Life as a trace boy in 1950s Glasgow


29 December 2014
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imports_CESC_2011-10-17-09-35-12-copy-28999_78878.jpg Life as a trace boy in 1950s Glasgow
Jim Critchley recalls his time working as a trace boy for London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1950s Glasgow. ...

Jim Critchley recalls his time working as a trace boy for London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1950s Glasgow.

It was 1950 and I was a trace boy for London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in Glasgow. I reported to Buchanan Street yard every morning at 8am to get Hector, a dun coloured Clydesdale, harnessed for work as a trace horse. Monday mornings were pretty scary as Hector had been rested since Friday and was raring to go. He was difficult to control as I led him down to the foot of West Nile Street, prancing and kicking as he had so much energy. I was just a fifteen-year-old, seven stone weakling so it was a relief to get him down and let him have his first 'pull'.

Fully laden carts from the city centre heading for Buchanan Street, pulled by one horse, needed a trace horse to help pull the cart up steep West Nile Street. Hector was connected to the cart horse with two trace ropes and we had about five 'pulls' a day. Some days I had to go to the High Street or Salkeld Street, this was considered 'long distance'. The half a dozen Trace Boys, some employed by LMS and some by Wordie the Contractor sat on the pavement and waited for the carts. Our supervisor, Mr Waddell, kept an eye on us, and would come down driving his little three-wheeled artic unit to make sure we were doing our work.

After Hector got his first trace over he settled down and went straight to the water trough in the Buchanan Street yard and had a good drink. It was then safe for me to climb on his back and return to the foot of West Nile Street.

In between 'pulls' the Trace Boys played cards on the pavement next to the bank, and women who passed asked if they could give the horse a bun.


I told them to give Hector one bun and give the rest to me and I would give them to Hector later, as it wasn't good for him to have too many at the same time. The Trace Boys then took it in turns to go to Allisons Tea Room in Ingram Street with the tea cans and we enjoyed the buns, keeping one back for Hector. The other Trace Boys took care of their own horses, and their own buns!

At about 4.30pm Mr Waddell told us to make our way up to the stables for the night. On that command the LMS Trace Boys jumped on our horses and, three abreast, rode up West Nile Street at full gallop. The horses knew their work was over for the day. The traffic policeman at the junction of West Nile Street and Sauchiehall Street stopped all traffic to let us through as there was no way he was going to attempt to stop three Clydesdales heading for home. It was like the Wild West!

Once in the railway yard Hector knew exactly where he was going so I dismounted and followed him to his stable, taking care to keep out of the way of the other LMS horses still with their heavy chains rattling and swinging as they made their way to their stables. Hector would stop at the trough for a drink then head up the ramp to the third floor where his stable was. I unharnessed him, brushed him down and made sure he had food and fresh water and then left him for the night and made my way up Milton Street to my home in Kessock Street. Happy Days!

(Image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)

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