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Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Passing Loops
L&BR Crest Lynton and Barnstaple Railway
Signalling at the Intermediate Stations
l&BR Crest
Basic Layout Signal-Boxes Lever-Frames Chelfham Bratton Fleming Blackmoor Woody Bay Conclusion

Introduction

This page describes the signalling at the main intermediate stations of the former narrow-gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (L&BR). Please see the separate Introduction to L&BR Signalling page for background information and details of other pages on RailWest about the signalling of the L&BR. Click here for more general historical details about the L&BR and a Bibliography.

Passing-loops were provided at the four main intermediate stations on the line, namely Chelfham, Bratton Fleming, Blackmoor and Woody Bay. There was also a passing-loop (but no station) at Pilton Yard, where the L&BR had their works, but this location is the subject of a separate page in RailWest. There are also separate pages for the terminal stations at Barnstaple and Lynton, as well as a page describing the actual L&BR signals themselves.

Chelfham station circa-1900 looking towards Lynton   Bratton Fleming station circa-1900 looking towards Lynton
Chelfham station looking north circa-1900 Bratton Fleming station looking north circa-1900

There was no signalling at any of the later halts, namely Snapper, Parracombe and Caffyns. The Board of Trade Inspection Report produced by Colonel Yorke in 1898 does mention that ...there is a siding connection at Parracombe which is not yet brought into use...the points are at present padlocked and spiked..., but that siding was not at the same location as the later halt. It was located on the Up side of the line some distance north of the later halt, with a connection facing to Up trains, but it would appear that the actual siding was never installed and presumably the points were removed soon after the railway opened.

Basic Layout

The four main intermediate stations were almost identical in their basic layout, each consisting of a passing-loop and a single connection providing access to a siding (or set of sidings). There was an exception to this general arrangement at Blackmoor, where there was an additional siding connection in the Down loop, but it is believed that this was not part of the original layout. A further commonality in design can be seen in the fact that, with the exception of Chelfham and the additional Down siding at Blackmoor, all the sidings connections were made by facing points, something which at one time would have been carefully avoided. In later years the provision of signals was identical at all four locations, consisting merely of a Home and Starting signal in each direction, although the original arrangements were slightly different. Even the lever-frames appear to have been identical in size, being quoted by Col Yorke as 7 levers at each location.

The intermediate passing-loops may seem to have been signalled in a simple and straightforward manner, but there are a few interesting points of note and some queries to be raised. For example, Col Yorke reported at the time of his Inspection that Starting signals were not provided at the intermediate loops and certainly an early photograph (probably pre-opening) of Bratton Fleming does not show the starting signals that existed there in later years - so when were they added? The L&BR used ‘economic’ type Facing Point Locks (FPL), where the FPL was operated from the same lever as the point. This arrangement gives an initial requirement of only 5 working levers at each loop (2 x Home signals, 2 x loop facing points, plus 1 x siding point) and this matches the Inspection Report details given for Chelfham, Blackmoor and Woody Bay. It is curious therefore that Col Yorke mentioned six different lever numbers when asking in his Report for some interlocking modifications at Chelfham.

Signal Boxes

Apart from the two termini at Barnstaple and Lynton, and the passing-loop at Pilton Yard, the intermediate station passing-loops were the only other locations on the L&BR to have signal-boxes and to be block posts for the single-line Electric Train Tablet (ETT) system. The signal-boxes at these loops were small wooden huts of identical design, sited in every case on the Up platform near to the station building. Woody Bay signal-box was recorded in the 1935 Sale Catalogue as measuring 6’x5’x7’. (Note the concrete plinth which had been added at some date as a result of timber rot.) In each signal-box the entrance door was in the front wall of the hut, with the lever-frame mounted ‘back-to-track’ against the rear wall. In Southern Railway (SR) days at least there would have been a signal diagram mounted on the rear wall behind the lever-frame, and it is believed that the SR also added the nameboards on the front wall above the door. The ETT instruments were housed in the station buildings; this arrangement probably reflected the fact that the signal-box was not manned permanently, but simply visited as and when necessary by the stationmaster or porter who also acted as signalman.

Woody Bay Signal-Box
Woody Bay Signal-Box
(as restored 1999)

Lever Frames

All the four intermediate station signal-boxes were orientated in the same way, so that the Up direction was from left to right across the lever-frame. A common numbering sequence was used for all the four lever-frames, as follows:-

1   2   3   4   5   6   7
Up
Starting
Signal
Up
Home
Signal
Up
Loop
Points
Siding
Points
Down
Loop
Points
Down
Home
Signal
Down
Starting
Signal

Although the arrangements for laying-out a lever-frame varied between different railway companies and signalling contractors, in general the numbering sequence for a simple passing-loop would follow the pattern Distant - Home - Starting - Points - Starting - Home - Distant, whereas clearly on the L&BR the pattern was Starting - Home - Points - Home - Starting. This suggests that (with the exception of Bratton Fleming as mentioned below) levers 1 and 7 were the spare levers in the original installations, subsequently used when Starting signals were added to avoid the cost of the additional locking alterations that would have been required in order to provide the ‘normal’ sequence. In turn this suggests that perhaps the spare levers were provided with Distant signals in mind rather than Starting signals, as in the latter case one would have expected to see the Homes on 1 and 7, with 2 and 6 as the spares.

Each lever carried a description plate with a painted legend, containing the following components from top to bottom:-

L&BR Lever Description Plate (courtesy David Hudson)
  • the lever number
  • a description of the item(s) worked by the lever
  • an horizontal line
  • optionally, the number(s) of other lever(s) which had to be pulled first in order to release this lever
[The illustration shows a damaged L&BR lever description plate, believed to have come from PILTON YARD signal-box.]

One small variation between the four signal-boxes concerns the method of working the siding connection. At Chelfham and Bratton Fleming the siding point and its associated exit trap were both worked from lever 4. However at Blackmoor and Woody Bay the facing points into the sidings were sufficiently close to the Down Loop facing points to be in effect a crossover and apparently were worked together from lever 5, with lever 4 working the siding exit trap only. This arrangement had the advantage that it provided protection of the single line from any accidental over-run in the Up loop. Photographic evidence is remarkably elusive, but in a view of Blackmoor (by Knight) the siding point can be seen to lie set for the siding after the road has been set for a Down train and the Down Home is ‘off’.

Chelfham

Chelfham was the 'odd one out' of the passing-loops, as it had a trailing connection into a single short siding at the Barnstaple end of the Down loop. In 1923 the SR prepared a new signal diagram No 447 for the signal-box and a copy of this has survived (it is possible that this was just one of a set of new diagrams drawn for all the L&BR signal-boxes, but sadly no others have come to light yet). Comparison with a photograph (by Wheeler) of the inside of Chelfham signal-box, where it is possible to see most of the lever description plates, suggests that some of the descriptions assigned to each lever by the SR may have varied from those actually used in the signal-box. The Chelfham lever descriptions in the photograph appear to read as shown below (extrapolating from a similar photograph for Blackmoor for lever 1).

SRly SB diagram for Chelfham 1923   Chelfham lever descriptions (courtesy John Hinson)
Signal-box diagram for Chelfham 1923
Click diagram for larger image
Representation of Chelfham's lever description plates

In his 1898 Inspection Report Col Yorke asked at Chelfham for No 5 lever not to release No 2, which suggests that, in the original installation without Starting signals, the Home signals were released by the reversal of the point at the exit end of the loop. This would be understandable, insofar as the Home signal protected that point in the absence of a Starting signal, but it would make for extra lever work when crossing trains. For example, having reversed the Down Facing points in order to clear the Up Home to admit an Up train into the loop, the points would have to be returned to normal in order to admit the Down train, then reversed again in order for the Up train to leave, with corresponding activity at the other end of the loop. Unfortunately the similar request for No 6 lever not to release No 3 does not fit in with the later numbering arrangement, but if one could assume that the Colonel got his numbers reversed accidentally, then the release of 6 by 3 matches the theory above exactly!

The Down Home signal was renewed at an unknown date, but probably in the SR period, and the new signal had a lattice post. The Down Starting signal was replaced on 9-August-1927 (SR Signal Instruction No 20 of 1927) by one with a 17' concrete post (only one of two such posts known on the L&BR, the other being at Blackmoor). (After the railway was closed this post was felled and left lying on the side of the embankment, where it could be found still in 2015 in the undergrowth! Since then it has been removed for preservation.) The Up Home signal was on the right-hand side of the line, but on 13-April-1926 (SR Signal Instruction No 14 of 1926) it was replaced by a signal on the opposite side of the line, which was placed part of the way up the side of the cutting. The original signal was quite tall, whereas the new signal had a much shorter wooden post, but because of its elevated location the arm was at roughly the same height above rail level as its predecessor. The post of the Up Starting signal may have been reduced in height by 1924, but otherwise that signal remained in use until the line closed in 1935, when it was the only survivor of the original Evans O'Donnell signals.

Bratton Fleming

The sidings at Bratton Fleming were accessed by a facing connection about mid-way along the Down loop. Col Yorke listed Bratton Fleming as having seven working levers with no spares (apparently the only L&BR signal-box to have no spare levers initially) and his Report also contained elsewhere the intriguing statement that "...distant signals only exist where home signals cannot be seen for a distance of a quarter of a mile ...". It is believed that Bratton Fleming was one - if not the only - L&BR location to be equipped with working Distant signals, in this case presumably in both directions. There is further possible evidence for this in an early photograph which shows two separate signal wire pulleys on each side of the Down Loop at the Lynton end - the Up Home would account for one wire and the other surely must be for the Up Distant, as there was no Down Starting at that time. One may assume that the Distant signal levers were re-used in due course to work the later Starting signals, but were the Distants abolished altogether or just converted to ‘fixed’ form, and was this work done specifically in order to free up two levers?

The Down Home was replaced on 6-October-1926 (SR Signal Instruction No 32 of 1926) by a new signal 8 yards nearer to the station, but the type of new post is unknown. At an unknown date in SR days the Up Home was replaced by a new signal with a lattice post, like its predecessor a tall post on the right-hand side of the line and mounted on top of the cutting just north of the road over-bridge No 34. Nothing is known about any possible alterations to the two Starting signals.

The passing-loop at Bratton Fleming was taken out of use as an economy measure on 16-June-1931 (SR Signal Instruction No 20 of 1931), after which all trains used the former Up loop and platform. All the signals were abolished, but the signal-box was retained as a ground-frame (GF) to work the points. The box ceased to be a block-post, the ETT section becoming Chelfham - Blackmoor, and thereafter the lever-frame in the box was released by a tablet for that section. The Instruction stated that "A ground frame...will be provided in the existing signal box....", which might imply that the GF was a new provision, but in the interests of economy it would seem more probable that the existing lever-frame was retained. The Instruction also stated that "Vehicles must not be left standing on the existing down loop line (to be used in future as a siding) between Nos 3 and 5 points, but must be berthed inside No 4 catch points in the down siding", which would suggest that trap points were not provided at the exits from the former down loop.

Subsequently on 25-May-1932 (SR Signal Instruction No 20 of 1932) the old Down loop was abolished and the siding was connected directly into the former Up loop, now the single-line, by a new point (facing to Down trains) 24 yards on the Chelfham side of the former signal-box. This point was provided with an ordinary (non-economic) FPL. The existing trap-points in the siding were removed and replaced by a new set at the clearance point of the connection with the single line. At the same time the existing GF in the former signal-box was replaced by a new, uncovered GF located on the platform close to the Barnstaple end and positioned so that the operator faced towards Lynton. From a partial photographic view the GF seems to have been of the Stevens-pattern ‘knee’ type favoured by the SR and equipped with 3 levers, working as follows:-

1 - Points 2 - FPL 3 - Release

This was an unusually generous provision for an ‘economy’ alteration, as the SR normally did not bother with a separate Release lever in such cases, but merely fitted the ETT release lock directly to the FPL lever.

Blackmoor

At Blackmoor station a facing connection at the Barnstaple end of the Up Loop led to a headshunt, which gave access to two sidings. There was also a short siding off the Down loop, which may have been used initially to stable an extra coach provided in connection with traffic for a horse coach link to Ilfracombe. It is unclear exactly when this siding was installed, but it is believed to have been in place within a short time of the opening of the line. This siding connection was not worked directly from the signal-box, but by a separate 1-lever GF situated at the Barnstaple end of the Down platform and mounted with its lever parallel to the track. Perhaps the provision of a separate GF was seen as a cheaper or easier option than the extension and re-locking of the signal-box lever-frame? Despite its location this GF seems to have escaped the photographic record almost entirely and only two distant views of it have come to light.

There is some uncertainty over the manner by which this GF was locked, as some undated sources state that it was released by a key from the signal-box, whereas 1930 SR records specify an ETT release (presumably using a tablet for the section to Bratton Fleming). The use of tablet release on a GF that was within station limits seems most unusual (but not unknown) and a key release would seem more appropriate, probably an Annetts key interlocked in the signal-box lever-frame so that its withdrawal would lock the Down Home signal. Perhaps the control method was altered at some unknown date? Both the Down Siding and its GF were abolished on 19-August-1930 (SR Signal Instruction No 35 of 1930) and certainly the Instruction mentions abolition of a "tablet lock".

The Down Home signal was still in its original form in mid-1927, but by 1935 it had been replaced by a new signal with a lattice post. The Down Starting was replaced on 14-August-1926 (SR Signal Instruction No 14 of 1926) by a new signal with a lattice post, which was 4' higher than its predecessor. In a similar manner to Bratton Fleming, the original Up Home had been mounted on the right-hand side of the line on top of the embankment just north of the road over-bridge No 56. However on 17-September-1929 (SR Signal Instruction No 35 of 1929) it was replaced by a new signal on the left-hand side of the line on a 30' lattice post 10 yards further away from the signal-box. The Up Starting was replaced sometime between 1924 and mid-1927 by a new signal with a concrete post (the only other concrete post known on the L&BR apart from the example at Chelfham).

Woody Bay

The layout at Woody Bay was essentially the same as Blackmoor, except that there was no additional siding on the Down side. A facing connection at the Barnstaple end of the Up Loop led to a headshunt, which gave access to one siding. The Down Home signal was replaced at some unknown date between 1925 (approximately) and mid-1933, by which time it had a SR-style rail-built post. The Down Starting was replaced at some unknown date between 1915 and 1927, by which time it was a wooden post signal in a similar style to those which were erected at Lynton in late 1924, so it is possible that it was an early SR replacement. The Up Starting was replaced by a new signal with a SR-style rail-built post at an unknown date in the early 1930s. The Up Home was replaced on 19-December-1934 (SR Signal Instruction No 47 of 1934) by a new signal with a SR-style rail-built post, which was the only signal on the L&BR to be fitted with an upper-quadrant arm, as well as being the last known replacement signal on the line.

Conclusion

Apart from the addition of Starting signals at some unknown early date, and the 1930s alterations at Bratton Fleming, the basic signalling at the intermediate station passing-loops remained virtually unchanged throughout the life of the L&BR until the closure of the line. However most of the actual signals at the intermediate stations were replaced or modified in a variety of ways at different times (probably due mainly to routine maintenance and repair) as described above, and these changes are listed also in a separate L&BR Signal Register. There can not have been many (if any) other railways where a (virtually) identical arrangement was provided at four consecutive passing-loops.

Fortunately two of the original L&BR signal-box 'huts' still exist today, at Chelfham and Woody Bay, although sadly without their original lever-frames. (The signal-box from Bratton Fleming did survive for many years at a new location, but it is believed to have been destroyed some years ago.) The signal-box at Woody Bay has been restored by the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust (L&BRT) and brought back into operational use with a replacement Stevens 'knee' type 9-lever frame. The signal-box and station at Chelfham are a longer-term restoration project for the L&BRT.

© CJL Osment 1999-2017
No 6 plate photograph courtesy David Hudson, Chelfham lever descriptions GIF courtesy of John Hinson, Chelfham SB diagram courtesy Signalling Record Society
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References

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Basic Layout Signal-Boxes Lever-Frames Chelfham Bratton Fleming Blackmoor Woody Bay Conclusion