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Lynton & Barnstaple Railway - Signalling at Barnstaple Town
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Signalling at Barnstaple Town
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Introduction Station Layout Signalling Southern Railway Period Treadle


This page describes the signalling at Barnstaple Town station on the former narrow-gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (L&BR). Please see the separate Introduction to L&BR Signalling page for general background information and details of other pages on RailWest about the signalling of the L&BR. Click here for more general historical details about the L&BR and a Bibliography.

Barnstaple Town station L&BR side looking towards the buffer-stops in SR days   Barnstaple Town station L&SWR side looking eastwards
Barnstaple Town station looking east

Layout of the Station

Barnstaple Town station was shared between the L&BR and the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR), which had a standard-gauge line from Barnstaple Junction to Ilfracombe. The station was opened by the L&SWR on 16-May-1898 in connection with opening of the L&BR, replacing an earlier L&SWR station of the same name (but originally called Barnstaple Quay) located a short distance nearer to Barnstaple Junction. In 1923 the new Southern Railway (SR) took over both the L&BR and the L&SWR, and the whole station came under common ownership.

The new Barnstaple Town station had a single long platform, which was on a roughly south-east to north-west alignment. The south face of the platform served the standard-gauge L&SWR line, whilst on the north face there was a long bay at the west end which served the narrow-gauge L&BR line. L&BR trains ran 'Up' to Barnstaple and 'Down' to Lynton. Alongside the bay line there was a run-round loop, whilst a single siding - accessed from the bay line by a point facing to Down L&BR trains - served a transfer location with an adjacent standard-gauge siding off the L&SWR line. Some additional land adjacent to the run-round line was earmarked apparently for a potential second L&BR platform, but this was never constructed.

Note: this page deals only with the narrow-gauge L&BR side of the station. There is a separate page in RailWest which deals with the standard-gauge L&SWR side of the station.


The original signalling equipment was installed by Evans O'Donnell (EoD), who were the L&BR's initial signalling contractor. On 4-May-1898 Lt Col HA Yorke inspected the L&BR on behalf of the Board of Trade and his subsequent Inspection Report contains some brief details about the signalling at Barnstaple, but unfortunately as no numbered signal-diagram for Barnstaple (L&BR) has come to light yet a number of un-answered questions remain about some features. Click here for more general information about L&BR signals.

The L&BR signal-box (SB) at Barnstaple Town was an elevated wooden structure, similar to the superstructure of the signal-box at Pilton and larger than the wooden huts used elsewhere on the line. There is plan evidence that it was intended originally to build the signal-box as a timber superstructure on a stone base, but in practice an all-timber building was constructed. Col Yorke's Inspection Report stated that this SB had an interlocking frame of 9 levers (7 working and 2 spares), which was mounted at the front of the SB. This SB worked the points and trap-points at each end of the run-round loop, the siding point and associated trap-point, and the three L&BR signals. It is believed that in early L&BR days the SB also contained the Tyer's Electric Train Tablet instrument for the single-line section to Pilton.

The outline diagram below is intended to provide a general view of those features of the L&BR signalling which are believed to have existed at Barnstaple Town. An Up Home signal was provided (marked UH on the diagram), as well as a Down Starting (DS) signal at the end of the platform and a Down Advanced Starting (DAS) signal further down the line towards Pilton. (Note: the lower ringed arm shown on the Down Advanced Starting was a later addition in 1927 - see the RailWest page about Pilton for more information.) The Down Advanced Starting was located close to Braunton Road Crossing and also served as the Down Home for Pilton SB, so it was 'slotted' by that SB - in other words, both the Barnstaple and Pilton signalmen had to pull their respective levers in order for the signal to come 'off'.

Sketch diagram of L&BR signalling at Barnstaple Town
L&BR Signalling at Barnstaple Town

Note: The signal and point numbers and letters shown on the diagram are purely arbitrary and have been included for identification purposes only within RailWest. Points given the same prefix letter (eg A1, A2) are assumed to have been worked from the same lever. It is known that in the SR period lever 4 worked points 'A' and lever 8 worked the Down Advanced Starting (DAS).

In common with the rest of the L&BR the facing points on passenger lines were fitted with 'economic' Facing Point Locks (FPL). At Barnstaple Town therefore there were economic FPLs on points A1 and B1 only. The known features of the signalling at Barnstaple Town as depicted in the diagram above only account for 6 working levers, so the precise arrangement of the lever-frame remains a mystery. It is reputed that spare land was reserved alongside the loop line for a possible second platform, so it may be the case that the two spare levers were provided to cater for additional Up Home and Down Starting signals for that line.

Southern Railway Period

In 1923 the SR took over both the L&BR and the L&SWR. As far as it has been possible to determine, there had been very little change to the original signalling provided at Barnstaple Town prior to that date. Photographic evidence does show that, at some unknown date in L&BR days, the Down Starting signal was re-located to a position outside of the loop line. It remained there until 28-August-1929, when it was replaced by a new signal on the platform, which had a lower-quadrant (LQ) arm on a 12' high SR-style rail-built post (SR Signal Instruction No 33 of 1929). Also at an unknown date (before August 1926, but possibly after the SR take-over in 1923) the Down Advanced Starting was renewed as a L&SWR-style LQ arm on a wooden post with a ball-and-spike finial. The Up Home was replaced on 20-January-1925 (SR Signal Instruction No 2 of 1925) by a new lattice-post signal 11 yards nearer to Pilton.

It would appear that the SR embarked on a limited programme of rationalisation at Barnstaple Town after taking over the L&BR, mainly aimed at eliminating the need for two manned signal-boxes at the station, but no precise date for those changes has yet been determined. The Tyer's Electric Train Tablet instrument for the single-line section to Pilton was transferred from the former L&BR SB to the ex-L&SWR 'main line' SB, apparently by early 1925 (SR Instruction 4a of 1925), and the L&BR SB was down-graded to ground-frame (GF) status. Alterations to the standard-gauge signalling freed-up 3 levers in the ex-L&SWR SB, which were used then to work 'slots' on all three ex-L&BR signals, so that the 'main line' signalman now had control over the movements of L&BR trains to/from Pilton.

Under normal interlocking rules the lever for the Up Home signal would have locked the levers for the Down Starting and Down Advanced Starting signals and vice-versa, thereby preventing the signalling of conflicting movements. This interlocking was applied to the three new 'slot' levers in the main-line SB. It is assumed that the corresponding interlocking in the GF was removed, so that its three signal levers could be left in the reverse position when the GF was not in use and hence all its slots would normally be 'off'. Although it was now possible to send trains to, or receive trains from, Pilton without the GF being manned, it was still necessary to operate the GF lever-frame in order to work the various L&BR points (eg to run-round a train), as these were not connected to the main-line SB. It is recorded in a 1930 SR Appendix that the points for the loop and siding were unlocked by the tablet for the section to Pilton, and it known from other SR records that by late 1926 lever 1 in the GF was being used as a Release Lever (unlocked by the tablet) for the points.

In 1934 the Special Instructions for Barnstaple Town SB contained the following entry:-

Shunting Bell Code
From Lynton line ground frame to signal box   No of beats
Shunting completed and train ready to leave 1 pause 2

The same instructions also recorded that, for Block Regulation 4 purposes for the acceptance of trains from Pilton Yard, there was a modified clearing point 100 yards ahead of the L&B Up Home signal.

One other change which took place under SR ownership was the addition on 30-August-1927 (SR Signal Instruction No 22 of 1927) of a ringed arm below the main arm of the Down Advanced Starting signal (which also functioned as the Pilton Down Home). This signal was provided in conjunction with changes in working at Pilton rather than Barnstaple Town, and it is assumed to have been slotted from Barnstaple Town by the same lever as the main arm (it was the arrangements at Pilton which determined which arm came 'off'). It is believed that both arms had three slots, being worked jointly by Barnstaple Town (SR), Barnstaple Town (L&B) and Pilton signal-boxes, but the precise arrangements are unknown in the absence of any relevant records for that period.


There is evidence from various SR records that by 1927 there was an electric treadle located some distance in advance of the Down Advanced Starting signal towards Pilton; unfortunately there is no information available as to the purpose of that treadle or the date of its installation. Purely as speculation, it is possible that it was provided after the SR rationalisation (see above) to indicate to the SR signalman when a Down train had passed beyond the Down Advanced Starting and/or to release a back-lock on the relevant signal 'slot' lever. Unlike his predecessor in the L&BR SB, the signalman in the 'main line' SB would not have had sufficient visibility of the Down Advanced Starting signal to know when a departing Down train had passed beyond it towards Pilton, so he would need to know when it was safe to replace his 'slot' (and hence return Pilton's Down Home to 'on') without forcing the Down train to stop suddenly. There is some additional coverage of this matter in the RailWest page which deals with the standard-gauge L&SWR side of the station (see the comments about Treadle 'C' in the section about the SR signal diagram).

© CJL Osment 2004-22
Acknowledgements to Michael Bishop and the Signalling Record Society for archive information.


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Introduction Station Layout Signalling Southern Railway Period Treadle