DERBY AREA SIGNALLING
The Leicester & Swannington Railway was extended from Mantle Lane Junction (Coalville) to Leicester Junction (Burton), officially opening on 2nd October 1848. In 1850 a branch was opened on the Up (north) side from Wooden Box Junction to Wooden Box — which was the former name of the community now known as Woodville.
An entry in the Way and Works Committee minutes
dated 13th July 1851 ordered
that such wire signals as the
Engineer shall deem necessary be put up at the Wooden Box Junction
thus giving us a date of the junction becoming a signalled location.In these
early days the signalling would be carried out by a pointsman who would have
to walk around his junction setting the points and signals “on the ground”.
Block Telegraph working was introduced along the line in stages up to 1876. However, Block working was used through tunnels from very early on, and Gresley Tunnel is shown as block worked on the earliest return (August 1872) although there was probably some form of telegraph working through the tunnel probably from the opening of the line,
It was the concentration of the signal & point levers in a single place, along with the block instruments and a shelter for the operator that brought about the "signal box" that we recognise today. Although the signal box at Woodville Sidings — as the location was then named — was not shown in the Appendix to the Working Timetable until 1st August 1877, there is circumstantial evidence that a signal box was provided here during 1873. As the adjacent boxes at Moira West Junction (opened in 1872) and Gresley (opened January 1869) both appeared in earlier references, it can be assumed that at, or about, the time it opened Woodville Sidings box would be working to those boxes.
The sidings after which the box was named were provided to serve a wharf at the northern end of the Ashby Canal, although Reservoir Colliery, which opened just to the south of the line in April 1868, will have played a part in the need for a signal box. Also in the immediate vicinity were several potteries which manufactured “sanitary pipes” — an industry which has outlived coal mining in the area.
The Midland Railway weekly notice for the week
ending 27th October 1883 tells us that on Sunday 21st
The old box named Woodville Sidings will be closed and the
new box named Woodville Junction will be opened. A direct connection from
the Down Main Line to the Woodville Branch will be provided. The latter
connection is notable as it would have involved a facing turnout across
the Up line.
Whereas the single line branch to Woodville had hitherto been a goods line worked by “Train Staff Without Ticket”, the opening of the Swadlincote Loop on 1st September 1884 meant that from Woodville Junction the line was worked by “Block Telegraph with Tickets”. The next Block Telegraph Post along the branch was Woodville Goods Junction.
The next change came on 15th August 1896 when the section of line between Swadlincote Station and Woodville Junction was changed to the “Electric Train Tablet Block” system. Until 19 th February 1899 the adjacent tablet station was still Woodville Goods Junction. However, on that date a new intermediate train tablet station opened at Swain's Park Crossing which had hitherto been a crossing keeper’s post.
Woodville Junction box was renewed on 5 th January 1902. This was a Type 3a box with two 15 foot flakes. The new box was located on the Down side at 121 miles 17 chains, just to the east of Bridge 62 — which marks the boundary between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Oddly, it was re-framed less than two years later, on 13th December 1903.
The 1903 works were inspected by Maj. J.W.Pringle of the Railway Inspectorate. His report dated 22nd January 1904 reads;
“The arrangements at Woodville Sidings have been largely altered and extended. Two sets of slip points have been added to the through crossing east of the signal cabin which together form a crossover road between the main lines. A second set of trailing points has also been added east of the cabin to the down line giving access to the down shunting line. A third set, also on the down line, has been provided west of the signal cabin giving access to new sidings on the down side. The first three new connections are worked direct from the signal cabin, the last named, being situated too far away, is worked from a ground frame containing 4 levers which is bolted from the signal cabin. WOODVILLE SIDINGS signal cabin is old, but a new frame has been provided, and the yard has been practically resignalled. The frame contains 40 levers of which 1 is spare. The interlocking in both signal cabin and ground frame is correct. The only requirement I have to make is the provision of run back catch points a full trains length in rear of the up home signal, on account of the steeply rising gradient.”
The block sections were now 659 yards to Moira West Junction, 1 mile 782 yards to Gresley, and 743 yards to Swain’s Park Crossing.
By 1920 there was a fan of sidings on the Down side, as well as private sidings serving Woodlands Canal Wharf, Reservoir Colliery, and Robinson & Dowler’s Pipe Works. On the Up side, there were another three sidings opposite the box leading to a “neck”, and three through sidings to Moira West Junction. There were also private sidings for the Donington Pipe & Brick Co.’s Works.
This was a time of expansion in the area and the layout required remodelling on the down side. New sidings into Reservior Colliery were provided. Preparatory to this work, a Weekly Notice entry dated 28 th January 1923 tells us that Woodville Junction box was slewed three feet further from the main line.
The box was again reframed on 13th May 1923 when a 52 lever tappet frame was installed according to the LMS's 1928 signal box audit. A Notice entry dated 28th January 1923 tells us that Woodville Junction box was slewed three feet further from the main line, preparatory to this work. Just over 20 years after his previous visit, the by now, Colonel Pringle again visited Woodville Junction. On 22nd October 1924 he reported:-
“Additional siding accommodation for the Reservoir Colliery has been provided on the south-west side of the railway, to which access is given through an additional trailing connection on the down main line. The necessary signal for controlling movements into and out of the new connections have been provided. The new connection and signals are worked from Woodville Junction signal box, which contains an old frame with 50 working and 2 spare levers. There is track circuiting on the down line between the new connection and the down advance starting signal, which is situated 550 yards from the signal box. The additional interlocking and arrangements are generally satisfactory”
In late 1927 the box was still operated on three shifts, Messrs. A.H. Harvey, H. Allen and A.W. Longley being the resident signalmen. It was Arthur Horace Harvey (1885-1961) who was actually working the box at 7.7pm on 20th March 1935 when Woodville Junction briefly came under the spotlight. A Leicester to Burton passenger train — with the fastest timings of the period — came to grief on a length of track of rather dubious quality between Moira West Junction and Woodville Junction. Fortunately, injuries were minimal. Nevertheless, an inquiry was undertaken by the Railway Inspectorate. As the actions of the operating staff were not in question, however, the report provided minimal detail about the signalling arrangements.
The bolt-locked Stage at the west end of the down sidings with its four lever MR tumbler frame dating from 1904 had been replaced by a three lever tappet frame in 1928. In February 1950, it was again replaced, this time by a four lever
R.E.C. pattern ground frame electrically locked by lever 7 in the box. Or, as the ME Notice put it;
The down sidings ground frame has been superseded by an electrically controlled ground frame with bell and telephone communication to the box. The trap points in the siding have been taken away.
At some point after 1927, when it was recorded as measuring 25'x10'x12', the box was extended. A further 10 foot flake was added to the east end. As all known photographs of the box show it without finials, it is probable that they were not replaced during this work. The practice of providing finials had ceased with the Type 4d box in 1917.
The box steps were at the west end, which is away from the direction of traffic on the closest line. This is somewhat unusual, although far from unique, and is probably a legacy of the extension. When first built, the locking room windows had been located equidistant from the centre upright, but not in the middle of the respect flake in which they were fitted. Thus another effect of the extra flake was a very unbalanced look at the front of the box.
The opening hours toward the end of the Second World War were from 5.45am Monday until 9.45pm on the following Sunday. At its height it must have been a fascinating box to work with a wide variety of traffic simply originating or terminating there. Add to this the through traffic on the Leicester to Burton line and that which ran to and from the Swadincote Loop, it is easy to assume that the signalmen were kept well occupied. With a shunters’ cabin alongside the box, it would not have been a lonely job either.
The decline began shortly after the Second World War with the closure of Reservoir Colliery in 1947 and the loss of regular passenger trains on the Swadlincote Loop on 6th October of the same year. Woodville Junction continued to signal passenger trains onto the branch for several more years, however, as the line still generated regular excursion traffic, including football specials for most Derby County home games. The box also kept its passenger grade due to the Leicester to Burton service, although by 1955 this amounted to only nine weekday workings in each direction and two on Sundays.
In 1959 the hours of duty had reduced only slightly to 6.0am Monday to 2.50am Sunday, but thereafter the run-down was swift. By 1962 the box was only open on two shifts, which covered the period between 6.0am and 9.50pm on Mondays to Saturdays. The Swadlincote Loop line closed on 2nd March 1964, and with it all the Up sidings and their connections were abolished. Whereas the Midland Railway 6 inch tappet frame had a mere two spare levers in 1960, by 1967 there was a “milk train” of 33 spares — the cross-over road had gone and the Down sidings rationalised.
The official date of closure was Sunday, 26
th November 1967, with the last day of operation presumably being
the previous day. The British Rail ‘Section C’ notice simply read
signal box will be closed, all points worked therefrom secured out of use
and all signal arms taken away.
That was not quite the end, however. For five years during the early 1980s the site of Woodville Junction’s Down sidings was the location for a rapid loading bunker associated with the Swain’s Park opencast working, which was situated on the Up side. This development ensured that all traces of Woodville Junction were erased. The site is now a derelict industrial wasteland slowly being reclaimed by nature. The north end of the Ashby Canal, however, remains as a testament to the labours of days gone by.
Many thanks to Tony Overton, Roger Newman, Reg Instone and Glynn Waite for their assistance in the preparation of this article.
Dave Harris, Willington, Derby, UK.
Page last updated: Saturday, 5 September 2015