South Eastern & Chatham Railway


Opened: c1911

Closed: ——

Location code:S42/04

Canterbury East signal boxTwo main railways passed through Canterbury and each had their own station. The London Chatham & Dover served Canterbury East, whilst the South Eastern had the rather larger station at Canterbury West. The two companies merged in 1899 to become the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, but both stations remain active today, and each still has a very interesting signal box.

The SEC quite quickly produced a new design of signal box which was clearly based upon the attractive design of Saxby & Farmer which could be found on both constituent's lines. In fact many have been deceived into thinking that these are S&F boxes. It is a sign that the design was recognised even in those days as being one of the most attractive designs around as this company was adopting a design that Saxby & Farmer had discontinued (except for special orders) some ten years earlier. Most boxes of this design had the expected additional small windows above the main set, but divided into three tiny panes, but these are not present on this example. Most boxes of this design were built in brick - see Dover Marine - but owing to its special circumstances, Canterbury East was of all-timber construction to lessen the weight.

Canterbury East station had limited facilities, but although the layout warranted only a 28-lever frame, the need was evidently found to build a relatively large box and elevate it on a steel gantry. This all seems a little excessive for a relatively small station, but it was necessary to raise the box to give a good view above the station's overall roof that was not removed until BR days.

Inside Canterbury East box The South Eastern & Chatham did not introduce any new type of lever frame until 1907, but continued to use the frames standardised by its two constituents. Indeed, it would appear that these were still used in some boxes after that date for the frame here is to the London, Chatham & Dover's design despite having been installed around 1911.

Notable in this type of frame is the very short stroke of the levers. This is, interestingly, similar to the South Eastern's frame, as seen at Edenbridge but the two can be easily distinguished as this type has flat tops to the lever handles and raised quadrant plates.

The levers bear a nice set of hand-painted Southern Railway description plates which are mounted at the foot of the lever, an unusual idea copied by the SR from the many Stevens & Sons frames to be found on their system.

About two-thirds of the way up some of the red levers can be seen black rods attached to the side - these are wire adjusters to allow the length of the signal wires to be adjusted to allow for expansion and contraction caused by the weather.

Two levers on the right, controlling a redundant connection at the London end of the station, have enamelled "disconnected" plates over the lever handles as a reminder to the signalman that the levers should not be operated.

On the block shelf at the far end is a SR standard three-position instrument (see Canterbury West for a close up view of a similar instrument) controlling the section towards Adisham, whilst nearer the camera are two Sykes instruments and a closing switch.

Why there should be three battery handlamps for the signalman is open to question.

Sykes "two-arm" block instrument The Sykes instruments working the section between Selling and Canterbury East were not of the common pattern found in many parts of the country (see Reedham Junction) which worked using three electrical wires between the boxes. These operated on just one wire (using the ground as a common return) and were quite different in looks and operation. The official designation of the type in the Southern Railway's signalling regulations was "Sykes' One-Wire, Two-Position, Lock and Block Instruments, with Double-Arm Block Indicator". The instruments possess two two-position block indicators, which like many early instruments emulate the view of the starting and home signals in the direction concerned, together with a bell tapper (bottom) and commutator (right). Whilst the principle of operation of this instrument is not unlike other two-position instruments (see Dorking) it was worked in conjunction with other instruments more akin with the normal practice.

Sykes  block instrumentThis is the accepting block that worked in connection with the above double-arm instrument, and looks very similar to conventional three-wire Sykes instruments except for the provision of two keyholes (concealed by the brass discs) for emergency release. On the left (attached by chain) is a reminder appliance which can be inserted in the "switch hook" (bottom right) when it has been turned over the "plunger" (centre) to prevent unwanted acceptance of trains.

Beneath the instrument is the bell plunger to Selling (left) and two brass-cased signal repeaters mounted below oval enamelled plates showing the lever number for the signals concerned. The left hand repeater is marked S RLY.

Most of this equipment had been replaced by 1983, but when these photographs were taken in 1978 the box was a veritable step back into history. The box is still in use, but now works to Shepherdswell and Faversham boxes.

Additional notes by John Creed, Tony Endersby and David Ingham

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All photographs copyright © John Hinson unless otherwise stated