SCRCA Memory by David Tyson: Helwith Bridge Signal Box in the late 1950s

Submitted by mark.harvey / Sat, 04/07/2020 - 13:49
Snippet Detail

My Grandparents lived at Foredale Cottages so for as long as I can remember I was aware of and fascinated by the quarry workings, the sidings and the main line.

As a young teenager trainspotting became an interest so on holidays at Foredale more time was spent at the Five Arches (M.R. bridge 34, Location ID 240930) copping engines. My Grandmother encouraged me to move to the public footpath which crossed the line close to Helwith Bridge Signal Box and when I did I was invited into the box by Mr (Stan) Thistlethwaite. This was in the late 50’s and subsequently I timed my visits to coincide with his shifts. It was of course against regulations so it was a wonderful privilege for me to be in there. Signalmen up and down the line would warn each other if there was an inspector on a particular train so if there was a chance it would stop at our box I would leave until the coast was clear or otherwise just duck down out of sight.

Being in the box was magical, the block diagrams and instruments, the bell telegraph and the lever frame. Helwith Bridge was fairly simple, up and down distant, home and starter signals plus points and ground signals for the quarry sidings. These connected to up and down lines with a cross-over for the up line to the south sidings. Everything was spotless with any brass brightly polished. There was one concession to modernity which was the up distant. It was an electric red/amber signal and was 1140yds north of the box beyond Crag Hill so replaced the need to move an awful lot of wire and raising the signal arm. The down distant was only 768yds south, just beyond Helwith Bridge, it’s much easier to stop climbing 1/100 than descending it.

In operating the box the priority was always the expresses, The Thames-Clyde, The Waverley and the Leeds –Glasgow. They always had to have a clear road otherwise questions would be asked. What a privilege to be allowed to “pull-off” the signals for the up Thames-Clyde. As a train-spotter the only disappointment would be if it was Welsh Guardsman again. Keeping a clear road for the expresses was something of an art. Signalmen informed each other about the progress of these trains so that they could manage the other movements on the line.

An interesting operation was the pick-up goods, usually operated by a Fowler 4F. A few wagons of lime or Arcow stone would be ready in the sidings (Location ID 240980) near the gate. The pick-up would then have to leave the guards van on the mainline before reversing into the siding to collect the wagons, the loco not being allowed to pass the gate. Then back to the mainline to attach the guards van. This was not a quick procedure so there was pressure on the signalman to make sure it could be done and get the line clear. It could be an anxious time.

A caller at the box I remember was the lamp man. He filled and maintained all the lamps in the signals, a crucial job.

Sadly the box and the sidings it served closed on the 7th Sept 1969 and was demolished but it left me with wonderful memories, the coal stove with it’s kettle, the log book where every operation was recorded and of course the best view of the line. Teenage heaven.


This memory was written by David Tyson and kindly supplied for inclusion in the SCRCA Project database on July 4th, 2020.