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By Sally Sculthorpe on

Like father, like daughter: a railway family remembers

Discover the story of a father and daughter who, when it came to station work, chose to keep it in the family.

Throughout the Station Stories project, a recurring theme has been people telling me that they worked on the railways because their parents, grandparents, and sometimes even great grandparents did before them.

Between them Reginald Pulleyn and his daughter Lesley Dixon worked at York station for over fifty years. Reginald was a signal box man, and Lesley worked as a relief station announcer. Lesley explains:

It was in the mid 1970s. My father rang me up and said, ‘There’s a job going at York station as a relief station announcer. Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Yes I would’. So he arranged for me to have an interview and I was given the job.

They didn’t test my speaking voice in the interview. Instead I had a written test including some arithmetic that I was no good at. I’m not a maths person. You needed a certain percentage to pass and I was given a bit of help. I took the test in a little room. The chap who was keeping an eye on me kept leaning over and going, ‘Ooh you’re not getting very far there, are you? Do it like this, write that on paper now. It’s got to be in your writing’. He did this until I’d written the right answer. I’m saying, ‘But I can’t do them. I won’t get the job’ and he’s going, ‘Don’t you worry about that. Come on. The job’s yours’.

A few of the signalmen knew that I was my Dad’s daughter but nobody was bothered. It was a unique job and you had to fit the bill. My Dad had built me up something terrific by saying, ‘My daughter has a good speaking voice. She’s had drama tuition and so forth’. I think that’s maybe how it came about.

Lesley in her signal box days

Reginald doesn’t come from a railway family. Instead, his family worked for the other major employer in York – Rowntree’s chocolate factory. He started on the railway at sixteen and was promoted to the Class One Signalman’s job at the relatively young age of 20 years old. He worked in a variety of signal boxes around the region before moving to York station.

We worked as a team, and with good humour, each cabin had a different atmosphere.

One of Reg’s more unusual memories is the wartime story of a lost American soldier who arrived  at the signal box in the middle of the night over the Christmas period.  He gave the signal box staff who returned him to his train a box of cigarettes as a reward.

Reginald’s letter of appointment in 1948.

After a shaky start, Lesley quickly settled into her job:

You had a script to follow, but if there were problems on the line, the signalmen would shout, ‘So and so’s running late by so and so’ and we had to adlib. On my first day working on my own we’d had horrendous snowstorms. Trains were running four hours late if not more. I just didn’t know what I was doing. I’d learnt the announcements off pat for everything working normal. Nothing had gone wrong when I was working alongside somebody. Then, the first day I was on my own, it all went wrong. It was 3.30pm in the afternoon, the trains coming in were due hours earlier but were late because the lines were frozen. You were constantly apologising and saying ‘This is the…’ Of course the people on the platform were thinking, ‘Is she right?’ I had to abandon my script. In the end, they got someone from the booking office to help me because I was in such a pickle.

When I’d found my feet in the job I’d occasionally mess about and do my own announcements. My favourite was my Hi-de-Hi one. I’d go ‘Morning campers, Hi-de-Hi’. This was just in the signal box. It wasn’t meant to go out into the station. This happened once accidentally, because I pressed the foot pedal before I realised what I was doing.

Reg’s wife Molly (Lesley’s stepmother) also worked as a station announcer at York station. Together with Reg, she showed groups of school children around the station to teach them about rail safety.

Molly shows a school group how to do a station announcement.

Reginald became Lord Mayor of York in 1988. He greeted the royal party from their train when they visited York to see the restoration of York Minster’s South transept.

It was a great thrill to present the Queen with the city’s Sword of State, and as a railwayman of 44 years it couldn’t have been in a better place than York station.

Reginald, on the left in his mayoral robes greets the Queen.
Reginald in his mayoral robes greets the Queen.

Earlier this year our Station Stories team took Reginald and Lesley back to York station to relive their station days. Reg visited the control box, and Lesley was given the opportunity to make a train announcement.

Reg and Lesley in the signal box. Image courtesy of the York Press.

Do you come from a family of station workers? Tell us your station story by emailing or by filling in our online form.

You’ll be able to see more stories like theirs on display in our redeveloped Station Hall. Find out more about the changes we’re making here.

3 comments on “Like father, like daughter: a railway family remembers

  1. Back in the dark recession days of the 1980s I looked for a job with BR. However an integral part of the selection process seemed to be having a relative inside, and those were the people who got the jobs. Some other large engineering firms were much the same. Yes, nepotism was rife. Within a decade all those firms were broken up, privatised or simply shut down. I found a great career with a more forward looking company – which is thriving – and haven’t looked back. But what a pity that the railways couldn’t have been more open. The conductor on my commute tells me that first class is still well loaded with ex-BR staff travelling free whilst “customers” paying several thousand pounds a years stand for an hour. We all enjoy a little nostalgia however don’t forget that BR was a self-serving socialist dinosoar which was removed for good reason.

    1. A rather jaded observation and far from the truth! I have spent my 38th year on the railway, I had no family already on it or any other connections when I applied. I think I got my job through suitability at the time so maybe WHP you didnt get the job because you were deemed unsuitable (for the job! not a criticism of you personally) rather than it being a self serving socialist dinosaur that you so wanted to be a part of.

  2. It so nice to see this artical and read about my Nan and Reg on the railway and when Reg became lord mayor of York i remember staying in the mansion house in 1988 on a weekend break to York to see Nan and Reg then Lord Mayor brings back so many nice memories

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