You might have noticed that the wooden signal box at Chorleywood station is looking very smart again having recently been painstakingly restored. The signal cabin (as LT called signal boxes) has been standing at the far end of the northbound platform since the late C19 and once played a major role in the transport system, although hasn’t been used since the late 60s and the levers and equipment long gone. We discovered some of its history…
“ When I started at Chorleywood in 1990 the box was only used for storage and equipment relating to the current system.” says Frank Brown who retired as Chorleywood Station Supervisor last year after 26 years, “In the old days it was all mechanical rods and wires for pulling the semaphore signals up and down controlled with levers by the signalman above. Chorleywood was of course busier then, the box stood at the throat of the freight yard [now station car park] . On leaving Platform 1 as you go down the steps the cable run bridge over the former freight yard track bed on the right is still in evidence.”
Chorleywood’s signal box (a standard Metropolitan Railway No.1 box with 25 levers*) became operational in 1889 when the line extension past Rickmansworth to Chesham opened. It was switched out overnight and switched back in again the following morning which wasn’t unusual for quieter locations. Any overnight traffic was handled over longer sections by Ricky and Chalfont signal boxes.
Latter day resident Amersham signalman, Don Grant, started his LT signalling career as a teenage ‘box boy’ at Chalfont & Latimer qualifying as a signalman at Chorleywood in 1955. One duty on arrival for early turn was lighting all the stations gas lamps [up a ladder with a box of matches] early mornings in pitch black, this always spooked him
Don, who died in 2012, recorded a typical day at work in Chorleywood station in the winter of 1955
“ I arrived for work at 4.50am on very dark mornings – there were no street lights, the roads were lit by gas from the railway and put out at midnight. When I got to the signal box I lit the two fires and gas fire – if my late turn mate had left the fire low overnight it was not so chilly. I had to phone Rickmansworth and Chalfont and ask if there were trains in that section, if there were I would have to wait until the passed before I could open up the box. We still had a goods yard in those days and a train arrived about midday which conveyed coal and builders merchants goods, then returned with the empties. Train services were all steam, The passenger services were Met trains from Aylesbury and on to Liverpool Street in the peak hours. Other trains passing through included the Master Cutler from Sheffield to Marylebone, the South Yorkshireman in both directions from Bradford, express Manchester trains plus parcel and freight trains. One Sunday evening there were cows on the line between us and Rickmansworth and I could not close until they were clear! The staff then included Station Master, a Senior Clerk, two booking clerks and two porter signalmen – a far cry from today’s manning levels of one per shift for the whole station!”
Pic by Frank Brown : London Summer Steam 2017 Special passing Chorleywood’s cosmetically restored signal box (Sat 9 Sept).