The Signal Boxes and Ground Frames
|Introduction||Signal Boxes||Lever Frames||Description Plates||Ground Frames||Signal Diagrams|
This page describes the Signal-Boxes and Ground-Frames of the former Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (L&BR), including some items of their equipment such as the lever-frames. 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.
The firm of Evans O'Donnell (EoD) of Chippenham was chosen as the signalling contractor for the L&BR and so all the original signalling installations reflected the practice of that company. However after the takeover of the line by the Southern Railway (SR) in 1923 some different equipment did appear as a result of minor alterations and general maintenance. Evans O'Donnell erected signal-boxes at the two terminal stations of Barnstaple and Lynton, at the intermediate passing-loops at Chelfham, Bratton Fleming, Blackmoor and Woody Bay stations, and also at the passing-loop adjacent to the L&BR's works at Pilton.
A simulation of the lever description plates in Chelfham signal-box
At Barnstaple and Pilton there were elevated signal-boxes (SB) of a similar EoD design. There is plan evidence that it had been intended for the SB at Barnstaple to have a timber superstructure on a stone base, but in fact the SB was built as an all-timber construction. In contrast, it appears that the SB at Pilton was constructed originally as a timber superstructure on a tall masonry base, which subsequently was reduced to little more than a low plinth (possibly circa-1918). Both SBs were equipped with a 9-lever EoD interlocking frame, mounted at the front of the box. At both locations the single-line Electric Train Tablet (ETT) instruments were housed in the SBs, which probably were manned throughout the day by their duty signalmen.
At the other stations only small platform-level wooden huts of identical design were provided and the picture (click for larger image) shows the former Woody Bay SB (after restoration in 1999); this SB was recorded in the 1935 Sale Catalogue as measuring 6’x5’x7’. (Note the concrete plinth which had been added at some date, probably as a result of timber rot.) In each hut the entrance was a double-door in the front wall, with a 7-lever EoD interlocking frame mounted ‘back-to-track’ against the rear wall. At these stations the ETT instruments were kept in the booking-office; apart from the small size of the 'hut' SBs, this arrangement probably reflected the fact that these SBs were not manned permanently, but merely visited as required by the stationmaster or porter who also acted as signalman. In 1924 (to be confirmed) the EoD SB 'hut' at Lynton was replaced by a ground-level pent-roof hut of L&SWR/SR design in the same location; this hut was recorded in the 1935 Sale Catalogue as measuring 9'x8'x7'6" (average).
In SR days wooden nameboards were fixed to the various SBs. Those at Barnstaple Town and Pilton were placed on the front wall below the window sill, while the EoD huts had them fixed on the front gable end above the door. On the replacement SR hut at Lynton the nameboard was placed on the front wall above the window. Given the apparent absence of nameboards in earlier photographs, it would seem likely that they were a new provision by the SR.
It is known from photographic evidence that the smaller 'hut' signal-boxes were equipped with Evans O'Donnell lever-frames of a type designed for use at ground level. The photograph (click for larger image), although not of an ex-L&BR item, shows a typical example of a small EoD ground-level frame with 2 levers, with the tappet interlocking mounted about half-way up the rear of the frame. (Such frames are often called 'knee' frames, on the basis that the main framework came up to about knee height.) The same type of frame was used also for the various original ground-frames (GF) installed on the line. Sadly it is not known what type of lever-frame was installed in the elevated SBs at Barnstaple Town and Pilton; although it would have been feasible to use the same ground-level pattern for consistency it would have been unusual, so it is possible that a conventional 'elevated' pattern of EoD lever-frame was used instead. However an exterior photograph of Pilton taken in SR days, in which the lever-frame is partially visible through the doorway, does appear to show a frame of the EoD ground-level design.
In SR days at least, each lever carried an oval metal description plate, on which was sign-written the number of the lever, its function and (where relevant) the number(s) of any other lever(s) which had to be pulled first in order to release that lever. It is probable that EoD fitted their own description plates to the initial installations (a common practice with signalling contractors), but the style of those is unknown, nor is it known if the SR replaced any plates in later years. The photograph (click for larger image) shows a damaged example believed to have come from Pilton SB; this measures approximately 5½"x2½". Although the style is similar to, but smaller than, that used by the SR, it is probable that the SR design was derived from one of their contractors (which had included EoD), so currently it is not possible to determine whether or not the design of L&BR lever description plates was altered at any time. It was SR practice to paint each plate in the same colour as its lever (in this example black for points), but again it is not known if any original EoD plates followed the same convention.
As well as the various SBs a small number of uncovered ground-frames (GF) existed on the railway. One GF was located at the Lynton end of Pilton yard and worked the points for the exit from the yard at that end; this GF was unlocked by the tablet for the section to Chelfham. At Blackmoor a new Down Siding was installed shortly after the line was opened and this was worked by an adjacent GF, which may have been unlocked by a key from the main SB lever-frame, but records are conflicting and it is listed in SR days as being released by tablet. Each of those GFs contained just a single lever and was of the same EoD pattern as the lever-frames used in the smaller 'hut' SBs.
Between the two level-crossings at Pilton there was a siding to serve a wharf on the River Yeo and this was also worked by a local GF. The original GF at that siding was of the same EoD design as other GFs and appears from photographic evidence to have been just a single lever. However there are no known photographs of the GF which existed in later years after the siding was altered, so it is unclear if the original EoD GF was reused or a replacement GF was provided, possibly of a different size and pattern. In SR days the GF was unlocked by the tablet for the section to Barnstaple Town and it is probable that the same arrangement was used for the original GF. Sadly it is unclear from the limited photographic coverage of the EoD GFs whether their levers were fitted with lever description plates in the same manner as the SB lever-frames.
A 3-lever GF was installed at Bratton Fleming in 1932; this was a 'knee' frame of the Stevens & Sons pattern widely used by the SR (usually with levers at 4.5/8" spacing) and different in appearance from an EoD frame. The levers were fitted with lever description plates of the contemporary SR pattern.
No details are known of the actual pattern of tablet locks fitted to the various GFs nor how they were arranged to interact with the levers, although in the case of the 1932 Bratton Fleming GF a photograph suggests that its lock was attached to the upper part of its release lever.
In Southern Railway days at least there would have been a signal diagram hung in each SB, showing the layout and numbering of the signals and points worked from its lever-frame. (Although equivalent diagrams may have existed for the GFs as a record for the signal engineer, it would seem unlikely that any copies were displayed at the actual GFs given the simplicity of those installations.) Only one known SR signal diagram copy exists (No 447 for Chelfham), which appears to have been drawn new by the SR in 1923 in a style derived from earlier London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) practice. Although at least one 'office copy' diagram (Bratton) is known to exist from early L&BR days, the author is not aware of any evidence that signal diagrams were actually displayed in the SBs at that time, although it would seem a likely practice, in which case they may have been supplied by Evans O'Donnell as part of their 1898 installation.
The SR allocated each SB or GF a 'roller number' (so called because the master diagrams were kept on rollers in the drawing office) and the known numbers for L&BR diagrams were as follows:-
The apparently random allocation of numbers was due simply to the fact that the SR allocated some 'spare' numbers from an existing list. (Some of the numbers had been used elsewhere previously and most of them were used again elsewhere after closure of the L&BR.) It will be noted that, although a number was allocated for the GF at Barnstaple Quay (Pilton), no number is listed for the GF at the Lynton end of Pilton Yard. This may be simply a gap in the surviving records, or an oversight, or perhaps that GF was recorded under the same number as Pilton SB.
© CJL Osment 2018-23
EoD GF photograph courtesy Nick Wellington, No 6 plate photograph courtesy David Hudson, Chelfham lever descriptions image courtesy of John Hinson. Acknowledgements to the Signalling Record Society for archive information.