London & North Eastern Railway


Opened: c1925

Closed: c1982

Location code: E20/08

Hilgay signal boxHilgay was a wayside station between Ely and Kings Lynn, controlling a small goods yard and level crossing. In typical fashion, the Great Eastern built the box centrally to the sidings, leaving the gates (at the far end of the station) to be operated by a crossing attendant.

The London & North Eastern Railway carried out a number of improvements to locations such as this as part of their late-1920s economy drive, by closing the original boxes and erecting a replacement by the crossing. Hilgay is a particularly interesting of this arrangement, as a second-hand box structure and lever frame were used.

The original location of this box is not known (it is possible, but unlikely, that it was the original Hilgay box) but it is to the Great Eastern's design of the 1882-3 period. This type superseded that illustrated at Great Chesterford and as can be seen it was really an ornate version of the same basic shape. Although the box is of wooden construction, the boarding is engraved to give the appearance of stone blocks. Boxes to this design normally had windows all along the front wall, the blank section being a feature the LNER provided in boxes with frames located against the back wall. The windows are probably replacements, being similar but not quite identical to the standard pattern.

Interior of Hilgay boxThe primitive flat-top Romesse stove survived for warmth. These stoves could give out tremendous heat, and could be made bright red! The flat top would allow a kettle to simmer there.

But of greater interest, from the technical point of view, was the 16-lever frame. This is a second-hand frame of the Great Central's standard type (see Firbeck Junction "B") which would normally have front-mounted catch handles and weighted (rather than sprung) catches. Proof of the frame's origins existed in minor dimples in the catch handles where the GC type of catch would have hammered against it. This would seem to have been an unnecessarily thorough conversion to make the frame appear "normal"!

On the block shelf stands a "Tyer's Black Box" block instrument - I have never found the official term for these - which is again a standard LNER feature.

To the right of it in the large wooden case is a closing switch, which allowed the box to be "switched out" at quiet periods. The gates could then be operated by station staff or a crossing keeper. The procedure for switching out was as follows:
The signalman would close the gates and obtain "line clear" on the blocks for closing with the bell signal 5-5-7 and clear all signals. The turning of the closing switch would then alter the electrical locking on the frame, so the Up Distant, Home and Starter, and the Down Home and Distant could be replaced and the gates reopened. The Down Starter would be left in the off position, but the other signals could be used in connection with the gates without the usual limitations as the box would no longer be operating as a block post. A bell mounted on the outside wall (in the prominent louvred box) would repeat the bell signals being rung between the adjacent boxes.

For a time in the fifties the line closed between the Down Mail at about 2 a.m. and around 6.30 a.m. It is believed that boxes like Hilgay, Littleport and Stow made use of Porter Signalmen at that time to cover the early and late parts of the shift with a Signalman covering just a middle day turn. In later years the box was only switched out when the signalman did the lamping on a Sunday.

With a gradual fall in traffic on the Kings Lynn line, the box was deemed not necessary as a block post in 1979, and reduced to the permanent status of gate-keepers cabin. The level crossing was automated around 1982 and the box fully abolished.

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Additional notes kindly supplied by Roger Bell and and Danny Goodrum.

All photographs copyright © John Hinson unless otherwise stated