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Grain Crossing Signal Box

A Grade II Listed Building in Isle of Grain, Medway

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Latitude: 51.4459 / 51°26'45"N

Longitude: 0.6797 / 0°40'46"E

OS Eastings: 586313

OS Northings: 175286

OS Grid: TQ863752

Mapcode National: GBR QQM.BN9

Mapcode Global: VHJLJ.QXPF

Entry Name: Grain Crossing Signal Box

Listing Date: 12 July 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1415162

Location: Isle of Grain, Medway, ME3

County: Medway

Civil Parish: Isle of Grain

Built-Up Area: Wallend

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Grain St James

Church of England Diocese: Rochester

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Signal box, 1882 by Stevens & Sons for the South Eastern Railway.


Built in 1882 for the South Eastern Railway. The contractors were Stevens & Sons. The windows were replaced in the later C20 and are not of special interest.

MATERIALS: constructed of wood, clad in vertical boarding with a notch at the base of each board with a raised strip or batten covering the joints and two courses of horizontal weatherboarding at the base. Gabled slate roof.

PLAN: single-storey operating room with the base of the lever frame probably below the ground. Two large bays to north-east and south-west sides and two narrower bays to the north-west and south-east ends.

EXTERIOR: the end gables have plain wooden bargeboards with finials. The entrance is in the north-west end which has one window adjoining. The north-east end has two large windows, now fixed casements. The south-east end has one fixed casement window.

INTERIOR: retains 9 levers of a South Eastern Railway lever frame and a cast iron token machine. An inspection hatch in the floor was for the purpose of maintaining the base of the frame and tappets.


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 was anticipated that most would be rendered redundant over the next decade.

Grain Crossing Signal Box was built in 1882, on the South Eastern Railway (SER) line to Port Victoria and is now used only for freight traffic to Grain oil terminal. The contractors were Stevens & Sons, founded in the 1820s as gas engineers, who produced their first signals in 1841 and were the leading firm in signalling equipment in the 1850s. They faced considerable competition with the entry into the market of John Saxby in 1857-8 but shared the market with Saxby throughout the early 1860s until McKenzie & Holland began to make substantial inroads. The output of the firm declined from the 1880s. The earliest Stevens boxes of the pre-interlocking period were not standardised in detail although they generally had vertical boarding.

A standard design of box had appeared by 1871. Most were of timber construction, either all timber, or on a brick base. The key feature of the design was vertical boarding in the gable ends which was shaped at the lower edge to resemble valancing, with a slight notch between the boards: a similar feature was to be found below the eaves along the front and rear of the boxes. The remainder of the boarding of the box was also vertical with joints covered by battens. The windows were also distinctive in having large panes when compared with other boxes of the period. Stevens’ boxes were supplied to the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (in brick) and the Whitehaven, Cleator & Egremont Railway but the best known customers for them were the London, Chatham & Dover and South Eastern Railways.

The interior retains a SER tappet frame of unknown date.

Reasons for Listing

Grain Crossing Signal Box, an 1882 signal box built for the South Eastern Railway by contractors Stevens & Sons, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity of type: Grain Crossing Signal Box is the only surviving example in the country of a Stevens & Sons signal box;
* Architectural interest: unusually it is single storeyed above ground, the timber frame clad in Stevens & Sons trademark vertical boards with the joints covered by battens, but the locking room is below ground;
* Degree of intactness: externally intact except that the windows were replaced in the later C20 within their original openings;
* Survival of operating equipment: it retains an operational South Eastern Railway lever frame of 9 levers, and a cast iron token machine.

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