Great Northern Block Huts
or, more correctly, LNER Block Huts
by Steve Gwinnett
Presumably introduced 1923/4 as part of the full passenger double-track opening of the 1918(?)-ish single track goods line extension from Cuffley to Langley Junction (south of Stevenage), this section of the ‘Hertford Loop’ route included three block post installations known as ‘Block Huts’, and listed as such in Table ‘A’ of the 1960 Sectional Appendix. These were at Bayford, Stapleford and Watton-at-Stone, and seem to have been an economical approach to providing ‘As required’ Block Section-breaking together with affording interlocked access to local station goods yards.
It is believed that there were a few other such installations elsewhere in LNER / BR(E) territory. (The ‘Block Hut’ was perhaps an LNER speciality?)
Stapleford and Watton were normally switched out except when siding access was required, or to increase line capacity, e.g. for handling diversions from the main line, or for other unusual needs : Their local stations had temporarily closed with suspension of the Hitchin-Hertford passenger service during in September 1939, never to re-open prior to the re-signalling (Watton station enjoyed re-birth on 11th May 1982 amongst the rail network’s early station re-openings of that period).
Bayford however continued to be served by the regular London-Hertford local passenger service, and so also was usually (manpower availability permitting) switched in for both peak services, Mondays-Fridays.
It seems that the Block Huts were considered of less importance than signal boxes, as the labelling of the blocks and bells at the boxes on either side of the huts’ locations carried the name of the neighbouring ‘proper’ box, seemingly ignoring the presence of the Huts ; e.g., Stapleford and Watton were situated between Hertford North and Langley boxes, but the block signalling equipment at Hertford was labelled “’Langley’.
Although Stapleford was abolished in the early 1960s, the other two remained in use until the 1972/3(?) resignalling of the route.
The hut was on the down side of the line roughly 380 yards north of the station. The small right-hand section of the ‘building’ is the older hut; the levers having apparently been originally in open-air, being covered in by the hut’s extension at some later date.
Gear that remained external included the wire adjusters for the Distant signals.
Looking southwards with yard Shunting Spur on the left, and part of the station just visible in the background, the hut was close to the north end of the yard, the points connection with which was one straight lead to/from the Down line, with a fixed diamond crossing in the Up road. There were no shunting signals for the points.
The view north from the up platform; with the Down Home about 330 yards from the Hut, on the left ; and the yard’s south end connection with the Up line, worked by the adjacent ground frame which was not directly released from the Block Hut, it instead having slots on the Hut’s Up Home and Distant signals (the indicator in the small glass-fronted cabinet was a repeater for the Distant slot) .
. . . although the Distant lever could be padlocked with the lever in Reverse, the key to which was kept in the Hut. Again, there were no shunting signals for the points.
The lever frame in the Block Hut, along with the raised boarded-over arrangement which enclosed space for any balance weights to assist lever-pulling, was of the same type and arrangement as seen here, resulting in the lever tops being rather low for the operator in everyday use, though fortunately none were particularly hard pulls.
Inside the Hut’s later extension, the frame’s position was cross-wise at the south end ; up signal levers on the left, down to the right. Note the repeaters for the Distant signals above each corner of the end window, and no ‘Box diagram’ of the simple layout and its minimal signalling.
Viewed from the Hut’s doorway, its cramped original section still contained the Block instruments (GN telegraph-derived type on the left, to Cuffley; ‘Thompson’ double-line type on the right, to Hertford), bells, train register book, and block switch (‘open’-type but fitted with crude plywood cover) beneath the TRB. Upper left is a Lamp In/Out or Power Supply indicator. [ & still no box diagram.]
It is said that, once while a reliefman was manning Bayford for a while around roughly fifty years ago, the hut unexpectedly gained an extra window. A crew then turned up to work away an engineers train that had been stabled in the yard for an extended period, and the guard, allowed in to make some tea, reputedly commented on the good view thus gained from within of the shallow cutting. When the train departed to the north, the origin of the new window became apparent as the brake van passed the hut with the guard gesturing out of a hole in his vehicle where there ought to have been some glazing.
The same DIY ingenuity was also allegedly credited with the hut’s gaining of an electric interior light for the first time. Only later were some mysterious extra connections from the circuitry for AWS discovered by the linemen, though my impression from the storyteller was that, as no detrimental effect had become evident, they may have suffered temporary selective blindness or amnesia.