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Eastbourne Signal Box

A Grade II Listed Building in Devonshire, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.771 / 50°46'15"N

Longitude: 0.2848 / 0°17'5"E

OS Eastings: 561202

OS Northings: 99310

OS Grid: TV612993

Mapcode National: GBR MV8.DV9

Mapcode Global: FRA C7H1.LSN

Entry Name: Eastbourne Signal Box

Listing Date: 29 April 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1413815

Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21

County: East Sussex

District: Eastbourne

Electoral Ward/Division: Devonshire

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Eastbourne

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Eastbourne All Souls

Church of England Diocese: Chichester

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Signal box. Saxby and Farmer Type 5 design, built in 1882 for the London Brighton & South Coast Railway. Some later alterations.


MATERIALS: locking room of brown brick in Flemish bond with red brick voussoirs, cornice and banding. The oversailing upper storey is timber-framed and weatherboarded and has timber-framed, horizontally-sliding sash windows. The hipped slate roof has overhanging eaves supported by curved timber brackets with distinctive cuboid stops.

PLAN: two storeys and five bays long by a single bay wide.

EXTERIOR: tall locking room with five pointed-arched openings facing the track, separated by pilasters. These have six-pane timber-framed windows. There is a further window in the north-east elevation. An arched entrance with its original door is set in a recessed panel in the south-west end.

The upper storey is reached via a two-stage timber dogleg staircase at the south-west end. The original glazed entrance door has been supplemented by a new entrance with a flat-roofed, weatherboarded and glazed entrance porch. The remaining windows on this elevation are replacements but the curved-ended overlights remain. Otherwise, for most of the sliding six-pane sash windows, their rounded upper corners and overlights are original. On the outside of the windows is a window cleaning gantry with metal railings. The eaves are supported with timber brackets. The oversailing upper storey is supported on cast-iron brackets, those on the rear (south-east) elevation having supporting metal girders. The building retains its metal rainwater goods.

INTERIOR: the interior was divided into two rooms with a timber partition when the original 108 lever frame was replaced with a 72 lever frame in 1935. This now disused frame, with some cut down levers, is located in the north-eastern room. The south-western room contains a modern control panel (which is not of special interest). There is a boarded ceiling and walls. The locking room was not inspected but is understood to retain its locking mechanism.


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.

The Saxby and Farmer Type 5 signal box was introduced in 1876 and they continued to be built until 1896. The type was widespread and appeared on more than a dozen railways including the London Chatham & Dover Railway, the Great Eastern Railway and also in Ireland and overseas. It was particularly associated with the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR) where, John Saxby had commenced his career and with whom he had pioneered the use of mechanical interlocking of points and signals. The LBSCR employed Saxby & Farmer exclusively for its signal boxes until the 1880s, but from then built an increasing number of signal boxes to its own design.

Eastbourne Signal Box was built in 1882 on the Hailsham and Eastbourne branch line to control one of the major destinations on the LBSCR, the terminus at Eastbourne, which was extensively rebuilt in a high Victorian style in 1886. The station is listed at Grade II. To deal with the extensive layout at Eastbourne, the signal box had a Saxby and Farmer 108 lever frame. At the time of electrification in 1935, this was replaced with a 72 lever Westinghouse A2 frame and part of the box was partitioned off. When an electrified control panel was put in 1991, it was installed in this partitioned off area and the disused 1935 frame was retained in the signal box. When built, the box was hemmed in on a narrow site and the expedient of having a narrow brick base with an oversailing timber upper storey was adopted. This solution was particularly favoured by the LBSCR, which had many boxes of this type e.g. Brighton Upper Goods, New Cross, Shoreham-by-Sea, Polegate West. Eastbourne was the largest and most elaborate of these oversailing boxes.

The building was altered externally at the end of the C20 by the replacement of the previous single flight stair with a two-stage dogleg stair. A timber-boarded porch was also added to an additional door from the entrance landing.

Reasons for Listing

Eastbourne Signal Box, constructed in 1882 for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway on the Hailsham and Eastbourne branch line, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: along with Chichester, it is one of the two largest Saxby and Farmer Type 5 signal boxes in the country and the best preserved. It shows the versatility of the standard design where a much larger than normal frame was required;
* Historical interest; the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway has particular association with John Saxby where he commenced his career and with whom he pioneered the use of mechanical interlocking of points and signals;
* Degree of survival: survives well with some alteration but retains most of its original windows and the reduced, but still visually impressive, 72-lever frame;
* Group value: with the slightly later 1886 Grade II listed station building.

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