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bringing a ghost station alive for Oxford Playhouse Company

Larry Nolan

Larry Nolan (10 Sep 1968)

Since the Playhouse Company’s resident carpenter, Larry Nolan, stumbled upon the place during his search for a cheaper workshop in 1961, the goods shed had been a scene dock; and since the station closed three years later the only freight in and out had been scenery, which came and went by road. [He used THE SAFE shown here to store papers, things like set designs and invoices, which were invaluable to him, but not worth the time and energy of any thief. But the safe is the star of a more dramatic tale.]

Twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Fridays, though you could never be quite certain, a goods train trundled by on its way to Witney. But if ex-Witney Station Master, John Barnby, who served the railways thirty-nine-and-a-half-years, paused to note its passing, it was only to sniff contemptuously.

In his view they ran down Witney in order to keep Oxford going and rather than witness the death agony he retired. ‘I’ve always fancied myself as a wood spoiler,’ he said, ‘so I took easily to making scenery. It was a job with more future than the railways.’

Then with a mischievous grin he continued putting the finishing touches to the Playhouse Company revival of The Silent Woman, which launched its thirteenth season. ‘This is a Tudor door with Communist tendencies,’ he said. ‘When we started making it, we had just heard about the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and it bore the brunt of our displeasure.’

Ex-Eynsham signalman Fred Tovey, with forty-eight years in the railway behind him, all but three of them spent at Eynsham where he was born, was less outspoken. He preferred to remember the good old days and was happy to continue working — carpentry and gardening had always been his favourite hobbies — in a place that had so many pleasant memories for him.

When he first came to take charge of the goods yard in 1920 as a lad of nineteen, Eynsham Station boasted a staff of six and dealt with eight passenger trains and two goods trains every day, not to mention seaside, blanket and other trains.

No more than thirty passengers passed through the booking hall on an average day, but goods traffic was booming. Six or eight vehicles of stinking bones with three or four inches of maggots in the bottom were delivered to the glue factory, [the former Eynsham paper mill], were turned into glue, size and candle fat, and then came back.

There were loads of beet for the experimental sugar factory, [now the site of Siemens]. There were loads of asphalt made in the station yard for Oxfordshire’s roads, and there were loads of coal and timber and provisions and all the necessities of life for the population round about.

But gradually the motor vehicles with their ability to go anywhere robbed Eynsham Station of its trade and by the time the booking hall closed its doors for the last time and Fred retired it was only a shadow of its former self.

Don Chapman - Anthony Wood Column, Oxford Mail 10 September 1968

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