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Bibles for Welsh signalmen fulfils 143-year legacy

Welsh railway workers are getting free signal box Bibles, thanks to the vision of a Christian railwayman in 1869 ...

The Rev Ron Keen, Railway Mission Chaplain, presented 12 Bibles to staff at stations in Cardiff, Barry and Radyr on (Tuesday (17 April 2012).

He said: "It’s a terrific thing to do because it means that the Word of God is there where people work. I always believe that people will read it, no matter who they are, just out of curiosity." He added, "I think that there is still an interest there in the Bible."

This is the second year that Mr Keen has presented Bibles from Bible Society to railway staff. The move is the fulfilment of a legacy that dates back 143 years.

In 1869, a director of the Taff Vale Railway, Mr T W Hill died. He was a committed Christian. He decided to leave a legacy of £100 in his will, so that Bibles, New Testaments and copies of the Psalms could be placed in railway stations along the line. The Taff Vale Railway was originally designed to carry coal from the mines and take it down to the docks at Cardiff. 

But over time, passenger trains were added. So over the years, the interest from Mr Hill’s trust placed Bibles in the 91 waiting rooms in the 47 stations along the line.

In 1936 the Daily Express reported on the scheme, saying, "Mr Hill travelled a great deal and found that passengers waiting for a train had nothing to interest them. When he died he left a legacy providing that Bibles should be placed on all stations on the line and the interest accruing from the capital provided to be used for replacing them."

They were well read, with travellers signing their names in the Bibles. So popular were they that they had to be chained to a table in the waiting room to ensure that they weren’t stolen.

Today Bibles are given to signal box staff and other railway workers. Current Operations Manager for Wales, Tim Ball, said: "It’s a very stressful job working on the railways. The Bible will give people some spiritual guidance and some hope."

One railway worker to receive a Bible was 38-year-old mobile operations manager Paul Brittain. His job includes dealing with the aftermath of suicides on the lines. In 10 years he’s experienced seven suicides.

He said: "The Bible will be useful for us all, though we’re not churchgoers. When you have fatalities, or when something personal has happened, it will be good to refer to the Bible to satisfy that need."

Executive Director of Charity at Bible Society, Paul Woolley, said, "We’re indebted to T W Hill for his vision in wanting to see people engage with the Scriptures as they waited for trains and worked on the railways.

"The Bible is as relevant today as it was then. We’re delighted to give people the opportunity to read what remains the world's best-selling book."


Photos: Top: signalmen Lee Lane at Radyr station signal box;

Above: signalman Christopher Sykes at Barry signal box. Photos by Clare Kendall.

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