Railway ticket booth in auction

It is a piece of railway history that sums up how times have changed. In the 1940s, the portable wooden ticket office stood at Norwich railway station, selling tickets to holidaymakers headed for the seaside.

It is a piece of railway history that sums up how times have changed.

In the 1940s, the portable wooden ticket office stood at Norwich railway station, selling tickets to holidaymakers headed for the seaside. As cars and foreign holidays got more popular and the summer rush dwindled away, it was taken over by postmen, who used it as an office between loading mail on to trains.

These days mail is carried by road rather than train, but it was around 10 years ago that postmen at Thorpe station got their own brick-built office. So Peter Willis, a postman who had spent many happy hours inside the wooden shed, bought it.

The railway enthusiast put it up in his garden in Horsham St Faith, near Norwich, but now the 66-year-old has decided to slim down his collection - which includes model railways from Hornby, Bassett Lowke and Fleischmann, and hundreds of Matchbox models. On Friday all 95 lots will go under the hammer at Durrants auction house in Beccles in one of its twice-yearly toy sales.

The ticket office is unlikely to be the most valuable item, but is certainly the most unusual.

Mr Willis said: “Originally it had iron wheels underneath it and they would haul it into position on platform five or six at weekends when they had all the holidaymakers from northern England and the Midlands for their holidays in Yarmouth and Lowestoft. They used it as mobile ticket office so they didn't jam up the main booking hall.

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“Some years later, as people got fewer and fewer on the trains, the post office rented it as somewhere for the postmen who loaded all the mail on the trains to operate from. We used to eat our sandwiches in there - you couldn't go to the canteen on Thorpe Road as you always had to be there in case a train came in.

“It is only six foot square inside but I have seen 10 people in there. We had three chairs and a table and a metal cabinet with three drawers. In all the spaces left there would be people standing.”

Inside the British Rail blue paint can still be seen, though underneath it the paint is LNER (London and North Eastern Railways) green, which is how Mr Willis knows it dates from before the railways were nationalised in1948. The cream paint higher up is stained brown with nicotine, and Mr Willis remembers how inside it would be “like a fog” with several men smoking pipes.

The grandfather of three paid £50 for it, but never imagined that it might be worth anything at auction.

Auction room manager Miles Lamdin said: “It is a bit of a talking point. We don't usually put real life train stuff in this sort of sale, but it goes with the rest of the collection. Whether it will go as a piece of railway memorabilia or as a garden shed I don't know.”

Mr Willis started his collection when he was seven, and has been extending it ever since. There are clockwork trains dating back to 1923, and one unusual item up for sale is a 1930s Bowman LNER steam train in its original pine box, with an estimate of £150 to £250. A new limited edition Bassett-Lowke Patriot class locomotive has an estimate of £250 to £300.

He said: “I shall be sorry to see my things go, but my grandchildren are not really interested in model railways and it seemed like the best thing to do. There are trains I paid £400 or £500 for which will probably make half that, and other old things I bought for £5 or £10 which will probably go for a lot more money.”

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