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Thursday, 18 August 2011

SIGNALBOX SIGN RETURNS HOME


by Dave Roberts
When the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign began in 1992 flamboyant Middlewich resident George Dean took an immediate interest and supported the campaign in every way he could. One day he mentioned to me that he happened to know that his son Alan, who was now resident in Uttoxeter, was in possession of one of the old nameboards from the signalbox at Middlewich, which had been decommissioned in 1980.
Wouldn't it be a great idea, suggested George, if this nameboard could be returned to Middlewich to act as a kind of 'mascot' for the campaign?
I agreed that it would, indeed, be a great idea and put the idea at the back of my mind.
A few weeks later I was accosted in the street by George, in his usual quiet and reticent way:
'Hey bugger!' he shouted, waving his walking stick at me (this was in the the days before he terrorised the populace with his motorised scooter).
'Yes, George?'
'You know that railway sign?'
'Yes. What about it?'
'It's in Mike Hough's garage.'
George tootled off to shout and wave his stick at his next victim, and I made my way to Mike Hough's house where the huge red signalbox sign was indeed  in the garage and ready for collection.
I dragged the thing off through the streets. It was no lightweight - the board itself was of massive construction and the letters spelling out MIDDLEWICH were of cast iron.


This was the method used by the London & North Western Railway to make such signs. They made vast numbers of cast iron letters and to make a sign you simply selected the appropriate ones and screwed them on the board. Interestingly the company also used this method to make street signs. There are several in Crewe, and one next to Sandbach Station saying STATION VIEW.
The only place I could think of  to store the sign was in the cellar of the pub which was, and still is, the campaign's HQ, the Boar's Head in Kinderton Street, and this is where it ended up.
Shortly after this, on a warm Summer evening, Peter Cox and I were in the Boar's Head and  conceived the idea of restoring the sign, albeit temporarily, to the place where it had spent most of its life - the site of the signal box just up the road from the Boar's Head. Somehow, this kind of brilliant idea only seemed to occur to us while we were in the pub - I can't think why.
We decided, as I have said, to restore the sign to its rightful place and this, as can be seen from the picture, we duly did. The coal bunker which once stood next to the signal-box was still in place at that time and this was the closest we could get the sign to its original position.
It could never be done again. The British Transport Police keep a close eye on  all railway lines these days and trespassing is frowned upon as never before. And we could, of course, never condone trespassing on the railway, in any case..
But the fact is that we did it (without, incidentally, having to go onto the tracks) and our photograph shows the sign back where it belonged (or almost).
Since those heady days the signboard has found a caring home, and is on permanent loan to a member of the Rail Link Campaign committee. On high days and holidays it is taken out for an airing.
Incidentally there is now a modern colour light signal on the very spot where the old signal box used to be, which is, somehow, quite fitting and only right and proper..
As for George Dean - well, he deserves a posting all to himself...

SEE ALSO: LNWR MIDDLEWICH SIGNAL BOX SIGN

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