As the Manchester to Wilmslow “Styal line” reaches its 100th anniversary, its last Stationmaster has reflected on the twilight of its halcyon days.
Sale-born Harry Jackson joined the “Cheshire Lines” railway as a 15 year-old at Brooklands station in 1935. He worked his way up the ranks and became Stationmaster for the Styal Line in the late 1950’s, taking up residence in the imposing Station House at Styal and falling love with the village.
Styal, at this time, had a bustling station. Albert Brown had tended the station since it opened in 1909 until his retirement in 1959 and it won 10 best-kept station awards.. The station gardens became an attraction in their own right and it was not unusual to see visitors picnicking at the station.
When Harry moved to Styal the class system was still very apparent on the platform. He recalls Mr. Greg – of the famous Quarry Bank Mill dynasty - being treated with deference by residents and railway staff whilst other city gents expected their railway carriage doors to be opened for them – something they soon learned not to expect under Harry!
VIP’s were not unheard of and Harry met the Duke of Edinburgh at East Didsbury when he came to open the Polytechnic’s “Toast Rack” building in 1960. Dunns of Manchester manufactured a new stationmaster’s hat badge especially for the occasion. Harry, a stickler for immaculate appearance standards, recalls resisting the urge to straighten Prince Philip’s tie!
On another occasion the Royal Train visited Styal in anticipation of the Queen’s arrival at Manchester Airport (the Airport lacked its own station until 1993). Meticulous planning preceded the event including rehearsals but snow prevented the plane landing at Manchester.
Styal possessed a goods yard that remained active until 1963. Station staff operated the local signal box when trains required marshalling into and out of the sidings. Quarry Bank Mill was, at this time, split into small units let to diverse companies. Products to/from these units and rose bushes from Morton’s nursery destined for gardens worldwide passed through the station. 1962 saw the commencement of twice-weekly consignments of fresh fish to feed the inmates at the newly-opened HMP Styal.
Yet this was also a time of upheaval on the line as electrification in 1960 signalled the end of steam and the demolition of the 50 year-old station buildings which boasted verandas, hanging baskets and 1st and 2nd class waiting rooms.
Rationalisation in the wake of the Beeching Report saw the Stationmaster post disestablished in 1966 and Harry was relocated to Wilmslow and latterly Altrincham stations. He eventually retired from British Rail in 1980 at the age of 60 with 45 year’s service under his belt – for which he received a pair of binoculars from the Area Manager.
Still living in Styal with his wife Nancy, albeit no longer in the station house, Harry looks back with pride on his time at the station yet there is no hiding his regret at the decay of the once beautiful station gardens and the demise of most stopping services.
However there is some light at the end of the tunnel; campaigning by local residents has resulted in the reintroduction of Sunday trains for summer 2009 whilst a “Styal Rail 100” event at Quarry Bank Mill on 17th May, at which Harry will be “Guest of Honour”, will celebrate the line’s centenary.
Maybe someone will now take up the mantle of restoring some of the station gardens to their former glory – something sure to bring a smile to Harry’s face. Rob Sawyer www.styal-station.org.uk T. 07779 483713 May 2009