80-year-old Warwickshire heritage railway worker hangs up his driver’s cap for the last time

An 80-year-old railway worker hung up his driver’s cap for the last time since starting his career as a teenager.

Jeff Madge got his first taste of steam trains 65 years ago, aged 15, and soon found that the excitement ‘got in his blood.’

80-year-old train driver Jeff Madge. Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS/SWNS

80-year-old train driver Jeff Madge. Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS/SWNS

But when steam trains were phased out and replaced by diesel, Jeff still carried a flame for being a fireman on the old-fashioned locomotives.

Since formally retiring in 1983, Jeff carried on working on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR), based out of Toddington, alongside other volunteers on the 24-mile heritage line.

But he is preparing to retire for the second time, leaving just one other British Railway-trained driver working on the heritage line.

Jeff said: “I often worked up to Gloucester and sometimes further north over what we knew as the Honeybourne Line, the route over which the present day Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway operates.

Jeff Madge (right) with colleague Chris Smith. Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS/SWNS

Jeff Madge (right) with colleague Chris Smith. Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS/SWNS

“Unfortunately, although I was due to be passed as a driver, the end of steam came about too soon.

“Many steam men left the railway then but I decided to continue and became a diesel driver, working on most types including the InterCity 125’s (HST’s) and retired in 1983.

“But railways – and especially steam – ‘gets into your blood’ and I decided to take an interest in the then embryonic GWSR at Toddington.

“It was a tiny operation with big ambitions then and I have seen it grow and have enjoyed encouraging youngsters as they start their voluntary footplate careers on the railway.

Jeff Madge (right) in 1955 at the age of 17

Jeff Madge (right) in 1955 at the age of 17

“They are the people who will keep the dream of steam alive for future generations to enjoy.”

The pensioner, who lives in Caerphilly, South Wales, joined British Railways’ Cardiff Canton depot in August 1952 but served his last stint as a driver on October 17, 2017.

He added: “As a passed fireman I enjoyed plenty of opportunities to drive locomotives and did an awful lot of work on freight traffic.”

Jeff took pride in passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm to youths who were born too late to experience steam trains as he first knew them.

Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS / SWNS

Photo: Malcolm Ranieri FRPS / SWNS

“They may never experience the challenge of handling a 700-ton coal train behind a Great Western 2-8-0 such as 2807, which is based at Toddington, or flying along at 80mph or more on a ‘Castle’ with ten coaches in tow,” he said.

"But handling a steam locomotive in today’s safety-conscious world demands the highest levels of skill and professionalism and it is just as satisfying and rewarding.

“And the engines are much cleaner and better maintained than ever.”

A couple of weeks ago he shared the footplate of a 112-year-old locomotive 2807 with fellow ex-British Railways worker Chris Smith, 69.

Chris joined the company in 1964, but was made redundant two years later when the Western Region of British Railways ended its use of steam trains.

He said: “The locomotives were filthy and very run-down but they continued to do their job well and I enjoyed every moment ‘on the shovel’.

Jeff Madge (left) in 1954 at the age of 16

Jeff Madge (left) in 1954 at the age of 16

“Working with Jeff for the last time was very special and in some ways, an emotional experience.

“As ex-BR men, it took us right back to our young days.

“ We spoke the same language, if you like. Jeff has so much knowledge and it’s wonderful that he has been passing that on to others in the steam department.

"Two ex-BR men together – it must be a very rare occurrence nowadays.”

Jeff Madge in 1956 at the age of 18

Jeff Madge in 1956 at the age of 18