- Explore the museum:
- The Historic House
- Past & Current Exhibitions
The Signalman Synopsis
A traveller meets a railway signalman while he is at work one day. The signalman and the traveller talk inside the man’s lonely cabin but it is clear that the signalman is distracted and on edge. The traveller asks if he can return again the next day.
When the traveller goes to see the signalman again the signalman tells him about a ghost which he has seen at the entrance of the tunnel, both times just before awful accidents happened on the railway track. The signalman admits that he has seen he spectre multiple times in the past week. The traveller provides rational explanations, showing a scepticism for the signalman’s supernatural sightings.
On the final day the traveller goes to visit the signalman, only to be told that he has been struck by an oncoming train. It seems that he was transfixed by something on the track, despite the train driver calling out to him.
The Story in context
Trains became a popular mode of transport during Dickens’s lifetime, and he was a seasoned traveller, using the locomotive to travel the country to see friends and carry out his reading tours. But as this new technology developed there were also devastating accidents. Dickens himself experienced the Staplehurst Railway crash in 1865, a year before he wrote this story. Dickens was haunted by memories of the accident for the rest of his life.
“Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is troubled. The spectre came back a week ago. Ever since, it has been there, now and again, by fits and starts.”
“At the light?”
“At the Danger-light.”
“What does it seem to do?”
He repeated, if possible with increased passion and vehemence, that former gesticulation of, “For God’s sake, clear the way!”
Then he went on. “I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me, for many minutes together, in an agonised manner, ‘Below there! Look out! Look out!’ It stands waving to me. It rings my little bell—”