Great Western Railway and
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 in early days these were called WELLS 'A' (at Priory Road), WELLS 'B' (at East Somerset) and WELLS 'C' (at Tucker Street), but eventually the 'B' box became known as "WELLS EAST SOMERSET" and the 'C' box became "WELLS TUCKER STREET". In 1896 the GWR ordered new nameplates (in its standard cast-iron style) for all three boxes using the new names, the one for the 'A' box reading "WELLS SOMERSET & DORSET BOX"; unusually that nameplate was positioned above the windows on the gable end nearest the station, rather than on the front wall, presumably so as to face GWR trains passing between the two GWR stations. Despite the name now displayed on the former 'A' box, the various surviving S&DJR signal diagrams still 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 once existed near Glastonbury.) For most of its life the 'A' box appears never to have displayed a nameboard on its front wall facing the S&DJR branch, but by early British Railways (BR) days the ex-GWR nameplate had been removed and replaced by a "WELLS PRIORY ROAD" nameboard on the front wall in a more conventional location below the windows. Also in BR days the signal-box at Tucker Street was renamed "WELLS STATION", using a pressed aluminium nameplate smaller than the GWR version.
At East Somerset station a signal-box was opened by 1877 with a frame of 28 levers; it was situated on the south side of the line east of, and 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 (allegedly with 'stud' interlocking), 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.
Wells East Somerset Signal Diagram pre-1951
Click diagram for larger image
Wells East Somerset Signal Box 1935
Click pictures for larger images
WELLS 'A' stood at the junction of the S&DJR and GWR lines, on the Down side of the S&DJR branch from Glastonbury, and controlled the the S&DJR station at Priory Road. The history of this box is obscure, but it was very similar to a design used by the Bristol & Exeter Railway and it is believed that 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 Cheddar Valley lines. (This may explain why the box came to be fitted with a GWR nameplate in later years.) The signal-box originally contained a 32-lever frame, which was positioned at the front of the box facing the Glastonbury branch. (Sadly the type of lever-frame is unknown, but one may speculate that, given the apparent B&ER involvement, it may have been of a Saxby & Farmer design.) About 1920-22 there were various signalling alterations as a result of the re-arrangement of the various connections into the goods yard. In 1949 the original lever-frame was replaced by a 28-lever Westinghouse frame located at the rear of the box, as part of which work the 'from East Somerset' Home signal (3) was abolished and replaced by electrical controls on the levers of the relevant 'to Priory Road' Starting signals in the East Somerset box.
|Wells 'A' Signal Box
Click picture for larger image
|Wells 'A' Signal
Click diagram for larger image
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. This was a brick-built GWR Type 7B box, which 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) wooden arms on wooden posts, but some were renewed in British Railways days by tubular steel posts with metal arms. GWR ground-signals originally might have been the 'miniature semaphore' type, but eventually they had the usual round white discs. The S&DJR originally also used wooden-post signals with wooden 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 (in the S&DJR style). 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 of the S&DJR LQ arms were replaced by metal 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.
It is probable that the S&DJR line was worked originally by Block Telegraph between Wells 'A' and Wells Branch Junction. However after the abolition of Wells Branch Junction in 1878 the new single-line section WELLS 'A' - GLASTONBURY had 'Train Staff and Ticket' (TS&T) working until about 1895, when Electric Train Tablet(ETT) working was introduced (using Tyer's No 1 instruments). The short EAST SOMERSET - WELLS 'A' and WELLS 'A' - TUCKER STREET sections were worked under GWR regulations by a special 'no staff' system, which used ordinary GWR block instruments and bells without any form of physical 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.
On the Cheddar Valley line TS&T working was in use by 1886, at which time the first block section west of Wells was TUCKER STREET - CHEDDAR, but in 1896 a block-post was opened at Wookey and the new section TUCKER STREET - WOOKEY was worked by Electric Train Staff (ETS). After Wookey signal-box closed in 1954 the section again became TUCKER STREET - CHEDDAR, but this time worked by Electric Key Token (EKT). On the East Somerset line the first block section east of Wells was EAST SOMERSET - CRANMORE, on which TS&T working was in use by 1880. A block-post was opened at Shepton Mallet in 1894 and it is believed that the new EAST SOMERSET - SHEPTON MALLET section was worked by TS&T originally, but converted to ETS in 1894 and then to EKT by 1948.
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; 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 BR(WR)-pattern 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 Electric Key Token (EKT), the token being used to unlock the new ground-frame at Priory Road. 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 WELLS STATION was reduced to ground-frame status on 28-October-1963 and finally closed on 9-April-1964, and then WELLS EAST SOMERSET was closed on 3-May-1965. The line through Wells remained in use for goods traffic until final closure on 29-April-1969.
© CJL Osment 2001-18
Wells 'A' photograph courtesy Wells Railway Fraternity, Wells East Somerset photographs by Ian Scrimgeour courtesy Signalling Record Society, Wells East Somerset and Tucker Street signal diagrams courtesy Signalling Record Society.