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Signalling at Grantham – staff, shifts and training

by John Clayson

The idea for this page came about during a discussion with former Grantham signalling staff.

The arrangements described below were in force from the late 1950s until mechanical signalling at Grantham ended in 1972. However most of them had been embedded in railway practice for many decades.

The four signal boxes at Grantham were (from south to north) Grantham South, Grantham Yard, Grantham North and Barrowby Road.

 

Shifts

All four Grantham signal boxes were open round the clock, including weekends. They were staffed Monday to Saturday on a three shift system (8-hour shifts) and in two 12-hour shifts on Sundays.

At the two largest boxes, Grantham South and Grantham North, two people were needed on each weekday shift, the Signalman and a Telegraph Lad (tele lad), whose role included record keeping and receiving/sending messages via the single needle telegraph system – not forgetting keeping the box clean and polished, and making the tea!  Grantham Yard and Barrowby Road boxes were worked by the Signalman alone.

The Monday to Saturday (weekday) 8-hour shifts were

  • day (or morning) shift, 6am to 2pm;
  • late (or afternoon) turn 2pm to 10pm;
  • night turn 10pm to 6am.

Each man had a rest day, so five shifts were worked each week.

The 12-hour shifts for signalmen on Sundays were 6am to 6pm and 6pm to 6am (on the Monday morning). Each man rotated through the shifts day → night → late. This enabled the day shift (6am-2pm) signalman to have a long weekend off at the end of his day week. He then resumed duty on the night shift at 10pm on Monday (unless it was his rest day).

At the South Box each of the tele lads in turn worked a day shift (6am to 2pm) on Sundays. One of the routine jobs for the lad on the Sunday morning shift, when traffic on the line was generally quiet and they could be spared from other duties, was the cleaning of the box windows. Each lad had one third of the windows allocated to him. The floor and levers also had to be polished, and the footboard scrubbed. These tasks thus fell to each Lad every third week. There was probably a similar arrangement at the North Box.

A gleaming No.60103 Flying Scotsman moves forward past Grantham North box in 1962 ...but notice too the glint of the low sun on the lever tops, regularly polished by the Telegraph Lads. Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.
A gleaming No.60103 Flying Scotsman moves forward past Grantham North box on 5th February 1962, having hauled The Tees-Thames Express from King's Cross ...but notice too the glint of the low sun on the lever tops, regularly polished by the Telegraph Lads.
Photograph by Noel Ingram, used with permission from Steam World.

 

Regular and Relief Staff

Three regular shift Signalmen were assigned to each of the signal boxes. Before being allowed to work a signal box alone they were trained and examined in the operation of that particular box. This was over and above a general training in signalling practice, rules and regulations and the experience they brought with them from previous posts.

Boxes were graded, and for the regular shift signalmen the rate of pay increased with to grade of their box.  Promotion meant moving to a box of higher grade.

Three regular shift Telegraph Lads worked at the North Box and three at the South Box. Each lad was assigned to the same shift pattern as one of the Signalmen and they normally worked together.  Telegraph Lads’ pay was not related to the grade of the box in which they worked.

To cover absences there were two sets of relief staff:

  • Rest Day Relief (RDR) Signalmen and Telegraph Lads covered rest days;
  • General Purpose Relief (GPR) staff covered holidays and sickness.

Relief Signalmen were qualified to operate several signal boxes. Because each box was different, the Relief men had to maintain a level of experience in every box they were authorised to work. They were the senior, most experienced signalmen.

Relief Signalmen were paid at the rate of the highest grade box they were qualified to work.

Rest Day Relief and General Purpose Relief tele lads earned a higher rate of pay than regular lads due to their additional box knowledge although, like the regular lads, pay was not related to the grade of the boxes they worked in.

Training for Telegraph Lads

To learn the single needle telegraph system new Telegraph Lads attended training at Lincoln. The Signalling School was at the Midland station (Lincoln St Mark’s), now gone of course and converted to a shopping centre. The training rooms are now a Lakeland shop. Trainee Signalmen also attended the school to learn signalling regulations, and the telegraph too if their box required it.

For the trainees to practice, telegraph instruments were arrange in 2 rows of about six in each row, with pairs of instruments back to back and a screen between to prevent visual contact between the sender and the receiver.

For testing the trainees the teacher, a man called Teddy Cells in the 1950s and 60s, had an instrument of his own at one end of the room linked with another at the opposite end of the room. Trainees were tested regularly by the teacher on these two instruments (observed by the rest of the class) until Teddy considered the trainee competent. The district signalling inspector would then be sent for, to carry out his examination of the trainee and to pass him fit for work in his designated box - or not, as the case may be.

The Ambulance Team

Several of the signalmen at Grantham undertook ambulance training, provided by the St John's Ambulance Brigade with the support of the LNER and subsequently British Railways.  The Grantham team reached a high standard of proficiency.

The Grantham Railway Ambulance Team (St John’s Ambulance Brigade) were presented with the Liddle Steel Bowl at the BR Eastern Region Headquarters at Liverpool Street Station in London on 15 March 1965. From left to right: o Bernard Knipe, signalman at Grantham North o David Frankish, telegraph lad at Grantham North o Joe Booth, relief signalman o Ron Harris, signalman at Barrowby Road, High Dyke, Honington o Jim Drury, signalman at Barkston South (among other places) Photograph kindly sent by Julia Lee, daughter of Joe Booth. Dad enjoyed being in the Brigade – he received an extra free travel pass! He was also in the Home Guard but not with the railway regiment.
The Grantham Railway Ambulance Team (St John’s Ambulance Brigade) were presented with the Liddle Steel Bowl at the BR Eastern Region Headquarters at Liverpool Street Station in London on 15 March 1965.
From left to right:
o Bernard Knipe, signalman at Grantham North
o David Frankish, telegraph lad at Grantham North
o Joe Booth, relief signalman
o Ron Harris, signalman at Barrowby Road, High Dyke, Honington
o Jim Drury, signalman at Barkston South (among other places)
Photograph kindly sent by Julia Lee, daughter of Joe Booth. Dad enjoyed being in the Brigade – he received an extra free travel pass! He was also in the Home Guard but not with the railway regiment.

Can anyone tell us anything about the Liddle Steel Bowl?  It's certainly an impressive looking trophy which, judging by the engraved shields on the base, had been around for a number of years.

 

Control

Each signal box was in communication by telephone with a Train Control Office, where the overall operation of the railway was managed by a number of Controllers.  The control office at King's Cross managed the East Coast Main Line and branches as far north as Barkston South Junction, where the Doncaster control office took over.

Control offices were vital hubs of communication, so both the King's Cross and the Doncaster control offices were moved to the comparative safety of the surrounding country during the second world war.  The King's Cross office was based at Knebworth from 1939 until mid-1958, when it returned to King's Cross - to Floor 1 of Great Northern House.  The   Doncaster office moved out to Bawtry during wartime.

 

The S&T (Signals and Telegraph) Department

At the south end of the up platform was the office of the S&T Engineers, Jed Westwood and Alf Baker.  They were responsible for managing the testing, maintenance, repair and upgrading of all the signalling and communications equipment both inside and outside the signal boxes, including in the various offices in the station and at the loco shed.

S&T Fitters had a range of specialist skills – for example the Locking Fitter maintained and repaired signal box locking frames; others specialised in overhead line work or in signal, point and crossing gate mechanisms. The work was often in exposed locations and involved climbing tall signal posts and telegraph poles, working at height with tools and equipment while trying to hold on safely.

The man on the right is Augustus (Gus) Summers, a former German PoW who worked for Tearson’s (Terson’s?), a contractor who carried out track maintenance and repairs. With his pot of oil and long-sticked brush he is lubricating the point mechanisms near the north end of the station. If you look at the track in the foreground you can see that there is fresh oil around the special rail chairs fixed to the crossing timbers, known as 'slide chairs', on which the switch blades slide. The man on the left is Tom Plummer, the North End Ganger at Grantham, who is acting as ‘Look-Out’ – he is carrying a set of flags under his left arm, on which he also has strapped an enamelled ‘Look-Out’ armband. This was, and still is, a vital role - keeping watch for, and giving warning of, approaching trains which might not be noticed by track workers engaged in a maintenance task on lines which remain open to traffic. The regular lubrication of points is important because the lengths of rail which move across the slide chairs when points are changed are heavy – on a crossover (two points worked together) they might weigh more than a tonne. The signalman’s muscle power also has to move the heavy point rods linking the signal box lever frame with the points. Today, most points on main lines are worked by electric motor. The object in the centre background is a drilling machine, which was used for boring holes in point stretcher bars. May 24th 1962 Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson,
The man on the right is Augustus (Gus) Summers, a former German PoW who worked for Tearson’s (Terson’s?), a contractor who carried out track maintenance and repairs. With his pot of oil and long-sticked brush he is lubricating the point mechanisms near the north end of the station. If you look at the track in the foreground you can see that there is fresh oil around the special rail chairs fixed to the crossing timbers, known as 'slide chairs', on which the switch blades slide.
The man on the left is Tom Plummer, the North End Ganger at Grantham, who is acting as ‘Look-Out’ – he is carrying a set of flags under his left arm, on which he also has strapped an enamelled ‘Look-Out’ armband. This was, and still is, a vital role - keeping watch for, and giving warning of, approaching trains which might not be noticed by track workers engaged in a maintenance task on lines which remain open to traffic.
The regular lubrication of points is important because the lengths of rail which move across the slide chairs when points are changed are heavy – on a crossover (two points worked together) they might weigh more than a tonne. The signalman’s muscle power also has to move the heavy point rods linking the signal box lever frame with the points. Today, most points on main lines are worked by electric motor.
The object in the centre background is a drilling machine, which was used for boring holes in point stretcher bars.
May 24th 1962
Photograph by Cedric A. Clayson.
The concrete cabins at the lineside to the west of the North Box belonged to the S&T Fitters, including one specifically for the Locking Fitter. The old drilling machine is still in place, between the photographer and the door of the nearest cabin. Photograph by Mel Smith.
The concrete cabins at the lineside to the west of the North Box belonged to the S&T Fitters, including one specifically for the Locking Fitter.
The old drilling machine is still in place, between the photographer and the door of the nearest cabin.
Photograph by Mel Smith.

 

Eddie Lee worked in S&T at Grantham.  Julia, Eddie's wife, said "I can tell you that I have had countless nights' sleep disturbed through Eddie having to attend for various Royal Trains. Everybody, but everybody had to be on standby in the boxes and elsewhere in case of problems."

Eddie recalls this incident, probably from 1968 when Barrowby Road signal box closed:

Dave Rippon, who was in charge of arranging Sunday working, wanted the men to report for duty at 7.00 am instead of 7.30 am because they were to use a trolley on the Nottingham line at Barrowby Road, Grantham to take down a big iron lattice-work signal post.  They didn't want any disruption to the main line as the Flying Scotsman was coming through.  Pete Nicholls, who worked in the Carriage and Wagon department, operated an oxy-acetylene burner to cut through the base of the signal, but when it came down it fell right across the up Nottingham to Grantham line.  Enquiries told them that a train had left Nottingham and was almost due.  After many attempts with iron bars for leverage, the men managed to move it away from the track into the cess just in time to avoid delay.

 

Forward to My Early Recollections of Working on the Railway


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2 thoughts on “Signalling at Grantham – staff, shifts and training

  1. gerald ives

    I started at Grantham station in 1950 in various departments and remember the Yard Box had a telegraph lad as well as the signalman. I worked in Grantham North before national service took me away, returning to Barrowby Road box and Stoke box.

    Reply
    1. tracksthroughgrantham

      That's very helpful. We knew there were telegraph lads employed at the Yard Box in 1939 because they are listed and identified in a record of the staff at Grantham station. We also think that by the late 1950s/early 1960s the Yard Box signalmen normally worked alone. I was allowed into the Yard Box on a few occasions in the early 1960s and I'm sure there was only the signalman there. It seems, then, that the change took place during the second half of the 1950s. At around this time I believe the conection at the Yard Box into the Up side goods yard was taken out. Perhaps this and other reductions in the workload there, notably fewer engine changes from the mid-1950s onward, meant that the telegraph lads were dispensed with. Does anyone know?

      I'll drop you an email separately about Barrowby Road as I have still to write its pages.

      Reply

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