be there when we came back. But it was tough cycling back up the mountain afterwards.’

When a young Hugo Mason started his architect apprenticeship with Mr John Hook, he had to first find his way from his Brockhampton home to the office in Hereford. The train halt at Fawley, down the hill from the village, came in handy: ‘Having to travel to Hereford daily was a big thing to me and I took out a hire purchase agreement and bought a brand-new drop handlebar Raleigh bicycle from Hereford. Every morning I would cycle from home to Fawley Station with my sandwich box, often to hear the train coming from Backney Halt, when I was as far away as Fawley Court! Fortunately, it was the downhill part of the journey. When I got to Fawley some two miles from home, rain or shine, I had to leave my bike behind the station and run across the line before the train pulled in on the other side. ‘Sometimes, in adverse weather conditions, I would be very cold and/or soaking wet and it was some time before I acquired a decent waterproof coat. There would only be a handful of passengers on the train, with plenty of room for us all, including some freight. The return train fair was 17/6d (87.5p) per week, leaving virtually nothing for emergencies.

I made additional money in the evenings and at weekends by carving wooden house signs and doing plans on the side. The train had to travel through Fawley Tunnel immediately after leaving the station. It would soon reach the viaduct on the Aramstone side of the hill. This is a very special and spectacular space. I spent many hours just upstream at Carey Islands fishing and wildlife watching. A remarkable, unspoilt corner of England. Just beyond the viaduct was Ballingham Station, and from there to Holme Lacy Station and then Hereford it was just eight miles from Fawley. I travelled to Hereford in this way for almost three years by which time I bought an old Vauxhall Wyevern (LAD429) from the local garage, Biggs Motors of Fownhope.’

Sellack Bridge

The bridge connecting the parishes of Sellack and Kings Caple was built by public subscription in 1895, thus uniting the two parishes. It was sorely needed. There had been some difficulties at the river crossing. Patrick Darling is church warden at Sellack Church.

‘At the time of the bridge’s construction, Sellack was quite an old church and Kings Caple a young one. In those days, the vicar of Sellack had a curate at Kings Caple, who looked after the parish there. From time to time the vicar obviously would need to cross the river to check on the curate. At the time, there was a ford at the crossing point and it required a man in a boat to bring the vicar across. Well the boatman used to often get drunk, which meant the poor old vicar couldn’t get across to see his curate. If that wasn’t enough, the boatman would also verbally abuse the vicar. And there was the added nuisance in the summer when the river would become too shallow to use the boat and so it is said people, including the vicar, crossed on stilts carrying passengers on their backs. So the building of a bridge was felt to be a good thing and a lasting unity of the two parishes.’

Tom Henderson of Brilley was born and bought up next door to the Whitney Toll Bridge. In 1963, he was back from his national service and at home working with his father at his riverside engineering business. When the last goods train passed on the Hereford to Brecon line, he was on hand with his camera. It was the end of an era and the trains were missed:

‘You could set your watches by the train. If it was the nine train, or the ten train or whatever, then you knew it was that time when the train passed. I used to catch the train to Hereford or to Hay. A lot of people used to walk through Whitney Wood to the train station, where the saw yard is now. The footpath came out by the station in those days. I used to catch the 11 train, go to Hereford on a Saturday and mother used to take me to the pictures. It was a shame the trains stopped. We liked the old trains and there were some old characters too.’

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