'Sir: The railway reminiscences of Denis Wood (Spectator, Sept 13) have. prompted memories of a wonderful Easter weekend passed in our great western peninsula by members of the North Ilford Railfans' Club in the far-off days of the 'twenties.
Our party of fifteen was domiciled at the Cornish residence of the redoubtable Polly Y., remarked by our former secretary to be a distant cousin of the infamous Blind Signalman of St Austell. It was approaching five o'clock on the evening of Easter Monday, and the time was drawing nigh for assessing the winners of our competition, an event always the highlight of every North Ilford Easter weekend. This year the cup was to be presented to the member that had visited the greatest number of railway stations during the period of the twenty-four hours that had begun on Easter Sunday at 3 p.m. From the track at each station visited the member was to have selected one granite cube of track ballast, and to have approached the local station-master for an affadavit affirming, (a) the cube's authenticity, and (b) that its removal had in no means affected the integrity of the permanent way.
Agog with a state of high expectancy in the comfortable lounge at Polly Y's, we supped steaming mugs of hot milk, and eagerly divulged the detail of our adventures of the preceding hours..
When the last of Mrs Y's pastries had been consumed (what unforgettable teas those were!) finely embroidered linen blairies were spread on the dining table, and a pyramid of oil-speckled ballast and the accompanying station-master's verification was displayed before each member. To the accompaniment of much good-natured ribaldry, buxom Dolly Fffitch, wife of Jimmy Fffitch, our chairman, proudly revealed one cube twice the size of her others. 'But the station was twice the size of the others!' she protested.
How we laughed! But it was Tommy B. that was to beat us all. Tommy had cycled twenty-three miles, to locate a little known twisting branch-line that followed the bosky circumbendibussing flanks of the tidal Porthaddock River. At every tortuous curve he had found a tiny village huddled under precipitous cliffs; a church, a cluster of cottages, the cosy village tavern, and behind them all, the tiny railway station. Thirty stations in all, threaded like duby-drops along ten gleaming miles of the briny Porthaddock estuary!
As we raised our glasses in deference to Tommy B„ Brindle Benson, to our loud acclamation, presented the Founder's Cup, and in a pithy epistolary reply, Tommy, a great wit, intimated that the gleaming silver pot would ensure many happy hours of honest endeavour with rag and elbow grease during the long dark evenings of the Ilford winter!
But alas, time passes, and two only of those old members are with us still. ln the North Ilford's clubroom, the Founder's Cup, now permanently retired, is displayed in a sober tulipwood cabinet, with Tommy B's winning thirty granite ballast cubes piled neatly on a napkin before it, together with a faded postcard elucidating the terms of the competition; a lasting momento of the great times we old founder members had in the earliest days of the club's history.
Our sprightly young blades, sir, would have to travel many miles to amass thirty granite cubes today!
With the hope that these nostalgic reminiscences will not have been without interest, I have the pleasure to be, yours sincerely, Alan Surridge C. Gresley Churchward. (Honorary Librarian, and Original Member, North Ilford Railfan's Club) 28 Bute Road, Ilford, Essex.