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Garsdale Signal Box, South Lakeland

Description: Garsdale Signal Box

Grade: II
Date Listed: 14 August 2013
Building ID: 1412055

OS Grid Reference: SD7888291835
OS Grid Coordinates: 378882, 491835
Latitude/Longitude: 54.3217, -2.3262

Locality: South Lakeland
Local Authority: South Lakeland District Council
County: Cumbria
Postcode: LA10 5PP

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Listing Text


Midland Railway signal box of 1910 associated with the Hawes Junction Rail Disaster of that year.

Reason for Listing

Garsdale Signal Box is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historical: the signal box, which is still in its original location, was the source of the signalling error which caused the 1910 Hawes Junction Disaster, the accident which prompted the widespread adoption of track circuits to improve rail safety.
* Fittings: for the retention of a Midland Railway lever frame with its interlocking mechanisms housed on the floor of the operating room.


From the 1840s, huts or cabins were provided for men operating railway signals. These were often located on raised platforms containing levers to operate the signals and in the early 1860s, the fully glazed signal box, initially raised high on stilts to give a good view down the line, emerged. The interlocking of signals and points, perhaps the most important single advance in rail safety, patented by John Saxby in 1856, was the final step in the evolution of railway signalling into a form recognisable today. Signal boxes were built to a great variety of different designs and sizes to meet traffic needs by signalling contractors and the railway companies themselves.

Signal box numbers peaked at around 12,000-13,000 for Great Britain just prior to the First World War, and successive economies in working led to large reductions in their numbers from the 1920s onwards. British Railways inherited around 10,000 in 1948 and numbers dwindled rapidly to about 4000 by 1970. In 2012, about 750 remained in use; it was anticipated that most would be rendered redundant over the next decade.

The Midland Railway employed a standard design of signal box from 1870, the boxes being built from prefabricated timber panels manufactured at their works in Derby allowing for swift erection on site. The design continued to be used, with only minor variations in terms of panel design and arrangement of glazing bars, up until 1929. Garsdale Signal Box is an example of the type 4c box, utilising lapped timber boarding (which defined the type 4) instead of weatherboarding, with type c design windows (which featured a single horizontal glazing bar). The company was late to adopt the practice of interlocking points and signals resulting in a systematic programme of re-signalling work across their network from 1890 onwards to comply with the requirements of the 1889 Regulation of Railways Act. The signal box at Garsdale Station was built as part of this re-signalling work and opened in 1910 to replace two earlier boxes controlling a busy section of the Settle to Carlisle Line and the junction with the branchline to Hawes in Wensleydale. About six months later, in the early hours of Christmas Eve 1910, the signal box was the origin of the signalling error which resulted in the Hawes Junction Disaster where the Scottish Express ran into the rear of two light-engines resulting in the deaths of 12 passengers. The light-engines (engines without a train) had been stopped at a signal for 23 minutes and had been forgotten about by Alfred Sutton, the signalman, who cleared the signal for the Express with fatal consequences. As a result of this disaster, the Midland Railway changed its signalling practices to prevent similar accidents happening again. The signal box was originally known as Hawes Junction, being renamed Garsdale in 1932.

The Settle to Carlisle Line was the last major trunk route to be constructed in the Victorian period, the last major line to be built without the use of heavy earth-moving machinery, a major engineering endeavour across difficult terrain, giving the Midland Railway a main line connection to Scotland. The historic interest of the line as a whole was recognised in 1991 by its designation as a 78 mile long Conservation Area.


Railway signal box, 1910 by and for the Midland Railway.

MATERIALS: timber with a Welsh slate roof.

EXTERIOR: signal box of three bays and two storeys with a shallow-pitched hipped roof, topped with turned-timber spike-finials. The first floor operating room has continuous glazing to the south east (facing the tracks) and to the two ends, the rear being blind. The doorway is in the south west gable end, reached by an external flight of timber steps which rises from the station platform. These steps also give access to a small, gabled-roofed modern extension to the operating room containing a staff toilet. The signal box has modern replacement windows which replicate the glazing pattern of the originals.

INTERIOR: has been refurbished with a modern suspended ceiling. However it retains a Midland Railways lever frame of 33 levers (which has the interlocking mechanisms within the operating room rather than in the room below). This locking frame is sited along the rear wall of the box, rather than the front wall. This may be its original position (as the Midland Railway started building boxes with rear frames from 1908), but might be the result of refurbishment.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.