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The man who has worked at Waterloo for 58 years - and counting

One for all the train lovers out there , impressive stuff.

The man who has worked at Waterloo for 58 years - and counting

By Keiligh BakerBBC News
Jeffery Fry in his blue hi-vis jacket at Waterloo stationImage copyrightPHIL COOMES
Image captionJeffery Fry in his blue hi-vis jacket at Waterloo station

To appreciate how much has changed since Jeffery Fry began working at Waterloo railway station, consider that his first job was shutting the sooty windows of the steam trains after they shunted in to the terminal.

That was in 1961. Several role changes and 58 years later and the 73-year-old is now the longest-serving employee for both the railway station and South Western Railway - and among a select number of people around the UK to have worked so long for just one employer.

Over the past six decades, Jeffery, from south London, has seen steam replaced by electric, contactless travel introduced as an alternative to paper tickets, and a gleaming steel and glass structure replace Waterloo's soot-blackened walls and ceilings.

And because he is the longest-serving member of staff at South Western, Jeffery enjoys the bragging rights of being employee number 000001 - which has led to him being given the nickname "Number One" by his colleagues.

Yet he still distinctly remembers the routine of those first shifts, when he was aged just 15.

"I'd start with the 8:09am six-car, then 20 minutes later do another train," he told the BBC.

"Three of us would do it. Then I was a tractor guard. If any parcels fell off the trolley you had to put them on it - I did that for four years. We'd load potatoes, mushrooms and flowers, and they'd all go to Brentford Market."

Trains at WaterlooImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionWaterloo railway station in the 1960s

After that he enjoyed a couple of years in admin. "I'd come in but first thing, I had to make cups of tea," he says. "That was the most important thing!"

But his favourite role was working as a shunter, which involved taking the diesel engines off the trains, and rubbing shoulders with royalty.

He says: "If it was the Queen's train, when you'd put the diesel [engine] on the front a policeman would come with you to make sure you didn't put any explosives under the metal structure. I saw the Queen a couple of times.

"She'd always come right on time, she was never late. On the morning [before she arrived] they'd put sand on the floor. And then they'd put a red carpet right up to the train door.

"Mr Downs, who used to work here, he would wear a top hat and tails, and pin a red rose on his chest. And they'd get the Telegraph, the Times, the Observer in for her - all the big ones, but no Sun or Mirror."

Who is the world's longest-serving employee?

Jeffery has a long way to go before he can claim to be a world record holder.

Walter Orthmann, from Santa Catarina in Brazil, has worked at the same firm for more than 80 years.

He joined textiles company Industrias Renaux S.A, on 17 January 1938, when he was 15, as an assistant in the shipping department.

Walter was later promoted to administrative assistant and, eventually, sales manager. He was still in the role as of last year at the age of 96.

Jeffery says the reason he has stayed at Waterloo - which is the largest and busiest railway station in the UK - is because he enjoys his job.

"It's not a bad place [to work], you know," he says. "I do meet-and-greet now, and I've been doing it for the last eight years.

"I go to the train and help get the passengers off if they have wheelchairs, say good morning, afternoon, whatever it is. It's about being polite, just normal really.

"It [the station] has changed a lot. Those machines - sometimes they do go wrong and sometimes you put the money in and no ticket comes out.

"It would be nice if we got a piano on the concourse, like they have at King's Cross. Sometimes people have a singalong.

Jeffery chats with a colleague on the platformImage copyrightPHIL COOMES

"One year it snowed for three days and we had to shovel the platform. When we used to do it we'd make a snowman at the end of the platform, but security deal with the snow now."

During a career which has evolved to reflect the growing and expanding station, Jeffery has witnessed some unusual things.

"By far the strangest I ever saw was when we used to have competitions to promote Scotland," he says.

"They'd have fly fishing, and there'd be a rubber ring and you had to get the hook in the rubber ring and you'd win a bottle of Scotch.

"I took part in the haggis eating competition. I didn't like it! It was a pound-and-a-half of haggis and there were eight of you. And then we all shovelled it in.

"This woman won in the end, she ate the haggis in 26 seconds - don't ask me how she did it! That was around 1962.

A woman poses with a large haggis in an old black and white photoImage copyrightFRANK BARRATT/ GETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe woman who beat Jeffery in a haggis eating competition at Waterloo more than 50 years ago

"Another time they had food from Ireland - red seaweed [dillisk] that you could eat. It was a little bit salty but not too bad."

Although he has swapped roles several times during the last 58 years, Jeffery has resisted the lure of retirement or even substantially reducing his work - he still does the 5pm-10pm shift five days a week.

When asked about the possibility of retirement, he takes a philosophical approach.

"Well, it's up to the railway - but I like working here. It's the friendly faces that make it.

"You might sometimes get a bloke who is miserable but everyone comes up to speak to you - they will always say, 'oh hello you, how's things?' - and that's just the regulars."


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