On 16 October 1948 Colonel Arthur H Mellows and his friend Mr A. F. Percival were returning home in the colonel’s large black Chrysler car after a day’s shooting near Conington. When they reached the Conington level-crossing Colonel Mellows – a keen railway follower – looked up and down the line. There was a train standing on the south side of the crossing some 200yards away, obviously waiting for the signal to proceed northwards towards the crossing. The Colonel remarked to his friend ‘That’s the 4pm to London’ then got back into the car. Mr Percival opened the gates and watched the car slowly cross the line. Neither appears to have looked in the other direction. Later Mr Percival said his impression was that Colonel Mellows was looking in one direction at the stationary train and just didn’t notice a fast express that was bearing down on him from the other direction. The train ploughed into his car and instantly killed the colonel and his dog.
Colonel Mellows was buried in the city with full civic honours; his faithful Labrador was buried beside the fatal stretch of line.
In time there were stories of strange happenings at the crossing. Over a dozen signalmen reported having experienced inexplicable events, so much so that some refused to work the box. Mr D. Ellis, signalman at Conington from 1956 until 1958 remembered looking out from the remote box over the flat wind-swept fens and hearing gates clanging to and fro when they were locked.
In a BBC interview in 1973 several signalmen gave accounts of seeing a large black car drawing up to the crossing, obviously waiting to cross the line. By the time they had walked down to perform their duty, the car had vanished. Other signalmen reported sighting the apparition of the phantom car and hearing the crunch of gravel as it approached the crossing. In broad daylight one man said he was able to define a mascot on the radiator which seemed to be the figure of a lady. Colonel Mellows’ car had such a mascot. Everything pointed to the fact that Colonel Mellows had returned to the scene of his tragic death.
Mr Norman Jinks, who had custody of the box for many years, used to take his dog for a walk near the crossing but the animal was always very distressed whenever they passed the spot where Colonel Mellows’ Labrador was buried. The whole area was regarded as highly emotive because of the unexplained events.
The signal box was later removed as part of the Peterborough area signalling modernisation with the crossing then controlled by remote-control television from the next box down the line at Holme. The official explanation of the removal of Conington box, and the choice of Holme to supervise several crossings in the area, was based on technical considerations but one wonders how much of that decision was based on the events at Conington. Now, many years later, the crossing is still regarded with a touch of fear at night but today’s high-speed trains fly noisily along the main line over the crossing – their passengers little realising that they are passing over the scene of such tragic events.
I say ‘events’ because there had been another tragic event there a few years previous. I’ll tell you about that before this Hallowe’en has ended!