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Maidstone West Signal Box

A Grade II Listed Building in Fant, Kent

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Latitude: 51.2682 / 51°16'5"N

Longitude: 0.5149 / 0°30'53"E

OS Eastings: 575540

OS Northings: 155120

OS Grid: TQ755551

Mapcode National: GBR PR6.K06

Mapcode Global: VHJMD.WD24

Entry Name: Maidstone West Signal Box

Listing Date: 18 July 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1415105

Location: Maidstone, Kent, ME16

County: Kent

District: Maidstone

Electoral Ward/Division: Fant

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Maidstone

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

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Signal Box, 1899 by Evans, O'Donnell & Company for the South Eastern Railway.


DATE: the signal box was opened in 1899 for the Maidstone to Paddock Wood Branch line of the South Eastern Railway which had opened on 25 September 1844. It was built to the design of the contractors Evans, O'Donnell & Company.

MATERIALS: the locking floor and operating floor are of timber construction, clad in weatherboarding but are raised over a narrower base of yellow brick and are supported on iron brackets. The gabled roof is clad in corrugated asbestos (this covering is not of special interest).

PLAN: 10-bay operating room over locking room, both storeys oversailing a tall but narrower plinth, with a 3-flight staircase at the north-east end.

EXTERIOR: the north-west side facing the track has 10 horizontal-sliding sash windows (with one vertical glazing bar and one horizontal glazing bar) to the operating room, an iron access balcony supported on iron brackets and the locking room has two pairs of 8-pane windows. The north-east end has carved bargeboards with a scalloped pattern with circular cutouts and pendants, a small window in the gables and three sliding sash windows to the operating room. Access into the signal box is by three flights of steel steps (not of special interest) at the north-east end with two intermediate landings on an X -braced steel framework. The south-west end has plainer bargeboards with a pendant, a small window in the gable and three sliding sash windows. The south-east elevation has two paired windows with vertical glazing bars and single horizontal bars to the operating room and two paired shorter eight-pane windows to the locking room.

INTERIOR: the operating room retains the original 1899 Evans, O'Donnell and Company 115 lever frame and block instruments including commutators and bells. There is a C20 suspended ceiling and a toilet has been inserted into the north-western bay (neither are of special interest). The locking room retains the lower mechanism of the lever frame.


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 4,000 by 1970. In 2012, about 750 remained in use; it is anticipated that most will be rendered redundant over the next decade.

Maidstone West "A" signal box was an Evans, O'Donnell & Company standard design, fitted with a 115 lever Evans, O'Donnell & Company Tappet frame, and was built for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway. It opened 4th June 1899, replacing an 1892 built signal box located a short distance to the south. The signal box was renamed Maidstone West "A" soon after opening and was further renamed Maidstone West on 29th September 1929 after the closure of Maidstone West "B" signal box.

The form of the signal box was influenced by the station's location on the side of a hill and on a bend which required the box to be raised up to give the signal man better vision along the line.

On 3 August 1944 the signal box suffered damage when a doodle bug landed nearby. The steel steps and toilet were added later in the C20.

Reasons for Listing

Maidstone West Signal Box is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity of type: it is one of only two remaining examples of Evans O'Donnell's own design of signal box out of an original 40, and the least altered of the two;
* Architectural interest: of an impressive scale of three storeys high with two full storeys overhanging on cast iron brackets and 10 bays wide, and it is the only remaining signal box retaining Evans O'Donnell's characteristic windows;
* Degree of alteration: intact apart from the replacement of the external staircase in steel and the roof covering;
* Survival of operating equipment: it retains the original 1899 Evans O'Donnell lever frame with 115 levers and some block instruments including commutators and bells.

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