Monday, 26 February 2018


Photo: Stafford Railwayana Auctions
by Dave Roberts

What price a little bit of Middlewich railway history? 

This token for the single-line section of railway between Middlewich and Northwich was sold at auction in Stafford in May 2016. 

What was it for?

Put simply, it enabled a train to run from Middlewich to Northwich without any possibility of meeting a train coming the other way. 
The token would be handed to the signalman at Northwich. If the next train on the line was running from Northwich to Middlewich, the driver would obtain a token at Northwich to be handed over at Middlewich. If, however, the next train was running in the same direction - Middlewich to Northwich - another M-N token would be issued.

 The tokens were locked into machines at Middlewich and Northwich (Sandbach Junction) signal-boxes, and the machines connected together (or 'interlocked') to ensure that if a token was being taken out at Middlewich, the ones at Northwich were locked in so that none could be removed, and vice versa.

The system also, of course, ensured that only one token at a time could be issued. So it was basically a case of 'no token, no journey'.

In practice the tokens were carried in pouches, attached to large  hoops, to enable drivers and signalmen to easily exchange tokens.

The link below contains a picture showing the Northwich-Middlewich token being handed over at Middlewich signal box.

A token machine. Photo: Railsigns
This photo, shows signalman David 'Jock' Myles talking to the driver of no. 41229 at Middlewich. Through the open door of the signalbox, right, can be seen the token apparatus and some of the pouches and hoops used to carry the tokens.

More on this photo here:

There were (and in some places still are) several different systems, involving tokens, key tokens, tablets, staffs etc.

The illustration above shows the closest machine I could find to the type I remember being in Middlewich signal box fifty or so years ago, and the tokens do resemble the Middlewich-Northwich one in our main picture.

However, it's possible that this machine is of a different type to the ones used on the Middlewich line. 

My purpose is just to show the general principle.

Middlewich signal box and closed station in 1963. The signal box was opened in 1892 and closed in 1980. Photo: H B Priestley
So what price this Middlewich-Northwich token of railway days past?

We know it's from British Rail (or British Railways) days and we know it can't have been used after 1980, as that's when the signal box closed and new colour light signals (themselves since replaced) were installed. 

What would you pay? 

Well, when this lot was auctioned at Stafford on the 28th May 2016, it went for £150

1 comment:

  1. I worked for Cerebos Salt on Booth Lane in the 60/70s and one of the tasks in the warehouse was to label Woolworths orders for each Store separately as all their goods were dispatched by rail from Middlewich by rail.......never saw it actually go onto rail happen but.......


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