Man Vic - From JMH
I well remember the cellars under Victoria Station Buildings, together with those under Hunts Bank Building.
Some of the older Telecoms staff will recall one of our outstanding ‘Characters’ from times now long ago, Les Crosdale. Les was Lineman for the PABX No.3 and the huge Telegraph Office on the third floor at Victoria; but more than that, he was responsible for the maintenance of the telephone extensions that radiated all over Manchester city centre, as there were numerous BR Office Buildings, Travel Shops, Goods Offices in those days, together with places like the Midland Hotel. In 1959 Les’s mate was suddenly taken seriously ill, so I got sent by Ben Palin, Telegraph Inspector, to work as Asst. Lineman with Les, which was a sharp learning curve in more ways than one, but I digress.
I got sent out on all the telephone faults, which Les would prioritise when he sauntered into the exchange in a morning. The worst by far were those in the basements of Victoria Station and Hunts Bank, which were all occupied in those days. The Cafeteria at the 11 platform end of the Station had extensive kitchens in the basement, of a similar size to a large hotel with big vats and ovens, etc., as part of the Cafeteria at the time was a Restaurant, so when the Chef and Kitchen staff got to answer the phone whilst in the midst of preparing meals you can guess the state the telephone soon got into. So panic set-in when the dial seized or the microphone decided enough was enough, and all communication was lost between floors and to chase orders from suppliers. There was a caretaker in the basement in other end of the Building, and very dusty storage areas for files kept by the various offices on the first & second floor, including the ex-L&YR Bank. The S&T maintenance grades tended to avoid the BR Staff Club, and use the Douglas Hotel on Corporation Street, or the Swan with Two Necks at Shudehill; however, the TSSA often had their monthly Union Meetings in the Staff Club, so we got to visit when I later worked in Hunts Bank..
Meanwhile, the basement of Hunts Bank was not much better, with the banks of massive open lead acid cells for the Telephone Exchange, Telegraph Office and large Control Office, all gurgling away 24/7 and the fumes being drawn out by extractor fan into the corridor. One of my first tasks in a morning was to top-up the cells and switch the batteries over. I never got splashed with the acid, but my jeans started to go in holes and fall apart after several months with the amount of fumes in the air! Across the corridor was the staff canteen for the office staff, and the kitchens were very basic. I got wise when sent to a fault in the kitchens, as I took a replacement instrument with me. I changed out the pastry covered phone then put it in the scrap. The main station staff canteen was on 11 Platform and the kitchen there was not much better.
Stay cautious, keep safe & well.
Here’s a few more memories from around 60 years ago, when there was no H&S Regulations, few office rules, comparatively little red-tape, and life was somewhat less complicated, as long as you did what you were told . . . . . .
Once Les Crosdale had decided which telephone faults were to be given priority, as if there was a senior manager whose service had failed, then politics dictated they came top of the list, I was despatched to sort out the problems. I well recall the morning that one of the senior managers in Hunts Bank Offices reported his telephone was faulty and he curtly told Les in no uncertain terms he needed it fixed right away, which didn’t go down at all well. After Les had calmed down somewhat, I got sent to fix faults somewhere else instead! Later that morning the manager’s secretary called back to ask when the phone was going to be fixed, so I got sent over to the office concerned in the Hunts Bank Building. On arrival at the office, the manager was missing, so I asked the secretary what the problem was and I was sheepishly shown a pile of scattered Bakelight pieces on the floor that were the remnants of an early version of a ‘Plan 7’ secretarial type of telephone instrument. This instrument permitted incoming calls to be placed on hold by the secretary then transferred to the manager, if they were available. Apparently, the manager and the secretary had had a volatile exchange of words and the manager had picked-up the phone and thrown it across the room against the wall with some force, then stormed out of the office! Unfortunately for the manager and secretary, we did not carry spares of this type of instrument, which needed to be specially ordered. Les was somewhat speechless when I explained what had happened, then exploded with an ‘industrial english’ rant about the manager giving him a hard time when he reporting the fault. So, the two of them had to work with a couple of ordinary telephone instruments, which I got to install on a temporary basis until we could obtain a replacement from the main stores, which I was sent to Miles Platting Store to place on order.
Another office in the Hunts Bank building that I was regularly called to was the Freight Claims Clerks Office, which handled goods claims from all over the North West for lost or damaged parcels and goods. This was like visiting another world, as when you opened the door you were hit by a deafening wave of sound. Around twenty-five staff stood at tall desks facing the walls and windows around the room with no facilities to sit down, whilst in the middle of the office on a raised dais sat the Chief Clerk. All the staff had their own telephone line and were permanently engaged on the telephone, speaking in load voices in an attempt to be heard over and above the din. It was always a ‘chicken and egg’ situation when faced with repairing a telephone in this office, as the user wanted the telephone repaired, but didn’t want his service interrupted, and it was difficult talking to the user due to the shouting going on all around the office. Often harsh words were required to get the telephone instrument out of the hands of the user, and little thanks for restoring service.
Heading north along the 3rd Floor corridor, after passing the Exchange equipment room there was the Main Switchboard Room, beyond which was the Manchester Victoria Signalling School, which was like entering another world. In the centre of the room was a massive large-scale model railway layout, which operated at table height, and had junctions, stations and electrically powered trains. Specially made by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway around the turn of the Century, all the signalboxes had interlocked levers that worked real points and signals, which were used to train and pass-out newly recruited signalmen from all over the North West and parts of West Yorkshire. Somehow, probably by an agreement reached between senior managers, this antique set-up had been allocated to the Telephone Exchange Lineman for maintenance, and by virtue of its age it had more than its fair share of faults, although usually of a minor nature.
I got thrown in the deep end one morning, as Les rarely left the exchange to attend faults, when the Signalman’s Instructor reported the electric lock on a pair of points had failed. Unfortunately, it turned out that the coil on an electric lock on a point lever in one of the miniature signalboxes had burnt out, and there were no spares available. The complete electric lock assembly was around 2½ inches long, the coil on the lever locks having been specially wound at Horwich Works prior to the First World War. Following a number of phone calls and some discussion with the Telegraph Shops at Gresty Lane in Crewe, it was decided that the complete lock assembly should be sent to the Works with a completed Stores ordering form and they would rewind the coil. The following morning, I was detailed to go and see the Storeman at Miles Platting Depot, make out the order form and attach the lock assembly to be sent to the Area Assistant’s Office, for H. MacClean’s signature, en-route to the Divisional Office and Crewe Workshops. Around six weeks later Les got a call from the Storeman to say the electric lock had arrived and would we arrange collection, so I took one of the many steam-hauled commuter trains up to Miles Platting Station and crossed the tracks over to the Depot, as nobody used the ‘long way round’ via the station entrance, then went to see the Storeman and mentioned his telephone call. He staggered back from one of the racks carrying a new full-size lever-lock and dropped it hard on to the counter. I looked at him in disbelief, as not only was it not what I had ordered, it had a neatly engraved black and white ‘traffolite’ label fixed to the lock cover that read ‘Manchester Victoria Signalling School’! Needless to say, I returned to Victoria Station to tell Les the good news. Les jumped up from his desk, “What ******* idiot at the ****** Factory has ******* done ******” and so the expletives flowed! . . . . . Les’s telephone was red-hot for the rest of the morning.
Stay cautious, stay safe and well, John
Tales from Man Vic Part 3
Good Afternoon .
Here’s another instalment of the reminiscences from yesteryear . . . . . .
Les had worked as a Lineman at Victoria Station during the early months of WWII and he recalled coming to work on late-shift on Christmas Eve, 24th December 1940, when the Luftwaffe carried out saturation bombing of Manchester and Salford city centres and the docklands. He arrived by a heavily delayed commuter train at London Road Station and on reaching the top of the station approach he was completely stunned to see the whole of the city centre ablaze in firestorms as far as the eye could see. Commencing close to the bottom of the station approach the fires in cotton warehouses, offices, shops, churches, hotels and pubs, together with other premises, were totally out of control, the roofs of the buildings were gone and the structures were reduced to collapsing shells. When he has gathered himself together he made his way to Ancoats and began circumventing the northern perimeter of the bombing, working his way along the back of Great Ancoats Street to Oldham Road Goods Depot, then cutting through the local streets en-route to Rochdale Road, where it was clear that most of the Shudehill area and Smithfield Market was ablaze. After crossing Rochdale Road and passing the legendary Marble Arch Pub, Les headed down the local streets to the railway arches, around the back of Miller street to get to Victoria Station, only to find that Platforms 12-17 had received direct hits and most of the station roof had gone. Manchester Exchange Station Buildings had also suffered a direct hit and was completely gutted. The District Control Office had been put out of action, as had its back-up in the station cellars, which were flooded; so, there were panic stations as there was no communications to the control railway operations in most of the North West and into West Yorkshire. Some staff may be conversant with the massive L&YR tiled wall map forming the War Memorial to members of staff lost in WWI, adjacent to the Victoria Station Booking Office. The same geographical coverage extending from Liverpool in the west to Goole in the east and the vast network of lines in between, covering the whole of South Lancashire and most of West Yorkshire was covered by Manchester District Control Office.
Les became a member of a quickly assembled ‘team’ to restore service, as a temporary Control Office had to be established a.s.a.p. under Victoria Station Buildings. This communications restoration and new works ‘team’ became responsible for providing the back-up facilities required by the War Office, together with new switchboards at key junction stations, installing cabling to restore service after pole routes had been felled by bomb blasts, or brought down by dangling hausers on barrage balloons that had escaped. I especially remember Les reminiscing about being sent to Skipton to install a switchboard in the station buildings. Skipton was a mill town and the female population well exceeded the males, but then a high proportion of the remaining men were also recruited in to the Armed Services. Les was billeted with a family whose husband was away in the Army, and they had a daughter who was a mill worker. Friday night was bath night, when the old tin bath was brought out and placed in the middle of the kitchen and filled with hot water, and normally any single men had to vacate the premises, but as Les was married he was allowed to stay and have a bath with the women!
Perhaps on another occasion we will say a few more words about Manchester District Control Office.
Stay cautious, stay safe and keep well. John
Those reminiscences are absolutely priceless I felt as if I was really there,when is the first volume due out of “Tales of the Telecomms “these stories are priceless.Stay safe Regards PTBarker )
Manchester Victoria Reminiscences: Part 4
One morning whilst I was working with Les Crosdale, at Manchester Victoria Telephone Exchange he told me I was to meet Ben Palin, the Telegraph Inspector, on the concourse at Victoria Station at 1.00pm, as he had a job for me. It was well known amongst the Manchester S&T staff that Ben Palin would not normally visit a Lineman’s bothy to see someone, they would be requested to meet him under the large Gents clock on the station concourse. So, it came as no surprise to be told that Les had ‘volunteered’ my services to sort out problems on a telephone circuit reported by the Divisional Control Office that was located in the Hunts Bank Offices building. There was not much to go wrong with the equipment in the Control Office itself, with its 1950’s control desks spaced out beneath the track layout diagrams that ran entirely around the walls of the large office, together with a separate Freight Rolling Stock (FRS) section set to one side. On a dais in the centre of the office was the Chief Controllers desk, and he commanded the kind of silence that would have done justice in a library building in the 1950’s. I only ventured into the Control office a few times to change-out faulty handsets, but I would get a stern glare on opening the office door, a ‘What are you doing here?’ gruff welcome, and the change-out had to be carried out with the minimum of disturbance to the office ‘ambience’.
One of the many Control telephone circuits ran from Miles Platting to Littleborough, on the ex-L&YR route to Leeds and West Yorkshire, and it had been reported that some of the signal-boxes could not call Control, and vice-versa. In practice, the Telegraph Linemen stationed at Manchester Victoria, Miles Platting Junction and Rochdale were signalling orientated, and the word ‘Telegraph’ was derived from the Signal Box telegraph block instruments, so they had little experience of maintaining the single-needle telegraph circuits and omnibus telephone circuits they were also responsible for. This became all too evident as Ben Palin and I worked our way northwards by van, visiting every signal box on the route. There were phones wrongly connected, the polarity was incorrect, the wrong type of omnibus telephone had been used to replace the instrument when a failure had occurred, some instruments had the wrong type of relay coil fitted, or the batteries were low voltage and, as we progressed, I fixed those problems that were straightforward to resolve, others required the telephone instrument and/or a bank of batteries to be changed, so Ben Palin listed the outstanding items. Some of the problems must have been long-standing and, in some ways, it probably suited the signalmen that they were ‘incommunicado’, and at arms-length from being chased by Control. It had been an ‘interesting’ afternoon away from the office by the time we had visited a dozen signal boxes and reached Littleborough. Les had a lot to answer for, but he had long since disappeared homeward bound before I got back to Victoria.
Talking of batteries, Les Crosdale’s Lineman’s Section encompassed dozens of ex-LMS offices, all across the north side of the city centre, many of whose managers had the original secretarial ‘Plan 7’ instruments that required a batch of small ‘T-size’ (Telephone size) dry batteries to operate, whilst some offices were fitted with bell pushes and buzzer circuits also requiring a battery supply. These useful upright batteries were around 1½ inches square and 4½ inches tall, so were highly sought after by other S&T staff for all manner of clandestine purposes, but their size was miniscule in comparison with a No.1 battery that was around 5 inches square and 7 inches tall, such that a box of six weighed a ton, particularly if you had to carry the box several hundred yards to a signalbox, as none of the Linemen had vans in those days. All the six tracks running north towards Miles Platting from Victoria Station, or the four tracks diverging northwest towards the Carriage Sidings at both Red Bank and Queens Road were supported on brick arched viaducts, with no road or footpath access, so the boxes of batteries had to be carried up the tracks on multiple journeys to change out the large electric lock battery at each of the large signalboxes, which was a regular routine with +800 train workings in and out of the station each weekday. But I digress.
When Miles Platting Depot Stores got a delivery of ‘T-size’, the word somehow spread like lightening on the S&T Depot grapevine. Whilst Les’s Section was the main user, if we were slow off the mark getting to the Stores most of the month’s supply of batteries would have all disappeared into thin air before our arrival, in which case Les would explode, stomp around the exchange, then the telephone would be red-hot for the rest of the morning. One morning I went to the Stores to pick-up three boxes of ‘T-size’ and found our usual Storekeeper had been promoted to ‘Timekeeper’ in the Depot office, and there was one of the Signalling Gang staff behind the Stores counter in an acting capacity. He wanted to know if I required three boxes each time I visited the Stores for batteries, to which I said yes, and thought no more about it. A few weeks later Les sent me to the Stores for various spares and I noted in passing a big Class 8F 2-8-0 locomotive at Miles Platting Goods Yard shunting a long train of goods vans into two of the sidings close to the Depot and I suspected the Yardmaster at Brewery Sidings was using the Goods Yard to store empty vans. I picked-up the spares at the Stores and caught the next train back to Victoria.
Next morning all hell broke loose, the two sidings of goods vans in Miles Platting Goods Yard were all packed to the roof with dry batteries; Le Carbon Co., at Brighton must have received the best order they had got since WWII and, had probably been working overtime at weekends to fulfil the shipment! So, then the inquest got underway. The Acting Storekeeper had asked all the staff who went to the stores for the various types of battery, did they need the same number of cells each time they wanted to collect batteries, and, of course, the answer was yes. He then interpreted the total numbers as being a weekly requirement. Being an enterprising Acting-Storekeeper, he doubled the number to create a back-up stock, then filled out a stores requisition form for this mega-batch of dry cells and sent it to the Depot Supervisor’s Office for signing off. It somehow got signed and in due course the requisition landed on the Area Assistant’s desk, in Bridge Street Offices, behind Victoria Station, who also signed it off; so, it got passed to the General Office in the D.S.& T.E.’s Offices at Hunts Bank who also signed it off. And, with little, if any, perusal en-route, the requisition was soon on its way to Crewe Stores to be ordered. When word reached the Area Assistant, Major H. Maclean, he immediately jumped in his office shooting-brake and was off like grease lightning to Miles Platting Depot to take charge, as there was a pressing need to ‘sweep the problem under the carpet’, given nobody, including himself, had taken time to check the requisition properly.
A little while later Les and all the Section Linemen on the District got a call, ‘How many batteries can you take?’; then all six S&T Depot’s on Maclean’s Area got a call, ‘How many vans can you take?’ Christmas arrived early that year!