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You might think that the study of signal box diagrams is something that would appeal only to those enthusiastic signalling experts. That might be truer if you look at one diagram in isolation – you can find yourself wondering why a particular signal was put where it is. But actually when you take an over-view of a route and look at how the track diagrams and their associated signalling have evolved, you open a lid onto railway history. As a professional signal engineer I learned in my first job designing the layout of signals an old adage: “The Operators are out to run the trains and the Signal Engineers are out to stop them”. In fact the job of the good signal engineer is to keep them running, and safely, responding to the needs of the operators.
Even in the small area around Romsey you can see this worked out. Look to the East and spot Eastleigh. For most of the 19th century these signalboxes were known as Bishopstoke, for this was the hamlet the station first served. When we think of railway towns our instinct is to think of Crewe, or Swindon, or possibly even Derby or York; yet the creation of the major locomotive works in the south-east corner of the site led to much expansion around it and the renaming of the station and its boxes to reflect the new town that was emerging to serve this works and its staff.
Look to the north, where the branch line from Fullerton to Hurstbourne was built by the L&SWR in the 1880s to try and thwart the plans of the GWR to build a line from Newbury to Southampton. They had hoped to persuade the promoters to redirect the line to join theirs, thereby gaining a route into Southampton via Romsey and Redbridge – but also allowing the L&SWR to control their access. The promoters were unimpressed and pressed on, their line crossing the main Salisbury – Andover – Basingstoke line a couple of miles to the East. History tells us that the L&SWR did eventually get their way when the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton line was opened, having got as far as Winchester before abandoning construction further south and joining the L&SWR main line to Southampton at Twyford. But what did this mean for the Fullerton to Hurstbourne line? Starved of it’s intended traffic (for the villages of Wherwell and Longparish could never generate sufficient traffic to justify the double track main line standard facilities provided), the line went into early decline, with singling, closure of intermediate boxes, and early closure.
Look to the west, and the relatively straightforward line to Salisbury took on major significance during the Second World War. With remarkable alacrity (particularly compared to today!) the civil engineers and their signalling colleagues opened new facilities at Dean Hill for the armaments depot, at Lockerly for the US military, and at Awbridge to provide additional stabling for supply trains heading for Southampton Docks. To look at Lockerly is to open a time capsule: opened in 1943, it had served it’s purpose and by 1949 the equipment was desperately needed for renewal of equipment elsewhere so it was closed, and it’s frame sent to Broadstone. Could something emerge and disappear so quickly on today’s railway?
Not everything is so big. A number of the diagrams show the impact of the gradual implementation of centrally controlled power signalling, as George’s diagrams illustrate intermediate stages before the inevitable closures. But is wasn’t always bad news. The subtle note on Romsey’s 1973 diagram about the provision in 1979 of a signal to allow passenger trains to reverse out of the Salisbury bound platform, taking instead the routes back to either Eastleigh or Southampton via Redbridge, was a precursor to the reopening of the Chandlers Ford line to passenger working – though sadly it took until 2003 to restore train services at Chandlers Ford.
Webmaster, The Friends of Romsey Signal Box
Former professional signal engineer, BR/Railtrack/Network Rail, 1978-2011.
Signal boxes in the Romsey Area
George Pryer was a founding member of the Friends of Romsey Signal Box, and he was passionate in wanting to make the preserved building into a working museum to show people (and children in particular) what the signalman did. His involvement in the work of the society, particularly in its earlier days, can be traced through the archive of newsletters available here. But as well as supporting this project, he was responsible for producing meticulous records of signal boxes and the track diagrams and the layout of signals, covering much of the Southern Railway, the Great Western, and parts of the Midlands. Sadly, he passed away in 2004, but by permission of his widow Zena we are reproducing some of his work here. Much more can be obtained from the Signalling Records Society’s sales outlet, including a number of published volumes and all-embracing CDs.
Click on the signal box names on this map to see the diagrams we have available. Alternatively see the listing below the map.