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Recalling railwayman's chip shop Christmas

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

LOOKING BACK:  Hele Bridge under construction in 1924.

LOOKING BACK: Hele Bridge under construction in 1924.

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IT was 85 years ago that a young man named Humphrey Brandram-Jones arrived in Hatherleigh.

It was December 23, 1924 and the weather was appallingly cold and snowy.

Humphrey was a newly qualified engineer, fresh from college, who had been offered a job by a Colonel Stephens to work on the building of the railway line from Halwill to Hatherleigh and Torrington.

Humphrey had been told to report to 9, Bridge Street, now Hatherleigh's fish and chip shop, taking a bed and a bicycle.

It must have been a miserable introduction to Hatherleigh.

In his own words, it was "the most dismal Christmas I can ever remember".

The other occupants of the house in Bridge Street had gone home for a warm, welcoming Christmas, and he was left alone in the unfurnished house, with no mains water or electricity.

Most of the railway line was being constructed in remote areas far away from even the most primitive of lanes, and poor Humphrey had to walk or ride the route, constantly submerged in a sea of mud.

One of his duties was the supervision of the viaduct at Hele, on the road out of Hatherleigh.

He had a large horse to go round the site. The remains of the bridge can be seen today.

The labourers slept out in shelters in quarries and presumably Humphrey returned to his cold lodgings and no hot bath.

Next time you buy fish and chips in Hatherleigh, spare a thought for Humphrey, who helped bring the railway to Hatherleigh and spent his Christmas alone and shivering in Bridge Street.

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