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Canterbury East Signal Box, Canterbury

Description: Canterbury East Signal Box

Grade: II
Date Listed: 25 April 2013
Building ID: 1413579

OS Grid Reference: TR1472457251
OS Grid Coordinates: 614724, 157252
Latitude/Longitude: 51.2739, 1.0771

Locality: Canterbury
Local Authority: Canterbury City Council
County: Kent
Postcode: CT1 3PJ

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Listing Text


Signal box, circa 1911 for the South Eastern & Chatham Railway company on the Chatham and Dover Railway Line.

Reason for Listing

Canterbury East Signal Box, built circa 1911 to a design by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: an imposing four bay example of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway's own design of signal box, uniquely modified to be raised on steel supports for logistical reasons;
* Intactness: intact apart from two minor changes, the top-lights painted over and the locking room window blocked;
* Survival of operating equipment: it retains a circa 1878 lever frame of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway, one of only two examples surviving nationally, with rodding exposed in the steel framework;
* Rarity: it is the only surviving example of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway's own design between 1899 and 1921 and is the only remaining example nationally of a signal box raised on steel stilts when vision was obstructed.


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 is anticipated that most will be rendered redundant over the next decade.

Canterbury East Signal Box was opened circa 1911 on the Chatham and Dover Railway Line and was built to a South Eastern & Chatham Railway design.

The line from Canterbury East to Dover had been opened in 1861 as the East Kent Railway, the original part of the London Chatham & Dover Railway, which in turn entered into an agreement with the South Eastern Railway in 1899 retaining a joint management committee to form the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. After 1899 the two companies to some extent retained their existing signalling practices but a new signal box design was developed that was used on the lines of both companies. It owed something to the Saxby & Farmer (S&F) Type 5 design but differed because while the S&F boxes had a very distinctive form of top-light with rounded corners, the SE&CR design had square corners to the top-lights with two vertical glazing bars dividing each top-light. The brackets below the soffit also differed with the rounded Saxby & Farmer brackets being replaced by larger, more elaborate shaped brackets. The design was used in many boxes by the SE&CR until 1921 when a new design with gabled roof was commissioned.

The form of Canterbury East Signal Box was dictated by its location. Originally Canterbury East Station had an iron roof spanning the tracks which was only removed in the late 1950s. To provide the signalman with an adequate view down the line the box was constructed of timber for lightness but raised up on a steel framework to give it added height. As the site was hemmed in by tracks on either side its base was narrow in width. It is a descendant of the early 'stilts' type boxes built by Saxby & Farmer in the 1860s but is a distinct type used elsewhere in Great Britain where space was restricted and a good view down the line was required, of which it is now the only surviving example.

It retains an earlier London Chatham & Dover Railway lever frame with 28 levers which is most likely to have come from an earlier signal box at Canterbury East station.

This signal box has been de-commissioned but only a small quantity of later C20 equipment has been removed.


DATE: opened circa 1911 by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway to their own design.

MATERIALS: wooden superstructure clad in horizontal weatherboarding with hipped slate roof. The superstructure is supported on an open steel frame.

PLAN: four bay superstructure consisting of an operating room with a low enclosed locking room below, supported on an open steel frame.

EXTERIOR: the front or south-west side is continuously glazed with eight horizontally-sliding sash windows, each of four panes with a further four-pane casement window carried round at each end. The wide eaves are supported on fretted wooden brackets and above the principal windows are top-lights, each divided into three panes, now painted over. There is an iron access balcony outside the windows. The box is accessed by an external flight of wooden steps on the north-west side, divided into two stages with a landing, through a part glazed door. The timber superstructure is supported on a steel framework, with eight vertical channel section piers, with further cross bracing and angle brackets. The rodding to points and signals is exposed within the open structure of this framework.

INTERIOR: boarded roof and walls partially concealed by suspended ceiling. The main equipment is the lever frame which pre-dates the signal box and is of the type manufactured in house by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway Company, one of the constituent companies which formed the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. The design of lever frame is a comparatively early one of circa 1878 with a simple 'direct tappet' mechanism with horizontal tappets which required only a small depth below the signalman's floor for the locking room. The frame was one of the last two of this type in service when the box was closed at Christmas 2011; no example of this type is held in the National Railway Museum Collection.

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