Keith Catchpole

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

1923 - 2009.

Keith Edward Catchpole's most notable contribution to the Ffestiniog Railway was in the organising and leadership of the working parties of schoolboys from Chace School, Enfield to help with the restoration work. These parties, always referred to as the "Tadpoles" started in 1955.

Keith was born in 1923 and lived for his early years in North London near the GN main line which led to an early interest in train spotting. At the start of the war he had been accepted for teaching and was thus exempt from military service. He adjusted his age upwards a few months and volunteered to join the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. Although he was the only member of his unit with no railway experience, Keith was soon accepted and trained as an engine driver under the eagle eye of Driver Jack Davies, formerly of Pontypool Road. Keith served at Longmoor and then Kent, at first as a fireman, and later driver on Dean Goods, then in their second war, and on early diesel shunters. Up to 1944 he was with the Super Heavy Artillery in Kent, but once it was clear that there would not be an invasion the unit was disbanded and he was posted to India and Burma until VJ day. To drive over the Southern Railway's lines in Kent he had to be passed by a SR inspector. Keith was demobbed in 1947 and resumed his career as a teacher, coming to rest in the Chace School, Enfield.

Keith became involved with the FR after reading about the possibility of restoring it in the Peterborough Column of the Daily Telegraph in 1954. He was then recovering from tuberculosis contracted during war service in India and Burma. He lost one of his lungs as a result. Keith joined his fellow sapper, Alan Garraway, right from the start of work to reopen the FR. He was for many early years the FR's only volunteer driver.

By 1975 he had been at Chace School for 22 years. He was Third Year Master, Head of Audio and Visual Aids and taught science. He also ran a school locomotive club. [1]

In many ways these parties were the forerunners of today's Kids Training Weeks. The first Tadpole trip took place in the Spring of 1955 when the work was mainly clearing vegetation around the line.[2] The typical number of boys in a Tadpole group in the 1970s was forty and they were accompanied by four male staff from the school and Mrs Catchpole, an SRN, as welfare officer. A typical year's duties was two boys at Porthmadog in the car park; one each in the shops at Porthmadog and Dduallt; ten concreting at Boston Lodge, three on buffet car duties and one in TYB café; ten tree lopping for PW department and twelve each day on a visit to non-FR places of interest from a repertoire of seventeen visited over the years. The boys stayed in various houses in Porthmadog.

His wife Enid had by 1975 spent all her holidays in 33 years of married life on the FR. Keith and Enid had three children, Mark, Felicity and Hiliary.

The first party from Chace, of two boys, visited the FR in 1955 and helped deturf track on the Cob. 1956 brought visits to Blaenau to salvage scrap wagons, whilst 1957 saw track properly cleared from Penrhyn to Tan-y-bwlch. After their great efforts in those early days Keith's pupils worked on numerous projects but concreting floors was a particular speciality.

Keith retired in 1984 and by then 1,658 pupils had taken part.

For many years Keith was also the Company's offical lecturer. He spent nearly all his spare time giving lectures to clubs and societies from just about every walk of life and all over the UK - well over 2,000 lectures in total. Not all of these were about the FR but he never failed to give the FR a good mention and he always carried a supply of timetables with him.

In spite of everything he had achieved, Keith was a very quiet and modest man. The writers of his obituary in the FR Magazine commented that they never heard him speak ill of anybody, nor raise his voice in anger.[3][4]


  1. ^ "Personal Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 069, page(s): 021
  2. ^ Catchpole, Keith in Great Railway Eras, Festiniog: The Pioneers' Stories (2007) Davies M and Mitchell V, page 22, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.
  3. ^ "Personal Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 121, page(s): 033
  4. ^ "Obituary", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 205, page(s): 020

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