George Blincow was born on 13th October 1858 in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire and married Rebecca Brown on 24th September 1881. He worked for the London & North Western (L&NW) Railway for 47 years, and was appointed Station Master at Berkhamsted in 1903, where he served for 18 years until his retirement in 1921.
George moved with his family into the recently constructed stationmaster’s house – a robust detached red brick three-bedroom house (built 1898) with a parlour, living room and scullery downstairs – which still stands today in Lower Kings Road, though now denuded of its garden. At the time of the 1911 census, he was living there, aged 52 with his wife Rebecca, aged 50.They had been married for 28 years by that time; sadly, of their two children, only one – Archibald – survived. He was aged 24 in 1911 and, despite wanting to become an architect, was listed as Railway clerk, having been persuaded by his father to work alongside him at Berkhamsted.
George witnessed a real spurt of growth in the town. As he said, when standing on the station in 1903 there was nothing to be seen of the part of Berkhamsted which would become Kitsbury. By 1914 this whole hillside area had become populated with dense, mainly terraced, housing.
George told the “Gazette” that from 1903 onwards until the great setback of 1914, there was an increasing volume of trade which passed through the station from the several manufacturing establishments in the town, and the stream of business between the station and the town and ‘that busy little industrial centre’, Chesham, was also constantly on the increase. George recalled that the average number of trains that passed through Berkhamsted station within each 24 hours totalled a staggering 320 at this time. The railway company had as many as 22 horses on hand at the station to transport the traffic from there to the town and Chesham.
Apart from referring to the kindness of the traders and residents generally and having the privilege of meeting many famous people who were visiting Lord and Lady Brownlow at Ashridge, (Lord Brownlow had his own private entrance to Berkhamsted station), one aspect of his career that George was most proud of was the role he played during World War 1, when many troops passed through the town and the Inns of Court were stationed here:
‘Mr Blincow has reminiscences of Berkhamsted station to talk of in connection with the war, and he referred with a certain amount of justifiable pride to the fact that one day he had thrust upon him and his staff the task of getting entrained thousands of troops which during the night converged on Berkhamsted from St. Albans, Luton, and elsewhere… as the night proceeded these thousands of men and their equipment were expeditiously sent off by special trains, and from Berkhamsted arrived within a few hours at Southampton docks, en route for France.’
The Gazette interview continues: Ofttimes in the night when Berkhamsted was sleeping, its station was a busy scene with hundreds of men, horses, and guns being entrained “destination unknown” and one such occasion was when a division landed here to be provided with transport for conveyance to a seaport and to Ireland in connection with a little rebellion which had to be tackled during the war.
In George’s own words: The biggest day’s work they ever had at their station, he thought, was on the August Bank Holiday of 1914, when, it would be remembered, there was a territorial camp at Ashridge, and owing to the war breaking out they were called upon to entrain about 4,000 troops and get them despatched. It was no easy task, being holiday time, rolling stock was engaged everywhere else but at Berkhamsted, but the company came to their aid, and the 4,000 were sent away by train within 12 hours.
He also recalled ‘another heavy period (that) the staff at Berkhamsted experienced was during the winter of 1915-16, and this they got through successfully, dealing with thousands of troops besides the ordinary traffic, and he was glad to say that throughout the entire time they had no accidents’.
The Gazette then refers to ‘that pleasurable, if difficult task the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps beset Mr Blincow and his staff. The Devil’s Own arrived in Berkhamsted on September 28th 1914 and lived in a tented camp near the station. As Lt Col Errington recalled:
‘The situation of our camp at Berkhamsted was an ideal one, pitched in the field on the north side of the station and sloping gently up to Berkhamsted Place. The Squadron, both men and horses, were in the Brewery. Lord Brownlow placed at our disposal his private waiting-room at the station and also a covered-in shelter, both of which were used for the Quartermaster’s office and stores. The proximity of the station did away with all transport difficulties.’
George dealt with all the new challenges the OTC created. One officer, waiting impatiently for the horses to arrive, remembered that ‘at last, the great day came—October I4th, 1914—when we filed to the Station, armed with the necessary gear, to await the longed-for ‘hairies’. Finally the trucks sailed slowly in and discipline gave way in heartfelt cheers.’ Horses ‘of all shapes, sizes, colour, and denominations’ and with interesting names such as Stockings, the Elephant, Jellicoe, Tealeaves and Satan (‘highly strung and apparently savage’) had to be coaxed on to the platform. ‘Little did those old ‘plugs’, as they were pulled and pushed and heaved from their trucks, realise that some of them were beginning an acquaintance with the Squadron that was to last till the beginning of 1919.’
The ‘Devil’s Own’ constructed over 13km of trenches on the commons. During the War, some 12,000 troops passed through the training camp. No doubt to George’s consternation they ‘blew up every available railway bridge within miles.’ By 1918, nearly half of all trainees had become casualties of the war with 2,200 killed. Besides all the other work this famous Corps bestowed on the station each week there were something like 1,300 of its members going and coming to and from leave, and still no complaints.
The OTC left Berkhamsted on December 6th, 1916. ‘Led by the corps band, we marched away from the Old Brewery, which had been our home for more than two years, and entrained for Maresfield Park, in Sussex. The horses had been sent on by rail with Sergeant Aldridge and a small party. The whole Battalion was at the Station, and many of our good friends the inhabitants of Berkhamsted, not a few of whom (among the young and fair) were observed to dash a tell-tale tear from downcast eye. The Band played selections (“Nancy Dawson” and others) on the platform to keep up our spirits, finishing up with “Auld Lang Syne” as the train steamed away”.
The Inns of Court Officers paid tribute to the locals: We had a host of friends in and around Berkhamsted, and many familiar characters will be remembered’ and Mr Blincow, ‘the helpful Stationmaster’ was one of those specifically named.
After the War, George would only stay in position for another three years and at his retirement in 1921, he was presented at the Crown Hotel with a cheque for over £100, a set of carvers, a silver sugar bucket, and a gold brooch for Mrs Blincow (‘every member of the staff subscribed to these presents, thus showing the unanimous and good feeling held for their old chief’), together with an illuminated address, finishing off with an evening of musical entertainment. Everyone agreed that ‘Mr Blincow was always courteous, tactful, and willing to oblige, not being ruffled when difficulties arose. Mr Blincow in the course of his duties had had experiences which might have worried one, but he never got ruffled, he took everything quite calmly, as if it was all part of his day’s work, and at times when pestered he gave them a good lesson to follow’.
George died on 24 April 1928 at North Wembley, where his son had moved to. Archibald, who had actually been one of the trainee Officers at the Berkhamsted Camp, continued the family’s association with the Railway and rose to be General Manager of the Rates Department of the LMS Railway at Euston.
The Rectory Lane Cemetery Project was asked by George Blincow’s grandson whether it would be prepared to undertake maintenance of his father’s and grandfather’s graves. (They are in separate parts of the Cemetery). We carried out the work and with considerable pleasure, received a generous donation and interesting information about the family, some of which is included in this article.
(George’s story is covered in the Gazette of March 26th and June 25th 1921, an extract from L. & N.W Railway Gazette, the references in ‘The Inns of Court Officers Training Corps During the Great War’ by Lt Col F.H.L. Errington and through information and photos provided by his grandson).