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Grantham Station: the Train Starting Indicator on Platform 2, 1940s-1963

Above: on Thursday 16th August 1962 the 09:45 from Edinburgh to London King’s Cross, The Elizabethan, speeds through Grantham station hauled by Deltic locomotive No. D9010.  At top right are the indicator and bell of the apparatus described on this page.

The safe departure of a train from a busy station platform is something the travelling public take for granted.  For station staff and train crew, however, it's a vital responsibility.   To avoid risk of accident, and to keep trains running on time, platform staff, guards and footplate crew carry out, effectively and speedily, a procedure of observation, checks and communication laid down in the Rule Book.

An essential part of the activity is clear communication, both visually (by hand signal, flag or lamp) and by sound (verbally or by whistle).  This is difficult when a platform becomes crowded.  At Grantham station the southbound main line platform (originally platform 2, but today platform 1) can be particularly busy, because passengers travelling through the station use it to make their way to or from every other platform.  Platform 2 was originally straight, but in the 1940s it was lengthened at the north end.  The extension followed the curve of the line, further hampering sighting and communication between the Guard, platform staff and the locomotive footplate, particularly with longer trains. 

Here we illustrate a system that was installed on platform 2, sometime in the 1940s we think, to support the vital communication between train Guard and Station Inspector during train despatch.

The Indicator and Bell

The most noticeable part of the apparatus was a black indicator box with glass front and back, which hung from the south end of the platform canopy.  A lamp inside illuminated a letter 'S' on the glass when it was lit.  Above the indicator, fixed to the canopy, was an electric bell.

A southbound passenger train hauled by Class A1 locomotive No.60120 'Kittiwake', which was based at Copley Hill (56C) motive power depot in Leeds.
Photograph by Cedric Clayson, © John Clayson.

The extract below from British Railways Instructions explains the purpose of the equipment.

British Railways London Midland Region, 'Instructions affecting London Midland Region Staff when working over the Eastern Region', Euston, 1st October 1960 (page 182)

Note that neither the illuminated 'S' nor the sounding of the bell were to be taken as an instruction to Drivers to start away; they must act only upon the 'right away' signal from a Station Inspector, which they will have relayed from the Guard.  

The three plungers referred to were electrical push-contact switches. It's proved hard to identify them on photographs, but the Tracks through Grantham sleuths have risen to the challenge and two of the three have been found lurking in the background of station scenes!

The Guard's Plunger

…fixed on the third lamp standard from the South end of the extension to the up platform.

A northbound express prepares to depart, hauled by class A1 no.60136 'Alcazar'.
© Colin Walker / Martin Walker 2020

Count the lamp posts...

This photograph is currently undated, but it will be from around summer 1962 when the cast iron gas lamp standards on the north end of platforms 1 and 2 were being replaced by electric lighting on reinforced concrete standards.
The Duplicate Guard's Plunger

…provided on the wall outside the Guard's Room.

So far this one has proved to be elusive.  The Guards' Room was at the north end of the platform buildings, as shown on the plan and the photograph below.  We have yet to find a photograph where the 'Duplicate Plunger' is evident.

The Clearance Plunger

…outside the Inspector's Office.

Station Master Harold Scampion (on the right, without a hat) in conversation with Station Inspector Phil Craft on platform 2 on Thursday April 18th 1963.
Photograph by Cedric Clayson, © John Clayson.

An additional purpose of the bell

by Graham Cloxton

I've lived in the Grantham area for most of my life and my father worked on the railways in the area for 40 years.  I know a few people who worked at Grantham in the 1940s and 50s who remember the indicator and bell.

As well as assisting with train starting, as described above, there was a second function. The bell was sounded by trains travelling southbound because when staff used the sleeper crossing at the south end of the platforms they could not see an approaching train until it was in the platform straight.  The bell was operated by the track circuit between Barkston South and Grantham North and it sounded when an Up train was about two miles away, so giving time for staff to clear the crossing in time.  On the Down line it sounded as a train passed Great Ponton advanced starter, where the track circuits started for Grantham South signal box.

Other Installations

From correspondence on the LNER Forum we learn that the system was installed at King's Cross (platforms 5, 6, 7, 8 & 10), at Peterborough North (platforms 2 & 3) and at certain platforms at York and Newcastle.

Removal of the Apparatus

The indicator and bell were removed from the canopy during the first half of September in 1963.

Travelling south on the Up Main line through Grantham station on Thursday 19th September 1963 is class B1 locomotive No.61174 of New England (34E) motive power depot in Peterborough.
A photograph taken on 5th September shows the indicator and bell in place but here the bell and the suspension rods for the indicator have been removed, leaving the evidence of an unpainted area on the recently repainted canopy.
Photograph by Cedric Clayson.

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2 thoughts on “Grantham Station: the Train Starting Indicator on Platform 2, 1940s-1963

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Thanks John. I'm grateful to folk at one of our Tracks through Grantham meetings who remembered the 'S' indicator and the bell, so we were able to dig a little deeper into what they were used for.
      John Clayson


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