Great Eastern Railway


Opened: 1881

Closed: 1983

Location code: E19/15

Great Chesterford signal boxGreat Chesterford station is to be found on the Great Eastern's main line to Cambridge, and the signal box once to be found there dated from 1881. It is built to the Great Eastern's first standard design, introduced around 1877 to supersede the types illustrated at Histon and Fulbourne. This featured a gabled roof, with large overhang, and weatherboarding. Windows were always two-panes high on this design. A more ornate style of construction replaced this type in 1882, as can be seen at Mistley.

Interior of Great Chesterford boxThe relatively compact size of Great Chesterford box belied the amount of equipment that was packed inside. A real mish-mash of equipment existed by the mid-1970s, when these photographs were taken. The Up line was worked by Track Circuit Block throughout, with automatic signals, whilst the Down line was Track Circuit Block from Audley End but Absolute Block through to Whittlesford. An Up Goods Loop was provided between here and Littlebury, and with both ends of the loop controlled by this box some special equipment was provided. In contrast, a level crossing at Ickleton Road with hand-operated gates was released electrically from here.

The 33-lever frame was of Saxby & Farmer's Rocker design, although the locking had been replaced by conventional tappet locking many years previously.

Signalling instruments at Great ChesterfordA special instrument, with Tyer & Co. origins and possibly modified from something older, counted the number of trains in the loop. This detected trains by operation of the inlet and outlet signals. A buzzer (the black box just to the left of it) also sounded when trains left the loop. The two plungers on the shelf below were marked "Plunger to record train off" and "Plunger to cancel bell only" whilst the two sealed emergency releases in the wooden cases are marked "Up Loop emergency cancelling plunger" and "Emergency plunger to record train in Up Loop". An unusual and complex arrangement in all respects.

Signal repeater at Great ChesterfordGreat Chesterford's Down Distant was a colour-light signal with an interesting repeater that showed five positions. This effectively combined the indications normally given by a separate aspect and lamp repeater. Curiously, this refers to "Arm" on and off when the signal was a colour-light - this is because the signal was in fact mechanically operated. This unusual arrangement for a colour light signal dated from the mid-1930's, when a number of conventional lower quadrant distant signals on former GE lines had a "fog-penetrating" lamp added to them, positioned near to driver's eye level. Soon after nationalisation in 1948, the semaphore arms were removed as they were deemed unnecessary.

This particular signal was "approach lit", meaning that the signal was only illuminated when a train was approaching - usually initiated by the occupation of a short track-circuit - which explains why the indicator shows the lamp as "out". A great benefit of this kind of arrangement was a saving in electricity, but in many cases this method was used to advantage to avoid the reading through of signals - i.e. a powerful colour-light might disguise the presence of a paraffin-lit semaphore before it.

Great Chesterford box is now no more, having been abolished when the Cambridge area resignalling took place in 1983.

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Additional notes by Chris Cock

All photographs copyright © John Hinson unless otherwise stated