Tuesday 21 January 2014

The Broadway Signal Box

 Picture by kind permission of Martin Creese
This post is a quick canter through some of the features of  the Broadway Signal Box under construction. As the only 'on platform' box on the GWSR and not having anything to replicate, the Shirley Signal Box was adopted as a likeness in size and design that would meet the Broadway Station signalling requirements.

This artist impression by Railway Artist Fred Lea  shows the Broadway Box in all its glory. No doubt as some operational issues present themselves minor changes will be made. For instance the arches for access to the track bed look very nice but may well get in the way when configuring the rodding. We shall see! The Signal Box will be constructed from  new 73mm engineering bricks. You will have difficulty in telling these from the old imperials. I am less convinced about using UPV window frames - somehow that just doesn't seem right!

Prior to the design of the box,  a lever frame had been acquired by S&T from the Aller Junction Signal Box in Devon. This had a 42 lever frame and seemed, to the uninitiated to be a rather large frame for such a modest track and signal configuration as Broadway. However this proved not to be the case, because much of the potential capacity has now been allocated to specific functions. See the track layout elsewhere on the blog.

The locking room in the Box is semi sub platform level. It is access via steps and a door to the rear of the southern end.  These photos were taken in the Winchcombe Box and show the large steel beams (left) that support the lever frame and below the rodding and pulleys configured for signalling and points respectively.

We are looking forward to kitting it out with as much original equipment as current regulations allow! For example here is  the planned fire place which  Jo has taken as an example from the Llangollen Box. We have found 2 of the fire surrounds on site already.

Also the the two roof finials have been recovered and refurbished. They represent the cherries on a  large cake!

The finished Signal Box will be a fitting tribute to the Great Western and  to the Shirley Box in particular.

No doubt this  post will generate more questions than it answers, and hopefully others will come to my assistance. 


Anonymous said...

lever frame? or is it leaving already?

Anonymous said...

UPVC windows would really spoil the end result, could windows not be sourced from a box that has been demolished? What became of the window frames from the old Exminster box that was proposed for Broadway previously?

Fantastic progress to date, well impressive!

Bill said...

I can't blame the spell checker... or can I?

Jo said...

Can anyone find us a fireplace (range?) like the one in Llangollen box?
A little bit industrial, not too decorated, with place for the kettle.

Any tips?

mack said...

So how did the Shirley box get demo'd without anyone preserving it or rescuing it for use on a heritage line?!?.. If homes can be listed why can't out industrial heritage be preserved... Or at least the box could have been moved to a museum or offered to a preserved line .. There's something about Victorian brickwork, the fancy bricks round the windows etc, I don't think can be replicated too easily however the platforms are incredible in that they look like they've been their 100 years already so I guess it's achievable.. Just money I guess, like a joiner for sash windows instead of PVC .. Sad, but All extra cost

mack said...

One thing would be especially cool to replicate as I think it adds a lot of authenticity is the wood on the facia boards... That scrolled effect where the brick meets the slate looks great... U just don't see that anymore on modern buildings

Michael Johnson said...

I had reproduction sash windows made for my 1906 house - exactly to the original design, except for very discreet double glazing (you'd never know unless you looked closely).

The company that made them told me I should paint them every 10 years, and they'd last for 100 years! That was fine by me. After all, we don't know how durable PVC window frames really are. They've only been around for a handful of years. Will PVC window frames last for 100 years? Who knows? Good old wooden windows are tried and trusted technology!

However, the cost was about double the price for modern PVC windows. I think there we might have the reason for going for PVC window frames in the signal box.

It would be nice to have an official reason, though, especially as the overall budget for the Broadway rebuild must be pretty high. Will specifying cheap plastic windows really make a significant dent in the overall cost?

Will the other Broadway station buildings also have plastic windows?

There is, of course, the top half of the old Honeybourne North Loop signal box in Toddington station car park, in use as a rather haphazard junk store/museum.

Photo here:


Couldn't any parts from that be used at Broadway? It seems bizarre to specify plastic replica windows when the real things are just sitting in the car park!

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of Signal Boxes closing over the coming years, like Barry - South Wales.


Perhaps these might contain something useful for Broadway?

Matthew J

Adrian Crees said...

The use of uPVC windows would be totally inappropriate, and have a negative impact on what will otherwise be a fantastic building.

Adrian C RIBA

Roger said...

If you read the plans it says "Purpose built softwood window frames to be Protim treated before assembly". Does that settle it?

Perry said...

Whilst a cast iron range would be authentic, a Google search soon reveals that authenticity could cost a considerable sum of money.

Here's an example.


How about considering an American cooking fireplace from the end of the 18th century? Rumford fireplaces were popular until the 1890s.





Michael Johnson said...

If the signal box will in fact have 'proper' window frames - that's great.

However, I wouldn't necessarily put total faith in the specifications noted in the plan. Plans do change, sometimes rather abruptly.

The saga of the Exminster signal box which was originally intended for Broadway is a case in point. At one time this was the big plan, with a website covering the project in great detail.

Then the plan changed. The website vanished - and so did the signal box!

As it happens I think the present idea of a brick-built box on the platform is much better. The Exminster box would be too large for Broadway, and if placed in the original position near the bridge (as I recall was there intention) it would have dominated the landscape. I suspect local people would have considered it an eyesore. Planning permission would probably not have been granted.

But it's a little worrying that nobody seems to know what happened to the Exminster box. The website address for the project - www.broadwaysignalbox.org.uk - now redirects to a company that provides admin/rostering software to heritage railways, although there are some photos of the Exminster box being dismantled here:


Last February I asked Malcolm Turner about the fate of the box on the Boardroom Blog - and got no reply. I hope the box is safely stored somewhere, and has not been scrapped. It would presumably yield useful kit, even if the box as a whole could not be used.

A bit of info would be very welcome!

Richard Johnson said...

Shirley Signal Box was deliberately demolished by Network Rail within hours of closure, to make sure that no-one had an opportunity to try and preserve it.

It was precisely the same as the GWR one that used to be outside Dorridge. It was closed and demolished virtually overnight.

I think that Network Rail is wary of well meaning preservationists stopping demolition, and then over the years the box slowly deteriorates and becomes an eyesore and libility for it.

Anonymous said...

Re: planning permission and signal boxes.
I don't believe it to be required, what is required is the box to be placed at a location agreed with the Railway Inspectorate. On the Nat. Pres. Forum there is a Saga of the local authority Planning department demanding the demolition of a newly sited box, Darley dale (I think). PR referred the authority to the RI who confirmed that it is they, and not the Planning Authority have the last word and the box was sited on their instructions.
The box is still there.

Ch\arles Helps said...

English Heritage do have a project for listing signal boxes and there is an interesting paper listed on this page:

Charles H

Michael Johnson said...

As I understand it, planning permission is not required for any building necessary for the operation of a railway - stations, engine sheds, signal boxes, etc.

In the case of Broadway the GWR has voluntarily put itself through the planning process to make sure the local council is 'on side' and fully in support of the project - and the neighbours are happy.

I recall some years ago there was a slight kerfuffle about the Flag & Whistle restaurant at Toddington. The council said the building was not necessary for the operation of the railway, and therefore the GWR should have sought planning permission before putting it up. The GWR's argument was that catering facilities were part and parcel of the railway's overall operations, so planning permission was *not* needed.

The Flag & Whistle still stands, of course, so the matter must've been resolved in the GWR's favour. But I can understand why the railway wanted to make sure no similar arguments broke out over Broadway.

And in signal box news, I have found out what happened to the Exminster box, originally intended for Broadway. I'll put that in another comment….

Michael Johnson said...

The fate of Exminster signal box is not a happy one, alas.

As I'm sure we all know, the Great Western signal box at Exminster was dismantled by a team of volunteers in 2006, with the intention of rebuilding the box at Broadway. The project was big news at the time - and not just in railway preservation circles. Here is a TV clip from the time, with footage of the box being dismantled at the Exminster site:


The box was a listed building. Listed building consent was granted to move it, on the the condition that the box had to be rebuilt.

I say the box 'was' a listed building - because it no longer exists. Instead of being rebuilt, when it became clear it would not be used at Broadway, it was destroyed.

Some parts of the lever frame were apparently used in Gotherington signal box, and it seems other parts have been set aside for use in the new Broadway box. But the box as a whole has been scrapped.

The project to dismantle and move Exminster signal box was apparently overseen by one GWR director, acting alone without the approval of the board as a whole. As I understand it, when the board decided not to support the project, he had to take responsibility for the box on his own. Apparently it was his decision to scrap it in the end.

I do not know the name of the director - but I'm told that he is still on the GWR board.

This is a very sad story. Not just because the GWR was instrumental in wrecking a genuine piece of Great Western heritage, and not only because the GWR left itself open to legal penalties for destroying a listed building. It's disappointing because everyone kept quiet about it. The whole affair was effectively brushed under the carpet.

Obviously, if the railway press had got hold of the story, the GWR would have lost support throughout the heritage railway movement. It's unlikely the heritage railway community would have rallied around to help when the embankments collapsed. The GWR's reputation would have been destroyed, just like the signal box.

But it's still disappointing that there was no official announcement, no explanation. Not even "We regret this, but it was our only option." As I remarked above, last year when I asked Malcolm Temple, then the plc chairman, about the box he didn't give me an answer. Was that because he didn't want to admit the uncomfortable truth?

I've been a GWR supporter since the 80s - I joined the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway Society as a teenager. I shall still continue to support the line.

But it's very difficult to wholeheartedly support the GWR when it does things like this.

Martin Creese said...

Firstly whilst I'm happy for my images to be used to support worthy preservation causes , could I ask for a credit on the image of Shirley Signal Box please. I have plenty more if you would like to make use

secondly the three north warwicks boxes could have been recovered for GWSR use , Shirley being the easiest as could have been recovered from behind and the builders yard. although it did have UPVC frames at least with 2/3 GWR window split

Perry said...

Anonymous, 23 January 2014 10:28

Yesterday, I read in the Railway Herald, issue 393, Page 21, that the Peak Rail signal box at Darley Dale was dismantled on 14th January for installation at the the north end of Rowsley South, adjacent to Nannygoat Crossing.



David Blagrove said...

As a small boy I spent many hours on Radley station which in those days had a very similar platform-mounted signal box to the one illustrated from Shirley. The main difference was that Shirley had a hipped roof and Radley gable ends. Also Radley box sat rather lower and had different window panes (at least in the photos that I have seen. I have a feeling that by my time (the mid to late 1940s)they had been replaced by similar frames to those at Shirley. The box was destroyed, as was the rest of the station, by British Railways in the 1970s. However, there is a photo of the box, and drawings, in Adrian Vaughan's History of GW Architecture (p332)and also in his book Great Western Portrait (pp37-38). One thing that sticks in my memory is the fact that the access steps were at the end furthest from the rest of the station buildings on the up platform. This meant that when the staff for the Abingdon Branch had to be delivered to the box the signalman had either to cross the main up and down lines to the Abingdon bay or else slog round the buildings on the up platform to the footbridge and then up, over and down to the bay on the west side of the down platform. Had the steps been at the other end it would have saved a few extra steps in the course of a shift.
Regarding the plastic window controversy, I live in a 200+ year-old house in a Conservation Area and had cause to replace some 1970's mock-Georgian windows some years ago. The double-glazing firm managed to replicate the old and rotten wooden frames in plastic and, apart from being much easier to maintain, it is impossible to tell from outside that they are not original. The 1805 windows were dealt with by secondary (inside) double glazing and remain exactly as installed, complete with original panes in most cases. A careful copy of the original-type frames at Broadway will require much less maintenance and can be double-glazed, making the box much pleasanter to work in.
I am most impressed by the work your chaps are doing. Best wishes.


Bill said...

A very interesting contribution. Thank you.

Richard Symonds said...

Hello everyone,

As the West Somerset Railway can replace the wooden windows in the Blue Anchor Box with wood the GWR can build a new box with wood, suitably treated for longevity.
There are enough historically incorrect buildings on the GWR and here is a real chance to rebuild Broadway authentically.

John Matthews said...

The signal box brickwork is a credit to you all, just a thought about the top part you have one sitting on the ground at Toddington that has good windows and very good wood is that your intention.
It would be an almost instant finish and would be the same as Crowcombe on the WSR.

John Matthews said...

The signal box brickwork is a credit to you all, just a thought about the top part you have one sitting on the ground at Toddington that has good windows and contains very good wood is that your intention?
It would be an almost instant finish and would be the same as Crowcombe on the WSR.