Midland Railway


Opened: 1905

Closed: 1979

Location code: LM43/32

Napsbury signal boxNapsbury box was a tranquil spot on the Midland main line just south of St. Albans. In fact I am going to have to be careful not to get too sentimental about this box as I write, for it was my favourite box to work of all the locations I covered as a relief signalman.

It might have been my favourite, but it wasn't everybody's cup of tea. Vacancies were difficult to fill (because it was a long distance from the nearest station - the station here having closed in 1959) and there were several mental hospitals nearby which could give rise to all sorts of unexpected intrusions, both dead and alive. On the subject of tea, a packet of biscuits was provided to relax mental patients that may have come uninvited to the box.

Technically speaking, the box was built to the Midland Railway's 1900 design with the small window panes as also seen at Upper Portland Sidings.

Interior of Napsbury boxInside, the box was a sight to behold.

A Midland Railway tappet frame of 33 levers (originally 32, which replaced the original 28-lever tumbler frame in 1913) had few spares as the original sidings had been fairly limited. All the levers retain their original brass pull and description plates. In the centre of the picture one of two "economical facing point" levers can be seen, painted blue and black. These were a standard feature of Midland Railway boxes, although in later years conventional facing point locks were often fitted resulting in a blue lever constantly reversed in the frame, resulting in many unwanted bruises.

Above, on the block shelf, is an impressive array of Midland Rotary Block instruments which are described in detail in a Branch Lines article.

Interesting colour light signal at NapsburyNapsbury was not without unusual signals, either. The Down Slow Outer Home and Up Fast Starter were converted to colour light by the LMS. Owing to the limited available space, a back-to-back colour light signal was provided, although even then the tracks had to be slued round it slightly. The Up Fast starter is missing part of its sunshield.

Notice how the signal has somehow qualified for three ladders!

General view of Napsbury, during electrification.Napsbury wouldn't be Napsbury if a picture showing the splendid co-acting Up Homes wasn't included. It is taken from the bridge that made it necessary for such tall signals to be provided.

This late view shows a new signal gantry and the beginnings of the electrification masts appearing. A traditional peak-hauled express thunders past on the Down Fast.

Notice how the Up Slow curves round behind the box and around the former island platform (there were never any platforms on the Fast lines). After the box closed (in 1979) and was demolished, the Up Slow was straightened out and there is little to tell you where you are now as you whizz through on a Bed-Pan electric.

There is an article on Napsbury Signalbox in the Summer 2005 issue of London Colney News,, which is published by the London Colney Parish Council. The article is the cover feature of Issue 82.

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All photographs copyright © John Hinson unless otherwise stated