It is generally accepted that the description ‘Railways of Ryedale’ refers to the lines which used to exist between Bishophouse Junction/Sessay Wood Junction (later renamed Pilmoor South, and then plain Pilmoor) on the East Coast Main Line and Pickering Mill Lane Junction via Sunbeck Junction, Gilling and Helmsley (29 miles), and between Gilling and Malton East Junction via Slingsby (13 miles).
The first complete closure, between Kikrbymoorside (railway spelling) and Pickering Mill Lane Junction, occurred from the 2nd February 1953 (the last trains running two days previously – the same evening as the terrible East Coast floods), followed by Bishophouse Junction – Sunbeck Junction on the 15th February 1959, then Pilmoor – Husthwaite Gate on the 19th March 1963, as a result of a derailment at the junction.
Having described the last passenger train to call at Slingsby on the 27th July 1964 in the April/May edition of The Triangle, it would seem logical to mention the last official train to pass through Slingsby eleven days later on 7th August 1964.
Following the closure of Malton steam Shed on the 13th April 1963, the Mondays to Fridays Malton – Kirkbymoorside and return freight, known in railway terms as the ‘pick-up’, was reduced to running just three days a week Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Furthermore, the various steam locomotives which had hauled the freight trains were replaced by a 204hp diesel shunter, only having a maximum speed of 15mph. However, for the last official train a steam locomotive, 65894 (which was preserved and is currently undergoing restoration at Darlington) was provided by York Shed for this sad occasion.
On the day in question the Slingsby Porter-Signalman, Fred Wright, came on duty at 8.30am, immediately sending the 5-5-5 opening bell signal to his colleagues on either side of him at Amotherby (Jack Mitchell) and Hovingham Spa (Eric Hartley). Fred was undoubtedly one of Slingsby’s characters. He managed to combine his railway duties, which were not too onerous it must be said, with running a coal business, bought from the Gilling Station Master, his boss, in 1963. He also had a smallholding to the south of the village alongside the B1257, named “Graffitoe” (the sign is still there on the gate). Unsubstantiated rumours were that in Fred’s absences from the station, when a train wasn’t in the vicinity, his wife, Jeanette, used to operate the token instrument and bells!
The ‘pick-up’ left Malton at 8.55am, and conveyed ten wagons (three coal for Coxwold, three empty vans each for Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside for loading unsold merchandise, and an empty mineral wagon for the latter station to load rubbish) plus two brake vans, one for the Guard and one for a party of enthusiasts.
Because it was not possible to run directly from Malton onto the Gilling line, a reversal was necessary at Scarborough Road Junction signal box, involving the steam loco returning to Malton East signal box, crossing over before returning to attach to the rear of the freight train and then propelling it to clear of the junction points. At 9.08am the train departed Scarborough Road Jn, whereupon Amotherby requested and received ‘Line Clear’ from Fred at Slingsby (bell signal 3 beats). Twelve minutes later Amotherby sent ‘Train entering Section’ (2 beats on the bell) to Fred who then had the train ‘accepted’ by Hovingham Spa, before going outside of the office, where the token instruments were kept, to close the Ness road level crossing gates and then operating the one Up direction semaphore signal. The train passed Slingsby at 9.26am, where Fred exchanged the single line tokens with the driver, clearing Hovingham Spa four minutes later. Any railway cash that Fred might have taken in the previous two days would have been sent to Gilling in a cash bag given to the Guard.
Meanwhile, after detaching the Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside wagons at Gilling, the train proceeded to Coxwold where it detached the wagons of coal, propelled to Husthwaite Gate where it collected a wagon of rubbish which it left at Coxwold, before continuing back to Gilling, attaching the wagons previously left there, then through Helmsley and on to Kirkbymoorside, where the necessary shunting took place. The three wagons for Helmsley were detached on the return journey, the train clearing the Helmsley – Gilling section at 1.30pm.
Fred at Slingsby became aware of the last official train when Hovingham Spa ‘offered’ it to him on the token instrument bell at 2pm, and it entered into ‘his’ section at 2.10pm. 65894 and the two brake vans passed Slingsby without stopping at 2.14pm, eventually clearing Amotherby after shunting the B.A.T.A. siding there at 2:59pm. Having already closed to Hovingham Spa (7-5-5 bell signal) at 2:14pm, Fred’s last signalling task of all was to acknowledge the ‘Train out of Section’ bell signal (2-1) sent by Amotherby and in return give the standard closing 7-5-5 bell signal.
The following week two further freight trains ran on the branch beyond Amotherby (the section to Malton remained open for a further ten weeks) to collect empty wagons, the points and signals being operated by a travelling relief signalman. On Monday the 10th August the train departed Malton at 9:40am returning at 3.55pm, whilst on Friday 14th August departure from Malton was at 8.45 am, and return at .:55pm. Finally, an Engineer’s train ran along the Branch on the 15th October probably for the benefit of contractors.
Removal of the track on the Branch commenced on the 29th March 1965, cleared through Slingsby by the end of July, and was completed on the 9th August.
Note the times shown are a combination of the information contained in the Scarborough Road signal box Train Register Book, my own observations on the day and educated guesswork!
Originally printed in the October/November 2017 issue of the Triangle Newsletter