North Eastern Railway signal box built 1870 that is orientated gable-end to the tracks (a characteristic of early signal boxes). Also retains a glazed side extension to the operating floor (a rare surviving early modification characteristic of the NER). Un-modernised by Network Rail.
Reason for Listing
Norton East Signal Box is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: a very early surviving signal box, dating to 1870. In 2013 it was the joint oldest signal box still in operation by Network Rail;
* Representative: as a very rare surviving example of a typical early form of signal box, orientated with the gable facing the tracks, and for the rare survival of the glazed side extension to the operating floor (once characteristic of many NER signal boxes),
* Survival: as a signal box that has not been modernised by Network Rail, it retains much of its earlier character in addition to the retention of a lever frame along with an effectively complete suite of associated equipment and other internal fittings, last modified and reordered in 1959.
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 North Eastern Railway divided its civil engineering and signalling into three divisions, the Southern, Central and Northern, each with its own distinctive designs. Although some standardisation was employed, overall the NER built a wider range of non-standard signal boxes compared with the other major companies. Norton East, built by the Central Division in 1870 (as one of three signal boxes controlling a triangular junction between lines to Stockton, Ferryhill and Hartlepool) is one such example. It is similar to the nearby, but taller, Norton South (also 1870) in that it is orientated with its gable facing the tracks. This was a common design for early signal boxes which typically had lever frames with only a small number of levers. As signalling complexity grew and lever frames were expanded, this design became restrictive. Frequently this necessitated the demolition and rebuilding of a new side-on signal box to accommodate a wider frame: this was the fate of Norton West Signal Box which was replaced in 1910. A common alternative response by the NER was the construction of a glazed extension projecting from the side of the box. Norton East was expanded in this way in circa 1910. In 1959 Norton East was re-organised internally with the lever frame moved to the rear of the box. By 2012 Norton East and Norton South were the two oldest signal boxes still in operation with Network Rail. Norton East was only infrequently staffed and had not been modernised (unlike Norton South), retaining timber framed windows behind security boarding, the only major modification being the replacement of the timber steps with steel in circa 2012.
Railway signal box, 1870, by and for the Central Division of the North Eastern Railway.
MATERIALS: red brick laid in English Garden Wall bond; timber windows with timber weather-boarded side extension to the operating floor; Welsh slate roof with a grey tile ridge.
EXTERIOR: two-storey signal box orientated gable-end onto the tracks to the south. Nearly square in plan with the entrance to both the ground floor locking room and upper, operating floor on the west side, the upper door protected by a small porch which projects from the side of the signal box. The metal stairs serving this porch are a replacement of the original timber stairs and are not of special interest. On the east side there is a projecting extension to the operating floor which is now supported by modern brick pillars. The rear part of this extension is weather-boarded, the front being continuously glazed with the rest of the operating floor. These windows are timber framed with large panes divided by a single horizontal glazing bar, generally arranged in threes, one being horizontally sliding. By 2006 all of the windows were protected by external security shutters. The signal box retains its narrow external balcony of timber boarding supported by iron brackets. The roof extends beyond the face of the gables, supported by flying rafters seated on the projecting ends of the purlins. The centre of the ridge retains the stub of a ventilator.
INTERIOR: the signal box has not been modernised in recent years and is effectively as reorganised in 1959, retaining a lever frame of 25 levers and a complete suite of associated equipment. Wall, floor and ceiling finishes are also unmodernised.
SUBSIDIARY ITEMS: there is a small, modern brick privy within a timber fenced enclosure attached to the east side of the signal box. This privy and its enclosure is not included in the listing.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.