Mount Bures Crossing





Stour Valley Railway
Mount Bures Level Crossing

The rail track runs from Marks Tey to Sudbury.
It opened in 1848 and passes through the centre of the village.
There is no halt at Mount Bures

For more comprehensive details on the Bures section of the line visit the Bures web site

A Mr. H. W. Harmer was in post at Mount Bures from c.1951. He had a wife and four children.

He had some form of 'disability' making him eligible for a 'Light Work Post', which the crossing was at that time.

The normal position of the gates at that time was 'closed to road' (as stated in BR Rule 99), and the gates required attending to each time a road vehicle arrived. Because road traffic over the crossing had become in excess of rail in the mid-fifties, application was made by BR to the Ministry of Transport and Essex County Council Highways Department for an 'exemption from Rule 99' in late 1955, meaning the normal position of the gates would be be 'closed to rail', the crossing keeper being required to attend to the gates for the passage of each train.

This exemption was granted during 1956 and the crossing was no longer considered a 'Light Work Post'. Mr. Harmer was asked to consider transfer to another 'light work post'.
He was reluctant to do this as he had become settled at Mount Bures and the house was due to be modernised. He eventually selected a vacancy at Panswell LC, Wisbech St. Mary (his preference was the Spalding area). He gave up tenancy at Mount Bures on 11th January 1957.

Courtesy of David Underwood 17/1/23

Crossing Keeper circa 1960




Reprint of East Anglian Daily Times
Date unknown

Kathleen Willingham


The level-crossing gate has to be worked 48 times a day. Slightly built - Mrs Kathleen Willingham is shown pulling a signal lever. It`s a tough job, equal to pulling a hundredweight and Mrs Willingham does this it at least 144 times a day.
Then she swings the large level crossing gates - she does that 48 times a day.
From six in the morning until 10.30 at night
"I can`t manage of six and a half hours sleep a night "she said
So the 36 year old mother of four, is fighting British Rail to get her 91 hours reduced.
The hard working little woman who is only 5ft 2" and weighs just 8st 7lbs.

Kathleen, said "We women level crossing keepers are the Cinderellas of the railways, but we are forgotten"

There are at least 24 trains a day except on a Sunday.
Even on her weekly day off, her rest day "Kathleen has be to be on duty from 6am until 10.15 am. when her relief man arrives.
Another man takes over in the afternoon because men are allowed to work only an eight- hour shift
'No such rules apply to women" said Mrs Willingham

Each week she is allowed four hours off for her weekly shopping.
Her pay is just £4 10.10d after deductions for income tax, insurance and the rent for her railway cottage.
Why does she do it ?
"We needed a house, my husband and I were desperate. We took this job 18 months ago as a last resort."

An Eastern Region spokesman said, "The Keeper knew what the conditions were when she took the job".
Mrs Willingham,
he said, "was able to do things about the house between trains and so she was considered to be only working part time"

Courtesy of David Underwood for the press cutting

Photograph taken 6th July 1960

Femail Crossing Keepers known officially known as Gatewomen

By July 1914, there were 413 SignalWomen and Gatewomen employed nationally.

By 1950 women had been working as crossing keepers for a century.
Typically, they worked between eight and 12 hours a day, six days a week, for 27s, while men performing identical work received 80s for a 48-hour week. Women were tired of being told that this inequality was due to agreements made between the company and the National Union of Railway Men
One, Mrs Duerden, observed that is was 'high time the Union got some of these obsolete agreements were altered.`
Managers were reluctant to grant women any time off: according to the companies, a day's work for a female crossing keeper consisted of 24 hours, yet a day's leave consisted of providing a stand-in for just eight hours! During 1950 there were 1,285 male and 1,591 female crossing keepers, so the usual excuse - that women were a tiny minority and therefore of no significance - was inapplicable. It is possible that the NUR thought women crossing keepers a lost cause, and one that could jeopardise the men's case. However, it continued to accept the women's subscriptions.
Despite being in the majority, gatewomen seem to have been invisible to some. One railwayman complained of 'scandalous conditions, such as inhuman hours of work, miserable wages and an utter lack of facilities for recreation' which were endured by 'heroic hard-working crossing keepers' who gave day and night selfless services which are safeguarding the lives of millions of passengers, not to mention the millions of tons of goods vital to the war efforts'.

The men's campaign for more wages bore fruit in 1947 when rates of pay for gatemen were raised to between 76s and 95s (inclusive of 25s 6d war wage). while the highest-graded woman
earned a mere 53s (295 plus 24s war wage). Men also won 10s 6d per week compensation
for being excluded from the 48 hour week, which had been conceded to all other male
grades. Nothing was offered to women.

Gatewomen Duerden wrote to The Times
We are classified as 'Railway Workers' but when improvements are made we find
another well-worn expression applies to us: "This concession is not granted to
female crossing keepers"

Marriage to a railwayman was not a very attractive proposition for a single
gatewoman, for she would immediately suffer a pay cut of 8s to 10s." The practice of
paying a railwayman's wife lower wages was abolished after Nationalisation in 1948 and, at the same time, all gatewomen were awarded a 4s rise.
Female crossing keepers continued to suffer disparity in uniform provision: men were
issued a cap, jacket and vest annually, trousers every six months and a coat every three years.
Women received no uniform, but BR conceded that they could have an overcoat
every four years.
By 1956, crossing keepers' pay was 140s to 144s for men and 71s to 90s for women.
owing to union agreements in the 1950s, railwaymen were restricted by law to a 12 hour day , while women residential crossing keepers could work 16 hours or more.
Furthermore, men were granted an eight-hour period off duty each week, while women
were granted only four hours' 'shopping leave'.
When one femail crossing keeper requested an extra hour off-duty for Christmas shopping she found her pay docked a quarter day."


Courtesy of Helena Wojtczak, author of "Railwaywomen"

Her special areas of interest and expertise include the British women's suffrage movement, nineteenth century feminism, railway labour history, and the Victorian working classes. In 1995-97 she compiled a unique audio-taped oral history of women war-workers, and was consultant historian to the National Railway Museum, helping to create a major exhibition on the history of railway workers.


Kathleen May Willingham

Probably moved to Mount Bures Crossing Cottage in 1958. (unconfirmed)

Lived at White Colne

Died 2005, Registered at Braintree

NB- There was a large Willingham family living in Bures after the end of WW2.
There may well be a family connection between Kathleen and this local family.

if anyone can supply me with Kathleens family history,
I would be very grateful.


Not sure of the dates of the subsequent ladies

Call of Duty for Mrs Jean Carr is the sound of the Gong. in
her British Rail cottage at Mount Bures.
It means that a train is due in five minutes at the Level Crossing, where she is the Keeper.
Mrs Carr, wife of a railway signals technician has been in the job for 2.5 years, and she loves it,

Courtesy of David Underwood,


Shirley Tricker

Followed by:-

Mrs Condra cira 1965

Mrs Stannard late 1970`s

There were numerous relief Signalmen including Mr Baty and Peter Sandeman,
until automation arrived

Crossing Gates 1974

Crossing Gates 1974

Crossing September 1977
David Underwood

Crossing 1991

Neil Widdock and Tony Fisher relief Signalmen, possibly 1990`s
Ian Tudball was the operations supervisor based at Witham during the early ‘90s

Dilapidated Crossing Cottage 2010

Cottage 2014

Cottage 2020

Cottage 2020

Cottage 2020

Cottage Cottage Nameplate

2020 Crossing photographs courtesy of David Paris, Facebook




Several potential buyers have approached Network Rail to purchase the property.
Others had tried to get it designated as a Listed Building

As far as I am aware, the cottage will never be released for residential occupation, due to its proximity to a live rail.
Network Rail seem to have no incentive to demolish it.

January 2024 - The Crossing Cottage still lies derelict.


First Published in 2014
More Photos
updated 22/08/2021
Thanks to David Underwood, Facebook for his help with the crossing keeper information
Photographs updated 18/01/23

Kathleen Willingham, Extract from Railwaywomen