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The Friends of the
National Railway Museum





South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA; Richard Hardy



Last Update



12 December 2014


BOROUGH MARKET JUNCTION SIGNAL BOX





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Until 1975, Borough Market Junction Signal Box was one of the busiest on the whole network. Perched high above Borough Market in Southwalk, South London, there wasn't much room for a physically large box. But it, and the men who manned it, had a challenging job - the control of the lines from London Bridge to Cannon Street, Blackfriars and Charing Cross.

In the peak of the morning and evening rush hours there was hardly a minute went by without several train movements. And this wasn't a simple junction to control. Virtually every movement caused some conflict with another. Because of the limited track space, to keep traffic moving, trains were allowed virtually up to the junction, even if a conflicting movement. Trains were also long, so drivers needed to be aware if their last carriage was not to foul the junction and block all movement.

To meet this challenge, the box had one of the first miniature electrical lever frames. This was installed by the Southern Railway in the 1920s. It made life a bit - not a lot - easier for the signal men, at least they had less manual effort in moving the levers. But there still wasn't much time to relax.

 This continued in operation until the box was made redundant by the 1975 modernisation of the lines around London Bridge.




The lever frame with locking

Life at the NRM

At that point the box was moved to the, then brand new, National Railway Museum at York. With all the other pressures facing the Museum in its early days, Borough Market Signal Box came low down the priority list. It was reassembled and repaired and repainted to make it water-tight and some work done to rearrange the internals, including the cutting of a second door, to ease potential visitor access. Apart from the occasional work to control deterioration of the building fabric, that's where things were left.

By the mid-2000 the 'box had deteriorated substantially. The roof was repaired to prevent damage, but really the whole fabric of the box needed a complete overhaul.


The signal box before restoration




A Brighter Future

Thanks to the generous support of one of our members and additional contributions from the South of England Group, this work is now well in hand. A company of specialist wooden building restorers has remedied the weather damage of 35 years. The investigations have shown that a lot of the external damage is the result of the use of normal softwood cladding installed in the 1975 re-erection, compounded by the use of a plastic based water-proof paint. While the latter was intended to keep the water out - which it did for a while - it has the unfortunately side effect that once the rain got inside, the water stayed there and the wood rotted from the inside. The good news is that the structural framework, which dates from the original building of the 'box in 1896, remains in very good condition. This is because, unlike the more recent exterior cladding, the structural framework is made from Columbian Pine, a favourite of our Victorian forebears for weatherproof timber due to its high resin and oil content.

The sash windows, and exterior cladding have been repaired or replaced with equivalents and the 1975-installed second door has been replaced with something more in keeping with the 'box design.

Next will be work to get the miniature frame operating, which will require a team of volunteers to carefully dis-assemble, clean, and preserve it. The ultimate aim is to get it into a state where part of it can be used to demonstrate the principles of signal box operation to visitors, while retelling some of the history of the 'box. This is an important artifact and fills a gap between the demonstrations of the L&Y Signalling School and the modern signal display panels, relayed from York signalling centre, which can be see in operation in the signalling gallery above the NRM Works.





Did You Work the 'Box?

In preparation for getting the 'box ready to be an active part of the NRM's collection, we need to know more about it's working life. Did you, or a member of your family or friends work in the 'box? If so, do you have any recollections about its operation that you, or they, could share. If you have, please get in touch using the link below:
Borough Market Junction Signal Box