I’m not a railway buff. N isn’t a particular railway fan. Unless of course we go on a train, any type of train. Then he gets really excited. I was surprised when N drew a picture of his train set when his homework asked him to draw his favourite toy!
But when a friend mentioned that there were tours left to go round the decommissioned Banbury North signal box, we decided we’d take our boys to visit. Surely it would be a little bit of history, bring the railway to life, and give us a chance to see somewhere most people never see.
Our tour was just before lunchtime so we’d stopped for a drink and snack meeting up before we headed over to Banbury station. The boys were quite excited, although I’m not sure they knew what to expect. At the station we were the first of our tour group to arrive, so put on our high vis vests in preparation while the boys played with the signal mechanism that was set up.
The group we were in was quite large. There were another 2 families with slightly older and a younger child, another local couple and a lot of railway buffs. Serious railway fans. When asked if people had travelled far, people said no, but then said they’d come from Manchester, Kent and London! That’s far in my eyes just to see a signal box.
We were taken along the station platform and off alongside the track to the signal box. Banbury North signal box was built in 1899, but has been decommissioned due to centralisation with our local signalling now done from Birmingham. It seems the history of signal boxes is something a lot of people are interested in, with lots of questions asked.
Of course once we climbed the stairs into the signal box, all the boys wanted to do was play with the toy train set. It did keep them well entertained through the talk and demo though.
I couldn’t believe how manual it all was. There’s so much to know and remember.
From the morse code style conversations on the bells from one signal box master to the next one and back again. All the lights on the board, moving across as the trains move through on the different tracks and platforms, then off again. And the timings. Not forgetting the actual levers controlling the points.
They have different colours for different purposes, and are numbers depending on the points in the tracks they cover. But even if you want to pull one lever, you often can’t until you’ve pulled various other ones in order,
The signalman or woman would also be stuck in the signal box for 8-10 hours on shift, so getting out to the toilet would have to be timed perfectly depending on the train timetable. All of the little things that working in an office you’d rarely think about.
Of course, you do get to wave to the train drivers going through which we duly did.
Once the history of the station and the signal box were explained, and we’d watched a demo of how the trains moved through the station, it was time for us all to have a go at moving levers and having a good look round. The levers were really heavy to move for the children but they gave it a good go.
It didn’t take long for us to have exhausted our interest, but everyone else was still asking questions and nosying in all the nooks and crannies. If you were obsessed with railways, I’m sure you could spend ages in there.
Then N dropped the bombshell that he wanted the toilet. Not a problem, he was allowed to go in the tiny signal box toilet….then his friend H wanted to have a go as well. It’s not every day you get to go to the toilet in such an unusual place.
The tour leader then walked us back out to drop off our jackets and to hand us our souvenir booklet. Our little piece of Banbury railway history, along with our railway tickets we’d been given beforehand.
The signal box is only open for a few weekend tours before the box is stripped of its equipment in October. Whether it’ll be left there empty as a historic building or be knocked down I don’t know, but it’s sad to think it could be lost.
Are you railway fans? Have you visited a signal box before?