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S&DJR Crest Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway
Signalling at Spetisbury
S&DJR Crest
Early Days Signal Box Special Instructions Closure

Early Days

Spetisbury was a simple wayside station in Dorset on the southern part of the main line of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR). It was located between Blandford and Bailey Gate stations on the original part of the former Dorset Central Railway (DCR). The DCR was opened on 1-Nov-1860 as a single-track line from Wimborne to a temporary terminus at Blandford St Mary and later became part of the S&DJR main line from Bath Junction to Wimborne Junction.

The DCR station at Spetisbury (apparently spelt originally with two 't's) comprised simply a single platform on the Down side and there is an excellent view of this station on page 83 of "An Historical Survey of the Somerset & Dorset Railway" (Judge & Potts, published OPC 1979). Visible in that photograph at the Blandford (north) end of the platform are two levers, which worked the two stop signals provided (there is no evidence of any levers for distants). Directly opposite the platform was a disc-and-crossbar signal, one of the last few in use on the line and reported to have been taken out of use on 16-Apr-1901. The other signal was some distance up the line and in photographs published elsewhere can be seen to have been a semaphore, although probably it was also a disc-and-crossbar signal originally.

  S&DJR Disc & Crossbar Signal

Disc-and-Crossbar Signal

The earliest known record about signalling at Spetisbury is an entry in the S&DJR Officers Minutes for 8-Nov-1876 (Public Record Office file RAIL626/16), which stated that signals were to be worked from the platform and it was to be a block post at a cost of 60. However this entry was amended in the Minutes for the subsequent meeting on 8-Dec-1876 to state that it was NOT to be a block post. The next available reference is S&DJR Working Timetable Table (WTT) Appendix 7 (1-Mar-1886), in which Spetisbury appears in the "List of Telegraph Stations & Signal Posts" as open "7.30am until last passenger train" on weekdays. The location is not listed as being on a 'speaking telegraph' circuit and it is uncertain whether the reference was to the signal-box or the station office. It continued to appear in subsequent lists, although by 1905 the opening time was 7.35am and only the station office was listed specifically on a telephone circuit. It is unclear therefore whether the original station was ever a signalling block-post.

The Electric Train Tablet method of single-line control was introduced by the S&DJR between Blandford and Bailey Gate on 4-Nov-1886 and thereafter the signals at Spetisbury were used only for 'request stop' purposes. S&DJR WTT Appendix 9 (1-Feb-1889) stated:

"The normal position of the Signals ... must be at the "Off" position, except when required to be used to stop a Train which is marked to call by Signal only, or to protect any impediment or obstruction which may be on the Line, in accordance with Rule 157 of the Committee's Book of Rules and Regulations. In accordance with this Rule, when a Train has stopped at the Station, the Signals in both directions must be placed at "Danger", and remain so until the Train has again started, and has passed out of sight."

New Signal Box

In 1901 the S&DJR doubled the section of main line between Blandford and Bailey Gate, and the new (Up) line was brought into use on 29th April of that year. At Spetisbury an additional Up platform was provided, with a new ground-level signal-box at the Blandford end containing a 9-lever frame, but a precise opening date for the box is not known. There are no known good close-up photographs of this box, but from contemporary photographs of the station it appears to have been to the S&DJR Type 2 design, which is curious as the S&DJR Type 3 style had been in use since about 1895.

Spetisbury signal diagram 1901
Spetisbury Signal Diagram 1901
Click diagram for larger image

The new layout at Spetisbury was very simple and consisted merely of the Up and Down lines with a single crossover between them at the north end. The 1901 signal diagram shows that Distant, Home and Starting signals were provided in both directions and two shunt signals for the crossover. The crossover and shunt signals were removed by 1930, but the exact date is not known. (It should be noted that the signal diagram given in "An Historical Survey of the Somerset & Dorset Railway" is incorrect as the functions of levers 5 & 6 have been reversed.) The locking details for the 1901 arrangements were as follows:-

Mechanical Locking



Released By



Down Distant Signal




Down Home Signal




Down Starting Signal

(4 when 6 over)

6 both ways


Up to Down Line Disc




Down to Up Line Disc




Up to Down Line Points




Up Starting Signal




Up Home Signal




Up Distant Signal



Although the new signal-box was a block-post and could have been useful to break the long block section of 6 miles between Blandford and Bailey Gate, it seems to have had little regular use. The earliest reference to the box is in the 1905 S&DJR WTT Appendix, in which it is listed as being switched-out "always, unless specially advised". The Special Instructions in that Appendix state:

"The Signals at Spetisbury will be worked only for Trains stopping at the Station, except on special occasions, when it will be opened as a Block Section, of which due notice will be given, as the ordinary Block Section will be as between Blandford and Bailey Gate. The Cross-over Road must not be used except whilst the Station is open as a Block Post."

It is not clear whether this means that the signals would be put to danger behind every train stopping at the station, or merely that they would be used for 'request stop' purposes. The curious feature of this location was that, when the signal-box was switched-out, the crossover points were locked electrically by the adjacent signal-boxes at Blandford and Bailey Gate. It is not known if this arrangement was unique, but it was very unusual and there seems to have been no obvious reason for it.

Special Instructions

The following is the text of the Special Instructions notice that was displayed in the signal-box:-

South Western and Midland Railway Companies



1. Before opening Spetisbury as a Block Section the following instructions must be carried out, viz:- The Signalman at Spetisbury must ascertain by enquiry from Bailey Gate on the Telephone whether there are any trains in Block, either on the up or down line, and if there are none, he must place all his fixed signals to Danger, and then give the Opening of Signal Box Bell signal on the Special Bell circuit to the Signalman at Blandford, who, after satisfying himself that the Block Sections between Blandford and Bailey Gate are clear and the Block Indicators are in their normal position, will repeat this signal.

2. The Signalman at Spetisbury must then hold over the Sykes releasing Switch to the left for several seconds, and until Sykes Instrument is released.

3. The Signalman at Blandford after having received the Opening Signal from Spetisbury on the Special Bell circuit, will pass the Signal forward on the Ordinary Bell circuit to Bailey Gate. The Signalman at Bailey Gate after repeating the same, will press down his Bell key and keep it down for 10 seconds.

4. The Signalman at Blandford directly he has received a repetition of the Opening signal from Bailey Gate, will press in his special plunger and keep it pressed in for 10 seconds. This will cause the Sykes instrument at Spetisbury to be freed, and at the same time to slide the Day and Night Switch Bar to the In position, and release the locking of the Cross-over lever; when this has been done the Testing signal must then be forwarded on the Ordinary Bell and Block circuits by the Signalman at Spetisbury to Bailey Gate and Blandford respectively, and the repetition of these signals will indicate that the Bell and Instruments are in proper working order, and the Opening arrangements will then be completed.

5. To close the Spetisbury Signal Box the Signalman at Spetisbury must take care that there are no trains in Block and that the Block Indicators are in their "Normal" position, he will then give the Closing of Signal-box Bell signal to Blandford and Bailey Gate, and directly afterwards pull over the Sykes small locking lever in front of the Signal frame, which will complete the operation. The fixed Signals must then be taken off, and all lights (except those required to be kept burning) extinguished, and all windows and doors secured, as laid down in Rule No 24 of the Double Line Block Telegraph Regulations, and in case of any failure of the Indicators or Bells until the instructions contained therein have been carried out.

GEORGE H. EYRE, Traffic Superintendent.
Offices, Midland Station, Bath, April 1914.

It is interesting to note from these Instructions that the signalman at Blandford had to send an 'opening box' bell code to Bailey Gate for a signal-box other than his own. Although the special locking was mentioned on the original 1901 signal-box diagram the original copy of this notice bears an issue date of April 1914, which perhaps reflects a re-issue of the Instructions for some reason. It is assumed that these arrangements ceased upon removal of the crossover, but that is not confirmed.


The station became unstaffed with effect from 13-Aug-1934. In one of the S&D "Fortnightly Notices" for late 1948 it was stated that Spetisbury signal-box would be opened as a block-post (ie 'switched in') on 5-Jan-1949 (presumably just for the one day) to allow the cleaning and overhauling of the mechanical locking. It may be that event drew attention turned to the state of the signalling installation, because in due course in a British Railways (Southern Region) letter of 1952 it was noted:-

"The condition of the locking-frame and much of the signalling apparatus at Spetisbury is worn out. Also the box structure is in need of considerable renewal. It has not been found necessary to open the box for a number of years and there is no apparent reason to anticipate such a course being necessary in the foreseeable future. In the circumstances it is recommended.....the box to be abolished."

The following costings were given in support of the closure proposal:-

Original cost 36 414 450
Present renewal cost 180 1449 1629
Gross removal cost 28 127 155
Recoverable material value 2 64 66
Net removal cost 26 63 89
Annual maintenance saving 1-10-0 27 28-10-0
Commuted renewal sum saving 0-10-0 10 10-10-0

One may wonder why so much repair would seem to be necessary to a box that apparently had received so little use. The signal-box was closed on 10-Aug-1952 and the station itself was closed on 17-Sep-1956. It is curious that there is a photograph of the station on page 84 of "An Historical Survey of the Somerset & Dorset Railway" which is dated 1961, yet shows the signal-box and a signal-post with an arm in the 'off' position. The date probably is incorrect, as a BR(SR) notice confirms the date for abolition of the box and signals. It is certain that the signal-box and station buildings had been demolished by 1963.

Chris Osment 1999 & 2011
Acknowledgements to the late Denis Cullum and Malcolm Trigg for the loan of relevant material.

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Early Days Signal Box Special Instructions Closure
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Page last updated: 21 May 2011
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