The Signalman

The BBC are repeating “The Signalman” drama written by Charles Dickens in 1866. It is on BBC4 TV on Monday 6th December at 10.00 p.m. It is 40 minutes long and was first broadcast in 1976.


As it’s Advent and with my GWR background, I should also let you know that Charles Dickens, in the final year of his life, lost his Christmas turkey thanks to a fire on the GWR. In the Christmas week of 1869, a horse box which was being used to carry parcels on a train from Hereford to London caught fire near Hanwell & Elthorne, eight miles from Paddington. The contents of the horse box, including Dickens’ turkey were destroyed. The GWR Paddington Parcels Office contacted the turkey-less Dickens to explain and received the reply letter from him in February 1870. Dickens wrote:


Sir, in reply to your letter I beg to say that I have no doubt my Christmas fare was destroyed by an unavoidable accident, and that I bore the loss with unbroken good humour towards the Great Western Railway Company.

Faithfully Yours,


Charles Dickens”


Dickens was to die four months later in June 1870, exactly five years after surviving the Staplehurst rail crash. Some reports say that whatever was left of Dickens’ turkey was given out to the poor of Reading!


Mike Peart


Letter from Charles Dickens to Mr J.C. Kingett, Great Western Railway, Saturday 5th February 1870. ‘Sir, In reply to your letter I beg to say that I have no doubt my Christmas fare was destroyed by an unavoidable accident, and that I bore the loss with unbroken good humour towards the Great Western Railway Company. Faithfully Yours, Charles Dickens’. Letter is signed with his customary flourish and the letterhead refers to his country home Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. National Railway Museum (DIC).

Among the fascinating documents on display now at the NRM's archive, Charles Dickens letter.

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