The signalling that once existed on the approaches to the North London Railway's City terminus

by John Hinson

Chapter 1: Dalston to New Inn Yard

The North London Railway was unique in having a very intensive passenger service intermingled along with frequent freight traffic. The majority of the freight followed the east-west route between Camden and Poplar Docks, although a proportion ran to Broad Street Goods Depot

The line between Dalston and Broad Street was made up to three lines in early days, and by 1872 a fourth line was added. These lines were defined as the No.1 lines (the eastern pair) and the No.2 lines (on the west side). Traffic using the pairs of lines was always quite divided, and prior to 1905 many locations had separate No.1 and No.2 boxes, controlling their respective lines. The "frequent electric service" (introduced 1916) to Hampstead, Willesden, Kew Bridge or Richmond used the No.2 lines, whereas the steam service to Poplar (withdrawn 1943) and the Great Northern peak-hour service to such places as Potters Bar and Hertford used the No.1 lines. This gave rise to unofficial references to the lines as "Electric" and "Steam" lines.

To understand the signalling between Dalston Junction and Broad Street, we shall follow the progress of an "Up Motor", which is what the electric units were always referred to by the LMS.

Dalston Junction

Dalston Junction was a six-platform station, with faces to each of the No.1 and No.2 lines and also the Poplar branch which converged here. At the north end of the station both lines disappeared into "covered ways" which might be regarded as something too long to be classed a bridge and not a tunnel because it doesn't pass through the ground! These covered ways are not uncommon in London, through the value of building housing over otherwise wasted space.

A signalling plan of 1872 shows the station to be controlled by one 30-lever box, named Dalston South Junction. The curiously laid out frame was numbered/lettered:

A 1 2 B 3 C 4 D E F G H 5 J K L 8 9 I 0 12 M N P Q 13 14 15

The lettered levers worked the signals. This box became Dalston Junction No1 when an additional 35 lever box was provided to work part of the layout as expansion took place. The latter, Dalston Junction No.2 was enlarged around 1909 to accommodate a new 60-lever frame built at the North London's workshops at Bow. This new frame took over all the functions of the No.1 box and remained in use up to closure of the box in 1979.

Dalston Junction box
Dalston Junction signal box, the former No.2 cabin which was enlarged to accommodate the 60-lever frame c1909

On leaving the station, the driver of our "Up Motor" passes under two bridges, between which the Down Homes for Dalston Junction are seen. These were believed to be the tallest signal posts in the country, towering some 60 feet in order to accommodate co-acting arms. These were replaced by colour light signals, as were many semaphores in the area, in the late 'fifties or early sixties.

A track layout plan for Dalston Junction box in its later days will be found at the Track Layout Plans page.


The line then rises steeply to run on viaduct for the remaining journey to Broad Street. A small station existed at Haggerston, which had platforms on the No.1 lines only. Two boxes controlled the layout, which consisted only of crossover roads between the various lines.

Beneath the Up Starters were distants for Dalston Junction, which rarely saw use owing to the intensity of the service, and were subsequently "fixed" in the on position. Beneath these arms were some unique signals - miniature-arm distant signals called "Calling-On Distants". These could be cleared by Dalston Junction box when only his home signal was off, indication to a driver that he had a clear run into the platform although the starting signal was likely to be "on".

Haggerston No.2 box took over control of the entire layout around 1908, but was closed at a relatively early date (1940) when Intermediate Block Homes were provided, controlled by Dalston Junction. As with all the early rationalisation schemes on the North London, Dalston Junction took control of both the Down and Up IBHs whereas modern practice would always be to control the IBHs from the box in rear for each direction.

Dunloe Street

After winding through Haggerston, our driver sees Dunloe Street box perched on the west side of the viaduct.

Dunloe Street box was certainly perched on the side of the viaduct.
Dunloe Street box was certainly perched on the edge of the viaduct.

A small block post of sixteen levers opened on the east side in 1881, but this was replaced in 1893 by a forty lever box controlling a small goods yard for the London & North Western Railway which was built out from the viaduct. Access from road level was by a tall spiral iron staircase. This box survived into the late history of the line as an intermediate block post, latterly worked in peak hours only. When finally closed in 1976, the arms were simply removed from the signals but the box left "switched out" in case traffic ever warranted its reinstatement, but this never occurred. The box remained in situ in this state until after the line closed.

A track layout plan for Dunloe Street box in its later days will be found at the Track Layout Plans page.

Dunloe Street cabin
From track level, it wasn't immediately evident that the box at Dunloe Street towered over East London housing from the viaduct side.


Swinging sharply to the right, the line then winds through Shoreditch station, where again platforms only existed on the No.1 lines. The first box here opened in 1865, but this was converted into a Gentleman's toilet in 1874, and a new box opened. I wonder if any other signal box can claim this dubious afterlife. This ten-lever replacement box became Shoreditch No1 by 1894 when a No.2 box opened with 15 levers. No.1 closed around 1909 when the layout was centralised on the former No.2 box, which was made up to an incredible eighteen levers to cope with the work. Shoreditch closed c1954, but the with the short length of the sections, it was not deemed necessary to provide Intermediate Block signals.

New Inn Yard

Suddenly our motorman finds himself leaving the wayside boxes and weave through complex junctions amongst the dull warehouses and factories of the area, whilst still on viaduct.

On the left, set at an angle for good visibility, stands a grimy towering box named New Inn Yard. This sixty lever box primarily controlled the divergence of the Goods Arrival and Departure Lines, for traffic proceeding to Broad Street Goods. The box also worked running connections between the No.1 and No.2 lines, although as the traffic was strictly segregated they probably saw little use.

The Down Homes were on a tall bracket signal on the east side of the line for early viewing around the sharp curve, but as this was positioned four lines away a driver on the No.1 Down line standing right at the signal would get quite a crick in the neck watching for it to clear. For this reason a banner repeater signal was provided at ground level adjacent to the No.2 Down line. This was an unusual use of a banner signal in that they were normally provided some distance in rear of the signal to which they applied..

On the Up Lines, New Inn Yard had "Train Bars", an old-fashioned practice of detecting trains standing on a running line (used before track-circuiting became commonplace) and quite different in function to a clearance bar which would be used to detect trains foul on adjacent lines and connections. New Inn Yard had clearance bars too, but there were no track circuits at all.

There were also two "Detector Levers" which worked to complex point detection separately rather than the signal wire run passing via the points concerned.

The connections to and from Broad Street Goods were abolished when that yard closed in 1969, and the box itself closed in 1970.

Track layout plans for Dalston Junction and Dunloe Street will be found at the Track Layout Plans page.


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Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson