British Listed Buildings

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Totnes Signal Box, South Hams

Description: Totnes Signal Box

Grade: II
Date Listed: 30 April 2013
Building ID: 1413738

OS Grid Reference: SX8017960959
OS Grid Coordinates: 280179, 60959
Latitude/Longitude: 50.4362, -3.6886

Locality: South Hams
Local Authority: South Hams District Council
County: Devon
Postcode: TQ9 5JL

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Listing Text


Railway signal box, now a café. Constructed in 1923 for the Great Western Railway.

Reason for Listing

Totnes Signal Box which was erected in 1923 is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: although one of the more common types of GWR signal box, the jaunty arrangement of projecting windows to the operating floor and contrasting blue brickwork means that the box is a well-detailed and confident design;
* Intactness: it is externally unaltered with the original windows and decorative timberwork intact. The only later addition is the modern walkway which connects to the adjacent footbridge;
* Fittings: the loss of the operating equipment has not impacted greatly on the overall special interest of the structure.


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 Great Western Railway type 7 design was introduced in 1897 and continued to be built into the 1920s and formed the basis of the company’s signal boxes for the remainder of its corporate existence. A distinctive pattern of windows with glazing bars spaced so that there are three panes in the top half of the sash and two below, and the extensive use of blue engineering bricks providing contrast with red facing bricks are key features of the design. Another characteristic of many of the later examples of the design is that there are internal stairs rather than the external flight of steps found in most signal box designs. There are also many small variations within the type 7 design but these do not impact significantly on its appearance.

Totnes Railway Station was opened in 1847 by the South Devon Railway. The existing signal box was constructed to the type 7 design in 1923 and replaced a wooden one. It is situated on the eastbound platform, immediately to the north-east of the station buildings which were re-built after a fire destroyed the original buildings in the 1960s. Totnes Signal Box, which had a 74 lever frame, was taken out of service in 1987 and its equipment was dismantled. It was converted to a café in the 1990s.


MATERIALS: constructed of red brick with dressings of black brick. The hipped roof is clad in slate with eaves brackets and ventilators to the ridge.

DESCRIPTION: it is rectangular on plan and of two storeys. The principal elevation faces south-east onto the tracks and its upper floor has splayed corners to give better visibility down the platform. The former operating room on the first floor has continuous glazing to both this elevation and the most of the north-east end. The windows are timber horizontal sliding sashes, all subdivided with glazing bars, and are slightly jettied, being supported on brackets. Towards the right of centre is a projecting bay with two sets of paired sliding sashes within a timber surround that has panelling below the windows. The ground floor has five regularly-spaced windows under segmental heads; the surrounds in contrasting black brick. The lower courses of the brickwork and the corners to the front elevation are also of contrasting brick. A doorway in the south-west side wall which is accessed by a modern steel staircase provides access to the former operating room. Internally, the operating equipment, including the lever frame, has been removed.

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