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Downham Market Signal Box

A Grade II Listed Building in Downham Market, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6038 / 52°36'13"N

Longitude: 0.3654 / 0°21'55"E

OS Eastings: 560279

OS Northings: 303292

OS Grid: TF602032

Mapcode National: GBR N5F.P6D

Mapcode Global: WHJPS.LT67

Entry Name: Downham Market Signal Box

Listing Date: 26 April 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1414022

Location: Downham Market, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk, PE38

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk

Civil Parish: Downham Market

Built-Up Area: Downham Market

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Downham Market

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Downham Market


Signal box built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1881.


Signal box built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1881.

MATERIALS: timber construction and slate roof covering.

PLAN: it is located to the south of the station, on the west side of the railway tracks, and is rectangular on plan.

EXTERIOR: the signal box has a pitched roof with exposed rafters at the eaves. The bargeboards on the north gable end are notched, whilst those on the south end are plain. It rests on a brick plinth and is clad in horizontal timber painted in green and yellow. The locking room is lit on the east side by the original group of three horizontal, four-light windows with vertical glazing bars; and is accessed on the north side via the original timber door. The upper operating room is lit on three sides by the original large sliding windows with vertical timber glazing bars: there are five four-light windows on the east side, and three three-light windows on the north and south sides. It is accessed via a timber staircase on the north side, through a timber door with a glazed upper panel which is not original.

INTERIOR: this retains its 1881 Saxby & Farmer rocker frame. A false ceiling has been inserted, and secondary glazing fitted.


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.

Downham Market Station was built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1846 and, together with the waiting shelter, is listed at Grade II. The signal box was built in 1881 when the Ely to Kings Lynn line was interlocked. It is an example of the GER Type 2 design, a large number of which were built between 1877 and 1882, mostly of all timber construction. The signal box displays two variations found in a number of Type 2 boxes: notched bargeboards and window sashes without horizontal glazing bars. It had a window washing galley added to the front elevation at one point but this was removed on electrification when steel mesh screens were placed over several of the windows.

Reasons for Listing

Downham Market signal box, built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1881, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is a good example of the GER Type 2 design, displaying two variations found in a number of these boxes, namely the notched bargeboards and window sashes without horizontal glazing bars;

* Intactness: it survives with a high degree of intactness, retaining its distinctive fenestration, almost all the original decoration to the operating floor, and the original 1881 Saxby & Farmer rocker frame;

* Group value: it is an important element in one of the most attractive and well-preserved small stations in East Anglia, and has strong group value with the listed station building and waiting shelter;

* Historic context: it is adjacent to one of the last traditional flour mills (unlisted) in operation in East Anglia, thereby forming a cluster of industrial buildings that would once have been a common sight in most small East Anglian towns.

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