Totem Signs

Recently my wife and I, together with two friends, took a day trip to Pickering and the North York Moors Railway.

Our plan was to travel on the steam train to Goathland and then hike the pleasant downhill trail to Grosmont to catch the return train to Pickering. The tale is a long one, so cutting to the chase, so to speak, the sun turned to torrential rain and ten minutes from Grosmond we realised a spirited jog was the only way we would catch our ride home. Being the fitter, by a very short head, we dispatched our male friend to attempt to hold up the train. His story, that he was leading a walking party who were just around the corner, worked perfectly. As the three of us emerged through the trees, looking as though we had just stepped from a swimming pool, the driver, station staff and other passengers cheered us aboard. It was just like a scene from The Railway Children.

I recount this rain soaked tale as it reminds me of the nostalgia generated by anything train related. Take for example the totem signs which were introduced onto stations from 1948 when the railways were nationalised and split into six regions. The totem signs were a branding exercise by British Railways and the standard size was 36” long.

Totem signs were made in different colours for each region. There was pale blue for Scottish, orange for North Eastern, maroon/burgundy for Midlands, brown for Western and navy for Eastern. The background was coloured and the lettering was white.

British Railways (BR) began trading as British Rail from 1965 and so began the gradual removal of the totem signs from stations. As with most collectables, the value of totem signs depends largely on rarity but also condition and desirability; if the station or place was particularly interesting or remarkable or regionally important then this also affects the value. Some totem signs appear regularly at auction while some may never have been listed for auction or private sale and may not even have survived.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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