By The Digger
IN 1900 Dunmurry born Mercer Rice was the stationmaster in Lisburn. He resided in the Stationmaster's House - Railway House. It was reported that he had been appointed a station master at Dunmurry moving to Richill station in 1848, and at the age of twenty one found himself in charge of Lisburn station.
It was claimed that at the time of his death he was the oldest railway official in active service in the United Kingdom.
Mercer died in retirement on the afternoon of February 28, 1905 at Thornfield, Lisburn, which was the residence of his son Robert. He was also a farmer and he had farms in the Knockmore area.
He was laid to rest in Lisburn Cemetery where his wife Mary Jane was buried after her death on July 29 1904.
A fifteen foot high column of dark Aberdeen polished granite mounted on an octagon base and granite plinth, taken from the Castlewellan quarries, stands at the head of his grave and gives us some idea of how popular he was.
The inscription reads "Erected by a number of friends in memory of Mercer Rice as a token of their high appreciation of the manner of which he performed the duties of stationmaster to the Great Northern Railway Company, Lisburn, an office which he held for 55 years...."
One of the unpleasant tasks he had to perform was to appear as a representative of GNR at inquests when a tragedy in connection with the railway occurred in his area.
On November 4 1886 William Greenaway, 50, was struck by an engine and killed at the Pump Lane Crossing at Tonagh. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and were of the opinion that there should have been a watchman at this crossing.
In 1900 Mercer Rice appeared with Inspector Marshall at an inquest held in one of the waiting rooms at Lisburn Station.
The Lisburn Standard reported that in the early hours of Friday August 31 1900, the body of Edward McBennett had been found on the line. The deceased had been a gateman at the Ballinderry Crossing for the previous eight months and he had been lodging with Mary Jane Swain, Causeway End, Lisburn. Mercer Rice had just issued the deceased with two passes for a trip to Dublin with his sister. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
The railways were always good measure in those days for headlines in the local papers.
On Saturday February 24 1906 it was reported the stationmaster at Lisburn, Mr Gillespie, had received a report of a man standing on a buffer attached to a covered wagon as the train was leaving Lisburn for Belfast.
He had been under the influence of alcohol and was trying to avoid paying his fare.
The man was successfully taken from the train at Lambeg apparently quite unconcerned, with one foot on the buffer and the other on the chain coupling.
Several hours later the Lisburn stationmaster had to take immediate action to stop trains travelling towards Lisburn from both the Belfast and Armagh directions due to a grocer's pony with trap which had taken fright in the Bow Street area and decided to make its way through the town and on to the railway lines via the goods yard.
The pony galloped along between the rails towards Belfast until it was stopped near the Seymour Street Bridge. Never a dull moment! Another tragic railway fatality at Lisburn was reported in The Lisburn Herald on Saturday March 17 1906.
The body of Margaret Morgan was discovered close to the Antrim Street Bridge, Lisburn by railway workers the previous Saturday night.
She was 45 years old and a mother of ten from Back Barracks, Lisburn. One of her daughters, a 2 year old, was found alive and well close to the scene.
An inquest found that she had been struck by a train whilst trespassing.
No-one was able to explain why Margaret Morgan had been on the railway track.
A railway employee, stoker James Dowling had to have an amputation procedure after he fell from an engine and the wheels passed over his left foot.
The Lisburn Herald reported on Saturday February 1907 16 that Mr Dowling was examining an escape of steam from a steam pipe on an engine when the accident occurred.
Mr Thomas Anderson had started work as a clerk at Newtownstewart in 1892. He was first appointed as a stationmaster at Bessbrook 1903 and he arrived in Lisburn in 1927 from Omagh as a chief clerk in the booking office. He transferred to Belfast in 1933, returning to Lisburn on January 1 1937 as the stationmaster.
He was also responsible for the supervising of substations at Lambeg, Hilden, Hillsborough, Broomhedge, Maze, Brookmount, Brookhill and Ballinderry. He retired in June 1941.
At the time of his death in 1957,Thomas Anderson had been residing at 8 Causeway End Road, Lisburn. He was succeeded by Mr John Allister.
At the time of his death, John Allister was residing at 31 Railway Street, Lisburn.
At the end of February 1959 the retirement of another Lisburn stationmaster was announced - William G A Barr.
He had started with the Great Northern railway in 1911, served in the First World War and joined the staff in the accountant's office in 1919.
After serving at a number of stations he was appointed station master.
He was the father of Dean Norman Barr, former Rector of Derriaghy parish and the late Canon Osbourne Barr of Booterstown, Dublin.
My old friend Harry Mulholland, who worked on the railway for many years, informed me that there were other stationmasters at Lisburn called John Armstrong and Mr Henry.
The Digger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next: The Digger takes the train from Lisburn towards Glenavy on the Antrim line and talks to Harry Mulholland about some of his experiences whilst working on the railway.
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