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The ghost of Brooke End sidings

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MD chap

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Hello, first time posting here. As we approach Halloween I was reminded of this thread which unearthed some great stories. WB Herbert’s Railway Ghosts & Phantoms, which I have had a copy of for years, is mentioned several times.

His tale 'The Headless Lover’ has long intrigued me. It’s a great ghost story in true Gothic tradition. You can find it here, but the essence is the apparition of a headless girl in a white dress haunting the site where she was run over and decapitated by a train at ‘Brooke End sidings’.

Herbert supplies a lot of detail about the location and the people concerned. Brooke End sidings are in the West Midlands on an ex-Midland railway main line, with a signal box, up and down main lines, up goods loop and sidings. It appears to be remote, there is no suggestion of a station or a village nearby, but there is at least one small cottage in the 'Midland Railway style’ built in red brick with a pantile roof and sash windows, some 200 yards away from the main line across a meadow. There is an indication that the line is still open (or was at the time of writing in 1989), but the sidings have been removed and the signal box was long since out of use.

The girl concerned is Marion Gorman, who is living with her parents; her father is a platelayer. Her lover is the signalman, Ronald Travis. Marion's age is not given but we may suppose she is in her teens as she is still subject to her father’s control. Ronald Travis is in his late twenties. The events are not clearly dated but said to have occurred in the ‘early 1900s’, by which I suppose is meant 1900-1910, certainly pre-First World War.

Marion’s ghost first appeared to a train guard named George Marsh in the late 1940s. The website Paranormal Database states that she has been seen several times since https://www.paranormaldatabase.com/reports/rail.php.

This is all so specific that it should be easy to identify the location. The only problem is – I can’t find any evidence it’s true. I have scoured old maps and I cannot find any place called ‘Brooke End’ sidings in the West Midlands. Searches on Ancestry and Find My Past throw up no Marion Gorman or Ronald Travis who match the details in the story.

So, I have come to the conclusion that one of these four must apply:
  • I haven’t looked hard enough.
  • It’s true but Herbert has disguised names of people and the location, perhaps to discourage irresponsible behaviour and protect relatives who might still have been alive.
  • The story is essentially true, but has been so embroidered as to make it unrecognisable
  • Herbert made it up. There were suggestions in the thread mentioned earlier that not all his stories are to be relied on. Sadly he died in 2010 so there’s no hope of finding out now what his sources were.
In actual fact, I have identified one place that partly matches the details in the story, but I am holding this back to see what other people suggest!

Can anyone shine a light on this elusive place?
 
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randyrippley

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Have you tried asking a question on the letters pages of the "Fortean Times"?
If anyone knows the truth they're likely to be a reader there
 

randyrippley

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There's a Brook End north of Bedford at MK44 2HP, but no hint of a railway on google maps
 

Trackman

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In actual fact, I have identified one place that partly matches the details in the story, but I am holding this back to see what other people suggest!
Could you please reveal the location?
 

MD chap

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Could you please reveal the location?
Well, I was hoping that answers would come flooding in but that's probably not going to happen. My best guess is Pirton Sidings near Wadborough in Worcestershire (SO 87920 47010) on the Bristol to Birmingham main line. It's not an exact match to the description in Herbert's book, but old maps show a goods loop and sidings on the Birmingham side which would be 'up' as it is ex-Midland, and there is a Brook End about a mile away.
 

Trackman

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Well, I was hoping that answers would come flooding in but that's probably not going to happen. My best guess is Pirton Sidings near Wadborough in Worcestershire (SO 87920 47010) on the Bristol to Birmingham main line. It's not an exact match to the description in Herbert's book, but old maps show a goods loop and sidings on the Birmingham side which would be 'up' as it is ex-Midland, and there is a Brook End about a mile away.
I’ve looked up Pirton sidings signal box, but it didn’t open until 1933.
Everything else about the box and area seems to tie in.
 

MD chap

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Thanks Trackman. Where do you get your info about the signal box at Pirton?

I will try Fortean Times. In the meantime, here is a schematic plan based on the description in WH Herbert's book, in case it jogs any memories. Since I wrote the above I have come to the conclusion that the signal box did not control a level crossing, so Pirton would be out of the running.

Slide1.PNG
 

Dr Hoo

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I realise that it isn't particularly relevant to the Ghost issues but that is nothing like a typical Midland layout. You would never get facing/'run-in' sidings at a wayside location. The locomotive would end up trapped by the stop block. No headshunt at the entry end either.
 

Trackman

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Thanks Trackman. Where do you get your info about the signal box at Pirton?

I will try Fortean Times. In the meantime, here is a schematic plan based on the description in WH Herbert's book, in case it jogs any memories. Since I wrote the above I have come to the conclusion that the signal box did not control a level crossing, so Pirton would be out of the running.

Info was from http://www.railwaycodes.org.uk/signal/signal_boxesp.shtm
It lists most historic signal boxes.

Curious, what makes you think there was no crossing?
 

MD chap

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Info was from http://www.railwaycodes.org.uk/signal/signal_boxesp.shtm
It lists most historic signal boxes.

Curious, what makes you think there was no crossing?
On the basis that Marion Gorman attempts to reach the signal box by crossing a meadow and climbing a fence - no mention of a road. I suppose he could have meant the fence by a crossing though, if the gates were locked - it's vague.

I realise that it isn't particularly relevant to the Ghost issues but that is nothing like a typical Midland layout. You would never get facing/'run-in' sidings at a wayside location. The locomotive would end up trapped by the stop block. No headshunt at the entry end either.
It's a very crude schematic based on the minimal description - up goods loop and sidings, missing out technical details such as headshunts, whether the sidings were trailing or not, etc. There is an indication later in the story that the signal box has to be at the up end of the loop. To be fair the sidings don't have to be on the same side as the loop. And I have wondered whether the 'Midland' identification is a red herring.
 

bill1953

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It's a great story anyway. Something about railway ghosts that sets them o a different level to 'ordinary ghosts'. Maybe because of the large amount of Victorian buildings still around our railways? I remember in the mid 1970s there was some cellars entered by stone steps near to platform one, Lime Street station Liverpool. They were some sort of store rooms. A lot of staff had encountered a male figure wearing an 1850 style police uniform. He would be seen walking along the stone flagged passage continually checking doors. He was not seen anywhere else to my knowledge. I think the cellar may have gone now with all the changes. Maybe it is sealed up and he is sealed inside.
 

Trackman

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On the basis that Marion Gorman attempts to reach the signal box by crossing a meadow and climbing a fence - no mention of a road. I suppose he could have meant the fence by a crossing though, if the gates were locked - it's vague.
My thinking is, the road across the crossing is called Sidings road, which makes me think the road came after the sidings.
It might be worth looking it up on an old map.
 

MD chap

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Since starting this thread I have found another location - the benefits of 'talking it through', so to speak.

Just north of Whitacre Junction on the Derby line was a pair of up and down loops. A signal box at Whitacre Heath controlled the northern exit, as well as a short dead end siding opposite and the entrance to the down loop. This box can be seen on old OS 25 inch maps. The map also shows, on the opposite side of the line and to the north of the box, a pair of cottages which are (according to the NLS map measuring tool at NLS maps - about 200 yards away.

This location much better fits the story. It's a Midland main line, the signal box is on the up (Derby) side of the line, the track layout fits, the cottages are on the opposite side and you could have got to the box by crossing a meadow.

Only thing is, I haven't been able to find out anything about the signal box, even what its name was. The cottages have been demolished and replaced with a modern bungalow, so I can't check if they match the description.
 

Dr Hoo

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Further research has brought up the Midland Railway System Maps, as (re)published by Peter Kay around 1995, ISBN 1 899890 18 1.

This series was a set of re-drawn and re-scaled composites bringing together information from throughout the 1911-1923 period. It is worth noting that the Water Orton-Kingsbury 'cut-off' was built during this period as the 'Fast Lines', greatly changing the role of Whitacre Junction. I do not have exact dates.

The loops and sidings in both directions were around 50 chains long - over half a mile and very generous for the shorter trains of those days and worked as a four-track block section. The signalbox at the north end was called Whitacre North. It does not seem to appear in various well-known public lists.

With the reduced need to 'regulate' en route to and from Derby at Whitacre the loops fell out of use although there was a northbound intermediate block section towards Kingsbury once such thing became popular with the spread of track circuiting and mains electrical power.

The only 'old' Sectional Appendix of the area that I have is for October 1960. The loops and signalbox had certainly gone by then.

There was a small hamlet in the general vicinity of Whitacre North but this would not in itself invalidate the location. There are some isolated cottages around too. No level crossing.

Seems like a good fit for 'happenings' before the First World War to me!
 
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MD chap

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Further research has brought up the Midland Railway System Maps, as (re)published by Peter Kay around 1995, ISBN 1 899890 18 1.

This series was a set of re-drawn and re-scaled composites bringing together information from throughout the 1911-1923 period. It is worth noting that the Water Orton-Kingsbury 'cut-off' was built during this period as the 'Fast Lines', greatly changing the role of Whitacre Junction. I do not have exact dates.

The loops and sidings in both directions were around 50 chains long - over half a mile and very generous for the shorter trains of those days and worked as a four-track block section. The signalbox at the north end was called Whitacre North. It does not seem to appear in various well-known public lists.

With the reduced need to 'regulate' en route to and from Derby at Whitacre the loops fell out of use although there was a northbound intermediate block section towards Kingsbury once such thing became popular with the spread of track circuiting and mains electrical power.

The only 'old' Sectional Appendix of the area that I have is for October 1960. The loops and signalbox had certainly gone by then.

There was a small hamlet in the general vicinity of Whitacre North but this would not in itself invalidate the location. There are some isolated cottages around too. No level crossing.

Seems like a good fit for 'happenings' before the First World War to me!
Thanks Dr Hoo, that's really useful. I forgot to mention that there is a Brook End hamlet about two miles to the east - not close but perhaps the source of the name if WB Herbert wanted to disguise his location.
 
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