A level crossing sign

A level crossing sign

Back in my youth level crossings – where a road and a railway cross on the level – were places to be enjoyed. The one in my home village of Ifield was totally manually operated. The level crossing keeper came out of his little bungalow and pushed the gates so that the road was entirely shut off. With four trains an hour plus goods trains and specials he was tolerably busy.

In the town of Crawley there was a proper signal box and the operator had a huge wheel in it which operated the gates. That was a job I really fancied. The signal box still exists in Crawley but without actual function. The level crossing gates are entirely automatic.

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On our recent trip to the Swanage Railway we popped in the little museum at Corfe Castle Station and my eyes immediately lit on an old road sign.image003

This was the level crossing sign from those long ago days when I was a kid and it was enough to bring memories flooding back. When roads were nothing like so busy, level crossings were more common. Some of them were barely used and I recall long waits at Southease in Sussex for somebody to open the gates for a car. On one occasion at a long wait there, a peacock appeared and saw its reflection in the chrome hub caps of the day. The peacock saw this reflection as a rival and attacked it. It was quite humorous to watch and one would like to think it was a learning experience for the bird.

Yes, memories streamed through my mind – often in that corner of Sussex near Lewes. A cement quarry line crossed the road and had no gates – quite a different road sign for that – and just once a little train chugged across.

Hand operated gates must be just about a thing of the past now. The modern automatic raising barriers seem less safe but in many cases bridges have been built to replace the crossings. But my old memories remain.

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