How this grandad's memoirs of life as a Sheffield railway man have been given a new lease of life

From growing up in poverty to becoming the station master of Sheffield’s Victoria Station these are one man’s memoirs from a grandfather to his grandsons shining a light on life for the working class through the years.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 2:35 pm
Stan and three unknown friends
Stan and three unknown friends

Stan Mercer spent his life on the rails and he wrote down his autobiography or memoirs as a gift to his grandsons who spent many an hour with him in the signal box or sitting in the smokey office.

Grandson Dave McClelland said he always remembered his ‘gan gan’ writing his notes in pencil in a gray British Rail Notebook. The pencil he used was still between the pages where he made his final entry.

Dave said: “My granddad was always writing in that book and he always said when he retired he would sort them out properly.”

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Stan with Carriage Cleaners in Sheffield. Stan is second from the left, looking out of the carriage window.

However, on his last day of work before he retired he went out for a farewell lunch with his colleagues he slipped in the bathroom and sustained a head injury which he never recovered from and died and the memoirs remained unfinished.

Dave said: “Later our family relocated to Canada and my grandmother brought with her a grey leather suitcase with the label ‘my daring Stan’ on it and inside was his little grey book of memories.

"It was then I decided to type them up and shared his work with family but after that I thought there might be a wider interest from a social history point of view as you never hear history from a diary of a normal working class man, it’s normally told by the rich people so I put them online and the response has been really heart warming.”

Stan’s memoirs start: “To Dear David and John. I am writing my memoirs not because I have been a hero sometime in my life, or have achieved some outstanding success which I want to put into print.

"I am 58 years old, to you, David and John, I am probably an old man. I have 7 years to go before I retire as a railwayman. I shall bring my work into this book because it is a great part of my life, and feel it will interest you.

"I hope dear David and John that you can learn a little of life from what I have written, that will help you a bit as you both grow up. Gan Gan”

He then takes his grandson’s on the traumatic death of his father who fell out of a window while watching his son’s, Stan’s brothers, play in the garden.

His death left the family living in poverty in Chester and needing handouts from the church and then he dealt with the death of his brother after he died while playing cricket and took a cricket ball to the head. Stan then became a bag porter at the local railway station and was encouraged to apply for a job a carriage cleaner in Sheffield.

“It must have been horrible for him to leave his family and travel all the way to Sheffield not knowing anyone but he lived as a lodger and joined a band as a piano accordion player.

"He never mentioned being musical in the early part of his memoirs so it was a bit of shock to hear he had joined a band but I remember he was always musical and if there was a piano in the room he couldn’t not play it,” said Dave.

Stan worked for British Rail all his life and worked his way up to station master at the former Victoria Station and his writings spoke about life in the city at the time: “It was about 12:30 p.m. when the train pulled into Sheffield Victoria Station. Crowds of people getting on and off the train. I got out and stood on the platform. I had never seen so many people or railway staff. I felt like getting the next train back home, I was so scared.

He also writes about seeing Sheffield play football for the first time: “The first match I saw in Sheffield was a first division match between Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton. This was a great thrill for me, although I had read about these great sides in the first division, I had never seen them play. Sheffield Wednesday had a great side in those days and won the first division.

And he touches on his home life too: "Cocoa and parkin seemed to be my regular diet packed up by Mrs. Lowe for a long time. I didn’t like to tell her I wasn’t so keen on cocoa or I would like a change from parkin.”

Dave has now moved back from Canada and the 63-year-old lives just above Norfolk Park and says he sees the city with new eyes since writing his grandfather’s memoirs up.

“He loved the city, and fell in love in the city and coming home I saw and appreciated everything he would saw when he moved up here from Chester.

"He died while still writing his life story down and he had only got to the part where my mother was born so I’m full of curiosity about what she was like as a little girl from his point of view.

"His story deserves to be told and I hope I have done his works justice and done him proud too.”

To read the full digitised collection of Stan’s memoirs click here