The incredible life of the oldest Thameslink employee who is a local hero in Elstree and Borehamwood

Siggy gets up at 4am every morning for his early shift at the Hertfordshire station, before returning home to listen to music and exercise

Siggy Cragwell knew that he wanted to work on steam trains when he moved to England from Barbados as part of the Windrush generation in 1962. As a little boy, the youngest of 11 children and raised by his grandmother, he had watched them on the big screens of cinemas and was fixated by their rotating wheels and spiralling steam.

At 82 years old, Siggy is Thameslink’s oldest employee and has spent the last six decades working on the railway. He seems no closer to retiring, and his eyes crinkle with a wide smile as he speaks about getting up at 4am each weekday morning to be on time for his shift at Elstree and Borehamwood Station.

That warm smile has greeted thousands of passengers over the years, and he has become something of a celebrity in the local community. Siggy has worked at the Hertfordshire station since 2002 and, as we sit down to speak about his incredible life, people cannot help but wave at him or stop to chat about the cricket.

“I love meeting the people that I work with,” Siggy says. “That is my favourite thing about working on the railway. I am quite happy with everything, because the railway is my home. Other people leave, and I could have become a driver if I wanted to, but I wouldn’t because I love it.”

Siggy explains that, in the 1960s, liaison officers came to Barbados to recruit people to work in Britain. Some went to work in hospitals, or as manual labourers, and others were put to work at the train stations. Siggy, who had worked at a sweet factory and spray painting cars in Barbados, always knew he wanted to work on the railway.

Siggy’s uniform is immaculate and he wears it with pride

He was 23 when he arrived in England and he started work as a cleaner at Marylebone Station. He was met with kindness and immediately found a home in the railway. “I feel very lucky,” he says. “My manager was a very nice man. I was looked after. I don’t know why, but I was looked after.”

Siggy had accommodation paid for for the first month – although he would eventually have to pay that money back – before he had to find his own place to live. He went to live with his brother in a house of seven people, all of them from Barbados. So far away from the rest of his family, that house reminded him of the warmth of home.

As a little boy, Siggy had met Princess Margaret and had been taught about England at school. It had seemed another world, and people had warned him of the challenges he would face. And he would face challenges – but Siggy is far more keen to talk about the good in people and the love he has for the friends he has made throughout his life.

He worked at Marylebone Station for 17 years, before moving on to Cricklewood Depot. There, he worked as both a cleaner and a shunter – responsible for moving trains between the yards and platforms. Siggy had to learn to drive a steam train, and he has seen incredible changes in the railway over the decades – including the start of the Thameslink line in the 1980s.

After working at the Cricklewood Depot, Siggy moved on to Bedford station, Luton railway stores and St Albans City station before arriving at Elstree and Borehamwood in 2002. Thameslink had called on Siggy, known for his experience, to boost the station team.

After a first National Rail Award in 2020, a local resident nominated Siggy for the Railway Benefit Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award which he received earlier this year. He has also recently been invited to an unveiling of the official Windrush memorial at Waterloo, which he will attend on June 22.

Siggy chuckles as he admits he has often been the smallest man working on the railways. He is gentle and soft spoken but, in many ways, he is larger than life. He has a kind face that people instantly trust. “I’m not a dad,” Siggy says, “but I’m being called grandad.”

Speaking on behalf of Thameslink, media relations manager Roger Perkins says: “Siggy has worked for the railway for 60 years. We think he’s unique. He’s certainly our oldest employee. He’s so respected and so loved, not only by people in the community, but also by the railway family.

“Siggy adds value to everyone he spends time with, and he really leads by example. He’s such a joy to work with, and it shows in the things that people say about him all the time.”

Siggy is humble as he listens to those words, even though he hears such praise so often. “I like to talk to people,” he says, “and I will listen to them. Even if I don’t believe them, I will listen. That’s how I am and that’s my way of life.”

His way of life is certainly one to be admired. Siggy turns 83 this year and is no closer to slowing down. Perhaps the secret to his happy life is 4am starts and a big breakfast, before commuting to Hertfordshire for his shift until 11am.

After that, he returns home to Hampstead where he spends his day listening to music and exercising. He has his own home gym, where he will lift weights and use a back roller to massage his spine. He does both tai chi and taekwondo, and he goes on long walks on Hampstead Heath.

He recently went on a four-hour walk through the heath with people he had met at Elstree and Borehamwood, passengers who have become friends. Others are taking him to Lords to see the cricket.

Siggy is perhaps his most passionate when talking about his cricketing career. He has played for the University of London and Thames TV teams, and he has been on international test match tours in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Spain. He even made 14 appearances for the England Over-70s squad.

“As long as this body is running, I think I’ll be doing something,” Siggy says. “I have to do something or I’ll get bored. There’s no one at home but me. It’s just me in the house. It’s not good for me to do nothing. Your body slows down very quickly if you do nothing.”

It seems highly unlikely that this wise and fresh-faced 82-year-old will ever do nothing. Siggy adds: “That’s why I love the railway. But when the time comes, I will go. Life changes as you get older. As your body gets slower, you have to change. That’s my interpretation of life.”