Poetic justice as station totem sign sells for £2700

A totem sign from a station immortalised in a poem by the late Poet Laureate and railway enthusiast Sir John Betjeman was the top seller in a one-off railwayana sale held by Chippenham Auction Rooms on November 10.

The BR(S) sign, which went under the hammer for £2700, was from Dilton Marsh Halt, opened by the GWR in 1937 on the Bristol-Salisbury line, renamed without the ‘Halt’ in 1969, and still open today, as a request stop.

Betjeman wrote the poem as part of a successful campaign to save the station when it was threatened with closure in the 1960s, and its last two lines read: “Here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol, Steam trains will return.”

Behind this price came a Southern Railway target sign from the Kent station Greatstone-on-Sea and a Southern Region totem sign from West Weybridge, each at £2400, and at £2300 came another SR target sign, from North Tawton in Devon.

Three other SR targets were Bere Alston (£1800), Callington (£1700), and Lydd-on-Sea (£1600), further totems included BR(S) Newport (£1750) and Western Region Castle Cary (£1600), while a third £1600 realisation was for a London Underground platform roundel sign from Bank station dating from about 1908.

Other four-figure successes included BR(W) totem Bradford-on-Avon (£1500) and BR(M) Appleby East (£1300), and a BR(W) direction sign to Tucker Street station in Wells (£1400). Prices exclude buyer’s premium of 20% (inc VAT).

The auction comprised mainly items collected over six decades by a Wiltshire railwayman whose widow did not realise what the collection included. The auction house’s principal auctioneer Richard Edmonds said: “The late collector’s wife had no idea what he was doing. She called us in to review the small part of the collection kept in the house, and it wasn’t until we looked in their garage that we realised what she’d seen was just the tip of a railway iceberg.”

Also among the 471 lots were posters, handlamps, clocks, maps, cap badges, signalling equipment, literature, hats and other clothing, and train destination signs.

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