Mick Hawkins, 

Brighton (with a brief spell at Selhurst). Forty years of service.

By Tim Wood

Mick began his railway career on the 11th November 1957. As a young man he had started out in the butcher’s trade but a mate, who had recently started as an engine cleaner, told him that he could more than double his wages by working for the railway. Mick applied for the job and the money was indeed good but he soon realised that the work was extremely hard and was also very dirty.

Mick worked his way up to ‘passed cleaner’ before moving on to ‘fireman’ and ‘passed fireman’. Among his memories he recounts how painful firing on a steam locomotive could be after spending the previous afternoon getting sunburned on Brighton beach! He remembers a comical and sometimes embarrassing trait of firing on the Bulleid pacifics. When getting into the rhythm of shovelling coal between tender and firebox, the foot treadle that opened the firebox door would occasionally jam. The momentum of the shovel hitting the closed firebox door would send coal in all directions across the footplate, to the consternation of the driver in charge of the locomotive! Interestingly, Mick added that one driver would use twice as much coal as another when driving the same locomotive with the same load, over the same route. This he put down to an individual driver’s technique and skill. He fired for a driver who claimed he could work his way in to London Bridge, in thick fog (one of the London ‘pea soupers’) by smell alone, using the various aromas from factories passed during the last few miles run between New Cross Gate and the London terminus!

He gradually gained the trust of most of the Brighton drivers and in this position was allowed to drive steam locomotives on a regular basis, in fact by the time he passed out as a driver, he had driven most of the types of steam traction that were running on the Southern Region during that period. This was a long standing way of how drivers learned their craft. In addition to this, he studied to be a driver in his own time, regularly attending evening classes for eight years.

1993 Christmas Steams Specials 

Mick returning to being a fireman for the day, on 29.12 1993, and is seen at London Victoria standing on the footplate of Bulleid’s West Country 34027 “TAW VALLEY"

When the time came, Mick went off to London to take the long awaited steam driver exam, which he passed, only to learn two weeks later that Brighton shed was to lose all steam traction. The era of the diesels had arrived! Many northern drivers came south, to fill vacancies, when the Beeching axe fell. This initially stopped Mick from gaining a driver’s position at Brighton so his first actual depot as a driver was Selhurst, where he remained for two years before moving back to the coast for a job at the depot of his choice. Mick went on to drive many types of diesel and electric traction during his remaining career, which also included becoming a well respected member and union representative of the Brighton branch of ASLEF.

Mick has a couple of outstanding memories of working on the Brighton Belle units (5 BEL) which ran between Brighton and Victoria until withdrawal in 1972. The units had very cold driving cabs and drivers regularly placed their feet in a cardboard box or bag to keep them warm during the winter months! On one occasion in the 1960s, Mick ran in to Brighton with his last train of the day, only to find that the depot foreman was waiting on the platform to ask him a favour. The driver who was booked to work the last up ‘Belle’ of the day had gone a.w.o.l. Mick protested that he was due to go and court a girl that evening and that she would be sorely disappointed if he did not turn up! He did, however, work the train to London because the foreman explained that he was the only man available to work it. The foreman also told Mick that he did not want to have to report the man who had gone a.w.o.l. but would have no choice if the train did not run! Mick worked the evening ‘Belle’ up to Victoria, running on clear signals, in fifty minutes. The actual booked running time was fifty-nine minutes! On arrival at journey’s end, the guard jumped out of the train and warned Mick that, due to the speed and rough ride of the units, there were quite a few irate passengers who had spilled coffee all over their best ‘evening out’ clothes. Mick made a hasty exit and climbed aboard the first train back to Brighton where he made it up to his girlfriend who eventually became his happily married wife!

Mick Hawkins retirement presentation 14.09.1999 

Left ~ Right: Trevor Fielding, Simon Smith, Ivan Wilson, Dougal, Ian Osborne, Len Warboys ASLEF District Secretary No.1, Tony Farmer, John Osborne, Mick Hawkins, Harry Penter, Bill MacKenzie ASLEF E.C. Member No.1, Dave Swaffield, Dave Pumfrey, Graham Morris Connex South Central DFC (Lon. Bdg.), Chris Newton, Andy Garwood, Tony West Assistant General Secretary (Stratford), Roy Luxford Connex South Central DFC (T. Bdgs.).

Mick entered the footplate grade on the 11.11.1957. at Brighton loco. Mick transferred to Selhurst E.M.U.T. to seek promotion to driver, later transferred back to Brighton M.T. Mick served as a member of Brighton M.T. ASLEF L.D.C. Rep since the early 1970's. and held the position of Branch Chairman. With the introduction of a H&S rep in 1974 Mick become the first ASLEF H&S rep., a position he held up until he retired under ill health in c1999.

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