Unique railway signal boxes granted listed status

By Sarah Jackson | 26 July 2013

The 1891 Hebden Bridge signal box in West Yorkshire is one of only a handful of Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway boxes to survive in its original condition.

Signal box at Bury St Edmunds Yard, Edmundsbur​y, Suffolk
© Charles Weightman / Network Rail
It is now one of 26 rare signal boxes granted Grade II listed status by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

The listings come on the back of a joint English Heritage and Network Rail project to safeguard the nation’s railway signalling heritage.

National Rail is currently decommissioning many mechanical signal boxes and combining signalling into 12 regional centres as part of a 30 year modernisation plan.

The newly listed signal boxes range across England from Cornwall to Norfolk and Sussex to Yorkshire and date between the 1870s to the 1920s. Many retain their original operating equipment and are much loved local landmarks.

Heritage Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “Our interest in everything to do with trains and railways – and the ‘golden age’ of steam in particular - is one of our most endearing and enduring national preoccupations. Signal boxes are a big part of this, and so I am very pleased indeed to be able to list these lovely examples of the type.”

The National Heritage Protection Plan has enabled English Heritage and National Rail to work closely together to identify and preserve a representative sample of signal boxes.

Designs range from structures such as the imposing Great Western Railways signal box at Totnes, Cornwall to the diminutive Stevens & Sons box at Grain Crossing in Medway, Kent, the last survivor of a once plentiful model.

A more elaborate design can be seen at Brundall in Norfolk where the 1883 box is built from wood blocks cut to resemble stone.

Signal boxes first began to be installed in the mid-19th century and are buildings unique to railways. At the peak of their use by Network Rail there were around 10,000 across the country; today there are less than 500 still in use.

They were built by specialist contractors such as Saxby & Farmer and individual railway companies in highly visible spots at stations and crossings. Each company developed their own style of signal box, with some featuring embellishments that went far beyond their practical function.

As well as being used on vintage railway lines, decommissioned signal boxes have found use in their post-railway life as cafes, museums and holiday lets, sometimes even being moved to new locations.

More information about the latest designations can be found by searching on the National Heritage List for England.

More pictures:

Signal box at Brundall, Broadland, Norfolk
© Charles Weightman / Network Rail
Signal box at Totnes, South Hams, Devon
Signal box at Grain Crossing, Medway, Kent
Signal box at Hebden Bridge in Calderdale​, West Yorkshire
© Charles Weightman / Network Rail
Interior of a signal box at Downham Market, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk - SB Lever Frame
© Charles Weightman / Network Rail
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