GNR Somersault signal

Signal boxes of the

As early as 1856, the Great Northern were operating a form of Absolute Block on the busiest part of its main line south of Hitchin. The block stations were simple huts. As with the London & North Western Railway, the pressures to keep the trains running led to this later being relaxed to a "permissive" arrangement.

In the early 1870's, a decision was made (no doubt under pressure from the Board of Trade) to introduce Absolute Block throughout the company's network, and this was largely complete by 1874. It was from that date that serious attention was given to the installation of interlocked signal boxes.

A standard box design had appeared in 1866, but after 1871 standardisation was abandoned and a rich range of attractive boxes appeared around the system which all followed a the same general principles. Great Northern policy was to contract out the signalling to contractors but the construction of cabins to local builders. The continuity of many of these designs in specific areas, or on specific lines, suggest that only an outline requirement was specified to these builders, who adopted their own features and hallmarks. Several authors have attempted to categorise these types, but in many cases only one of a particular style existed! The main features to differentiate boxes are:

  • Plain or panelled brick base
  • Type and shape of locking-room windows
  • Height of windows (some stretched from just above floor level to eaves, others were shallower and had a timbered area between the windows and eaves)
  • Number of panes vertically in each window section
  • Style of decorative bargeboard and pitch of roof

From 1883 onwards some standard designs started to appear but initially these were only used for timber cabins - it seems likely that the GN was actually erecting these timber boxes themselves. Only after 1907 did the brick boxes also comply with the standardisation process.

It had always been policy of the Great Northern to provide roomy signal boxes, and the excess of space often allowed enlargements and replacements of lever frames as layouts grew in size. This meant that many of the 1870's signalboxes had a long life, and a reasonable quantity survive.

Please click on the thumbnail images for more information on each location.

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Newark CrossingPage includes views of lever frame

The earliest proper signalbox structures on the GN were of gable-to-track construction and were (unlike later cabins) to a very consistent design. Very few examples of this type (erected between 1866 and 1870) survived into recent years.

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Torrington Park

From 1871 onwards, GN boxes appeared to a wide range of designs. A common feature was the provision of decorative bargeboards; the timberwork was vertically panelled. The rear wall of all-brick examples extended up to the roof line.

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East Holmes

An all-timber example of the 1871 design, provided with additional glazing below the main windows.

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In 1873, the 1871 design was developed to include a taller glazed area reaching up to roof level and greatly overhanging gable-ends.

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Bentley Crossing

A design featuring a tall glazed area and plain brick base, used for boxes in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire during the 1870's and 1880's.

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Allington Junction

Another style appeared in 1874. In this type, the four-pane-high window sections do not reach right into the eaves. A neat row of locking room windows, with stone lintels, break the plain-ness of the brickwork.

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Another variation constructed from 1874 onwards, this type features gently arched locking-room windows.

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Biggleswade South

Another style appeared between Hitchin and Huntingdon/Baldock between 1874 and 1876. In many respects these were similar to the type illustrated above, but the operating floor windows all had a curved moulding at the top not found elsewhere, and did not extend upwards as far as the eaves.

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Newark North

A further design development from the 1873 type appeared in 1875, featuring smaller panes of window glass. This example appears to have had the end windows modified at some date.

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Stathern Junction

A similar design to that above was used extensively on lines in Nottinghamshire and to a lesser extent elsewhere. This had just four panes of glass vertically.

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St James Deeping

Another variation in design appeared on the Peterborough - Spalding - Boston - Lincoln route between 1875 and 1878. These featured a steeper roof than found on most other boxes of the era. Operating floor windows were three panes in height, and the locking room windows were sashed.

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Maud FosterPage includes views of lever frame

An odd man out (or woman?), this example bears all the hallmarks of 1870's designs but has an all-timber top on a brick base.

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Yet another variation of design appeared between Grantham and Nottingham, and Grantham and Lincoln between 1875 and 1878. They featured four-pane high windows reaching right into the eaves (like Allington Junction) but surrendered the hugely overhanging gables for something more conventional.

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HeckingtonPage includes views of lever frame

One of the most attractive of Great Northern designs, this 1876 box features pointed tops to the locking-room windows and mock curved tops to the operating floor windows.

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A broadly similar design of box was built in assorted locations between 1876 and 1880. The four-pane-high glazing is topped (in the gable ends) by battened boarding and the locking-room windows have pointed, rather than arched, tops.

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HaxeyPage includes views of lever frame

This design was used for boxes between March and Doncaster erected between 1877 and 1882. The design features a steep roof-line and lintels above the locking-room windows.

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Gainsborough Lea RoadPage includes views of lever frame

An all-timber example of the type illustrated above although provided with a different style of ornate bargeboard.

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An all-timber box with features from 1870's brick designs erected in 1882.

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Sykes Junction

In 1883, the Great Northern finally started to standardise their designs. This design, used through to 1891, appears to have been based loosely on the Great Eastern 1876 type. This type were only built in timber form - the older principles continued for brick boxes.

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East VillePage includes views of lever frame

Although standardisation was happening with timber boxes, further stles of brick boxes continued to appear. This design, with steeply pitched roof, was common on the East lincolnshire lines at locations from Boston through to Grimsby.

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High FerryPage includes close-up views if signalling instruments and equipmentPage includes close-up views of box diagram

A ground-level version of the same style of box.

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St Neots

Erected in 1898, this all-timber box emulated the design of its 1877 predecessor. It may be a sign of 19th-Century re-cycling, or may just be an attempt to maintain continuity of design with the station and the other box that existed at this location.

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Several boxes erected on the Firsby to Skegness line were erected to this design in 1899, emulating a style used on the Nottinghamshire lines 1888 to 1890.

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In 1892, another standard all-wood design was introduced. These featured vertical battened timbering and four-pane high windows. As with the 1883 boxes, the bargeboards were plain.

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New England East "A"

A smaller example of the same design of box although, unusually, featuring "tongue and groove" panelling.

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A brick cabin of 1898 echoing many features of 1870's designs.

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Bellwater Junction

In 1907, the Great Northern finally adopted a standard design made available in brick or timber construction, finally ousting the rich variety of 1870's designs. A rather basic carved bargeboard design was provided.

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Woodside Park

An all-timber version of the type described above.

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Spalding No1Page includes views of lever framePage includes close-up views if signalling instruments and equipment

This larger example of the 1907 design was originally built in timber, but the lower floor was bricked up during World War 2 to provide bomb blast protection. Some later examples of this design had plain bargeboards.

The Great Northern became part of the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923.