Dorset Joint Railway
Signalling at Wellow
The railway station and signal-box at Wellow were situated on the main line of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR), on the section from Bath Junction to Evercreech Junction in the county of Somerset which was known historically as the 'Bath Extension'.
In 1874 the Somerset and Dorset Railway (S&DR) opened its 'Bath Extension' from Evercreech Junction to Bath and a station was provided at Wellow. At first the line was single-track throughout with a few passing-places and according to an undertaking given to the Board of Trade (BoT) by the S&DR on 15-July-1874 Wellow was the only block post between Bath Junction and Radstock. The S&DR became the S&DJR in 1875 when the line was leased jointly by the Midland Railway (MR) and London & South Western Railway (L&SWR). Click here to read more about early S&DR/S&DJR Signalling and the nature of the original signalling and layout arrangements on the Bath Extension.
After the Grouping of the railways of Great Britain in 1923 the S&DJR became a Joint line under the control of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and the Southern Railway (SR), who were the successors to the MR and L&SWR respectively. When the railways were nationalised in 1948 the Joint line came under the control of British Railways (Southern Region) (BR(SR)), but in due course control of the old Bath Extension section passed to British Railways (Western Region) (BR(WR)) until the line closed on 6th March 1966.
There are not many specific references to Wellow signal-box in the available S&DJR publications. In the Working Time Table (WTT) Appendix No 7 of 1-Mar-1886 it appears in the list of telegraph stations as code 'W' and is marked as being open always on weekdays and between 3pm and 4pm on Sundays. The same details appear in the 1-Oct-1886 WTT Appendix No 8, but by the No 9 issue of 1-Feb-1889 the Sunday opening had been amended to "Midnight to Last Train, and 8.30pm to Midnight". No 'Special Instructions' appear until the 1905 edition, in which a table of Shunting Bell Codes is given. These appear again in the 1914 Appendix, where the Sunday telegraph times have been amended again to "Midnight to Last Train, and 8pm or 10pm to Midnight".
From a reference in the S&DJR Officers Minutes for 21-Oct-1875 (PRO file RAIL626/16) it is known that a loop existed at Wellow by late-1875, but it is unclear whether two platforms existed at that time. Although the operating arrangements at Wellow were a factor in the S&DJR disaster at Foxcote (near Radstock) in August 1876, the evidence contained within the subsequent BoT Report regrettably does not contain precise details about the signalling at Wellow, although there is some useful general information and it is clear that trains passed at Wellow.
When the Bath Extension was opened the block working on the single-line was by block telegraph without any train staff. Although Wellow was supposed to be the first block post south of Bath (under the terms of the S&DR's 1874 undertaking to the BoT), it is clear from the evidence in the 1876 Radstock Accident Report that Midford station had been acting as some form of intermediate block post at that time, but it is not known if that practice was terminated after the accident. However the S&DJR Officers' Minutes for 8-Nov-1876 record a decision to enlarge the south end of Wellow signal-box (SB) at a cost of £50 and this was one of a series of such alterations approved (apparently) to enable the block instruments to be relocated into the signal-boxes from the station buildings. On 3-Oct-1886 Electric Train Tablet (ETT) working was introduced between Bath and Radstock using Tyer's No 1 instruments, the sections then being Bath Single Line Junction - Wellow - Radstock.
In 1886 a new siding was opened at the east (Bath) end of Wellow station - its original purpose is unknown, but certainly in later years it served a Fuller's Earth works. The work was inspected by Major Marindin and his Report dated 29th September to the BoT (PRO file MT6/417/11) was accompanied by a track plan and a signalling diagram (BoT4769 dated 15-Sep-1886). There are slight differences between the two drawings, as the track plan marks the level-crossing at the Bath end of the station and specifically a "signal box" on the platform, whereas the signal diagram omits the former and labels the latter merely as "apparatus" - a term which, in some other locations, has suggested an uncovered lever-frame. However, on the basis of the evidence in the BoT Report on the 1876 Radstock Accident and other circumstantial details, it is probable that a covered structure existed.
The diagram above depicts the 1886 signalling arrangements, with the Down Siding and points 10 being the new work. There was no provision of any form of gate bolt for the (unmarked) level-crossing. It should be noted that, according to the information in the locking table attached to the original diagram, at that time there was no interlocking between the Starting and Distant signals - eg the Up Distant (1) was released solely by the Up Home (2).
In 1892 the line from Midford to Wellow was doubled and new signal-boxes were provided at both locations, the new work being opened on 28th August. Two years later on 1-July-1894 double-track was opened from Wellow to Radstock, with new SBs at Wellow, Writhlington and Radstock East (the existing Radstock SB became Radstock West). These works were inspected for the BoT and the Reports are contained in PRO files MT6/598/1 and MT6/669/14 respectively, but without any supporting signal diagrams. Both reports mention "new signal-boxes" of 18 levers and one report (but sadly I forget which) referred to a "new Down platform" - as the earlier plan for the 1886 alterations already showed a Down platform, then "new" presumably refers merely to some form of rebuild and/or extension. As the sections each side of Wellow were doubled the single-line ETT working was replaced by the standard S&DJR double-line 'block telegraph'.
Some years ago a set of S&DJR signal diagrams were unearthed in the BR(WR) records at Swindon, which related to the various doublings of the Bath Extension during the early 1890s, and these included two drawings for Wellow. These diagrams were labelled as "Copy to the Secretary for the Board of Trade" and from the dates thereon they would appear to be relevant to the new works covered by the 1892 and 1894 BoT Inspection Reports. Drawings based on those diagrams are reproduced below and represent the 1892 and 1894 installations of the second and third SBs respectively at Wellow. It must be stressed that the origin of these diagrams separate from the PRO files does mean that there is no certainty that they represent an actual, rather than merely proposed, installation - but on balance it is believed that they do indeed show the 1892 and 1894 arrangements.
It may seem rather curious that the 1894 Inspection Report mentions a "new" SB with 18 levers, as this might be considered too much of a coincidence just two years after a similar comment in the 1892 Inspection Report, but the ex-Swindon diagrams do seem to confirm this. Nevertheless it is surprising that a replacement box should be constructed after only two years for no obvious reason, particularly as the 1892 box was ideally situated to control the whole post-1894 layout, whereas the distance of the 1894 box from the Radstock end of the layout necessitated the provision of a separate ground-frame (GF) to control the pointwork at that end. It would be useful to know whether at that time there was a higher level of road/foot traffic across the level-crossing, which demanded the better supervision provided by an adjacent SB. In this context it should be noted that in the 1892 layout the Down Home (2) was not even in a position to protect the level-crossing from approaching Down trains, yet it was interlocked nonetheless with the Gate Bolt (5) (which locked the gates when the lever was reversed, contrary to normal practice).
The 1894 third SB was a S&DJR TYPE 2 structure with a brick base and contained an 18-lever frame of the Stevens 4.1/8" pattern. It can be seen in the picture below, which was taken in 1957. In the foreground can be seen the level-crossing, whilst on the left is the site of the former Down Siding added in 1886 and just beyond the SB is the Down Home signal (17).
In view of the short life-span of the 1892 second SB it is not surprising that no photographic evidence of it has come to light yet, nor are any further details known about it. One can surmise that, on the evidence of the new 1892 SB at Midford, it would have been built in the contemporary S&DJR TYPE 2 style. In this context it is interesting to note that its position on the Up platform was approximately the same as that occupied later by a stone-built store which sported barge-boards similar to Type 2 SBs. Some years ago a brief inspection was made of the inside of this building (which still exists in private ownership) and there were obvious signs of some sort of internal alterations and removal of possible equipment at some stage - so is this building actually the base of the 1892 SB, rebuilt for a new use? The other tantalising fact about these new works is that GF provided for the 1894 layout was located in approximately the same position as the first SB (compare the 1886 diagram) - if one ignores the two-year period between the closure of the first SB and opening of the GF, then is it possible that the GF hut is in fact the original SB structure, or did the S&DJR merely take advantage of the existing pit in the platform into which to locate the new frame?
The photograph below (from an old postcard) was taken about 1905 looking from the Radstock end of Wellow station towards Bath. On the left at the end of the Up platform can be seen the hut for the GF introduced during the 1894 re-signalling.
The subsidiary arm 5PUSH and the LSWR-pattern ground-signals 9PUSH and 10PUSH of the 1894 layout can be seen in the background and it is clear that 5PUSH was a ringed arm of the usual S&DJR pattern, although the original diagram in fact depicted both subsidiary arms 5PUSH and 16PUSH as 'diamond' arms in the L&SWR style. Both subsidiary ringed arms were removed on 17-Apr-1913 (S&DJR Signal Instruction 237) and the Fullers siding was taken out of use by 1912, after which discs 9PUSH/PULL and points 12 were removed.
A train standing at the Up Starting signal fouled the clearance of crossover 11, so at some unknown date a mechanical fouling bar (believed to be in two sections) was fitted to the Up line in rear of signal 5. This bar was worked by lever 7 and can be seen clearly in Plate 24 of Derek Phillips' 'Working Somerset and Dorset Steam'. The bar was interlocked with lever 10, so that the crossover could not be reversed until the bar had been lifted to foul the flangeway of the Up line, which of course would not be possible if there was a train standing at the signal.
(Extract from the S&DJR 1905 WTT Appendix Special Instructions for Wellow)
BELL COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE SIGNAL-BOX
None of these signals except the "Call Attention" the "Obstruction Danger" the "Collect Tickets" and the "Testing Bell" signals need be repeated, but on receipt of the "Obstruction Danger" signal the Signalman must at once stop all Trains in either direction, and such Trains must not be allowed to proceed until he has satisfied himself that the obstruction has been removed.
The next signal diagram which is available for Wellow from S&DJR records shows the signalling installation in 1930. By this date the GF had been extended by one lever, number 1A - the designation indicating that the lever had been added at the left-hand end of the frame (although the usual L&SWR/SR practice would have been simply 'A'). This new lever acted as a release lever for points 1, although it is unclear why this addition was necessary when no similar provision was made for lever 3.
Also by 1930 the SB had been fitted with a closing-switch, but in view of the existence of the level-crossing it is unclear whether the SB continued to be worked as a gate-box when switched-out or whether the low usage of the crossing meant that the gates remained locked during such periods. The date of provision of this closing switch is unknown, although Wellow is not listed as a location so equipped as late as the 1919 Amendment to the 1914 WTT Appendix. S&DJR Signal Instruction 389 states that the Up Advanced Starting (signal 6) was to be renewed at a height of 25' close to the existing signal on 29-Mar-1942, but no other details of signal alterations have come to light yet. An un-referenced note from the Signal Engineer attached to the 1930 S&DJR diagram states that further changes to the GF would take place on 23-Sep-1945, when all the ground-signals worked from the GF were removed, as was the GF's slot on the Down Advanced Starting (signal 15).
In the 1933 WTT Appendix the Up Advanced Starting Signal (6) is the sole entry in a Table of "Signals which are placed to danger automatically on the passing of trains". This suggests that this signal must have been fitted with one of the various forms of automatic disengager, probably operated by treadle 'A', which released the signal arm back to the 'on' position without the signalman needing to restore the relevant lever in the frame. A footnote to the entry states that this applied only when the SB was open (ie 'in switch' as a block-post) - obviously the signal needed to stay 'off' while the box was closed. Supplement 4 to the 1933 Appendix (dated 7-May-1945) deletes the table entry - when the disengager equipment was removed is unknown, but it was after the issue of Supplement 3 on 3-Mar-1937. Curiously there is no mention of the automatic replacement facility on the 1930 SB diagram.
A diagram for the period circa-1950 in British Railways (Southern Region) records shows that the installation remained unchanged at that date, and it is believed that there were no significant alterations during most of the BR period until the GF was taken out of use on 30-June-1964, together with the sidings and west crossover.
A photograph of the SB interior in 1957 shows standard SDJR 'block telegraph' instruments together with the block bells and closing-switch (which were similar to the GWR pattern) and some round brass signal repeaters (SR type). Also visible is a Sykes 'indicator lock' instrument for the electric lock on the Up Advanced Starting signal (6), as the normal 'block telegraph' working to Midford was supplemented on the Up line only by the provision of a Sykes 'plunger lock' instrument at Midford in conjunction with the 'wrong-road' signal at that location. The lock on signal 6 was released when the signalman at Midford pressed the plunger on his Sykes instrument, after which the lever was back-locked until the departing train passed over treadle 'A'. The Sykes apparatus probably was not an original fitting as the treadle was not marked on the 1894 diagram and the associated 'wrong-road' signal at Midford was not part of the original 1892 installation there.
One curious feature on the lever-frame in later years, which is visible in this photograph, is that the normal SR-type designations for running signals (eg Up Home, Up Starting, Up Advanced Starting etc) had been changed to the LMS nomenclature (Up Home 1, Up Home 2, Up Starting). According to a pencilled note on the source copy of the 1930 diagram this change to the nomenclature of the running signals took place on 23-Sep-1945, but the reason is unknown. There is some evidence that a similar change took place at a few other S&D signal-boxes, and may even have been reversed by BR(WR), but there is no further information about the situation at Wellow.
Wellow SB was closed on 6-March-1966 along with almost all of the S&DJR. Since that date the structure has remained standing and is now in private ownership, albeit without its railway contents, and has been subject to some restoration and alteration in recent years. It is now the only survivor of its type and the only S&DJR SB structure to remain intact in its original location - the only in situ relic to give something of the real atmosphere of a S&DJR signal-box. Click the picture for a larger image (132KB) of the SB in 2006.
When the Bath Extension was opened in 1874 the station at Wellow was one of the original block posts. In accordance with S&DR practice at the time the line was worked under the Absolute Block system without any form of train staff, controlled simply by the 'block telegraph' instruments alone. According to an undertaking given to the Board of Trade (BoT) by the S&DR on 15-July-1874 Wellow was the only block post between Bath Junction and Radstock, but it is clear that the S&DR/S&DJR also provided block telegraph instruments at other intermediate stations and it would appear that Midford was already a block post by the time of the 1876 Foxcote disaster (as of course was Foxcote SB itself).
At the time of the Foxcote disaster it was probably the practice on most of the Bath Extension to locate the block instruments in the station building, where they would be worked under the authority of the Station Agent (the S&DR term for Station Master). The S&DJR Officers' Minutes for 8-Nov-1876 record a decision to enlarge the south end of Wellow signal-box (SB) at a cost of £50 (apparently) to enable the block instruments to be relocated into the signal-boxes from the station buildings. Curiously, although that same meeting also decided that Foxcote would cease to be a block-post, it appears that they retained Midford as an intermediate block-post.
On 3-Oct-1886 Electric Train Tablet (ETT) working was introduced between on the Bath Extension using Tyers No 1 instruments, the sections either side of Wellow being Bath Single Line Junction - Wellow - Radstock. In 1892 the line to Midford was doubled - Midford became a block-post again and the section Midford - Wellow was worked thereafter as Absolute Block using the S&DJR block telegraph instruments, but this time of course as a double rather than single line. In 1894 the line from Wellow to Radstock was doubled, with new signal-boxes opened at Writhlington and Radstock East, and the new block sections Wellow - Writhlington - Radstock East - Radstock West were all worked as Absolute Block using S&DJR block telegraph instruments.
After the doubling of the line the block working remained virtually unchanged right up until closure of the line in 1966, except for the abolition of Radstock East box on 14-Aug-1964. As far as is known there was no change from the use of S&DJR block telegraph instruments during that period. By the time of the 1905 S&DJR WTT Appendix the SBs at Writhlington and Radstock East had been provided with closing switches, so there were occasions when the block section from Wellow might reach as far as Radstock West. Indeed in later years the section could even become Midford - Radstock West after Wellow itself was provided also with a closing switch - the date for this addition is unknown, although no switch was listed for Wellow as late as the 1919 Amendment to the 1914 WTT Appendix.
On the block section from Wellow to Midford the normal 'block telegraph' working was supplemented by the additional provision of a Sykes 'plunger lock' instrument at Midford for use on the Up line only. The signalman at Midford could not give 'Line Clear' to Wellow for an Up train on the block telegraph instrument until he had pressed the plunger on his Sykes instrument, which also released the electric lock on the Up Advanced Starting (signal 6) at Wellow. The Sykes equipment was provided as a safeguard in connection with the requirement for occasional 'wrong road' working on the Up line at Midford. This raises the question of what happened when Wellow was switched-out, as there is no evidence that the Sykes control was extended back to the next box in circuit - which could have been as far as Radstock West, as both Writhlington and Radstock East also had closing switches. It is possible that 'wrong-road' movements only took place when Wellow was switched-in.
© Chris Osment 2006
Thanks to Steve Erlicher and Peter Kay for material from the Public Records Office.
WTT Appendix extract courtesy S&DRT Archives. 1905 station photograph courtesy Wellow Archives. 1957 signal-box photograph © Ian Scrimgeour courtesy Signalling Record Society. Other photographs from WCRA collection.