Grade II listed Ladywell station, opened in 1857, has long been a central part of the neighbourhood’s Victorian heritage.
Sabesh has yet to achieve quite that status. But after 18 years in the station ticket office he has become almost as familiar a feature of the village.
Nagalingam Srisabesan, to give Sabesh his full name, came to the UK in 1986, aged 22 years old.
He had fled his home town Tellippalai in the Tamil dominated north of Sri lanka as the civil war between Tamil Tiger separatists and government forces intensified.
“I was a poliIitcal refugee. I had been active in left wing politics as a school student, helping to produce a quarterly magazine,” says Sabesh.
“But as the conflict intensified there was a crackdown against dissent in the northern Tamil regions. I had to leave my village.
“Thirty-four of my friends and colleagues were detained … only one of them survived.”
The conflict between the Sinhalese led government and the Tamil Tigers lasted nearly three decades, and claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000-100,000 people.
On his arrival in the UK Sabesh had to find work – first in shops and later at petrol stations along with several Tamil students who liked to work the night shifts so they could study during the day.
He eventually joined Southeastern Rail in 2001, working initially at Eden Park before moving to Ladywell.
“Ladywell was better. It was a busier station.”
He has stayed put ever since, becoming a welcoming fixture for many of Ladywell’s morning commutets.
“I like Ladywell. Its always been a friendly place,” he says.
He remembers when he first started at the station he would arrive early in the morning to find a crowd of commuters gathered around the newsagents kiosk in the station, drinking coffee and chatting,
“And on a Wednesdays it was the Guardian jobs section. First thing in the morning there’d be a pile of Guardians so high you couldn’t see anybody behind the counter.
“By 7.30 I could just about see the top of a head.”
He also remembers seeing a lot of musicians – “they all carried their instruments” – arriving at the station for 9.30am to buy their cheap day returns and travel cards.
“I don’t see so many of them now.” But he acknowledges the neighbourhood has changed with many more young people having moved into the area.
“The station is busy … but its quieter for me these days because of new ticketing arrangements and oyster.
“I used to sell more than 500 tickets a day. Now it can be just 50.” But he has other responsibilities around the station.
Over recent years Sabesh has travelled back to Sri Lanka a few times. “I was there just two years ago. I visited my old village.
But many of the people he knew there have gone abroad or moved to other areas. “My village was in ‘no-mans land’ for 20 years during the civil conflict. It wasn’t safe.”
Sabesh says he has 11 more years to work. He doesn’t know if he will be in Ladywell for that long.
“The Southeastern franchise might change hands again and there’s talk of bringing the Bakerloo line here. Anything might happen.”
But for the time being he’s happy to keep on greeting Ladywell’s travellers and providing much needed guidance through the ticketing maze of our rail network.