Market Lavington Museum

A Railway Lengthman


The lengthman used to be vital for the safe running of a railway. His job was basically to look after a length of track, deal with minor problems and, in the event of a major problem he’d get the trains stopped. It was a job requiring good eyes and plain basic common sense and a degree of fitness because the lengthman was expected to walk his length regularly.

In the old days, rail known as bull head rail was used. This rail sat in heavy metal chairs and was kept in place by means of a wooden block (sometimes metal) known as a key. Keys could work loose and a lengthman would always be on the alert for loose keys which he could knock back into place with his heavy hammer. He’d deal with blocked drains or any signs of subsidence. He’d make sure fences were animal proof.

Yes, it was a tough and vital job.

Each year teams were judged on the quality of their work and in 1951 the Lavington Station gang won the prize. Each member of the team was awarded a certificate and we have one of them at Market Lavington Museum.

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Certificate awarded to Leslie Cooper for high quality work looking after track on British Railways, Western Region in 1951

Leslie Cooper was a Market Lavington man. In the 1950s he lived with his family on Spin Hill. He had been born in about 1908, actually in Little Cheverell. In 1931 he married Gertrude Topp who came from Easterton.

The couple had three daughters who all still live in the local area.

Much of the job the lengthman used to carry out is now performed by rather ghostly little trains which travel the lines at night recording imperfections