The Tale Of Coddy Foster's Engine (7 March 1975)
Of all the many local railway anecdotes the one I find most intriguing is that about how driver “Coddy” Foster’s engine came to be in the Newfoundout and the consequences for the said Coddy.
The Newfoundout, I must explain to newcomers to Bletchley, is the triangular stretch of water off Water Eaton Road bounded by the embankments of the main railway line, the Oxford branch line and the connecting loop line. It used to be a reservoir for the railway, but was weed-clogged the last time I viewed it at close quarters, which admittedly was some years ago.
The origin of the name is itself obscure. The notion most commonly held is that after embankments had been constructed, probably with the help of material from this site, the railway company found the resulting pit filling up with water and so made a reservoir of it, complete with pumping station.
Coddy’s association with it ended one night, which I judge to have been during the last quarter of last century. For many years afterwards he was spoken of with awe as the man who had driven his engine into the Newfoundout. But what actually happened was revealed in the Gazette in 1949 by Joe Fennell, who joined the railway telegraph department in 1872 and was its chief when he retired on December 31, 1920. His story, in which I have made just one cut of inessential matter, was as follows:
“In the loco department when I first knew it was the foreman Mr Middleton. After this came Mr Trevithick, whose father brought out the ‘Treavy’ engine. Of drivers of that time I remember . . .
“Many have heard the tale of the running into the Newfoundout of Coddy Foster’s engine some years since and that Coddy was on the engine at the time.
“It was a severe frost that night and the engine which was to take out the Oxford train was being run up and down to keep the water valves going.
“Foster’s fireman was doing this. Foster himself was with me in the office on No 1 platform having a warm when somebody opened the door and cried ‘Coddy, your engine’s in the Newfoundout’!
“I can still see in my mind Coddy rushing out of the office.
“The engine had run over the trap points and come back into the spare rails on the Newfoundout bank.
“Foster was dismissed and went to South America as a driver. He saved his money, came back and took the inn outside Oxford station.
“I called there once and said my name was Fennell. He replied “I used to know Joe Fennell,’ and I said ‘That’s me.’
“He told me that one day in South America one of the officers said ‘Driver, give me a lift back to the depot on your engine.’
“’Certainly, Mr Trevithick,’ was the reply. He looked at Foster and asked ‘Where do you come from that you know me?’ When told, he said ‘What? Coddy Foster, whose engine went into the Newfoundout?’
“It took three engines to put that one engine back on its rails. In those days engines were pygmies compared with today.”
What a wealth of railway lore there is in Mr Fennell’s simple and somewhat tantalising tale! First as to Coddy Foster.
He could not have been a very young man when that fateful incident happened. It took a good number of years to climb the loco ladder from cleaner to fireman to driver. But when he was sacked he knew where he could get the same kind of work, even if it was thousands of miles away – in the Argentine. There the railways had been built by British capital and for years there was a big call for experienced Britishers to man the workshops, drive the trains and manage the depots. Then when Coddy retired and returned to this country, it was to settle within sound and smelling distance of the railway and to chat with the occasional railwayman caller.
And Mr Trevithick, who also left Bletchley and went to the Argentine and “whose father brought out the ‘Treavy’ engine?” I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the railways to know what was a “Treavy” engine, but I think the father referred to must have been Francis Trevithick who took command of the great railway works at Crewe when they were established in 1843 and who two years later, brought out the “Columbine” engine, which is still preserved at the York railway Museum.
And who could Francis have been but a connection – probably son – of Richard, the man who started it all by building the world’s first railway locomotive and running it on the flanged rails of the Pen-y-darran mineral tramroad in South Wales in 1804? Richard, a Cornish blacksmith and very much a drifter, received little recognition. George Stephenson reaped the glory and the profits when he developed the “Rocket” from Richard’s original invention.