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Birmingham New Street Station: lnwrbns_str433

An internal view of New Street No 2 Signal Cabin with two 'bobbies', Walter Pritchard and a Mr Bing, posing for the camera between duties on 20th March 1954

An internal view of New Street No 2 Signal Cabin with two 'bobbies', Walter Pritchard and a Mr Bing aka 'Bingy', posing for the camera between duties on 20th March 1954. The term 'bobbies' to describe railway signalmen has its origins from the very early days of railways. In early days of operating railways it was the duty of railway policemen to control the departure of trains through the use of coloured flags, a practice that had its origins from naval practices. With policemen being associated with Robert Peeler, the term bobby was common to describe all policemen and on the railways the term 'bobby' was often used until the end of steam.

Mark Norton who has the above photograph taken by his father on his website 'photobydjnorton' received an email from Bernard Pritchard, the son of Walter, and who wrote 'Walter started off working on the railway at Selly Oak as a van boy. He delivered parcels on a horse drawn parcels van, out of Selly Oak parcels depot, which was at the same place as Selly Oak Station. He obviously worked his way up from there, to become one of the top of his profession, who all ended up in No 5 box. He lived through the rebuilding of New Street Station and the electrification and retired from No 5 box at the age of 65 in 1973'.

Mark wrote 'Bernard was kind enough to share these memories with us:- I can only assume that the reason they were together was because they would go early to relieve one another so they could spend time together or so the other could get home early. I spent many happy hours with my father in No 2 box, not least because a certain train would arrive on platform 8, have the engine unhooked, sent into the tunnel and reversed down 9 and put back on the train to take it from whence it came and guess who was let loose to drive it on quite a few occasions? As I sat studying the picture I noticed dads eyes. What is he looking at? At this point everything fell into place. For certain dad is working, he is on afternoons 2 till 10 he is looking at the clock which is above the desk. His right hand is on the semaphore, he is waiting for the reply from the next box he has sent to which he will acknowledge and immediately log the time in the log on the desk together with other details of the train or movement just dealt with.

You will notice that Mr Bing still has his coat on because he has just arrived and dad has just put his jumper back on in preparation to leave, (he always had his shirt sleeves rolled up, you can see them under his jumper) I never remember him wearing a jumper at work, it was shirt sleeves or topless. I believe your dad (DJ Norton) was taking an action shot? No matter what was going on in the box conversation wise or whatever it would instantly stop when the bells rang the correct code for the box. Dad would be straight back into signalling mode, setting up the route for the train arriving or leaving. Only after the reply came and he acknowledged it would he be back with you. On this occasion your dad and Mr Bing. The time would of course be around 9 00.'

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