Railway Relics of the Withered Arm

Published 30th October 2002

Collection of rare West Country Railway Memorabilia sells for High Prices in Exeter

There was huge public interest and high prices paid at an auction sale of West Country railway memorabilia and model trains in Exeter on 30th October 2002, which realised some £72,000.

On sale was a superb collection of rare and unique railway signs, lamps, signalling equipment, locomotive parts, railway furniture, old posters, cast iron signs, paperwork and other collectibles dating from the 1860's right up to the early 1960s British Railways era of Dr Beeching.

The top lots of the day were a pair of British Railways Southern Region stove enamel "totem" station name signs from Wadebridge which sold for £13,300 (£6,600 and £6,700 each).

High prices were paid for a number of other West Country station name boards, but several old lamps and signal instruments, tokens, tablets and staffs also proved popular with some selling to bids of over £1,000 each.

A large collection of signal and track plans went under the hammer for £1,900. Most lots were knocked down to private collectors, but the Bodmin & Wenford Railway Trust bought some items that will now return home to the steam operated heritage line in Cornwall.

The majority of the railwayana lots came from the collection of well known railway author, the late Tony Fairclough of Wadebridge, who not only published many photographic record books about West Country railways but also was an avid collector of railwayana when many of the lines were closed in the 1960s.

His family were represented at the sale today and naturally were delighted by the results.

With pieces of railwayana now fetching record prices from serious collectors, it seems that undamaged 1950s lozenge design stove enamel station totem signs - many of which were once discarded as scrap by British Railways -- are now worth a lot of money. Hindsight they say is a very precise science!

The well preserved Fairclough collection, plus another treasure trove of scale model steam railway locomotives was catalogued by expert Martin McIlroy.

This was Bearne's (now Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood) first ever specialist one-day sale of railwayana and bidding was brisk from collectors either wanting a memento of the Withered Arm or a model locomotive.

Research by the auction house indicated that this was the first time in many years that such an extensive collection of rare local railway items has been offered for sale.

All of the metal station signs from well known places in the West Country sold well: Wadebridge (two for £13,300), Bere Alston (£750), Halwill (£1,250), Lydford (£900), Bodmin Road (£540), Bodmin North (£3,100), Falmouth (£2,650) and Looe (£2,350). Even two signs from Millbay Docks round frames went for £240.

Martin McIlroy comments: "There were some fine examples of highly collectable railwayana in the well preserved collection featuring items from the pre-war railway companies, such as the GWR, LSWR and Southern Railway, along with enamel station signs from the early years of British Railways.

"We also had 50 lots of model steam locomotives which were eagerly snapped up with all of the popular names such as Hornby, Bassett Lowke, Marklin, Bing, Lima and Leeds Model Co on offer.

"The pair of South Devon Railway hoop-back chairs which date back to the era of Brunel sold for £820 and an old LSWR fusee wall clock which came from Launceston was knocked down for £2,300.

"A heavy brass cabside number plate from Great Western freight locomotive No 6662 built in 1928 and scrapped in 1963 went for £1,150, whilst a GWR locomotive whistle sold for £95.

"The collection also contained a large number of uniquely marked signalling instruments such as tablets and tokens; block machines, repeaters and lamp equipment, plus a great number of old hand lamps and cast iron trespass or warning plates.

"All of these items sold extremely well, and it just goes to show that old railway items which often are found hidden away in attics, sheds and garages can be worth a lot of money.

"It also underlines the great merit in seeking professional advice before disposing of them, so we were very pleased for Mr Fairclough's family that the sale went so well."

Subscribe to catalogue alerts & news

Select your interests