Bill around 1971
|Official positions held:|
|FR Co. Director||1955 - 1984|
|FR Soc. Chairman||1957 - 1978|
|FR Soc. Director||1954 - 1985|
|FR Trust||1955 - 1998|
|FR People | WHR People|
W.B. (Bill) Broadbent was one of the founding fathers of the Festiniog Railway revival. A railway engineer by training, he also had experience working for industry. He joined the fledgling Festiniog Railway Society in 1951 and soon found himself on the railway's board, where he brought much needed engineering expertise. Bill continued to be involved with the Festiniog Railway and its society until his retirement in the 1980s after which he remained a supporter until his death in 2005.
Born into a family of West Riding woollen manufacturers Bill's early visits to the family mills stimulated his lifelong interest in engineering. His father's interest in railways encouraged a similar interest in both Bill and his brother. In due course Broadbent senior also fostered his sons' interest in model railways, by buying them both toy trains. With extraordinary good sense he precluded arguments by ensuring that the two boy's trains were to different gauges!
Bill's uncle, who served a term as High Sheriff of Caernarvonshire, lived in Deganwy and, while Bill attended prep school in Colwyn Bay, took the youngster on many outings. At least one of these included the FR and allowed Bill to catch a glimpse of the remains of the original single Fairlie Taliesin, a distinction that made his role in the renaming of the rebuilt loco particularly appropriate. These outings also gave Bill a love of fell walking and climbing, a pastime he pursued throughout his life in Wales, The Lakes and Scotland.
Bill's secondary education, at Rugby School, finished early in the second War and he was asked to stay on to assist with teaching some technical and metalwork classes as several staff had left for the Forces. Later in life Bill recalled the experience as 'interesting but far from comfortable'; being addressed as 'Sir' by pupils only a year or two younger than himself and with whom he had lately shared a common room had been embarrassing.
Career on the railways
In 1942 Bill joined the LMS as a premium apprentice at Crewe Works. A favourite anecdote from that period (related in his FRM Portrait) was finding a shed full of name and number plates from withdrawn LNWR locomotives and being offered his choice for a mere 10/-, a price quite beyond the means of a mere apprentice! At Crewe he followed the time honoured path, working through the organisation from the shop floor upwards, including regular turns on the footplate. Apparently the crews regarded this as a good practice, 'one day you'll be a boss and unless you know our job, you'll be neither use nor ornament'. In 1948, having completed his apprenticeship, Bill held various posts of increasing seniority and responsibility in the Motive Power Dept. until, in 1950 and at the tender age of 26, he was posted to Holyhead as Shedmaster, where he was responsible for 130 men and 30 locomotives, including Royal Scots for the London expresses. Bill earned the respect of his men by frequently riding, and firing, as far as Chester or Crewe and working back to Holyhead. At his funeral Dick Hardy recalled meeting an old Chester driver, many years later, who, when reminded of 'Mr Broadbent', described Bill as 'a breath of fresh air'.
With the rank of Captain he was still serving in the 60th Railway Regiment, Royal Engineers, Army Emergency Reserve in 1958.
Working in industry
The nationalised railways did not really suit Bill so he left for a career in industry, joining the Vacuum Oil Co.(later Mobil Oil). By 1961 he had become Managing Director of R.D.Nicol & Co, a subsidiary of Staveley Industries. He became a director of the parent company in due course.
In 1971 Bill joined SELNEC (S.E. Lancs. N.E. Cheshire) Passenger Transport Executive, at a senior level, eventually becoming Chief Operations Executive. He began the planning for Picc-Vic, the Piccadilly-Victoria tube line in Manchester but was made redundant when the project was cancelled.
Involvement with the FR
While pursuing his career in industry Bill also made time to consider the revival of the Festiniog Railway. An abortive, if not downright naïve, attempt to rescue the Company in 1947 notwithstanding, Bill joined the fledgling Festiniog Railway Society in 1951. Allan Garraway met him whilst working for BR at Tilbury and Bill was railway representative of the Vacuum Oil Company. Allan reports that he persuaded Bill to go to the nascent FRS's only public meeting which they held at the SLS headquarters opposite Kensington Olympia on 22 April 1952. He was proposed as Vice Chairman by Allan Garraway, partly on the grounds of his professional experience, and duly elected. It was that same professional experience that led Alan Pegler and Trevor Bailey to invite Bill to join the Board of the reconstituted Festiniog Railway Company as Engineering Director in 1955, following Alan's assumption of control. Apparently his experience also had some bearing on the attitude of HM Inspectors of Railways in those difficult early years, when he was perceived as having his feet somewhat closer to the ground than others! Alan Pegler also appointed Bill as one of the founding Trustees of the Festiniog Railway Trust and he continued to serve after it was reconstituted as a charity, in 1964.
Following the unfortunate death of the Society's Chairman Col. RH Rudgard, in 1957, Bill was elected Chairman of the Society Board and remained a Director until 1984, during which time he also served as the Society's representative on the Company Board. There were times, in those earlier years, when the juggling of what to tell each half of the FR about the machinations of the other half sorely tested Bill's legendary charm and diplomacy!
In the early 1970s Bill also became involved with the Severn Valley Railway, though his service as a director there was interrupted during the Nabarro period, as Bill felt unable to serve alongside the flamboyant MP. After Nabarro was ousted Bill rejoined and became Chairman from 1979 to 1987, an extra responsibility that raised some eyebrows in FR circles. There are interesting parallels between the FR and SVR in the period that Bill held senior positions on both; The FR was pressing hard to return to Blaenau and the SVR was working equally hard to return to Kidderminster. It would be wrong to attribute the success of both railways in their aims within his tenure solely to Bill, but it cannot have been completely co-incidental.
During the late 1970s the pressure to reopen to Blaenau was placing strains upon all levels of the management of the FR and the Company Board sought to alleviate some of this by appointing a temporary Chief Executive. Bill, having recently lost his job with SELNEC, was available and took the post. Unfortunately, a certain lack of transparency in the arrangements caused hostility within the Society. Bill, perhaps distracted by the collapse of his first marriage, had not appreciated that, as Chairman, he ought not to take a salaried post that the Society might be raising money to pay for. The 1978 Society AGM was a turbulent affair, Bill was re-elected as a Director but was replaced as Chairman by Gordon Caddy after the meeting, though he remained on the Board and continued to serve on the FR Co. Board until 1986.
In the 1980s Bill 'semi-retired' to the Cotswolds and bought a greengrocers and florists shop in Chipping Norton which he ran with Michelle, whom he was to marry in 1989. The shop was sold in 1993 and Bill retired to a life of gardening, in a garden complete with two model railways! Bill's formal service to the FR continued until 1998, when he retired as a Trustee. Informally, of course, he never lost interest and was always ready with advice for those who sought it; he was equally passionate, but fair, in his criticism of those he felt were doing the FR a disservice. Bill died suddenly in 2005.
It was Bill who was responsible for bringing the Harrogate Gasworks Peckett to the FR, in 1958. That it never turned a wheel in service was unfortunate, but entirely down to the availability of Linda and Blanche. A little later, in 1966, it was Bill's contacts and drive that resulted in the FR acquiring the pioneer Garratt, K1, from Beyer Peacock when their Gorton Works closed. His interest in this locomotive never dimmed and it is regrettable that he was denied the opportunity to see it, fully restored and at work on the WHR, another project in which he took a lively interest.
The celebration of Bill's life, on a glorious sunny day in his village church filled with sumptuous floral arrangements, was attended by his extensive family and many friends, including senior representatives from all the parts of the FR and several other railways. We extend our sympathy to Michelle and the family and give thanks that Bill was able to share in the jubilee celebrations of the railway he had served for so much of his life.
- Directors, Festiniog Railway Company
- Directors, Ffestiniog Railway Society
- Ffestiniog Railway Society
- "Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 001, page(s): 002
- "Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 060, page(s): 026
- Broadbent W in Great Railway Eras, Festiniog 1946 - 1955: The Pioneers' Stories (2007) Davies M and Mitchell V, pages 16 - 18, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.
- "Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 063, page(s): 28
- Adrian Gray "Obituary", Festiniog Railway Heritage Group Journal, Issue 082