LAST week we brought you a selection of old glass plate photographs of York and the surrounding area, dating from about 1906, which had been taken by a Mr Rowley and had come into the possession of railwayman Ernest Sanderson.

After Mr Sanderson’s death, they were passed to York’s city archives by his daughter, Ann Rimmer.

In addition to preserving those wonderful old photographs, however, Mr Sanderson – as we mentioned last week – was also a skilled photographer himself.

Born into a railway family – the son of a crossing keeper – in York’s Leeman Road area in 1912, he joined the London and North East Railway as a track layer in 1927, and worked on the railways for 50 years, rising to be a chargeman.

His work renewing the permanent way took him all over the York District Engineer’s area. Soon after starting work, he began to take photographs of the rail gangs at work. And after he retired, a book of his photographs was published as Railway Memories No 1: York.

“For over half a century Ernest Sanderson has been able, often from a position of considerable advantage, to record on film – and glass – a railway scene that has since changed beyond all recognition,” says an introduction to the book.

“Because of the vantage point from which many of his pictures were taken he has also recorded how tracklaying, now a highly mechanised operation, used to be accomplished by sheer hard labour.”

One of the men who worked with Ernest for many years as a track relayer was Bob Ashton.

Now in his 80s, Bob kept copies of many of the photographs Ernest took of himself and his mates at work. We reproduce a few of them on this page today.

It was hard work, right enough, admits Bob – who over nearly 40 years on the railways rose to be a supervisor, or “ganger”.

It could be dangerous work, too. It was in the days before health and safety, and high-vis vests.

“I never got injured. Well, I broke a toe, that was about it. But I got away very lightly,” Bob recalls.

“There was a chap once I remember, he jumped off a wagon and left his finger at the top! There were sharp pieces that stuck out.”

But there was also a great sense of camaraderie, Bob recalls. As a relayer, he was part of a gang based at Leeman Road that travelled throughout the York district area for British Rail – sometimes as far away as the North York Moors – replacing or repairing worn track.

“We’d go up on a locomotive and it would drop you off at a site and you’d bivouac there, about 30 men, and then you’d just get on with the job. We would break the old track up and put the new track in.”

Our photographs today – all taken by Ernest, and all dating, Bob believes, from the 1960s – show the relaying gang at work on track in and around York. They’re a wonderful record of a way of life that was, for so long, such an important part of York’s railway heritage.

York Press: Bob Ashton levelling track

• We welcome contributions from readers to Yesterday Once More. We would ask you not to send in original old photographs, as we cannot guarantee these will be returned.

If you have old photographs or documents you would like to share with us, either send copies, or phone Stephen Lewis on 01904 567263 or email