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Christopher Downie, Stationmaster at Lanark 1891-1913

Christopher Downie 1853 - 1914, Stationmaster

Railway Career

Christopher joined the Caledonian Railway Company in March 1873 working as a spare man at the Eglinton Street Station in Glasgow. Following this he was a ticket collector at Rutherglen Station, then signal man at Cambuslang, ticket collector again at Motherwell Station, and Railway Guard at Holytown and Glasgow before becoming Stationmaster at Glenboig in about 1879. He took up the post of Stationmaster at Lanark on 11 April 1891 and held the post for nearly 23 years until his retirement through ill health at the end of 1913.

Not long before Christopher became Stationmaster at Glenboig, he had a narrow escape, as reported in the Dundee Courier of Monday 16 December 1878:

On Saturday morning a collision of an alarming kind took place on the Caledonian Railway, between Port-Glasgow and the Wemyss Bay junction. The English mail train due at Greenock at 7.50 a.m. was behind time, and the train leaving Bridge Street at 7.43 a.m., and due at Greenock at 8.45 a.m., was on the rails considerably ahead of the English mail. The weather was foggy, and when coming near to the Wemyss Bay junction tho driver of the Glasgow train as a precaution slackened speed and applied the brakes until he should come within sight of the home signal at that part of the line. The brakes are of the automatic continuous kind, and the train was brought almost to a standstill just as the driver came within sight of the home signal, which was standing at "Clear." The driver proceeded to take off the brake and put on steam, but from some unexplained cause, the brakes did not work as he desired, and continued to act on the train, which was thus brought to a standstill. The guard in the rear van, Christopher Downie, jumped out to see what was wrong, and while he and the driver were examining the brake the English train came up and dashed into the Glasgow train, smashing the rear van. It was fortunate that Downie was out of the van, or he would undoubtedly have been killed. Several of the passengers in the Glasgow train were severely, though not dangerously injured. Most of those left the train at Bogston, and some returned to Port-Glasgow. None of those in the Englisn train were injured.

When his retirement was finally announced, the praise flowed in the local press. The Hamilton Advertiser printed this, accompanied by his photograph, on December 27, 1913:

With the resignation of Mr. C. Downie, there has gone from the public life of Lanark a prominent and esteemed official. Mr. Downie has had a long and honourable career as a railway servant, and by unfailing attention to duty raised himself to the honourable position he has just vacated.... discharging the duties to the satisfaction of his employers and the general public, and with infinite credit to himself. It would be difficult to enumerate the many good qualities that gained for Mr. Downie the confidence of his employers, and the respect and esteem of all who have come into contact with him either in his official capacity or otherwise. There ever lay a tact and courtesy and a clear sightedness that always enabled him to say and do the right thing. The possession of the above qualities was never better demonstrated than during the Aviation Week in Lanark in 1910. To the outsider visiting Lanark during that historic week it would seem as if "old Chaos" had come again. Above all the turmoil Mr. Downie was calm and collected, maintaining order where the uninitiated saw only confusion. The fact that the abnormal traffic of that week was handled without a single person being injured or an aeroplane damaged in transit speaks volumes for the abilities of Mr. Downie. For his splendid services on that occasion he received the thanks of the General Manager.

During 1893 the "great Railway Strike" took place and at the same time there was an accident at the Buchanan Street Tunnel. Downie received the thanks of the Directorate of the Caledonian Railway Company for his services at the accident. He also received the special thanks of the North British Railway Company for "his timeous assistance in the disaster at Glengaber Branch."

With his career flourishing as Superintendent at Lanark Station, it is generally known that Christopher took ill in November 1913, his second wife, Isabella Wishart Gordon, having died a year earlier at his Station House in Lanark.

One of his few remaining possessions is a black reptile-skin wallet embossed on the inside with the message:

26TH MAY 1900

On his retirement in December 1913, he received a testimonial from the public of Lanark. His retirement gifts included a gold mounted umbrella with a horn handle and gold plating engraved:


The umbrella was left at the house of his nephew Matthew Gass. The broken umbrella's handle was later fashioned into a walking stick by Eric Brassington who married Elizabeth, a granddaughter of Matthew Gass. During the summer of 2006, Eric met Christopher's great great grandson, Christopher Cottier, on a train platform in England for a ten minute rendezvous to deliver the Stationmaster's walking stick which is now gratefully kept in West Vancouver, Canada.

After his retirement, which lasted only a few months until his death, Christopher resided almost continually at the residence of his nephew, Mr. Matthew Gass in Micklam House, Lowca, Harrington near Whitehaven, Cumberland. Matthew had become a brickwork manager since living with Christopher as a student. Matthew lived with his wife Elizabeth and their daughters Catherine and Elizabeth. Five more daughters were to follow, but no sons. On only one occasion did Christopher visit Lanark for a short time.