by John Clayson
Grantham North signal box was situated at the north of the station on the west side of the main line. It was about halfway between the end of the northbound main line platform and the bridge over Harlaxton Road.
Grantham North was the largest of the Grantham boxes, equipped with 105 levers from its final extension in 1903 until it closed in 1972. It was also the most highly graded. The box was staffed round-the-clock in three shifts (two on a Sunday) by a Signalman of senior grade and a Telegraph Lad, a trainee signalman. The intensive train, locomotive and shunting movements probably made it one of the busiest mechanical signal boxes in the country to be operated by a single Signalman.
Here are some photographs which help to place Grantham North box in the context of the track layout and traffic flows at the north end of the station.
A View from Above
The North Box was surrounded by railway lines:
Grantham North signal box is slightly left of centre in this photograph which was taken on 19th April 1950. At bottom left is a corner of the Harlaxton Road bridge. A northbound train waits to depart from the main line platform and alongside is a local service in the bay platform. Photograph from © English Heritage. Britain From Above
The Main Lines
The Up Main and Down Main lines passed in front of the box, on its eastern side.
The Down Main Line
Looking north from the end of platform 3 (now platform 2) on 25th May 1962, Grantham North box is on the left. The colour light signal controls the junction with the line to Nottingham, which is just beyond the box. Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson.
Here is the signalman’s commanding view of the north end of the station, as seen in 1937. The approaching train is thought to be the inaugural streamlined high speed Coronation service of 5th July from London to Edinburgh. The train left King's Cross at 4pm, passing Grantham shortly before 5.30pm. It paused for 3 minutes at York, its only stop, and was timed to arrive at at Waverley station at 10pm having travelled 392 miles in 6 hours, an average of just over 65mph. Taken from a cine film shot by photographer and film maker Walter Lee of Grantham. © Lincolnshire Film Archive
The Coronation thunders towards the box, hauled by No.4491 Commonwealth of Australia. See the unique footage from which this image was taken on the Grantham Looks Back DVD, available from Primetime Video. Taken from a cine film shot by photographer and film maker Walter Lee of Grantham. © Lincolnshire Film Archive
This service for Lincoln, departing on Monday 25th February 1963 at around 2.45pm and hauled by 4MT locomotive No.43146, has just left the Western platform and joined the Down Main line. We know this because the Western platform to Down Main line starting signal can just be glimpsed in the ‘off’ position on the right. At Barkston South Junction the train will turn off the main line towards its destination. Passenger trains to and from Nottingham, departing from and arriving at the western side of the station, passed the box using the line on the right. In the foreground, leading from the base of the box, is an array of steel point rodding carried on rollers. Each rod operates a different point mechanism from its nominated lever in the box. Photograph taken by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Passing the box windows with a departing northbound train on the Down Main line is No.60027 Merlin. Mick Grummitt who took this photograph recalls that this was the Down Elizabethan which was scheduled non-stop between London and Edinburgh, taking water at troughs en route. On this occasion the crew had stopped for water at Grantham because they had a ‘poor dip’ at Langley troughs near Stevenage (probably because the troughs hadn’t had time to refill fully after the previous train) and the following troughs at Werrington, north of Peterborough, were out of use for maintenance work. They didn't want to risk the next troughs, at Muskham near Newark, being low as well. Mick remembers that the unexpected 'arrival' of a passenger train at the platform when none was due caused a bit of a panic among the station staff! Photograph by Mick Grummitt, relief Telegraph Lad at Grantham North 1959-62. The Up Main Line
Here are three photographs of southbound expresses taken from the roof of the relay room. They capture the variety of locomotive power seen during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The trains are all crossing the junction with the Nottingham lines.
No. 60034 Lord Faringdon. Photograph by Mick Grummitt
An English Electric Type 4 diesel electric locomotive. Photograph by Mick Grummitt.
Train 1A35 The Flying Scotsman (10:00 Edinburgh Waverley to London Kings Cross), hauled by D9013 The Black Watch on 22nd August 1963. Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson.
The Junction for Nottingham and the Up Bay Platform Connection
The junction with the Nottingham Lines was immediately to the north of the box; just beyond was the connection from the Up Main line into the Up Bay platform (platform 1) on the eastern side of the station.
Viewed along the eastern side of the box in 1937, the junction for Nottingham is in the foreground. Leading in from lower right are connections from the Up Bay platform, loading dock and sidings. On the extreme left is a connection from the Down Nottingham line to the Up Nottingham line, which enabled locos off the shed to access the Up Main line through the station to Grantham Yard box, for locomotive changes on southbound trains. The Coronation service recedes at speed on the Main line towards Barrowby Road, its unique Observation Car bringing up the rear. Taken from a cine film shot by photographer and film maker Walter Lee of Grantham. © Lincolnshire Film Archive
This photograph was taken from the north end of the Up (southbound) platform, opposite Grantham North box (which was just off shot to the left). It’s not possible to reach this spot today because the Up platform was cut short in the late 1960s. The first coach of this southbound train on the Up Main line, hauled by No. 60061 Pretty Polly, is passing over the connection to the Up Bay platform. The Nottingham lines are converging into the Main lines from the left. We can see that the train is not stopping at the station because both the Grantham North box Up Main home signal and, beneath it, the Grantham Yard box Up Main distant signal are showing ‘clear’. To the right of the Main Line signals is the signal for the Up Bay platform. It’s worth pointing out here the two lines of telegraph poles, one on each side of the railway, which used to be so much part of the everyday railway scene. These pole routes carried the block telegraph, the ‘speaking' (single needle) telegraph, telephone and other circuits on which the railway depended for the communication vital to effective operation. It was the responsibility of the Signal and Telegraph (S&T) Engineers and Technicians to maintain this widespread network and also to keep the signals maintained and in working order. It was a job that often involved working at height exposed to the worst of the weather. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Here is the north end of the lever frame at Grantham North box on 22nd August 1963. Levers in a signal box are all numbered, and also painted in colours according to their purpose. For those of us who are viewing in black and white (as snooker commentator Ted Lowe might say), the red levers (e.g. 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 & 16) control stop, calling-on or shunt signals, the black levers (e.g. 20 & 21) are for points, and the blue levers (e.g. 3, 9, 19 & 22) are for facing point locks (which are a safety device to lock points in place once they are set). The lever with black and white stripes and a chevron, 13, is for a detonator placer on the Up Main line – an emergency device that places a small explosive charge (detonator) on the rail. The detonator explodes when run over by a train’s wheels, warning the driver of danger. The information on the lever plates tells us that levers in this part of the frame control some of the signals and points relating to the Up Main line seen in the photograph next above. For example: 15 UP MAIN HOME is the topmost of the signals which the train is passing; the white band on the lever shows that it is interlocked electrically with the block telegraph (as well as mechanically in the lever frame). 16 UP MAIN CALLING-ON TO UP MAIN OCCUPIED is the small signal on the same post, beneath the distant signal. Moving closer to the camera, the two disc signals visible against the third coach are (left to right): 10 UP MAIN TO DOWN MAIN (relates to a trailing crossover hidden under the train). 11 UP MAIN TO LIMIT OF SHUNT. Closer still: 19, 20, 21 & 22 control the points for the connection to the Up bay platform, in the right foreground. Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson.
Grantham North signal box on Friday 6th September 1963 with a local diesel multiple unit train entering the Up bay, platform 1, which no longer exists. Above the far end of the signal box roof a lampman (or possibly a signals and telegraph engineer) is attending to the Nottingham line's starting signal. There's also good detail of the Up bay starting signal. In front of the box is a relay room, added in 1937 when Grantham North took over control of the main lines as far as Barkston South Junction. Photograph taken by Humphrey Platts.
The Western Side
Behind the box, on its western side, were connections between the Nottingham Lines and the Down Bay platform (platform.4), the Western platform (platform 5) and the Up & Down Goods line.
A B1 locomotive leaves the Western platform with the 11.57am all stations to Nottingham Victoria and Derby Friargate, passing to the west of the box. At bottom left is the flat roof of the relay room, from which the photograph was taken. Photograph by Mick Grummitt.
On Monday 25th February 1963 a mid-afternoon service for Lincoln, hauled by 4MT locomotive No. 43146, is departing from the Western platform, using the connection between the end of the down side platforms and Grantham North signal box to join the Down Main line. The four signals nearest the photographer in this view are, from left to right: o the signal for trains departing on the Nottingham line (nearest the signal box) o the platform starting signal for the Down Main line (a colour light signal) o the signal for trains arriving from the Nottingham line (nearest the signal box) 0 the signal for trains departing for the north on the Goods line (to the right of the Nottingham line) As evidenced by the stove pipe and the chimney, due to its length Grantham North box had the 'luxury' of two coal-fired stoves. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
South of the Box
To the south, between the box and the platform ends, passed the connection to the Down Main line from the Down Bay platform (platform 4), the Western platform (platform 5) and the Up & Down Goods line.
Viewed from the relay room roof, a northbound fully fitted freight train regains the Down Main line from the Up & Down Goods line. This was train 714 which wouldn’t normally stop at Grantham but was booked to do so to take water while Werrington troughs were out of action for maintenance. Class V2 No.60908 returned to traffic from overhaul at Darlington Works in September 1959, so the sparkling condition of its paintwork indicates a possible autumn 1959 date for this photo. Photograph by Mick Grummitt.
Carriage Sidings and Loco Yard
In addition to the routes and connections listed above, all movements to and from the locomotive yard, the north end of the carriage sidings and the engineers’ sidings were controlled from the North Box.
The following memo of 1922 is a copy sent to the Yard Box, but it refers to engines leaving the running shed or 'Loco', all of which would exit the Loco yard over lines signalled from the North Box. Engines for Down trains remained at the north end of the station, while those for Up trains (final paragraph) were allowed 5 minutes' extra time to pass through to the south end of the station and Yard Box control.
Until the early 1960s Grantham was a regular locomotive exchange point on the East Coast Main Line. Changes on northbound trains were all managed from the box, but each locomotive proceeding to and from a change at the south end of the station had also to be passed through the North box’s area of operation.
Locomotive changes were part of the daily routine for the signalmen at Grantham North. Each locomotive change required the operation of signals and points in a well-practiced sequence. Teamwork by engine crews, signalmen and shunters gave Grantham a well deserved reputation for slick changeovers.
The following sequence of picture shows a typical locomotive change, featuring the northbound
Tees-Thames Express which has been brought down from King's Cross by a London-based Class A4 locomotive and will be taken forward by a Class A2/3 locomotive based at Heaton shed in Newcastle. The Tees-Thames Express ran between Saltburn and London King's Cross, via Middlesbrough, from November 1959 until September 1961.
Class A2/3 No. 60517 Ocean Swell has been prepared at Grantham shed for its journey to Teesside. In the engine spur at the north end of the station it awaits the arrival of the train. Photograph taken by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
The Tees -Thames Express has arrived in platform 3. Class A4 No.60003 Andrew K McCosh has already been uncoupled from the train by one of Grantham's passenger shunters. It is drawing forward, will pass the signal box and move across to the Nottingham line before reversing back to the shed, when it will pass close to where Noel is standing. No. 60517 is still waiting in the right background, its fireman making final preparations by building up the fire. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
With No.60003 clear, the Grantham North signalman has set the route for No. 60517 onto the Main line through the connection between the end of the platform and the signal box. Seeing the the disc shunt signal clear, its driver is moving forward and will stop just beyond the box. A final set of points for the signalman to return to ‘normal’ and No. 60517 will set back to be coupled to the train and make ready for the onward journey. Photograph taken by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Taken from the same spot a few second later, No. 60003 reverses past Noel on its way to the shed. No. 60517 is probably still off to the left, preparing to set back onto the train. We don't know when this sequence was recorded on film, but there is a dating clue in this photograph. The drive for a speedometer can be seen on the rear coupled wheel, and it is recorded that No. 60003 was first equipped with a speedometer early in February 1961. So these photographs must have been taken between February and September 1961. Photograph taken by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Now carrying the train headboard, No. 60517 departs for the north east. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Some of the Signals South of the Box
The following sequence of photographs attempts to show how part of the complex layout of tracks, junctions and connections at Grantham North was controlled in the days of - largely - semaphore signalling.
This is the Signalman’s view, looking south, of the station from Grantham North box in 1937. The most prominent signal post, at the centre of the view, controls the Down (northbound) Main line immediately to its right (as viewed from an approaching train). In this direction behind the photographer there is a choice of two routes: continuing on the Main line towards Newark, or a junction diverging to the left towards Nottingham (again, as viewed from an approaching train). A signal relating to the Nottingham line is therefore situated to the left of the Main line signal as viewed by an approaching driver. The Nottingham line signal is also at a slightly lower height because it refers to the less important route. This particular signal has duplicate ‘co-acting’ arms at high level because the station footbridge prevents drivers seeing the low level signals from a distance. So we can ‘read’, from the location of the inclined arms in the photograph, that the route is set for a train to pass northbound through the station and to continue along the Main line. To the right of the tall post, as viewed in the photograph, are two similar junction signals (without high level co-acting arms) which control northbound departures from the Bay platform and the Western platform. Both provide the option of Main line or Nottingham line routing. On the extreme right of the photograph is a signal post with three arms. This controls trains approaching the station from the Nottingham line. Each arm indicates a different route and they read ‘top to bottom’ = ‘left to right’. So far as we can tell (can anyone confirm or correct this?) if the top arm is lowered the route would be set into the Bay platform, the middle arm probably applies to the short engine spur off the Bay platform line, and the bottom arm most likely indicates the Western platform. This vertical arrangement of signal arms indicating different routes had been in use since the earliest days of railway signalling. Bracket-type junction signals gave a clearer indication and they had generally replaced the vertical arrangement, except in sidings. Photo taken from a cine film shot by photographer and film maker Walter Lee of Grantham. © Lincolnshire Film Archive
This photograph was taken on 1st March 1963 from about halfway up the signalbox steps. Compared with the previous view: o The tall Main line signals have been replaced with a colour light signal which showed an inclined row of white lights if the Nottingham line was to be taken. o The Bay platform and Western platform departure signals are unchanged. o The old-style signal controlling access from the Nottingham direction has been replaced by the bracketed post in the right foreground. It has one full-sized and one miniature arm together with an electric route indicator in the box beneath them. The full-size arm gave access to one of three principal routes, provided that it was clear. The miniature arm permitted access to sidings or, under caution, to a principal route which was already occupied. When either arm was raised the route indicator showed a code to inform the driver of the route set: o DB – Down Bay o ES – Engine Spur (miniature arm only) o W – Western platform o C – Carriage sidings (miniature arm only) o UG – Up Goods line o S – Shunt line (miniature arm only) Further back and across to the right is a similar signal post controlling access to the Goods line in the southbound (or Up) direction. Again it has both a full size and a miniature arm, and a route indicator capable of showing routes as follows: o C – Carriage sidings (miniature arm only) o UG – Up Goods line o S – Shunt line (miniature arm only) Beyond is a signal post with three miniature arms mounted vertically. This was the shed outlet signal which is seen more clearly in the next photograph. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
On the same evening Noel Ingram has taken a few steps forward to better capture the ‘atmosphere’ of the shed and the glint of the clear evening sky on polished steel rails. The shed outlet signal is prominent on the right. Reading as before ‘top to bottom’ = ‘left to right’ the top arm indicated the Goods line, the middle arm the Nottingham line and the bottom arm the Main line. Nearby there was a box containing a telephone from which the fireman of every locomotive leaving the shed would phone the North Box signalman to tell him which train they were for, so that the correct road could be set. If they were going to stand ready to take forward an incoming train the signalman would relay information about how it was running. The elegant cast iron gas lighting columns on the platform are being replaced by electric lights on concrete posts. In the distance at the centre, partly obscured by the Western platform departure signal, is another bracket signal which controls the Up & Down Goods line in the Down direction – see the next photograph. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Taking a few paces to the right and crossing the Nottingham line and the Goods line, Noel captured this shot of a northbound freight train getting under way on the Goods line. The Western platform and Bay platform starting signals are to its left, each with an arm for the Main line (the taller post) and the Nottingham line. Point rods and signal wires operated from Grantham North box occupy the left foreground. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
Unfortunately still partly obscured in this view, the Goods line signal is holding a northbound express freight train hauled by a B1 locomotive. Equipped with a full size arm, a miniature arm and a route indicator for each, from this signal a northbound train could access the Goods line, the Nottingham line or the Down Main line. Photograph taken on 31st August 1961 by Cedric A. Clayson, © John Clayson.
Now imagine that you could enter the photo above, walk towards the man crossing the tracks near the centre of the view, go a few yards past him, turn around and travel back in time 28 years. You’d see something like this…
The elegant signal on the right is the Down Goods line signal before it was modernised with the route indicator system shown previously. The arms are all at ‘danger’ but the three full-size signal arms on independent posts would, if one was lowered, provide a ‘clear’ indication for the Goods (left), Nottingham (centre) or Down Main (right) line. The miniature arms would provide a ‘proceed with caution’ indication for the same routes, reading from top to bottom. So this signal combines the two principal systems of route indication used in Victorian railway semaphore signalling. Looking to the left background we can see that the tall Down Main line signal is lowered for a train taking the Nottingham line at the junction. To its right is the Western platform departure signal before conversion to upper quadrant arms. Photograph taken on 5th June 1933 by Frank G. Carrier.
Forward to An outline history of Grantham North signal box
Back to the Grantham North box index page
Copyright note: the article above is published with the appropriate permissions. For information about copyright of the content of
Tracks through Grantham please read our Copyright page.