Great Eastern Railway


Opened: 1899

Closed: —?—

Location code: E21/03

Leyton signal box
Photograph by John Hinson

When the Great Eastern Railway opened a new box at Leyton in 1899, the first station on the Loughton branch after diverging at Loughton Branch Junction (Stratford), they could hardly have envisaged its extraordinary future.

In itself it was a perfectly normal GE box, to their final (1886) standard design, although as with many of these boxes it included a number of the contractor's own features in the design. In this instance, Dutton & Co. have provided windows of their "small over large" pane design, moulded barge boards and an extended roof at the far end over a balcony.

In 1947, the box became a key junction as the London Passenger Transport Board were to take over the line as part of their tube network. The new tube lines emerged from the tunnel nearby and converged with the original line outside the box. In connection with these alterations the box was moved back from the line by a few feet, and extended at the London end to accommodate the new equipment required. This extension can clearly be seen as the lower part is constructed in brick. The small bulging window at the opposite end is original, provided to give the signalman a view through the bridge when needed.

The two lever frames inside Leyton box
Photograph by John Hinson

Inside the box, an intriguing hybrid method of working the junction was introduced. The original Dutton frame was retained (although reduced in size to 31 levers) to operate the pointwork, but a miniature lever power frame of 23 levers was installed alongside to control the signals, which were all colour light or pneumatic disc signals of LT style.

The points were later been converted to be power worked, although the interlocking was not altered and all the Facing Point Lock levers still had to be operated to prove the interlocking. There were an extraordinary number of FPLs to be found here, because they had been provided on all points, facing or trailing, to avoid the need for point detection on shunting signals.

The track diagram in Leyton box
Photograph by John Hinson

The track layout diagram in the box shows the area controlled. The 1947 Central Line is shown bottom left; the original Great Eastern route is above it. The far right end of the plan duplicates the layout controlled from the adjoining Leytonstone cabin.

London transport practice was for the track circuits to be illuminated on the diagram when the line is unoccupied, and unlit when a train is present on a section of line.

It has to be admitted that although this view shows the diagram of the entire layout, there was actually nothing left but two plain lines. The box was permanently out of use, awaiting formal abolition which was hindered only be one item of equipment. Trains proceeding towards London were detected by special apparatus to ensure they were tune trains and would therefore fit in the tube-sized tunnel. The signal protecting the tunnel would not clear until the train had been detected, whether the box was manned or not.

General view of junction at Leyton
Photograph by Russell Maiden, c1968

Russell Maiden visited Leyton in happier days, and took this photograph of the junction, with the signal box visible on the left.

The lines curving to the left are the Central Line towards London; they dive down here below the tangle of railway tracks of the Stratford area, but emerges temporarily at Stratford station for interchange with the main line services.

The double track diverging to run parallel in the centre of the view is the original Great Eastern line linking into the Stratford complex at Loughton Branch Junction. After the Central Line extension opened in 1947, this was used only for freight trips and night staff trains. When you look at this picture, consider the fact that this line was the only one here before 1947, so the alignment had been significantly altered to accommodate the Central Line.

On the right is the former Great Eastern coal yard, which had a small shunting neck. This was not, however, sufficient for much of the shunting that used to take place here, and this was one of the reasons that the layout at Leyton seemed over-complex. Just visible in the haze is a facing crossover in the Central Line tracks, and this allowed Northbound services to run via the Southbound platforms whilst shunting was taking place using the Northbound line.

Disc distant signal at Leyton
Photograph by Russell Maiden, c1968

This picture shows the coal yard headshunt buffer stops but, unless you are a serious buffer buff, the signal behind it will be of greater interest. This is one of the London Transport two-aspect signals installed in 1947.

Mounted below the main head is a rare Distant disc. These were only provided on lines which were also traversed by steam-hauled trains, because the LT-style signalling did not otherwise afford sufficient braking distance. The disc was coloured yellow with the arm superimposed on it in black.

At the foot of the post is a conventional shunting disc, with red arm. Both discs are worked by pneumatic pressure, and are floodlit.

Not recently, cock!
Photograph by John Hinson

The traffic on the Underground tube line was obviously limited to daytime only, but BR ran staff trains by night, and occasional goods trains. The combination of these services did not require Leyton box to be manned continuously, so a "King Lever" was provided in the miniature lever frame to allow the box to be "switched out" and enabled the signals for the tube trains to operate as automatic signals.

An official reminder was pasted to the door of the box, but the scribbled comment from one signalman emphasised that in latter years the box was very rarely open.

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