Surbiton, 26th July 2022.
“Three weeks ago we lost our friend Maggie. It was sudden, brutally so, and the Abrahams family are still reeling from her death. Her passing has left Lynn and Doug aching desperately for their adored mother, and David lost without his wife of 52 years. We have been to Strawberry Hill twice since her death, and the Trim Shop is a lonely space without her. I sat there a few days after she died, sat in her chair at her sewing table and wept. I miss my friend.
Long before the SETG came into being, while I was still just another motorman on the South Western division, I first met Maggie. We were working an early morning Alton train, and Maggie was my guard. I liked her immediately. She was efficient, friendly, clever, funny and one of those people who was utterly unflappable; nothing phased her. Working with her was a joy. I grew to know her better as my relationship with her daughter Lynn blossomed; we never had a crossed word. Any time spent in her company was time well spent. When Maggie left the railway 8 years ago after suffering a stroke she became a slightly lost soul; she knew that something had been taken from her and it frustrated her. Maggie angry was something that took some getting used to, a difficult adjustment for everyone who knew her. It wasn’t until a few years after that, after Lynn and I had become partners, that Lynn mentioned Maggie’s seamstress skills to me. “She’s bored and she needs something to do. Perhaps she could have a look at those seats at Strawberry Hill?” Maggie was ex-railway, knew what she was about, and had skills that she wanted to use. I was happy to help although, I’m ashamed to say now, I didn’t think there would be anything Maggie could do. How wrong I was! So, one afternoon, we took a trip across to the depot and showed her the scale of the problem we were facing.
Maggie looked at this mass of wreckage and said, after a bit of thought, “that’s not a problem. I can do those.” I’ve never forgotten the certainty of her tone. With Lynn and Doug, along with Super Coops and I, she set to work on the first seat base. It wasn’t the worst one by any means – it only needed a new seat cover made. But before Maggie’s arrival it was beyond our skill set to repair. Maggie still struggled with memory issues from time to time, but Lynn was always on hand to steer her Mum in the right direction. And once she had her head in the task, Maggie was unstoppable. Seat cover after seat cover flew from the sewing table, eventually expanding into new bottom covers for seats before finally we were a team rebuilding seats from scratch using salvaged parts. We all made the Trim Shop, but it was Maggie’s first and foremost. Lynn would watch Maggie at work and when I happened past she would say proudly “Mum’s a machine – she just won’t stop.” By 3pm on a work day Maggie would be exhausted, but it didn’t matter – we would always be astonished by the quality of work she produced. But it was Lynn & Doug’s pride in their Mum that will stay with me. Of all the things we have achieved with this project, that’s the thing I’m most proud of; we gave Maggie a purpose and we helped her, Lynn and Doug to work together – the kids got their old Mum back for a while. I loved watching Lynn and Maggie at the table, cutting, sewing and stapling. The process was always smooth, always careful and the results were first class. Buckie would say repeatedly that the seats coming out of our tiny trim shop were every bit as good as anything that ever left Eastleigh, Selhurst or Brighton.
As I sit here writing, we have enough seats recovered, rebuilt and ready to complete 3417. That is all down to Maggie; we would not be where we are without her. My lasting regret is that she did not live to see the public reaction to her work. I think she would have been pleased. I think Lynn and Doug will be proud. As Roy Watts of the Bluebell Railway observed, “What a legacy to leave behind.” The Southern Electric Traction Group owes Maggie a great debt, one that we can never repay. Her skills and enthusiasm drove a massive part of our project forward. To use a thought from our great friend Ann Bedford, Maggie was everyone’s Mum. The gap she has left in so many lives cannot be filled. Her name will be carried aboard 3417 in perpetuity.
When we relaunch 3417, there will be an empty seat for her. I hope that somewhere she will know that.
We love you, Maggie May. Sleep tight. Thank you for everything.