by John Clayson
Grantham North was one of three signal boxes opened at Grantham in 1874 and 1875. They ensured that signalling at Grantham station’s expanding and increasingly busy layout complied with government legislation and regulation relating to railway safety, in particular the interlocking of points and signals.
Opened on 26th October 1875, Grantham North signal box brought together the operation of the points and signals at the north end of the station. It controlled the connections between the Main lines and:
- the platforms used by local trains
- the sidings and loading dock on the Up side
- on the Down side, the carriage shed and sidings;
- also on the Down side the locomotive shed - then of modest size but increasingly busy and congested.
In its first configuration the box had 35 levers and it worked the Main lines northward to Grantham Junction box, at the convergence of the line from Nottingham about ¾ mile north of the station, and southward to Grantham Yard box situated at the south end of the passenger station.
In 1881 the GNR relocated the junction of the Main lines with the Nottingham lines from Grantham Junction to the north end of the station. This involved extending the Nottingham lines parallel with the Main lines from the former Grantham Junction to south of Harlaxton Road, widening the embankment and bridges from two tracks to four. On 24th April 1881 a new signal box at Grantham North was opened with 70 levers, of which 17 were spare in anticipation of further expansion.
The Main lines and the Nottingham lines were worked independently from their junction at Grantham North as far as another new signal box, Barrowby Road, which was built near the site of the former Grantham Junction.
When Grantham locomotive shed was enlarged in 1897 with the construction of the ‘Top Shed’, the coal stage and other improved facilities all the spare capacity at the North box had been taken up so, in 1898, additional levers were added to the frame at Grantham North bringing the total to 73.
In 1903 the GNR installed a new Down Goods line around the western side of the station so that northbound goods traffic could be routed clear of the station to give passenger trains priority. The Down Goods line left the Main line at Grantham South box and it connected with both the Down Main line and the Nottingham line at Grantham North.
This required yet more capacity at Grantham North. A new interlocking lever frame of 105 levers was installed, accommodated by extending the building northward. The Down Goods line was worked to Grantham South box.
These and other improvements are described in the following article from The Grantham Journal.
The introduction of the Silver Jubilee streamlined high speed passenger service in 1935 demonstrated the limitations of Victorian mechanical signalling on some sections of the East Coast Main Line, including in the Grantham area. To pave the way for further high speed services in 1937 a combination of electric track circuiting with some automatic and controlled colour light signals allowed Grantham North to assume control of the Main lines for the 4 miles north to Barkston South Junction. The modernisation involved the installation of electro-mechanical relays, the electrical equivalent of the interlocking lever frame. A single storey brick relay room was constructed immediately south of the box to house this equipment. The box steps were moved to the end of the new building and thereafter the box was entered by walking across the flat roof of the relay room. The new signalling arrangements between Grantham North and Barkston South Junction came into effect on 17th October 1937. From that date Peascliffe signal box closed and Barrowby Road box was no longer involved with the signalling of the Main lines.
On 10th May 1943 the Goods line was made bi-directional and became known as the Up & Down Goods line. This meant that freight traffic for the south from the Nottingham line could avoid using the Main line through the station platforms. It was the last significant augmentation of facilities at Grantham North in the era of ‘traditional’ railway signalling.
In the 1950s the use of diesel multiple units (known by Grantham railway staff as railcars) on local trains, along with reductions in local services (for example, the withdrawal of the passenger service to Leicester Belgrave Road), reduced the number of movements to and from the locomotive shed. From the late 1950s, with the introduction of diesel electric locomotives on main line services, the intensive routine of locomotive changes rapidly tailed off, having been a tradition at Grantham since the 1860s.
♦ The rundown of passenger and freight rail services across Britain from the mid-1960s led to rationalisation of track and signalling around Grantham. At the same time, power signalling technology enabled the remote control of points and signals over a wide area from electronic switch control panels. The writing was on the wall for traditional mechanical signal boxes, especially those on intensively operated high speed main lines.
♦ With the advent of High Speed Trains (HSTs), there was a desire to remove the junction for Nottingham from the curve north of the station so that superelevation of the curve could be increased to take full advantage of the new trains’ capacity to reduce journey times.
Here are the main stages of rationalisation and modernisation as they affected Grantham North box over this period until it closed in 1972:
♦ In September 1963 Grantham locomotive shed closed. In March 1964 associated track and signalling was taken out of operation, including that specifically provided to facilitate locomotive changes.
♦ A second and more radical phase of rationalisation and modernisation began at Grantham North. Carried out in stages between and April and June, opportunity was taken to prepare for the Main lines to be reconfigured for higher speeds by the removal of most connections on the curve north of the station. This included closing the Up Bay platform (the former platform 1) and removing the junction with the Nottingham lines. In future, access to the Nottingham line from the Main line would be at Grantham South.
♦ On 4th August 1968, on the Nottingham line, Barrowby Road signal box closed, along with the next signal box to the west, Gonerby; control of the Nottingham lines from Grantham North box extended to Allington Junction.
♦ In February 1970 the Nottingham line was singled from Grantham North to the site of the former Barrowby Road box. The Up line was taken out of use, the former Down Nottingham line becoming the Up & Down Nottingham line.
♦ In April 1970 a new link 500m long opened between the Up & Down Nottingham line at Barrowby Road and the Down Main line near the bridge over Gonerby Road. It allowed the closure of the connection from the west side of the station into the Down Main line, which passed between the ends of the platforms and Grantham North box. That was the last connection into the Main lines to be operated mechanically from Grantham North.
♦ In June 1971 Grantham Yard box closed, to be adapted for the installation of an electronic switch control panel which would take over the signalling of the entire Grantham area. For eight months Grantham North and Grantham South boxes worked the area between them while the remaining mechanically operated points were prepared for remote power operation and colour light signals were installed to supersede the last semaphore arms.
♦ On 20th February 1972 the panel at the new Grantham panel signal box came into service and Grantham North box closed, along with Grantham South.
Since May 1980 signalling at Grantham has been controlled from Doncaster Power Signal Box.
Although physical arrangement of lines, junctions and connections has changed much since the days of mechanical signalling at Grantham North, the old Up Main and Down Main lines, the Nottingham line and the Up & Down Goods line all remain, though renamed to reflect modern operating arrangements. The Down Bay and Western platforms are as busy as ever too, used by trains serving a wide range of destinations.
The following series of photographs illustrates some of the developments at Grantham North signal box described above.
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