Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway
Signalling at Wells
Although Wells is the smallest city in England, at one time it boasted the terminal stations of no less than three separate railways. This page describes the signalling arrangements which existed at each of those three stations.
The first railway to arrive in Wells was the Somerset Central Railway (SCR), which in 1859 opened an extension of its existing branch-line from Highbridge to Glastonbury. The SCR approached Wells from the south-west and their terminus was situated immediately to the west of Priory Road. The next railway arrived from the east in 1862, when the East Somerset Railway (ESR) opened a line from Witham via Shepton Mallet to a separate terminus east of Priory Road, just across the road from the SCR. Finally from the north-west in 1870 came the Cheddar Valley branch of the Bristol & Exeter Railway (B&ER) from Yatton to a terminus at Tucker Street. The ESR and B&ER lines became part of the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1874 and 1876 respectively. The SCR became part of the Somerset & Dorset Railway, which later became the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR).
All three lines were built originally to the 7' 0¼" 'broad gauge, but by 1862 the SCR was mixed-gauge and then 4' 8½" standard gauge only by 1870. The ESR was converted to standard gauge in 1874 and the B&ER line circa-1876. The three separate termini were all within a few hundred yards of each other and eventually they were linked together, although the precise historical details are unclear. It is believed that the the ESR may have extended across Priory Road (then known simply as the "Turnpike Road") soon after it was opened, while the B&ER line probably was connected to the SCR in 1870 - at least part of the trackwork became mixed gauge in due course in common with the SCR. However these connections could not be used for passenger traffic because the Board of Trade objected to the working of passenger trains across the SCR goods yard. It was only in 1878 that through running of passenger trains commenced between the East Somerset and Cheddar Valley lines through the S&DJR station - but it was not until 1934 that GWR passenger trains actually stopped at Priory Road station!
Each of the three stations had its own signal-box. It is believed that originally these were called simply WELLS 'A' (at Priory Road), WELLS 'B' (at East Somerset) and WELLS 'C' (at Tucker Street). Eventually the 'B' box became known as "WELLS EAST SOMERSET" and the 'C' box became "WELLS TUCKER STREET", but later just "WELLS STATION", although the dates of these changes are unknown. The box at Priory Road seems to lack a nameboard in most photographs, although in at least one view it appears to have carried the name "WELLS PRIORY ROAD" - however the signal diagrams bore the legend "WELLS A" and usually the S&DJR called it simply "WELLS". In a few S&DJR documents the location is mentioned as "Wells Junction" (being a junction between GWR and S&DJR lines), but care should be taken not to confuse such references with the early Wells Branch Junction signal-box which existed near Glastonbury.
A WELLS 'B' (later EAST SOMERSET) signal-box was opened by 1877 with a frame of 28 levers - this box was situated on the south side of the line a short distance away from the level-crossing over Priory Road. It was closed on 3-July-1912 and replaced by a GWR Type 27C timber box, which was built on the same side of the line immediately adjacent to the level-crossing. The new signal-box had a 21-lever frame, which was replaced in December 1955 by a 27-lever frame with BR(WR) 5-bar Vertical Tappet interlocking. The second signal-box used to have an external staircase at the east end with an internal porch, but when a new turntable was built in 1948 close to the signal-box the staircase was moved to the west end (and an external porch fitted) in order to prevent a signalman falling accidentally into the turntable pit when coming down the steps.
East Somerset Signal Diagram pre-1951
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East Somerset Signal Box 1935
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WELLS 'A' stood at junction of the S&DJR and GWR lines and controlled the S&DJR station at Priory Road and the branch to Glastonbury. The origins of this box are obscure, but it is similar to a design used by the Bristol & Exeter Railway and probably it was built at B&ER expense about 1876 in conjunction with the introduction of passenger services across the link line between the East Somerset and Cheddara Valley lines. About 1923 there were signalling alterations as a result of the re-arrangement of the various connections into the goods yard. The signal-box originally contained a 32-lever frame, which was positioned at the front of the box (facing the Glastonbury branch), but in 1949 this was replaced by a 28-lever Westinghouse frame located at the rear of the box.
|Wells 'A' Signal Box mid-1950s
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|Wells 'A' Signal Diagram
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At Tucker Street station a signal-box was opened in 1876 which contained 13 levers and stood on the Down platform between the road overbridge and the station buildings. Sadly there are no known photographs of this building, but probably it was similar to the other S&F Type 4 boxes built on the Cheddar Valley line by the signalling contractors Saxby & Farmer. In 1901 the GWR built a replacement box on the opposite (Up) platform, which was opened on 15th September that year - it measured 25'x12'x7'6" to the operating floor and contained a 27-lever frame with GWR Double-Twist locking. In 1936 the signalling was altered in connection with the provision of Sheldon's Siding, which had a facing connection at the Priory Road end of the Down loop.
There was an interesting mixture of signals used by the two railway companies. The GWR used their standard pattern of signals with lower-quadrant (LQ) arms on wooden posts, but some posts were renewed in British Railways days by tubular steel. GWR ground-signals originally would have been the 'miniature semaphore' type, but eventually they had the usual round white discs. The S&DJR probably originally used wooden-post signals also (with LQ arms), but some posts were replaced subsequently by lattice posts (as used by the London & South Western Railway) and others by posts made from old rails. The lattice posts had white-painted boards fitted to the front, a feature believed to be designed to improve signal sighting. During alterations in 1949 some LQ arms were replaced by upper-quadrant versions. S&DJR ground signals originally were the Stevens 'flap' type, but later the Southern Railway standard Westinghouse 'half-disc' type appeared. It is likely that originally all the signal-boxes had working distant signals (including 'splitting' distants for trains approaching from the east towards the junction at Priory Road), but by about 1910 all the distants had been 'fixed' at caution.
The single-line section WELLS 'A' - GLASTONBURY was worked originally by Block Telegraph, but after about 1886 it had 'Train Staff and Ticket' working and then about 1895 Electric Train Tablet working was introduced (using Tyer's No 1 instruments). On the TUCKER STREET - WOOKEY and EAST SOMERSET - SHEPTON MALLET sections probably 'Train Staff and Ticket' working was used originally, but eventually Electric Train Staff instruments were introduced. These were superseded by Electric Key Token (EKT) on the EAST SOMERSET - SHEPTON MALLET section by 1948 and between Tucker Street and Cheddar in 1954, after closure of the intervening signal-boxes at Wookey and Lodge Hill. The short EAST SOMERSET - WELLS 'A' and WELLS 'A' - TUCKER STREET sections were controlled by a special 'no staff' system, which used ordinary GWR block instruments without any form of train staff. Sometime between 1920 and 1930 WELLS 'A' box was provided with 'switching out' facilities, so that it could be shut when the Glastonbury line was not in use and EAST SOMERSET - TUCKER STREET worked as a single block section.
The Glastonbury branch was closed completely on 29-October-1951 along with Priory Road passenger station. However a short length of the fomer branch was retained at Priory Road in order to provide access to the goods yard, which was served now by trains from the ex-GWR line until it closed on 13-July-1964. The WELLS 'A' signal-box remained in use to control the revised layout, but eventually it was closed on 2-December-1955 when control of the former junction and remaining signals passed to EAST SOMERSET box, where a replacement 27-lever frame was installed to work the new layout. A new 2-lever ground-frame was installed adjacent to the former 'A' box to work the connection between the goods yard and the remaining stub of the former Glastonbury branch. The block section became WELLS EAST SOMERSET - WELLS STATION and was worked by EKT, the token being used to unlock the new ground-frame. After the cessation of passenger services between Yatton and Witham in 1963 the ex-GWR boxes continued in use for the remaining goods-only service, but eventually WELLS STATION was closed on 9-April-1964 and finally WELLS EAST SOMERSET closed on 3-May-1965. The line through Wells remained in use for goods traffic until final closure on 29-April-1969.