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Gonerby Siding Signal Box

Above: Gonerby Siding signal box on Friday 4th January 1967.  The decorative roof end finials and barge boards were beautifully crafted.  The decoration extends to the end of the roof of the closet on the landing (wherein resided an Elsan chemical toilet) and to the solidly built brick lamp hut on the left.  Note the narrow planks thoughtfully provided for window cleaning access.  They were supported above the 10-foot drop to ground level on iron brackets.  There's no safety rail but don't worry - there's a thin black handrail halfway up the window frames which you can grip with your cold fingers as you balance your bucket and wring out your cloth.   Photograph by Malcolm Rush.

A Brief History

(…please note that the pronunciation of Gonerby is 'Gunerby'.)

It's recorded that a public siding for transhipping goods traffic to and from the railway was installed at Gonerby in 1857.  In January 1858 Gonerby Siding was the venue of a large auction sale:

To RAILWAY CONTRACTORS, BUILDERS, FARMERS, and Others. MESSRS. WOOD will submit for Unreserved SALE by AUCTION, on Thursday the 14th day of January, 1858, by direction of Mr. Marsh, at the Gonerby Hill Siding, on the Nottingham and Grantham Railway, the following MATERIALS, Horse, Carts, Crane, &c, in accommodating lots, now arranged for inspection; […followed by a long list of lots].

(from The Stamford Mercury, Friday 8th January 1858, page 8)

We believe that somewhere nearby there was a signal box named 'Barrowby' which was in operation between 27th March 1869 and 16th August 1875.  This may have been an installation referred to in the GNR half-yearly general meeting of August 1869 as the 'new signal station at Gonerby Tunnel, the cost of which would be £474'. 

Gonerby Siding signal box opened on 18th August 1875, possibly as a replacement for Barrowby.  It was on the Nottingham branch 1½ miles north of Grantham station, near the village of Gonerby Hill Foot.  When the box opened its name was 'Gonerby Siding', but some later official documents refer to it as plain 'Gonerby'.  On 4th January 1967, near the end of the box's operational life, Malcolm Rush noted that the track diagram at the box was titled 'Gonerby Sidings' (see below).

Initially 18 levers were provided, to control access to loop sidings which served Wheeldon’s - later W. F. Swallow & Son's - malting on the Up (i.e. north) side of the two-track Nottingham line.  By 1903 maps show another malthouse (Lee & Grinling's) on the Down side, also served by loop sidings, and records indicate that the frame had been extended to 23 levers.  On 16th August 1912 a 35 lever frame was commissioned to provide for a new Up Goods Loop continuing to Barrowby Road box.

The Nottingham branch at Gonerby Hill Foot from the 1929 OS 25-inch map, showing the track layout as it was between 1913 and January 1968.
'S.B.' is Gonerby Siding signal box. Tracks at top left: Up and Down Main lines to Gonerby Tunnel and Nottingham; tracks at bottom right: Up Goods, Up Main and Down Main lines to Barrowby Road and Grantham.

A memory of the sidings at Gonerby from Jeff Thompson

The Lee & Grinling maltings beside the railway at Gonerby Hill Foot, which were demolished in the 1980s.  Here's a view from near the site of Gonerby Siding signal box, looking towards Grantham.
Photograph lent by Jeff Thompson.

You will notice (in the photograph above) the Grantham - Nottingham line passing by the maltings and the long removed sidings obviously were either side.  I can remember as a youth loading potatoes - destined for the army to devour - on those sidings.  We drew the trailer beside the truck and passed the bags up to the guy on top, who simply tipped them.  Goodness knows how much bruising we achieved, but nobody seemed too bothered in those days.

The maltings would be largely served by rail because the road access was by a hideously low bridge, although another could be utilised further south towards Grantham passing by rows of malting workers' cottages known as Maltings Lane.  I can also recall the more senior lads at Gonerby School (I was there to 11 years old, before going on to King's School) earning good pocket money 'pricking out' bits of barley that remained wedged in the malting floors.

Frederick Eli Hackney: a signalman at Gonerby Siding for 40 years, 1894-1934


Gonerby Signalman's Service.

Mr. F. E. Hackney.

A highly esteemed servant of the L.N.E.R. Company retires to-day, namely, Mr. F. E. Hackney, of Gonerby Hill-foot, who was born at Welton, Lincoln, in September, 1869.

At the early age of nine years he commenced to work on a farm, and continued in that capacity for twelve years.  He entered the old Great Northern Railway Co.'s service in May. 1891, as a porter, his first place being King's Cross for the summer.  He was then sent to Waltham until July, 1892, when was promoted to the signal department at Pinxton.  From there he went to Essendine, and then to Gonerby siding in June, 1894, in which position he has continued for forty years and three months.

During his railway career he gained the friendship and esteem of his fellow-workers.  He has served under six stationmasters.  When Mr. Hackney came to Gonerby there was only one siding until Messrs. Lee and Grinling developed their business to such an extent that more siding room had to be provided.  Mr. Hackney was so devoted to his duty as a signalman that he was only once late on duty (twenty minutes), having to work all hours of the night when he first joined the service.  There was no forty-eight hour week at that time, and very often men were required to work seven days a week.  Mr. Hackney has given faithful service to the Company, and has enjoyed the confidence and respect of his employers. He has lived in one house for thirty-seven years [No. 2 Hinstock Terrace on Gonerby Hill].

Apart from his daily work. Mr. Hackney's activities have been many, all his spare time being devoted to the help and betterment of his fellow-men. He is greatly interested in parish affairs, and served eight years on the Parish Council (three years as chairman and three as clerk).  He was instrumental in the formation of the Allotment Association eighteen years ago, and was its secretary for many years, and he saw it grow into a very successful organisation.  He was a very active member of the Pig Club for forty years, and its chairman and trustee for twenty-five years. He was prominent in forming a Branch of the National Deposit Sick Benefit Society, and served as its secretary for three years.  He has been vice-president of the Grantham Brotherhood for the last twelve years, and an official collector for the N.U.R. for twenty years.  The latest office to which Mr. Hackney has been elected is the vice-presidency of the Grantham Co-operative Society.

(from The Grantham Journal, Saturday 22nd September 1934, page 4)

The beginning of Fred Hackney's retirement wasn't as peaceful as he'd hoped because, at 8am on the morning of Wednesday 2nd January 1935, his house on the Great North Road at Gonerby Hill was partly demolished by a lorry carrying 6 tons of machinery from London to Hull.  Fortunately Fred was in the back room at the time attending to the fire, but a few minutes earlier he'd been in his front room.

Recently retired Gonerby Siding signalman Fred Hackney outside his propped-up home at 2 Hinstock Terrace, Gonerby Hill Foot, showing the damage caused when a lorry rolled back down the hill and into the terrace.  A window, his front door and the brickwork between them had been knocked into the front room; compare with the only slightly damaged No. 3 on the right.  The house was repaired and Fred lived there for another two years.
Photograph lent by Jeff Thompson
Looking down Gonerby Hill towards Grantham. The six houses of Hinstock Terrace are the nearer dark coloured buildings on the left.  Beyond them, at a slight angle, is the Lord Nelson Inn. On the right the nearest building is Gonerby Hill Foot School; there's a traffic sign warning of its presence on the corner near Hinstock Terrace.  The houses and the pub are long gone and the school has been rebuilt.  Here's a similar view today.
Photograph lent by Jeff Thompson

Fred Hackney died in 1944, aged 75.

Bett Carter: signalwoman at Gonerby Siding

by George Watson

My father was foreman at W. F. Swallow’s, a grain warehouse on the north side of the line at Gonerby Hill Foot.  One day he went to the signal box to order a pilot (a small shunting locomotive) to shunt wagons, as I will come to shortly.  The signalwoman asked him “Who’s the wee lad on the bike?”  “He’s my lad,” he replied.  She said, “Send him up.”  So, after his tea and toast, my father came and told me to go up to the signal box.  On my arrival the lady introduced herself.

"My name’s Bett Carter, come in and sit down.  Do you like trains?”

“I sure do.”

My trainspotting interest just took off!

I didn’t want to be nosey and spoil things by asking too many questions, but over a period of time it came out that she and her husband came from London.  His name was Bert, he’d been a top signalman at Finsbury Park in north London and he moved to Grantham as a relief signalman for this area.  Bett spent some time at Sedgebrook station as porter-signalwoman till the box closed (in January 1962).  Then she was sent to Gonerby box because one of the signalmen there retired.

As you might have guessed, she showed me the workings of the box.

Swallow’s was the biggest mover of freight.  First, bulk grain wagons - there would be so many that Bett would put some in Lee & Grinling’s siding on the opposite side of the line.  On this day, Lee & Grinling’s sidings were full of empty wagons and so was the slow road, hence the need for the pilot to sort them out.  They were bound for Boston docks.  This went on for about two weeks, then whisky distillery traffic would start again.

These photographs of a pilot locomotive shunting at Gonerby Siding, as described by George Watson, are taken from 'The Great Northern Railway in the East Midlands' (page 52) by Alfred Henshaw, published in 2003 by the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society (RCTS). The book is currently out of print.

One day Bett called me up into the box.  Normally I kept out of the way of engine people because I did not want to get Bett into trouble.  That day she put me on an engine.  Boy it was great, till the fireman asked,

“Do you want a bacon sandwich?”

“No, thank you.”

“Go on, you will never get anything like this again.”

He was right!

Now back to the wagons.  The distillery traffic finished, next were fertilizer vans from Fisons at Immingham.  Again some of the slow road was filled.  Not only that, we now have ferry wagons for Sweden mixed with fertilizer wagons.  Once all the shunting was over there were just the couple of Swedish wagons and one or two Scotch grain vans.  In all this time I got to know the guards and shunters - they even gave me my own shunter’s pole.

Continental Ferry Vans at Gonerby Siding, W. F. Swallow's, looking towards Gonerby Tunnel and Nottingham. Consignments of farm machinery arrived regularly from Sweden in these vehicles.
Photograph by George Watson
Another view at W.F. Swallow's sidings at Gonerby with, on the left, a late 1940s-1950s Swiss-designed Matisa ballast tamping machine.  Tamping machines, or tampers, were self-propelled vehicles which mechanised the maintenance of railway track.
On the right is a van which contains fertiliser from Fisons at Immingham.
Photograph by George Watson
In this view of the Matisa tamper you can see a pair of hydraulically-powered tines which descended to compact the ballast beneath the end of a sleeper; there were four pairs of tines, one pair on each side of both rails.  There's information about preserved examples of this type of machine at the National Railway Museum here and at the Scottish Railway Preservation Society here.   In the background is the Lee & Grinling No. 14 Malting, as seen in a previous photograph.
Photograph by George Watson

One day, to my surprise, my father came in from work to say that he’d a message from Bett that the north-south main line trains were being diverted this way due to engineering works between Barkston and Grantham North.  So they will be passing through Gonerby - if you want to pop down.  So down I went, chopped sticks got coal and lit the fire while she logged in.

In fading daylight Brush Type 2 (class 30 / 31) No. D5671 has arrived opposite Gonerby Siding signal box. It's on the way to Allington Junction to do Saturday night workings with diverted north and south bound trains on the 'link line' to Barkston East Junction when the main line through Peascliffe Tunnel was closed for engineering work.
Photograph by George Watson
The No. 2 end driving cab of D5671.
Photograph by George Watson

I enjoyed it so much until it was time to leave school and start work.  As far as I know Bett was there till the box closed in August 1968.

Bett Carter in Gonerby Siding signal box. Top centre is the diagram of the area controlled by the box; right centre is the block shelf, a strong wooden board supporting the block telegraph instruments; bottom right are the levers of the locking frame which operated the signals and points.
Photograph by George Watson
A passenger service bound for Nottingham (Victoria) passing beneath an accommodation bridge west of Gonerby Siding.  An area of the bridge parapet was painted white to make the semaphore signal more visible to the driver of an approaching train.  Accommodation bridges and crossings were provided by the railway to connect parts of a landowner's property which were separated when the railway was built.
Photograph by George Watson

Track Diagram, 1967

Malcolm Rush visited Gonerby Sidings signal box on Wednesday 4th January 1967 to sketch the track diagram, take a photograph and make notes.  Malcolm's drawing and notes, along with links to the photograph and other information, can be seen here.  This was part of a wider project involving visits to record similar details at 184 signal boxes.

Rationalisation and Closure, 1960s

Gonerby Siding closed as a public facility for goods traffic on 2nd September 1961.

In January and May 1968 most of the sidings at Gonerby were taken out of use, and the Up Goods Loop to Barrowby Road closed from Sunday 12th May.  The signal box was abolished from Sunday 4th August 1968.  The remaining two sidings were controlled by ground frames released by Allington Junction (Up siding) and Grantham North (Down siding) boxes.  These sidings were finally removed in 1970 (Down siding) and 1976 (Up siding). 


This page has been compiled from the following sources:

  • Great Northern News, published by The Great Northern Railway Society, where a series titled The Rationalisation of the Grantham-Nottingham Line (Gonerby - Radcliffe-on-Trent) by Don Anderson appears in Nos. 160 to 166 & 172
  • The Signalling Record Society
  • The British Newspaper Archive
  • Malcolm Rush

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3 thoughts on “Gonerby Siding Signal Box

  1. TimPratt

    Hi John and Mel,
    Can I say what another brilliant article this is, also the 24 hours at Grantham has obviously been a labour of love. Thank you very much, please keep it coming.

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      Hello Tim,
      Thanks for staying in touch, and we're glad to hear that you've enjoyed the new items on the website.
      John & Mel

  2. TracksthroughGrantham1

    A comment from Ken Willetts, 17th January 2023:
    It must have been early in 1950 when I first met Betty Carter. I was a fireman at Grantham working a ballast train with driver Bill Burton and guard Frank Mapletoft. On our way to Aslockton she stopped us at Sedgebrook and asked for some coal - she must have been cold. After a lot of banter we carried on. Her husband Albert worked Grantham South Box.


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