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Barnstaple Town
SR target sign Barnstaple Town
also Barnstaple Quay and Pottington
SR target sign
Introduction Signalling 1898 Film

### This Page is Under Construction ###

Author's Note: It is intended that eventually this page will provide detailed historical information about Barnstaple Town station and the nearby Pottington signal-box. In the meantime it will provide a brief introduction to the location, but also serve as a temporary access to various research notes and questions regarding aspects of the signalling about which more information is sought.

Note: This page deals specifically with Barnstaple Town station and signal-box on the former London & South Western Railway line to Ilfracombe. Please click here for information about the separate arrangements for the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway at Barnstaple Town.


The railway from Barnstaple Junction to Ilfracombe was opened on 20-July-1874 by the independent Barnstaple & Ilfracombe Railway company, but it was taken over later in the same year by the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR). Initially the line was single-track constructed to 'Light Railway' standards, but by the end of 1887 the line had been upgraded to 'normal' railway standards. By July 1891 the entire line had been doubled with the exception of the first mile from Barnstaple Junction to Pottington, which always remained as single-track.

The single-track line left Barnstaple Junction at the west end of that station, passed under Sticklepath Road and then curved around to cross the River Taw on a long, curved steel bridge. Immediately on reaching the north bank of the river there was initially a Barnstaple Quay station, which consisted of a single platform on the Up (north) side of the line. Immediately to the west of that platform was a level-crossing (known later as Commercial Road crossing) which provided access from that road to the quay on the river-bank. This crossing was controlled originally by Barnstaple Quay signal-box, an elevated L&SWR Type 1 box (believed to have contained a 9-lever frame) which was situated on the Down side of the line immediately east of the crossing. A short distance further west there was another level-crossing (known later as Barnstaple Town crossing) giving access to the quay and this was also controlled originally by Barnstaple Quay signal-box. A short distance further west again the railway crossed a swing-bridge over the River Yeo (close to where it flowed into the River Taw), beyond which was the commencement of the double-track to Ilfracombe. This location was controlled by Pottington signal-box, an elevated L&SWR Type 3B box opened on 4-August-1890 containing a 19-lever Stevens frame; this signal-box was located on the Down side of the line immediately west of the swing-bridge and close to the single-to-double-line points. A siding trailed off the Down line here across the Up line to serve Rolle Quay on the west bank of the River Yeo.

In July 1886 Barnstaple Quay station and signal-box were re-named Barnstaple Town. However on 16-May-1898 a new Barnstaple Town station and signal-box were opened further down the line, just west of the second level-crossing, and it is that location which forms the main subject of this web-page. This alteration was brought about by the opening of the independent Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, whose narrow-gauge line shared the new station. The former Barnstaple Quay station was closed and in due course its signal-box was replaced by a covered ground-frame on the same site. The new Town station had a single platform on the Up side of the line, west of the Town level-crossing; the main (south) platform face served the Ilfracombe line, whilst a bay platform face on the rear (north) side served the L&BR. There was a loop siding on the down side opposite the platform which was connected into the Ilfracombe line at each end, whilst a connection facing to Down trains at the Pottington end of the platform served a transfer siding with the L&BR on the Up side of the line. The brick-built L&SWR Type 4 signal-box was located at the end of platform next to the level-crossing and contained a 14-lever Stevens frame. The L&BR had their own small wooden signal-box at the other end of the station - click here for more details.

On 17-December-1967 the entire line from Pottington to Ilfracombe was reduced to single-track again. The signal-box at Ilfracombe was closed, Pottington signal-box was reduced to ground-frame status to control the swing-bridge only, and most of the other signal-boxes on the line were reduced to ground-frame status just for level-crossing control. Only Barnstaple Town signal-box remained as a block-post, with Electric Key Token working to Barnstaple Junction 'B' signal-box and One-Engine-in-Steam working (with a wooden train staff) for the remainder of the line to Ilfracombe. The entire line was closed on 5-October-1970.

Signalling Description

To be completed.....

Miscellaneous Research Notes and Queries

1898 Film. In 1898 an unknown photographer shot some cine-film from the front of a train travelling on the line from Barnstaple Junction to Ilfracombe. Two sections of this film are known to exist, both of which can be viewed on YouTube (and possibly elsewhere). One section (viewable here) covers the initial part of the journey from Barnstaple Junction to Pottington, while the other section (viewable here) covers the final part of the journey into Ilfracombe station. The first clip shows a lot of the signalling installation at Barnstaple Town at that time, but often raises a few questions from viewers, so it is hoped that the detailed notes here will provide a useful explanation.

SR Signal Diagram. Some years ago the Signalling Record Society obtained a collection of microfilmed drawings from British Railways (Southern Region), which included a signal-box diagram for Barnstaple Town. At first glance this diagram seems to relate to the early Southern Railway period when the ex-L&SWR signal-box also controlled the L&BR, but a closer examination reveals that it contains various amendments from both the later SR period and also the BR period - long after the L&BR had vanished. There are inconsistencies within the drawing which suggest that it has been subject to incomplete amendments over a period of time, yet at the same time it yields some residual detail about earlier arrangements. It is considered therefore to be a useful resource, but not one on which to rely entirely. A copy of the diagram and a set of detailed comments can be found here.

Unexplained Rodding. All the points and FPLs etc worked by mechanical rodding from Barnstaple Town signal-box were concentrated at the east end of the station, whilst those at the west end were worked by the 'B' GF. Therefore there was no known requirement for any rodding running from the signal-box to the west end of the station, as confirmed by most photographic evidence. Yet there are a number of photographs taken circa-1964 which show 4 sets of channel rodding emerging from the signal-box and heading towards the west end of the station, on the down side of the line in the space previously occupied by the loop siding. However photographs of the same area taken about 1960-70 show no sign of that rodding at all. So what was the purpose of this rodding, which seems to have existed only for a short period?

It would seem a reasonable assumption that this was preparatory work for some form of alteration to the signalling to be controlled by Barnstaple Town signal-box, but there is no evidence from the details of the revised layout subsequently introduced in December 1967 that any other changes had taken place within the previous few years. It is unfortunate that no photographs are known which show the extreme western end of this rodding, so it is unclear to what it was intended to be connected, but there appear to be two possible options:-

It is presumed that, whatever the nature of the scheme, it was overtaken by the eventual decision to single the line to Ilfracombe. But it would be very nice to know exactly what the original plan had been!

© CJL Osment 2016

Introduction Signalling 1898 Film