Signal Boxes of the London and South Western Railway: A Study of Architectural Style
In the signal box we have what was perhaps the first ‘true’ railway building. A station might look like a country vicarage and its adjacent goods shed like a tithe barn, but seldom, and never on the London & South Western Railway, was there any attempt to blend the signal box into the general style of the other structures. There are several reasons for this. By the time signal boxes became widespread the public were familiar with railways and there was no need for confidence-boosting. Furthermore, they were private buildings, so ostentation was considered pointless. They also had to embrace many practical considerations such as affording the signalman a good view of the tracks and signals under his control, and providing room beneath him to house the mechanical interlocking. There had never before been the need for such a building, except possibly the relay stations erected in the previous century in connection with the Admiralty semaphore telegraph.
It is also fairly certain that no professional architect got anywhere near them. Indeed it is not clear who did design signal boxes, as surviving drawings are either unsigned or signed illegibly. What is certain is that on the LSWR the task devolved upon the chief civil engineer’s staff, perhaps because they were thought best qualified to assess the suitability of sites for different types of buildings. Some were undoubtedly ‘off the peg’ structures straight out of a contractor’s catalogue, but most of the early boxes appear to have been designed from within the railway company, as were all those after 1878 except for a few ground-level boxes. This work attempts to outline the development in signal box design from the earliest years to the end of the LSWR as an independent company. It does not set out to be a history of railway signalling as such, although of course some mention of it is unavoidable. The task has been a complex one, for unlike its Southern neighbours the London, Brighton & South Coast Railways and South Eastern & Chatham Railway, or even the GWR with whom it shared so much territory, the ‘South Western’ never adhered rigidly to sets of standard drawings and produced a lot of variants of so-called ‘standard’ structures. They also put up completely non-standard boxes for no apparent reason and sometimes harked back to an obsolete design when installing new signalling, making it impossible to date anything according to its style of architecture.
Softback A5 format, 176 pages, more than 150 illustrations.
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