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The Lost Railways of Angarth

The 9.32 to Angarth

On the 31st September 1997, it was a cold morning in Angarth. As the 9.32am service for Carlisle (via Wygarth) left the station, the crowds that had gathered there to witness the departure of the last ever train slowly dispersed. Among them was sixteen year old Richard Saunders, who admitted that while he was not a railway enthusiast, he had come along that morning because it 'seemed like an important event'.

Richard would however go on to become an enthusiastic local historian, and author of many unpublished accounts of Angarth and its railways. Many of the locations of the 22⅓ mile network have disappeared, been built over, or returned to their original use. Most prominent is the station building in Angarth, which has now been turned into flats, with little reference to their former existence. But a railway is made of many different elements, and it is these which this study will focus on. What has happened to the passengers, the seats upon which they sat, the luggage racks which held their trunks? And what was the fate of the railway sleepers, the stones supporting the viaducts, the lumps of coal abandoned after electrification?

What initially seemed like a footnote to the history of Angarth has unfolded (much like a map of the railway) into a sprawling account. This study is therefore just an introduction to a world which seems very similar to that which we live in today.

Some items initially classified by the Museum

1. A lump of coal

This piece of coal weighs 14½ ounces and is similar to many others which were used to power the steam locomotives. It is likely to have come from the Carboniferous Era, and more specifically from the Zulderwaite Mine. Just as important in powering the trains, but often overlooked, is water from Lake Wygarth, although it is not know how much was used over the course of the history of the Angarth railway. The impact of the railway on the local water table was the subject of great debate, with opposition to the line coming from local landowner Sir George Judley. He claimed it would be necessary to create a small artificial lake otherwise several of his best pastures would turned into 'medieval swamps'. Despite such concerns, the lake would prove to be an excellent source of water for the railway, and the remnants of Judley Halt can still be seen today.

2. A passenger's handkerchief

Most lost property was reunited with its owner, according to Lucy McWilliam, former station clerk at Angarth. She says there were some notable exceptions, but if items were not claimed after 60 days, they were usually given away to charity or railway employees. Such was the fate of this blue spotted handkerchief which is still in remarkably good condition, despite the number of noses by which it may have been employed.

3. A sugar sachet from the dining car

Many passengers were unaware of the existence of the dining car which operated on the 1.58pm, 2.32pm and 12.35pm services from Angarth. Head Chef Luc Meininger had reportedly once worked at the Ritz in Paris as a vegetable peeler, and would often recount tales from the 1930s to passengers over a hot beverage. There was also for a time a bar on platform 2, which would open most evenings from 6pm.

4. Coin used to pay a penalty fare

There are significant records in the railway archives of the number of fare evaders each year but such information does not tell us much about the identity of such freeloaders. Tables of figures may break up a text but are visually limited. But one can imagine the cunning of the passenger who managed to use an Australian $1 coin to pay his penalty fare in 1989.

5. Stationmaster's Chalk

The stationmaster at Angarth, was for most of the railway's history, Douglas Rathwell, who at the time of his appointment, had yet to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a professional guitar player. His creative urges though, did find an outlet in the form of the station noticeboard where Douglas would write a quote each day. Drawing on a range of sources from the Bible to quotations from Einstein, these neatly written short remarks would do much for the edification of local schoolchildren.

6. Notebook belong to local trainspotter

One of the most important artefacts of our time is the computer spreadsheet, an application which would have been of much interest to 20th century trainspotters, in its ability to record and process huge amounts of information. What spreadsheets fail to record though, are the grimy ravages of time. This notebook, belonging to Mr R.J.Mannion, has ink stains, water damage and many crossings out. These should not be seen as detracting from its value, but as a record of what the digital age is in danger of destroying.

7. Walkman and cassette tapes

While the operators of train companies often try and undertake research (by paper form, online poll, focus group) to try and better understand their customers, such work usually overlooks a far richer source of information – the lost property office. While the one in Angarth is a relatively small outpost, it does appear to have a larger amount of lost items than one might assume on a minor branch line.

8. Station cat

Station cats have a proud history not just in the UK, but around the world. A Japanese cat, Tama is stationmaster at Kishi station in Wagayama Prefecture. Sadly such high honours have evaded Mr Johnson, the eponymous station cat at Angarth. Mr Johnson was well know for greeting passengers, occasionally checking tickets, and ensuring rodent commuters were kept to a minimum. He was named after Mr Rod Johnson, a travelling salesman who started feeding him outside the station.

9. Chunk of railway sleeper

Proudly displayed for years in the Angarth Museum, this was believed to have been one of the first sleepers laid when the railway was built. During a period of refurbishment (which led to many delays and letters of complaint to the Angarth Courant) this piece of railway sleeper was donated to the Museum. Recent conservation work has however suggested that is in fact an earlier sleeper from a different railway line, leading the object to be withdrawn from display.

10. Bustamante's beer bottle

Of a similar provenance to (7) this is an undrunk bottle of beer, which belong to passenger Edouard Bustamante. He was travelling to Angarth in 1973 in April when a freak snowstorm closed the line. The train (53627) and its 34 passengers were stranded for 26 hours before help arrived. What could have become an ordeal soon turned into a large-scale party, as Bustamante had misread the timetable and thought the journey would take over 12 hours, rather than 22 minutes. He was therefore able to share a large hamper of cooked meats, pies and local produce with his fellow passengers. This incident is covered in greater details in the pamphlet In the footsteps of Edouard Bustamante.

11. The station public telephone

Recently discovered in an Angarth second-hand antiques shop is the public telephone which used to be located next to the Platform Bar. The number of the telephone (01461 203311) has been recycled and is now assigned to a local bakery. Staff there report occasional calls enquiring about timetables and off-peak tickets.