All Aboard the Coffee Pot

James Turnbull

This article by James Turnbull originally appeared in the Southern Annual 164 and appears here courtesy of Bruce McCartney.

Happy Memories of the Selkirk-Gala Run.

I thought I saw the Coffee Pot coming up the line, but when I looked again it was a bag of Dixon's lime...

Selkirk: NB 4.4.0 62490 Glen Fintaig about to run round its train at Selkirk in April 1950. G H Robin collection by courtesy of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow 07/04/1950

I had feared, with many others, that the revenues raised from railway facilities in the smaller towns of Britain were not sufficient to justify their remaining open. The Beeching Report proved to be their death knell. Be that as it may, I mourn the passing of the tiny railway station.

Those of us who lived in the area of Selkirk close to the “Station” were fortunate in a manner never realised until, alas, the reason for our good fortune is gone. Gone along with so much which made childhood in Selkirk such an exciting time.

Living in number nine, Buccleuch Road, I suppose I was as close to the Station as one could get without actually living in the Station House. Even so, there was an aura of mystery which cloaked all the nooks and crannies of the tiny terminal. In the first place you had to have a reason for even being there. Old Peter Whitecross was much too active to be put off by a bunch of laddies saying, “We're jist lookin’.” You had to be running a message or, more improbable, be buying a ticket. But it was worth a chase or being yelled at just to investigate those lonely halls.

Though the scene is familiar to many who have used the Station, there are others, not only children, but also young men and women, who never have experienced the excitement and the thrill of embarking on a seaside holiday by rail from Selkirk. Fine, we’ll walk through the building again as it was just before the Second World War.

The Holiday Week was the busiest time of the year at the Station. After walking up a slightly sloping concrete ramp, you got your ticket from a small glass window set into the left hand wall. Then onto the platform proper. Luggage was hoisted onto the large three-wheeled barrows and, if you were small enough, you could catch a ride without the porter seeing you. The train always seemed to be waiting. The baggage disappeared. Children and sandwiches were collected and everyone piled in. The doors slammed. The whistle blew. The green flag was raised and a great shudder told us that we were started on another adventure.

Selkirk: The approach to Selkirk station in 1970, some 19 years after the withdrawal of passenger services. Colin Miller //1970

The crossing gates were wide open and we all waved to the lady who stood with her arms folded as the train chugged past. Lindean was great fun. The crossing keeper always roared “Lindean“ at the top of his lungs and every child on the train roared it back. Galashiels may have had a bigger station, and Edinburgh was the home of the legendary “Flying Scotsman” but the Selkirk to Gala run was always the most fun and we never really felt that we were coming home until we made that last change in Galashiels and rumbled back to the bonnie toon.

I knew the Station best during the War. By creeping through the garden belonging to Station Master Brown, I was able to reach the platform without being seen by the porter or anyone in the booking office. How strange everything seemed. There were two Frys chocolate machines with large ld signs on the top. I never saw any bars of chocolate in them. The silver lines stretched out of sight by the signal- box but there were seldom any trains to be seen.

For a child of the town, used to cramped living quarters, the hardest thing to understand was the Waiting Room. By climbing on one of the chocolate machines, I could see over the painted lower half of the window. Inside was a spacious room, painted white and furnished with red leather easy chairs and a large couch. Even the fire in the fireplace was set as though guests were expected at any minute. But I never saw that room open and I never saw the fire burning.

The Station was decorated with pictures of popular holiday resorts, both in Britain and France. But they pictured the gracious pleasures and watering places of the late thirties and I had no way of knowing that these days were gone forever.

If the Station had been dirty or dilapidated, I might have felt that desolation and desertion had started, but the paintwork was immaculate, the platform swept every day. Even the rails seemed to sparkle. Like a child in a museum, I wandered round looking at the enamelled advertising posters for cigarettes and whisky which were never taken down during the war. And the empty rails stretched into the distance. In the winter, Peter Whitecross was more amenable to conversation and we were even allowed to warm ourselves in the ticket office. Occasionally there were large crates of rabbits and grouse which, we were informed, had been shot by the “Duke of Buccleuch, the King, and the Prime Minister.” We never knew we were having our legs pulled and left always visibly impressed. Occasionally, a pole ferret was shipped to some distant hunting ground and we hunkered down and stared for seeming ages at the beady eyes and the shining coat of the fierce little animal. That was excitement.

But passenger service did not die out altogether in these distant days. The Coffee Pot maintained daily service between Galashiels and Selkirk. This single engine, single compartment, green and white coach came from I know not where, and has now disappeared from my ken, but its lovable shape was familiar to all who lived in Selkirk and many a joke was made at its expense. Like a bus, the aisle was lined with leather straps for standing passengers but it was much more fun to copy Tarzan and swing the length of the coach hanging on the straps!

Selkirk: An impressive looking Glen Falloch photographed during the stop at Selkirk with the BLS Scott Country Railtour on 4 April 1959. The locomotive was withdrawn from St Margarets the following March and cut up at Connels of Calder some four months later. Note the child being lifted from the pram to admire 62471. Robin Barbour Collection (Courtesy Bruce McCartney) 04/04/1959

There was more, much more. The cavernous goods shed run by Davey McDonald, the water-tower, and, over all, the compound smell of tarred rope, canvas sacks, dusty upholstery, smoked fish, engine smoke, steam and excitement. It is hard for me to believe that that is gone now. It may be that I can no longer climb aboard the holiday special in Selkirk bound for Portobello, but the trip is as fresh in my memory as though I still carried my spade and pail. That much cannot be taken away by Mr Beeching or by Whitehall.