Thursday, 24 July 2008

Crewe North Junction History

The signal box at Crewe North Junction always seemed a magical place to me during my early visits in the 1950s. In the 1970s, I finally got to visit the box whilst it was still in service, in connection with work my firm was doing for the railways. The box is now preserved, in situ, as part of Crewe Heritage Centre. The preserved box was, in fact, the fifth generation of signal box on the site. This brief history is based on displays at Crewe Heritage Centre, with grateful acknowledgment.

1863: In 1863, the first signal box to control Crewe North Junction was erected in the angle between the lines to Liverpool and Manchester. This photograph, taken around 1867, shows the signal box towards the left of the picture, with three signal posts carrying both Up and Down signal arms towering above the building. This was the style of the time, where signals were integrated with the box itself, following the style of semaphore telegraph stations. Later, the remote operation of signals by wire allowed signals to be placed at the actual clearance point where drivers were expected to stop. The view is looking south from the Works area and the foreground is filled with a marvellous assortment of locomotives. The silhouette of Crewe Arms Hotel is visible in the background, with Nantwich Road crossing the lines on a bridge. Both of these features remain today. The locomotive sheds are on the right.

My photograph-of-a-photograph only hints at the wonderful quality of these early glass-plate negatives. I presume the original is from the collection managed by the National Railway Museum.

1868: Just five years after construction, the first signal box was replaced by two signal boxes, both supplied by Saxby and Farmer. The first was immediately north of the station platforms, the second was in the angle between the lines to Liverpool and Chester.

This photograph was presumably taken to show the construction of the 'Spider Bridge' which was to link the station to the Works. Note the use of wooden scaffolding. The station signal box is on the left; the Junction signal box is on the right.

1879: As part of major alterations to the station, the two signal boxes were replaced by a single signal box of fairly standard L&NWR design with a Tumbler interlocking frame of 144 levers. This was situated in the middle of the junctions between the lines to Liverpool and Chester, with access from the now-completed 'Spider Bridge'.

This is the view looking south-east from the 1879 signal box. The bracket signal is based on the Saxby and Farmer design, the straight-post signal to the left is the evolving L&NWR design. The rural area around Tommy's Lane and Crewe Arms Hotel are visible in the background.

This is the view looking south-west from the 1879 signal box. Notice the tall L&NWR signal on the goods lines and the Nantwich Road bridge in the background. The No.1 Locomotive Shed is on the right. This was demolished in the early 1900s to allow the construction of the Chester Independent goods lines.

This is the view looking north-west from the 1879 signal box, showing the Chester Deviation main line. The original Chester line is on the right, going through Crewe Works. Note Crewe North Engine Shed on the left, the Up Chester bracket signal and the numerous chimneys within the Works.

1906: Between 1896 and 1907 Crewe was completely remodelled again. A large L&NWR power box, using a variant of the 'Crewe' All Electric System was constructed in the angle between the lines to Liverpool and Chester. The narrow gauge line over 'Spider Bridge' joining the Works to the Station passed through the lower storey of the box.

A splendid view from 'Spider Bridge' looking towards the Works showing the 18-inch gauge line carried by the bridge and the 'Crewe' All-electric system box of 1906. Note the Up Chester bracket signal to the left of the box and the Up Liverpool bracket signal to the right of the box.

1940: In 1938, with the threat of war and aerial attack looming, it was decided that certain strategic signal boxes should be replaced by an 'ARP' ('Air Raid Precautions') design, better able to withstand blast damage. Accordingly, Crewe North Junction was rebuilt and the new box, immediately in front of the previous box, was introduced in 1940. The signalling equipment was the Westinghouse 'Style L' all-electric power frame with miniature levers, electric points and multiple-aspect colour light signals. The 1906 signal box was demolished, except for the lower floor, which was converted into a Linemans' Hut. When a.c. electrification was introduced in 1959, additional equipment was required to immunise the signalling apparatus. Two brick-built equipment rooms were built in front of the 1940 signal box to house this extra equipment.

1985: Crewe Station was remodelled and control of the whole Crewe area was transferred to a signalling centre in the area originally occupied by Crewe North Shed, on the Down Side of the Chester Line. The 1940 Crewe North signal box, the Linemans' Hut and the 1959 equipment rooms were retained and became part of Crewe Heritage Centre.