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S&DJR Signalling Miscellaneous
S&DJR Crest Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway
Miscellaneous Signalling Information
S&DJR Crest
Introduction Fireman's Call Plunger Fogsignalling Lever Description Plates Linemen's Boards 'Tablet Out' Release

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Research into the Signalling of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR) often yields various minor items of miscellanous information which do not warrant their own separate RailWest page, nor do they necessarily relate specifically to any of the existing RailWest pages on individual S&DJR locations or signalling topics. Nevertheless it is important to ensure that the information is recorded for posterity and available for reference when required, until such time as it may be transferred permanently to another more relevant page. Accordingly this page exists simply to serve as a 'holding pot' for a miscellaneous assortment of such material which may augmented or relocated during the course of ongoing research.

Miscellaneous Arm Repeaters
Miscellaneous types of signal arm repeaters

Fireman's Call Plunger

LMS Fireman's Call BoxA Fireman's Call Plunger (FCP) was a push-button electric switch that was provided at a signal-post for use by the fireman of a train held at that signal to remind the signalman of the presence of his train in accordance with Rule 55. Only one FCP is known to have existed on the S&DJR, which was at the Down Main Outer Home (signal 2) at Evercreech Junction North box where it was provided on 10-December-1949. The presence of the FCP was indicated by the provision of a 'D' sign on the post of the signal. (The signal was on the right-hand of the double-track line, but the FCP was installed on the left-hand side of the Down line so that the fireman did not have to risk crossing the tracks in order to use it.) No photograph of that FCP is known, but given the involvement of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in the S&DJR then it is possible that the FCP was fitted in a standard free-standing LMS Fireman's Call Box; a typical example is shown here (click picture for a larger image). Pressing the plunger would operate a visual indicator in the signal-box and then a confirmatory audible warning would be given at the call box. There is an unconfirmed suggestion that a 'D' sign was fitted to the Down Home (No 6) of the 1946/47 temporary Waterloo Road signal-box, which would imply provision of a FCP at that location also.


The S&DJR would deploy fogsignalmen at its Distant signals in times of fog or falling snow. Most Distant signals on the S&DJR were 'isolated' signals - in other words they were the only signal on their post, rather than being a lower arm beneath a stop signal. Most examples of the latter were in the Highbridge and Wells areas, although prior to the 1930s there had been several in the Radstock and Templecombe areas as well. It would appear to be the case that the non-isolated lower distant arms were not fogsignalled. By its nature, the job of a fogsignalman was not a permanent occupation, but something that would be done as and when required by nominated railway staff, usually members of the Permanent Way Department. Most fogsignalman would be rostered to specific Distant signals, but some would act as Relief men to cover vacancies at any location in their area.

[Note: there is evidence from surviving fogsignalmen rosters for the northern part of the S&DJR main line in the late 1940s that at that time some stop signals were also 'fogged', but the reason for that is not known. The locations listed were:- Bath Junction Up (Branch) Home, Midford Up Outer Home, Evercreech Junction North Down (Main) Home, Templecombe Junction Down Outer Home. It is possible that some other stop signals were 'fogged' elsewhere on the S&DJR, but no relevant records are known.]

The arrangements for fogsignalling were fairly straightfoward and there does not appear to be much in surviving S&DJR records about any specific requirements at individual locations. However the 1933 edition of the Appendix to the S&DJR Working Time Table (WTT) did include a list of five locations where fogsignalmen would not be provided at the Distant signals:- Moorewood, Henstridge, Pylle, Stourpaine, Spetisbury. The reason for those exemptions was not given, although as the signal-boxes at Stourpaine and Spetisbury appear to have been opened only on rare occasions then their Distant signals would have been normally 'off' anyway. (There was a specific instruction at Stourpaine that no trains were to be passed at that loop during fog or falling snow, but it is not clear whether that instruction was issued to avoid the need for fogsignalmen there, or whether the exemption from fogsignalling was the cause of that instruction.) One may speculate that, as Henstridge and Pylle (after 1929) were neither block posts nor passing-loops, their signals would normally be 'off' for any approaching train; there were level-crossings at both stations, but they saw very little use. It is unclear why Moorewood would have been exempt, but perhaps it was simply more economic to 'switch out' that signal-box rather than to call out two extra men.

The 1933 WTT Appendix also included a list (click here) of 23 locations at which fogsignalmen were employed only at certain times, with both Up and Down Distants being specified in every case. (In fact Bridgwater had only an Up Distant, while at Wells the Up Distants were under stop signals controlled by GWR signal-boxes and probably therefore not 'fogged' by the SD&DJR anyway. Note also that Writhlington was listed still under its old name of 'Braysdown'.) At all the locations the fogsignalmen were not employed during the night, which might suggest that the specified signal-boxes were 'switched out' during the specified hours, yet the list includes signal-boxes such as Shepton Mallet (which did not have a block switch) and 'key' locations such as Corfe Mullen Junction. So did the S&DJR perhaps only bother with fogsignalman while they were running passenger services, in which case why still provide them at the signal-boxes not included in the list?

To be completed....

Linemen's Boards

In the event of a problem with any of the equipment at a signal-box the signalman would need to call for the assistance of the local Signal or Telegraph Lineman as relevant. In the early days before the widespread provision of railway telephone circuits to signal-boxes, stations, works depots etc, one method was to hang some form of 'board' outside the signal-box to catch the attention of any passing lineman or other railway staff. It is not known exactly when the S&DJR adopted this practice, but certainly in 1877 the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) issued an Instruction for the use of a black board at their signal-box at Templecombe and by late 1891 a red board was being used by the S&DJR at Templecombe No 2 Junction box. The Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust has in its collection (reference S62) a red board which came from Stalbridge; this is wooden, approximately 21"x15"x¾" with a large V-shaped hanging bracket on its rear, and is painted red all over on both faces (click here for a photograph). It is presumed therefore that the earlier boards were also rectangular.

[Note: For comparison with other railway companies, it is recorded [1] that the Midland Railway used oval boards, blue on one face and black on the other. The Great Western Railway used separate round 'S' and diamond 'T' cast-iron plates; black background with white letter and rim on the front, white background with red letter and rim on the rear.]

Specific instructions about the use of 'linemen's boards' do not appear in surviving copies of the Appendix to the S&DJR Working Time Table (WTT) until the 1905 edition, and these deal specifically with boards that were oval in shape (geometrically an ellipse); a surviving example of those boards measures 18"x10¼". Each board was painted white on one face and black on the other, and could be hung (by means of a hole in one end and another hole midway along one side) with its long axis either vertical or horizontal. Although the earlier rectangular boards appear to have been hung outside the signal-box only in the event of a problem, the oval boards were always on display and conveyed their 'message' as follows:-

The WTT Appendix instructions (click here to see a copy) included the oval boards in a section about 'Electric Repeaters' (specifically signal arm repeaters); this has lead some commentators to confusingly describe the boards themselves as 'electric repeaters', which clearly they were not. Although the instructions illustrate the boards with plain white or black faces (and continued to do so as late as the 1914 edition), it is clear from photographic evidence that by 1900 at least there was a black cross on the white face. The origin and purpose of this is unknown, but perhaps it was provided to ease the task - when briefly sighting the white face of a board against the light-coloured paintwork of a timber signal-box wall from a passing train - of deciding whether it was hanging vertical or horizontal? Curiously there appears to have been no equivalent white cross on the black face.

S&DJR red lineman's board from StalbridgeThe oval boards related to the status of electrical apparatus, which were the responsibility of the Telegraph linemen. The late Robin Atthill wrote [2] that the red rectangular boards were used to call the Signal linemen (who dealt with mechanical signalling equipment), implying that the use of red boards continued concurrently with the oval boards. However it should be noted that the 1905 S&DJR WTT Appendix mentions the red board at Templecombe No 2 Junction box specifically in the context of a failure of the block instruments working to the boxes at the L&SWR station, which surely would have been the responsibility of the Telegraph lineman. Whereas the oval boards were hung outside of a signal-box permanently, it would seem that the red boards were displayed only in the event of a fault, so there is no known photographic evidence of them in use. Given that the signal-box at Stalbridge was replaced in 1903 (S&DJR Signal Instruction 166), by which time the oval boards were in use, as its red board (shown here) survived long enough to be preserved then it does seem likely that it continued in use as well for some years thereafter.

Henstridge oval lineman's boardWith the eventual spread of telephone circuits across the S&DJR the oval boards appear to have fallen into disuse by the 1920s, although one might have thought that they would have still had a use if the telephones failed. It would seem that at many places the boards were just left hanging outside their signal-boxes until eventually they were 'acquired' for preservation or simply rotted away. In some photographs of S&DJR signal-boxes it is possible to make out the outline on the front wall of where the board used to hang. One visitor to the line found boards at Binegar, Masbury and Winsor Hill, Robin Atthill found others still in place in 1965 at Bason Bridge, Evercreech New and Henstridge, and David Milton apparently found one at Glastonbury in the grass in the station yard! Thanks to Robin Atthill (with the assistance of the Stationmaster at Stalbridge) the Henstridge board survives in the National Railway Museum collection (inventory reference 1975-7887) and is shown here (click picture for larger image).

'Tablet Out' Release

It is modern practice for a signal which controls entry into a block section (the 'section signal') to be interlocked with the relevant block working equipment, so that the signal can not be cleared until the train has been accepted by the signalman at the far end of the section. The former London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) made widespread use of 'tablet out' releases on section signals for lines worked by the Electric Train Tablet (ETT) system, whereby a signalman could not pull the lever for a section signal until he had obtained a tablet for that section from his ETT instrument. It is often presumed that a similar practice was applied to the S&DJR, but research would suggest that there was no universal provision on the S&DJR until a fairly late date, perhaps not until the early British Railways period, and unfortunately the overall situation is far from clear.

Minute 7318 of the S&DJR Officers' meeting on 19-July-1921 recorded that the Traffic Superintendent reported that "...on the sections of main line between Templecombe and Shillingstone, and Corfe Mullen and Broadstone and Wimborne, the starting signals are not interlocked with the tablet apparatus..." and it was considered desirable to provide this at an estimated cost of £154. (A copy of the signal diagram for Shillingstone dated 1907 lists 'tablet out' releases for the 'short' section to Stourpaine and the 'long' section to Blandford, but not for the section to Sturminster Newton; this may reflect an upgrade that was done purely in connection with the opening of Stourpaine signal-box in 1905, implying that previously there had been no 'tablet out' release for the original Shillingstone - Blandford section.) Two years later Minute 7564 of the S&DJR Officers' meeting on 29-October-1923 recorded that the Traffic Superintendent reported that "...the total cost of providing interlocking between the tablet instruments and starting signals for the whole of the branch lines on the Joint Committee's Railway, which are not so fitted, would be £282...", so it was recommended that "...the work be carried out at ...Glastonbury and Edington at an estimated cost of £108, and the question as to the other places was deferred for further enquiries"; that recommendation was agreed at a subsequent meeting on 16-April-1924 (Minute 7609). Reference to various S&DJR and BR signal diagrams would suggest that places such as Shapwick and West Pennard still did not have 'tablet out' releases in the 1930s and may not have received them until the early 1950s, so it is possible that the addition of such releases coincided with the replacement of ETT working by Electric Key Token (EKT) working at those locations circa-1952/53.

It is the practice for levers in a signal-box which are released by another signal-box to be identified by a 4" white band painted around the middle of the lever, which would include levers for signals controlled by the withdrawal of a tablet or key token. Theoretically therefore one could tell if a signal-box had 'tablet out' releases or not by examining a photograph of its lever-frame (if one was available) for the presence or absence of such white bands, but unfortunately that does not appear to be a reliable guide for S&DJR signal-boxes. For example, in the 1960s white bands could be found at Glastonbury and Shapwick, but not at Midford, Sturminster Newton or Templecombe Junction even though 'tablet out' releases were known to have existed at the latter three locations. Here again it is possible that the provision of the white bands at Glastonbury and Shapwick coincided with the introduction of EKT working by BR Western Region.

Much of the information relating to 'tablet out' releases at individual signal-boxes has come from copies of signal diagrams and other associated records. There are a few examples of diagrams which state 'Tablet instruments with Sykes interlocking', or words to that effect. Some L&SWR locations had Sykes 'Indicator Lock' instruments on the instrument shelf to do the physical locking of the section signal lever and controlled electrically by the ETT machine, but no S&DJR example has been found yet. However there are S&DJR drawings which show that, where Tyer's No 3 ETT instruments were fitted, the interlocking was done by mechanical linkage from the drawer and side-handle of the ETT machine to a Sykes-type lock on the signal lever, so maybe that was the meaning of the 'Sykes interlocking' comment? Where Tyer's No 6 ETT instruments were fitted then the interlocking appears to have been achieved by a normal electric lock attached to the lever tail and released by electrical contacts within the ETT instrument and a similar method would have been used with EKT instruments.

The provision of a 'tablet out' (or 'token out') release was listed usually in the Electrical Locking table for a signal-box, which for most S&DJR locations formed part of the actual signal-box diagram. Under British Standard 376 the provision of a 'tablet out' or 'token out' release is indicated on a signal diagram by an arrow symbol drawn across the post of the relevant signal and inclined to the right. This symbol does not appear to have been applied to any S&DJR diagram until the BR period, and both Southern Region and Western Region diagrams have examples with the arrow inclined to the right and examples with the arrow inclined to the left. However the symbol is often used as a form of shorthand (to save writing "released by tablet out" in full) by compilers of signal-box diagram sketches for historical reference (such as can be found in RailWest) and its use in any such sketch should not be taken as evidence that it existed on the real-life diagram. In a S&DJR context one should be wary of instances where the symbol may have been used on diagrams for older versions of a signal-box installation without verification that a 'tablet out' release did in fact exist at that time.

Lever Description Plates

Each lever in the mechanical interlocking frame in a S&DJR signal-box usually would have carried one or more 'labels' with information about that lever. These labels were given various names by different railway companies or signalling contractors (eg 'badges', 'lever leads' etc), but for the purposes of these notes they will be described generically as 'Lever Description Plates' (LDP). For each lever the LDP provided the signalman with three pieces of information:- the lever number, the function of the lever, and the number(s) of any other lever(s) which had to be pulled first in order to release that lever. The latter was known colloquially as the 'pull list' and sometimes could be quite long, maybe with various alternative sequences, depending upon the complexity of the signalling installation. Some railway companies or signalling contractors put all the information on one LDP per lever, other used two or three separate plates. Usually the plates were fixed near the top of the lever (just below the catch-handle), but the S&DJR generally followed the L&SWR/SR practice of placing them near the bottom of the lever (just above the catch-block).

Shepton Mallet LDPs
Lever Description Plates in Shepton Mallet signal-box

To be completed....

© CJL Osment 2019
Acknowledgements to Mike Arlett, Peter Trenchard and the late Peter Cattermole for information, also to John Lacy from material from Signalling Record Society archives. Red lineman's board photograph courtesy Steph Gillett, oval lineman's board photograph courtesy National Railway Museum.


Introduction Fireman's Call Plunger Fogsignalling Lever Description Plates Linemen's Boards 'Tablet Out' Release
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Page last updated: 23 August 2019