Platelayers Huts

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pitdiver

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After watching a Cab Ride video of the journey between Great Yarmouth and Norwich. I was wondering how were the Platelayers Huts used. Were they just used for storage or were there facilities for the Platelayers ie somewhere to sit, cook, make a hot drink or even to sleep if they couldn't get back to their base. Seeing how remote some of them were and how bleak the Norfolk countryside is could this have been a possibility.
 
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Tio Terry

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In the mid 1960's I worked with a Telegraph Gang running a pair of wires from Reedham to Breydon Junction and carrying out repairs to the pole route as well. We used the platelayers huts for our needs as we progressed along the line. They had stoves in them that would burn wood - the old telegraph poles we replaced with new - and coal. There was no electricity of course.

Got to know some of the platelayers quite well, got taught how to skin a rabbit, pluck and gut a Pheasant and set snares!
 

Gareth Marston

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Get up near the Marteg Tunnel and Pantydwr and there's a surprising number of plate players huts still intact along the formation of the old Mid Wales line closed 31 December 1962.

Well built and seemingly useful to the local farming community 50 years on....
 

Parham Wood

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Platelayer huts provided welcome shelter for anyone working on the track but primarily would have been used by the lengthman walking his length of track and PW staff engaged on maintenance. There was no road transport to the site and handy mess van to use as there is today. Most staff would have travelled by train to the nearest station and then walked or got dropped off from a passing train. So the huts provided welcome shelter, a place to brew a cuppa or even cook food. Particularly useful for shelter when the weather was bad enough to stop work - "during fog or falling snow into the hut we must go". I used one a few times with a Telegraph gang laying concrete troughing on a remote part of the line north of High Wycombe. I think old wooded discarded track keys were used as fuel. It did not take long to make the hut nice and cosy. Tea was brewed in the gang's kettle, tea and milk being added to the boiling water and possibly even sugar. It was made how the gang gaffer liked his tea and the rest had to lump it if they did not like it!
 

ChiefPlanner

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Welcome havens from the weather etc - some of the Settle and Carlisle line ones were listed. Often used for on site tool storage and had rudimentary vices / grindstones etc attached or within.

Now often regarded as places for miscreants / illegal social activities etc - where they have not been demolished / removed.

PW tea could be atrocious for those not used to it - about 2ib of sugar / condensed milk and strong tea - boiled to oblivion. (almost) - on a fire made from creosoted sleepers and loose coal. Tough men.
 

Mugby

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It's mostly forgotten now that these huts were the home station of small gangs of P/Way men, static gangs. Each gang maintained about 3 miles of track ( 1.5 miles each side the hut) and walked everywhere they went.

In the 1960s and early 70s, BR decided to have larger, mobile gangs which maintained 6-8 miles of track and had a vehicle to travel around in. They still had a home cabin to book on at, they were bigger with slightly better facilities, tool cabin, space for the vehicle and a toilet. They were usually located near to a public road, often in a former goods yard. When these were set up, most of the former wayside cabins fell into disuse but odd ones still survive today.
Even most of the larger gang cabins have gone now, NR having decided on 'super depots' covering very large areas. The downside of this, however, is that it's likely to take staff much longer to reach the site of any track failures and will probably get stuck in traffic on the way!
 

tjlrailblue

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when were the last ones built? presume they were the concrete ones?

are there any on heritage lines that are preserved?


Tim
 

70014IronDuke

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After watching a Cab Ride video of the journey between Great Yarmouth and Norwich. I was wondering how were the Platelayers Huts used. Were they just used for storage or were there facilities for the Platelayers ie somewhere to sit, cook, make a hot drink or even to sleep if they couldn't get back to their base. Seeing how remote some of them were and how bleak the Norfolk countryside is could this have been a possibility.

The one that springs to mind that i knew (near Appleby, on the NER line) had a stove and benches.
 

RichmondCommu

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Welcome havens from the weather etc - some of the Settle and Carlisle line ones were listed. Often used for on site tool storage and had rudimentary vices / grindstones etc attached or within.

There used to be one by the northern portal of Blea Moor tunnel which appeared to be quite a size but I think it was demolished some time ago.
 

PaulLothian

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Would some of the Scottish Highland routes have them?

The West Highland Mallaig Extension certainly does. I have recently looked closely at a concrete hut at Arienskill near Lochailort, which I always assumed was from the same era as all the other concrete structures on the line, but other posts in this thread have led me to wonder if that was actually so! Will have to research this further...
 
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Does anyone know anything about pre-fabricated concrete toilets placed along the lineside in post-WW2 days?

When I was growing up in industrial Lancashire in the late 1960s and early 70s, there was a network of many miles of recently-closed railway lines in my locality – victims of Beeching cuts and declining heavy industries. I spent many hours exploring these trackbeds by bike since, although track & sleepers were gone, the lines had been dismantled recently enough for vegetation, flooding etc. not yet to be an issue.

There were some good, unofficial “Rail Trails” – especially as BR didn’t seem to use much ballast on these former goods lines and colliery branches. Bits of more durable railway paraphernalia were still in evidence e.g. mileposts, concrete gradient markers, bases of signal posts, foundations of signalboxes, and maybe the odd ruined platelayers hut.

What I do recall coming across quite regularly on these explorations were small, square prefabricated concrete huts.

These huts were all the same, maybe 4 or 5 feet square on the base – definitely room for one man only – windowless solid concrete slabs on three sides and completely open on the fourth, with a flat concrete roof. I suspected at the time they might be lineside toilets (of the pit, or at best chemical bucket variety), but I don’t know their purpose for sure.

They seemed too small to be used for storage, or to work inside (as in lamp huts), or even as air-raid shelters from the War. Although small, they were of heavy-duty construction, which probably explained why they were left behind when almost all other railway infrastructure was removed.

I’ve tried Google searches to find an image of what I'm trying to describe, with zero success.

Another clue was that the open side of these installations usually seemed to face away from the former railway tracks, possibly as a modesty precaution for passing train passengers, and meaning they were unlikely to be fogmen’s huts. Presumably they had had a wooden door when “in operation”, the doors having been re-purposed (stolen for someone's garden shed) or vandalised / burnt at some stage.

As well as along closed lines, I also saw the same structures alongside operational railways at the time, in a similar state of door-less abandonment, but of course I didn’t investigate these too closely being the wrong side of the fence!

They were usually in incongruous or random locations – where you might ask “why put a toilet there?”, but perhaps there had been long-gone sidings there or a goods loop, where shunters or footplatemen waiting for a path might need to answer nature’s call.

So my questions are – does anyone remember this type of lineside hut from 30 – 40 years ago and were they really lineside toilets?

And are there any images on the Internet, or even 21st Century survivors on Network Rail?
 

D Foster

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Southern's concrete PWay huts were reckoned to be terrible for condensation by gangs that I knew. In winter the concrete also took ages for the cold to be warmed out of it before the interior began to be warmed up.
One of the gangs I knew had an on-going war with a "foreign" gang that would come in to their patch for any large job. The intruders were known all over for being first into a hut, hogging it and being last out... So a plot was hatched - they were allowed in - the door swiftly blocked with sleepers, oily rags dropped down the chimney and a bucket put on top... The intruders learnt the error of their ways.

Pre-fab toilets... The roof, back and sides were the same as used for Fogmen's huts. The privy doors were one piece while the fog hut's doors were stable doors. Privies had a metal bucket/chemical loo (subject to chemicals being supplied) - more often and not the "night soil" was tipped at a convenient spot a short way along the track - where it wouldn't get walked into... "Concern for the environment" was not the same back then. The privies had two mushroom vents in the roof. Knowing some gangers this was probably to prevent the roof being blown off. The fogmen's huts had one mushroom vent and one chimney for the tiny cast-iron stove... Those stoves had to be glowing red hot to be effective - and had to be avoided in the confined space. The back of the fog hut was a narrow seat against the wall - probably only about 10 inches - which hinged up for access to a coal box underneath. There was no lighting or even anywhere to fix/support any kind of lamp or candle in either type of hut. (The doors were wooden - and probably disappeared fast as soon as the huts fell out of use in most cases).
"Fogging" in fog and falling snow must have been a diabolical job.

There was a similar - about 2 foot by 2 foot one man air raid shelter made of boiler plate (or similar) provided at some places on the Southern. They were only big enough for a man to sit on a steel shelf in the back half. I'd guess at somewhere between 3'6" and 4' tall outside. They had a stable door (also boiler plate). Both sides and the top door had a horizontal slot about 1"x5" for air. They had no light or heat at all.
These beasts were extremely heavy - so that they often rusted away before they were removed - if they ever were removed and not just pushed down the bank.
Somehow one was shifted up into Epsom Signalbox - on its bridge over Epsom platforms.
Two stories...
1. One of the signalmen would spend the whole night shift in the shelter except when he had to come out to work. Somehow he had managed to arrange a support for a candle so that he could read. One night a bomb went off close by. The approaching rescue party could see that all the glass had been blown out and that there was other damage. Worried about the signalman they hurried up the Box steps - to be greeted by muffled swearing. the shelter had been blasted over on its face trapping the signalman inside. Fortunately he wasn't hurt - except for hot wax from the candle. the reason for his cursing was that the candle had gone out and he had not been able to continue reading while he waited for rescue.
2. A different occasion a bomb landed on the station canopy. The signalman sent a message to the Station Master's home (in town) saying "UXB on canopy. Come immediately". He received the reply "UXB in garden. Sort your own one out".
I was not present for either of these tales to verify them...

Big yellow BR gang buses... "Gamecocks". Bedford trucks with a box body - front half a crew mess and back half a tool store. They could do over 70mph with a good run and a tail wind... Would scare the life out of me hurtling past on the M23.

:p
 

Elecman

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Does anyone know anything about pre-fabricated concrete toilets placed along the lineside in post-WW2 days?

When I was growing up in industrial Lancashire in the late 1960s and early 70s, there was a network of many miles of recently-closed railway lines in my locality – victims of Beeching cuts and declining heavy industries. I spent many hours exploring these trackbeds by bike since, although track & sleepers were gone, the lines had been dismantled recently enough for vegetation, flooding etc. not yet to be an issue.

There were some good, unofficial “Rail Trails” – especially as BR didn’t seem to use much ballast on these former goods lines and colliery branches. Bits of more durable railway paraphernalia were still in evidence e.g. mileposts, concrete gradient markers, bases of signal posts, foundations of signalboxes, and maybe the odd ruined platelayers hut.

What I do recall coming across quite regularly on these explorations were small, square prefabricated concrete huts.

These huts were all the same, maybe 4 or 5 feet square on the base – definitely room for one man only – windowless solid concrete slabs on three sides and completely open on the fourth, with a flat concrete roof. I suspected at the time they might be lineside toilets (of the pit, or at best chemical bucket variety), but I don’t know their purpose for sure.

They seemed too small to be used for storage, or to work inside (as in lamp huts), or even as air-raid shelters from the War. Although small, they were of heavy-duty construction, which probably explained why they were left behind when almost all other railway infrastructure was removed.

I’ve tried Google searches to find an image of what I'm trying to describe, with zero success.

Another clue was that the open side of these installations usually seemed to face away from the former railway tracks, possibly as a modesty precaution for passing train passengers, and meaning they were unlikely to be fogmen’s huts. Presumably they had had a wooden door when “in operation”, the doors having been re-purposed (stolen for someone's garden shed) or vandalised / burnt at some stage.

As well as along closed lines, I also saw the same structures alongside operational railways at the time, in a similar state of door-less abandonment, but of course I didn’t investigate these too closely being the wrong side of the fence!

They were usually in incongruous or random locations – where you might ask “why put a toilet there?”, but perhaps there had been long-gone sidings there or a goods loop, where shunters or footplatemen waiting for a path might need to answer nature’s call.

So my questions are – does anyone remember this type of lineside hut from 30 – 40 years ago and were they really lineside toilets?

And are there any images on the Internet, or even 21st Century survivors on Network Rail?

They sound like fog mans huts located at signal posts used when fog obscured the drivers view of the semaphore signal. The local fog man would stay at the signal placing a detonator on the line and exhibit a red flag until the signal was cleared
 

D Foster

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"Incongruous locations" for the huts...
Many of the huts you might have seen remains of are more likely to have been fogging huts - provided with the door facing the face of the Distant Signal to be "fogged". Consequently, when the signal disappeared - for whatever reason - the hut got left behind. Iron lattice and steel posts had scrap value - both were often torched off at ground level leaving a concrete stump with a small amount of metal protruding. These can still be found along the lineside - both for Distants and near the remains of huts and elsewhere.
The huts were too small for any real practical use other than their original one. Also the concrete was fairly brittle and would fracture easily - remains often show the thinness of the sides and the fairly spare reinforcing - that has often broken out with rust and frost heave. Many of the roofs also look like they are concrete/asbestos mouldings (with rounded edges) so they would both not be good to move and very likely to fracture.

Train crews needing to decant would simply find the least drafty place along the track where they were held. Many signalmen didn't like train crews using their PN (Physical Needs) facilities - which could cause some friction - both ways. Platform staff often held similar views. Then again - even in the 1980s not all signalboxes had any facility at all - even when they had finally gained running water and electricity (if/when they were lucky). The advent of fibreglass bodied "Portaloo"s significantly improved the situation - except that getting the tank they stood on emptied was often nearly impossible - until the Union stepped in and threatened to shut the Box. Some Portaloos remain even where the Signalbox has long been demolished - probably because no-one wants to get anywhere near the guck that is in them.
For a brief time in the 2000s there was a scheme to provide "Comfort Facilities" - aka portaloos - at regular locations along the track. This died a predictable death! Since then there have been an increasing number of "Comfort Vehicles". I would not want one of those going past me at speed on the motorway!
:)
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
They sound like fog mans huts located at signal posts used when fog obscured the drivers view of the semaphore signal. The local fog man would stay at the signal placing a detonator on the line and exhibit a red flag until the signal was cleared

Most fogging was done at Distant Signals - with the exception of larger/busier junctions and very difficult locations where the first Stop Signal at least would tend to be fogged as well as the Distant.
At a Distant the flag would be yellow when the signal was "On" - if not a yellow lamp... Once the Distant Signal had been converted to a yellow lamp and aspect from red. (Conversion started slowly in about 1917ish, progressed reluctantly through the 1920s, was supposed to get completed in the 1930s but, in some cases, was delayed until sometime up to 1945 - I know of no definite record of when the last one was altered).
Fogging, or in the absence of a fogman, Double Blocking was always a problem (and a lousy job) so one thing that BR did do was change a large number of Distant Signals to two aspect colour light signals (Y/G). I think that there may even have been programmes to get this done. With a Colour Light Distant Signal a fogman wasn't required - which also meant that the absence of one didn't cause Double Blocking. Again - the huts tended to remain in place - provided they didn't get in the way of the sighting of the shorter posted Colour Light Signal.
As far as I know all the conversions were Multiple Aspect signals and not searchlights. I would like to know if this is correct please?
A CL Distant frequently did not mean any other signals on the Box were converted from semaphore for many years - if ever before the box closed out for good.
:D
 
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edwin_m

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one thing that BR did do was change a large number of Distant Signals to two aspect colour light signals (Y/G). I think that there may even have been programmes to get this done. With a Colour Light Distant Signal a fogman wasn't required - which also meant that the absence of one didn't cause Double Blocking. Again - the huts tended to remain in place - provided they didn't get in the way of the sighting of the shorter posted Colour Light Signal.
As far as I know all the conversions were Multiple Aspect signals and not searchlights. I would like to know if this is correct please?
A CL Distant frequently did not mean any other signals on the Box were converted from semaphore for many years - if ever before the box closed out for good.
:D

The LMS did a lot of these before WW2 and the other railways may have done too. One other advantage was that it allowed the distant to be moved further out, providing more braking distance, where a semaphore would have needed a really hard pull on the lever. If this happened then the signal would no longer be anywhere near the fog hut!
 

DaveNewcastle

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There are regular huts along the Highland mainline. The hut in this image has a brick fireplace and chimney, which are still standing.
Pass of Drumochter Lineside hut ruined 20160609_036.jpg
The roof and walls seem to have simply toppled over - shouldn't take a couple of lads more than half an hour to get it back up again!
 
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