Wensleydale Railway: Yorkshire heritage railway crossing gates win award as plaque unveiled at Crakehall Station

Wensleydale Railway’s historic railway station at Crakehall has won a national award for its crossing gates and a plaque has been unveiled to mark the occasion.

A plaque has been erected at Crakehall railway station to commemorate Wensleydale Railway’s win of The Hendy and Pendle Trust Volunteers Award at the 2023 National Railway Heritage Awards.

The award was received for the replacement level crossing gates donated by Wensleydale Railway’s long-term volunteer Bob Coombs, who used money from an inheritance to fund the new gates.

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He led the project to design, build and install them; the gates are of wooden material and made to a design based on the London and North Eastern Railway Southern Division style. They were produced by William Lambert of the Woodcraft Studio at Raygill House Farm, near Hawes.

Level crossing gate at Crakehall Station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)Level crossing gate at Crakehall Station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)
Level crossing gate at Crakehall Station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)

A volunteer ‘keeper’ is required to manually operate the crossing gates whenever the heritage railway is operating trains. The former four light metal gates have been quite a challenge over the years, especially during extremely windy weather. When the gate catches were released, the gates would swing at will and the solo crossing keeper struggled to control them. Volunteers affectionately called this ‘the Crakehall Dance’.

Mr Coombs has been a volunteer for 11 years and within that time, he has worked on various jobs, including crossing keeper at Crakehall Station. He is currently one of the railway’s living history interpreters who dresses in period costumes as well as Leeming Bar’s station master, where he plays the character of Mr Newton, the original station master in the 1920s. He frequently takes visitors on informative tours around the 1920s restored station building.

The plaque was unveiled by Lord Hendy, who is chair of Network Rail, at a ceremony held on June 3, 2024 and was attended by Andy Savage, chair of Railway Heritage Trust and Tim Hedley-Jones, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust. They were joined by members of the National Railway Heritage Awards team, volunteers and staff from Wensleydale Railway and William Lambert and his wife and daughter.

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The National Railway Heritage Awards started in 1979 and are dedicated to encouraging, celebrating and awarding best practice in the re-use, restoration and continued maintenance of the UK’s rich heritage of railway and tramway buildings and structures.

Bob Coombs at the unveiling of the plaque. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)Bob Coombs at the unveiling of the plaque. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)
Bob Coombs at the unveiling of the plaque. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)

Crakehall railway station was first opened to the public in 1856 by the Bedale and Leyburn Railway, which later became part of the London and North Eastern Railway. The railway was closed to scheduled passenger traffic in 1954 and goods traffic in 1992. Wensleydale Railway currently has a lease of the building.

Mr Coombs said: “I have been a volunteer for 12 years and in that time, I’ve done various jobs, including Crossing Keeper at Crakehall Station.

“Having worked the old gates on a windy day, I know first-hand the problems that Crossing Keepers faced with the older, light gates. It was clear that new gates were needed. I unexpectedly came into an inheritance that not only enabled me to fund new gates but also to have ones that reflected the heritage nature of the Wensleydale Railway.

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Plaque unveiled at Crakehall railway station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)Plaque unveiled at Crakehall railway station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)
Plaque unveiled at Crakehall railway station. (Pic credit: Nick Keegan / Wensleydale Railway)

“The work was mainly carried out by volunteers and is of an excellent standard. Replacing worn out metal gates with high quality wooden heritage style ones demonstrates the confidence that the Wensleydale Railway has going forward.”

Chairman of The Wensleydale Railway Association (Trust), Richard Leathley, said: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of our railway, and this award recognises the incredible contribution that Bob and all our volunteers make.

“It also highlights our commitment and dedication to preserving our railway heritage and keeping history alive for generations to enjoy.”

Fundraising and marketing manager at Wensleydale Railway, Nick Keegan, said: “As a volunteer-led and supported organisation, this award means a great deal to us.

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“It recognises the incredible contribution that all our volunteers make to our railway and their dedication and commitment to preserving our vital railway history for generations to enjoy.

“We are very proud of Bob, everyone involved in this project and to our entire team of amazing volunteers.”

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