The Leicester Gap
by John Hinson
What is the “Leicester Gap”? For many years I was puzzled by this geographical name that appeared from nowhere. I eventually concluded it referred specifically to a pocket of mechanical signalling on the Midland Main Line sandwiched between the areas controlled by Trent power box (of 1969) and West Hampstead power box (1978).
In 1986 and 1987, Bernard W Morley (a bridge examiner) took the opportunity to photograph many of these boxes shortly before they, too, were swept away – with the signalling being controlled from a pioneering computer-screen based signalling system at Leicester. What follows is a quick photographic tour along the line, north to south. It by no means shows all of the boxes concerned, but it illustrates the atmosphere of a key section of the former Midland Railway network, much as it had been for nearly a century.
The northernmost of the signal boxes concerned was at Loughborough – it opened in 1892 and became the fringe box to Trent in 1969. It was abolished on 11th April 1987. The name-board reflects the LMS policy of abbreviating place names with “orough” on the end – the same was done at Wellingborough.
Sileby was an intermediate box between Loughborough and Syston that opened in 1898. It had once had its own station but this closed in 1968. The box survived through to 11th April 1987. I’m not clear why the nameplate has been moved – perhaps it came detached from its original position which is clearly defined by the horizontal line of unpainted wood.
Syston North Junction
A triangular junction existed at Syston with the line to Melton Mowbray. At the Loughborough corner was Syston North Junction. This box opened in 1891 and was abolished 11th April 1987. The long name-board on the front of the box is the original Midland Railway one; it was the LMS that placed shortened versions on the ends of Midland boxes.
Syston South Junction
At the Leicester end was Syston South Junction, opened in 1911 and closed 11th April 1987.
On the approaches to Leicester was Bell Lane box, which at one time controlled part of the important steam locomotive shed. It had opened in 1891 and closed 29th June 1986.
At the north end of Leicester station was . . . well . . . Leicester North box, which opened in 1911 and closed 29th June 1986. Notice that part if the roof was at one time glazed to allow the signalmen to monitor operation of signals close to the box.
Wigston South Junction
There were two further triangular junctions to the south of Leicester, at Knighton and Wigston. This is Wigston South Junction, opened 1900 and closed 29th June 1986.
An intermediate box existed at Kilby Bridge, controlling loops and refuge sidings on the double-track section. It opened in 1900 and was abolished 29th June 1986. It has never been clear why it was built in this unusual style, the area does not seem to suffer from limited space or visibility.
Glendon North Junction
The double track spread to four lines a few miles north of Kettering, at Glendon North Junction which opened in 1904 and took over the work of Glendon South Junction in 1973. This gave rise to a strange situation where trains travelling to/from the Corby direction would only be seen passing at the far side of the field behind the box! The box closed 5th December 1987.
A northbound HST on the Down Fast line passes Kettering Station box, opened in 1913 and abolished 5th December 1987.
Further south was Kettering Junction, built by the LMS in 1935. It once controlled the single-line branch to Huntingdon and the little platform to make token exchanging easier can be seen. More information and photographs of the box can be seen in the Photo Gallery section. The box closed 5th December 1987.
On the approaches to Wellingborough was Neilsons Sidings, controlling the north end of the extensive marshalling yards of Wellingborough. It opened in 1893 and was abolished 5th December 1987.
At the opposite end of the marshalling yards was Finedon Road, opened in 1893 and closed 5th December 1987. This was probably the busiest box at Wellingborough.
Wellingborough Station box (“Wellingboro” on the nameplate) was placed at the north end of the station. Its lifespan ran from 1893 through to 5th December 1987.
The southernmost box along the “Leicester Gap” was Irchester South – a remote and lonely outpost opened in 1897. It became the fringe to West Hampstead in 1981. Here, it bears a sad message which presumably relates to demolition, for the actual date it came out of service was 5th December.