A Tribute to Dave Stenning
by Danny Goodrum
In 2002 David “Sten” Stenning, a signalman at Cambridge power box, died unexpectedly at the age of 40. David had started his career in the Ely area, working mostly at Ely Station North, and had photographed many of the boxes around there before modernisation saw their demise. This section of the web site shows some of his photographs of the boxes in his area in tribute to him.
The man himself in a late eighties view of Ely Station North. Seated is Andrew Ashton who was then then gate boy but is now a driver for WA&GN.
Chippenham Jct is at the eastern end of what was once a triangular junction near Newmarket. It now works with Kennett (or Bury St Edmunds Yard when Kennett is closed), Dullingham and Cambridge power box and uses three different block systems – Absolute, Track Circuit and Tokenless. The Tokenless block was installed to Dullingham replacing Key Token working after the destruction of Newmarket box by a freak whirlwind that hit the town in the seventies, lifting the box off its footings and rolling the signalman’s Reliant Robin over onto its roof.
When this photo was taken, Chippenham Junction still had no electricity supply to the box which explains the large number of gas bottles in the compound and the adjoining battery shed. The box must have been very cramped in its early days as the frame takes up most of the front of the box, the back having been extended to give room to swing a proverbial cat.
Chippenham Jct is a lonely place. It is reached from the main road via a tree lined drive and across the Al Bahathri racing gallops, yet no more than 400 yds to the north lies the main A14 with traffic to and from the East Coast Ports thundering by.
Chippenham has recently been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, now being mains connected and partially refurbished.
A bit of a dark view of the frame but it shows just how little room there was to spare before the box was enlarged.
Wood Ditton is a level crossing between Newmarket and Dullingham, now protected by Automatic Half Barriers. Until conversion it boasted this rather pleasant gate box. Although its arrangements suggest that it was built as a gate box rather than a full-blown signal box, it could operate as a signal box when required (during the 1950s, at least) – although this facility seems to have been removed by 1960. Apparently it was so used on Newmarket race days to cope with the heavy traffic. Signal arms were removed from their posts and stored under the box at other times.
Soham became famous for the wagon that exploded during the second world war that caused huge destruction but, having survived that, little had changed into the eighties. Here, the single-line branch from Ely Dock Junction spread to a double line, continuing southwards to Chippenham Junction on its way towards Bury St Edmunds.
The box on the old Down platform was a peaceful place to be, early shift in the eighties produced about six trains. However the other two shifts were busier with freight trains to and from Ipswich, Felixstowe and Parkeston Quay.
Before the frame was shortened, the levers for the distants were positioned inside the frame – one pulled Home-Starter-Distant working in from the ends. This arrangement was common on the old NER territory of the LNER, but rare elsewhere. It could lead the careless relief-man into putting the Starter back in front of a train.
Soham frame was reduced when the layout was rationalised. Long lead switches of the type later used for the 125 m.p.h. Junction at Colton on the East Coast Mainline were trialled at Soham and are still there today.
The box has been well travelled since its retirement having been to both Whipsnade Zoo and the Colne Valley Railway but is now now residing in a farmyard in Prickwillow, about 5 miles away from where it started, ironically watching over the Ely to Norwich line.
An eighties view of the box then reduced to Gate box status:
Many frustrated motorists have been turned away over the years, the road is a dead end at the river Great Ouse. However some poorly printed road maps give the impression that the road actually crosses the river and is a through route to Soham and Barway on the other side.
Ely Dock Junction
Dock Jct was the southernmost box at Ely and controlled the Junction with the Bury line, the Down Goods loop and the entrance to Ely yard. Ely Dock Junction worked to Ely South, Soham and Waterbeach. It became the fringe box to Cambridge panel when Waterbeach closed in 1982. Before the closure of Ely South, the Dock Junction Down direction Starting signals were neither locked by Line Clear on the block nor slotted by the South box, and this was the only box I worked with “free” levers.
The Bury branch to Soham (top right on the above diagram) was worked by Key Token but was later converted to Track Circuit Block with direction levers. This was welcomed by the signalmen as it saved having to go out with the token on cold wet winter nights! Ely Dock Jct had a really splendid array of semaphore signals and was regularly visited by parties of trainee signalmen from the Ilford signal school as it was one of the last mechanical boxes in East Anglia of much size or complexity that was easily accessed from a station.
The new (and rather larger) diagram provided when the box became a fringe to Cambridge PSB:
The frame at the Dock was a Westinghouse type alleged to have been displayed by the L.N.E.R at the Great Exhibition alongside showpiece 4472 Flying Scotsman before being installed at Ely. I personally liked the frame it had quite long levers, as being a little short and stout it gave me a good swing on the quite heavy points and signals.
At the South end of the station the South box mirrored the work of Station North, – details of the method of working and the types of instrument are described below.
The South also controlled the exit from the Down Goods line from Ely Dock and the Yard at Ely, in latter years notable for storage of redundant coaching stock en route for Snailwell scrapyard on the Ely – Bury line. Between Ely South and Dock Jct the back platform line was worked as a single line allowing trains access to and from the Bury line. This was signalled by using slots on the signals at each end and double line three position block instruments rather than by single line regulations. There was also the Front Road which was a through siding that ran between the Up Main and the single line, worked under no-block instructions and unusually having wide-to-gauge trap points at each end.
Ely Station North
Ely Station North controlled the northern end of Ely Station until the demise of Ely South when it was re-signalled and took over the south end also. The North was staffed by signalman and a gate lad on early and late shifts, but at night the signalman had to work the gates himself.
The photograph of the box diagram (below) dates from around 1980, but the exterior view above was taken later, after the gates had been replaced by lifting barriers.
Both the North and South boxes once had their block shelves filled by Tyer’s three-position pegging instruments (of Great Northern design) but these were latterly replaced by the B.R. standard bakelite ones. Each line had separate pegging and repeating instruments with their own bells and tappers.
Station North and South used slotted signals to control entry to the platforms and Down through line, and there was an Up goods line worked under no-block regulations. All platform lines were permissive and could be used for wrong direction movements – this necessitated a large number of special bell signals which were specified in the box special instructions.
A subway exists at Ely Station North to allow the level crossing to be by-passed by cars. This is the notorious Stuntney Road bridge, once the second most “bashed” bridge on B.R. On many occasions a vehicle of 9′ 7″ or more would try to use the limited clearance of the underpass to avoid a lengthy wait for the gates to open. When some unfortunate vehicle got stuck underneath the bridge prior to the revised instructions, the Permanent Way, Signal & Telegraph and platform staff, together with anyone else with a bit of weight to them would be summoned and would all climb in or on the vehicle in an attempt to compress the springs and release it from the grip of the bridge. Should this happen in the night when less staff were available, the only solution was be to let the tyres down and apply much revving and clutch slipping to effect an escape!
Station North starter and Ely North Junction distants, I believe to be unique in having the three way split. Shot shows signal cleared with Ely North Junction all off for the Down March line.
Ely North Junction
Ely North Junction was the busiest of the Ely boxes, controlling the triple junction and both ends of the West Curve which allowed trains to run direct between Norwich and Peterborough instead of reversing at Ely station.
One of Dave’s shots of the outside of the box working this complex junction:
The frame totalled 76 levers including 2 at the left end labelled A and B. In the upper photograph signalman Dick Desborough is seen answering the Padnal block instrument for the Norwich line. At the booking desk is box lad Mickey Wilson who is now a driver with Central Trains. Most box lads went on into the signalling grade, however in the eighties we lost some potentially good signalmen to the loco department.
Ely North Junction supervised the operation of the three Queen Adelaide level crossings, Peterborough Road, Lynn Road and Norwich Road – named after the lines they were on rather than the highway. At busy times it could take up to fifteen minutes to drive through the village passing over all three of them, which were all within a distance of about 800 yards.
Ely North Junction worked to Chettisham, Littleport, Padnal and Ely Station North. Separate routing bells were used between the Junction and Station North to denote which line a train was from or to, to avoid wrong routing or platforming. The Down Distant at the Junction was the Station North Down Starter and was I think unique in being a three way splitting colour-light signal. At the time of resignalling, it was understood this was destined for the National Railway Museum.
A remarkably upright shot of the leaning box of the fens, perhaps Sten was leaning himself when he took it?
The first box out on the March line, Chettisham controlled the busy road crossing on the old A10 trunk road also the private siding giving access to the Grain Silo and wartime Cold store depot. The photos date from early eighties – the once wheel-operated gates having been replaced by lifting barriers.
Chettisham worked to Black Bank and Ely North Junction, which were both quite short sections. However Down trains from Ely North Junction via the Ely avoiding line (the West Curve) could take twice as long in section as main line trains. Ely North Junction would give 1-2 on the large brass bell (centre block shelf) to denote a train routed as such, to avoid the wrath of the motorist extra time would be allowed before lowering the barriers and pulling off.
The diagram shows the Grain siding in the bottom right corner leading off from the Down Refuge Siding; this was worked by a single lever ground frame released by an Annett’s Key which was kept in the signalbox. Grain from Chettisham was sent to Scotland for use in the production of whiskey. The cold store was cleared out in the late eighties and converted to industrial units – it allegedly still contained wartime margarine.