New Year's Day Lecture 2015

by Curtis Devereau

This years lecture must start with a humble apology. I am aware that many people have been eagerly awaiting publication of my latest historical work " Isle of Man Railway Locomotive Side Tank Patch Plates".

This was due to have been published in time for Christmas, but, as some will be aware, there has been the inconvenience of the legal challenge by the Old Overcoat, who is given to believe that large portions of my meticulously researched work have been plagiarised from his late fathers publication of the last century " Manx Northern Railway Locomotive and Rolling Stock Rivet Patterns".

Naturally I dispute this allegation and am confident that the legal battle that is due to commence in earnest in the opening few weeks of this year will completely vindicate me and my research team.

Sadly however the legal implications do mean that the lecture based upon the book cannot now take place, and will be held over until the matter is settled.

This would have been a crushing blow for myself, , let alone the obvious disappointment inflicted upon the regular devotees of these annual lectures, had it not been for an extraordinary discovery, made purely by chance some three months ago whilst taking tea with the Vicar of Lezayre one afternoon.

What the Vicar proceeded to tell me forms the basis for this years lecture.

As we are all sadly aware, the final passenger trains ran over the old Northern line in September 1968, with the oil traffic leaving the line precariously clinging to life for a few months thereafter. The termination of the oil contract snuffed out the flickering flame early in 1969, and dereliction rapidly set in during the years that followed. The track and metalwork being removed by Millens Metals during 1974 and finally the once rather grand Italianate Station Building and associated outbuildings falling to the demolition contractors wrecking ball. Some artefacts from the site were saved privately, but the evidence that our research has uncovered has previously gone undocumented.

As the station building succumbed the destruction of one of the interior walls gave a brief glimpse back into history the station which had obviously been enlarged over its life, and behind the stud partition that fell away could once again be seen the original gable end wall, together with the legend "Refreshment Room" painted on in the late Victorian / Edwardian style. Whist removing the timber work one of the demolition workers came upon an ancient looking tobacco tin that had either fallen through a crack in the floorboards, or had been hidden away on purpose.

The lid was rusted on tightly, but with some perseverance it eventually was removed and inside were found a roll of paper, three Manx Electric Railway uniform buttons, a whistle and an IMR cap badge, together with a very grainy photograph that had decayed almost to the point of invisibility. Upon unrolling the paper the story of a most extraordinary event that took place during the big snow up north in 1908 was uncovered. From the rolled up note contained in the tin, the following story revealed itself, although no specific date can be pinned upon these events, we believe them to be true.

A heavy snow had fallen over the day, and with the coal boat due to dock in the early evening, a gang comprised of assorted plate layers, yard men and station and train staff were sent out on the orders of the Stationmaster to clear the harbour tramway. Normal train services had been suspended due to deep drifts all the way down the line, so there was no shortage of labour available. The team took along "Thornhill" with a brace of open wagons and proceeded out along the harbour side , clearing the snow as they went along. It really did not take too long to get to the point on the harbour wall where the coal boat would dock, and pleased with a job well done, the loco and wagons were sent back to the station, whilst the snow team in an unprompted act of public mindedness decided to help clear the pavements in the town as they made their way back towards the Station. As they cleared up Post Office Lane, they became aware of a commotion coming from the area of the Plaza, with the sound of a group of men obviously working together to try and move something heavy that had become stuck. The railwaymen elected to investigate to see if they could offer any further help, and when they arrived at the Plaza, discovered that both a tram and covered wagon had become derailed on iced over points at the Manx Electric Railway terminus.

It must be now remembered that a bitter rivalry existed between the two rail operators into Ramsey, the MER being still the new kids in town, it was also a time where the effects of the disastrous crash of Dumbells Bank were still being acutely felt, so quite remarkably, the decision by the Steam Railway crew to help out was one that was quite unexpected by the Electric Railway staff.

A runner was sent back to the Station, and a message sent with him to load a few jacks on to the M wagons when they had been emptied of snow, and for the loco and stock to venture out on to the harbour tramway once again, bringing the rerailing equipment to the nearest point to the MER station.

It took a while, but eventually the Electric Railway stock was put back on to the three foot, and as the two rival teams faced up to each other in satisfaction of a good job well done, a large brew of tea was produced, and chocolate and biscuits shared out amongst the assembled workers. During the time that followed, many a tall tale was told, and photographs exchanged of various occurrences that had taken place over the previous few years. Then at some point a football was kicked out of the Plaza booking office, and the two rivals set up a makeshift pitch, using rerailing jacks as goalposts. The trophy for the winning team would be either a set of MER uniform buttons if the Steam boys won, or an IMR cap badge if the Electric team were victorious, the match was refereed by a constable who had also been assisting the rerailing operation. By all accounts the match was played with a determination to win by both sides, but with the game tied at two goals each, the IMR inspector was spotted marching up the road to find out where his staff had got to.

The game was hurriedly abandoned, with the vow made between the participants to continue at some later stage, the trophies and the constables whistle were put into a tobacco tin until an eventual winner would be found. However, sadly, word got out to the Boards of Directors of both concerns about the co operation that had taken place, and a stern memo sent out that such an occurrence should not happen again, with suspension and dismissal being on the menu of punishment available to anyone who might choose to defy the Boards instruction.

The tin containing the buttons, whistle and cap badge were taken back to Ramsey Station by one of the junior clerks, and hidden behind his desk. Some time later, during a rare redecoration, the tin fell behind the desk and through a gap in the floor, where it remained until that day in the 1970's when it was recovered. There was a name on the tin, and a little detective work provided enough evidence to link it to the Vicar of Lezayre, it had belonged to his late Grandfather and the note was in his handwriting. The tin eventually found its way to the Vicar, allowing us to hear this remarkable story.