Skegness and Wainfleet railway signal boxes among 26 of England’s ‘rarest and best preserved’; granted Grade II listed status by Department for Culture Media and Sport after joint English Heritage/Network Rail project

The signal box at Wainfleet Railway Station has been given Grade II listing status. Photo - Charles Weightman/Network Rail.
The signal box at Wainfleet Railway Station has been given Grade II listing status. Photo - Charles Weightman/Network Rail.
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The signal boxes at Skegness and Wainfleet’s railway stations have been granted Grade II listed status by the Government after being listed among 26 examples of England’s ‘rarest and best preserved’ signal boxes.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport announced their Grade II listings this morning (Friday) as a result of a joint English Heritage and Network Rail project to safeguard them.

The signal box at Skegness Railway Station has been given Grade II listing status. Photo - Charles Weightman/Network Rail.

The signal box at Skegness Railway Station has been given Grade II listing status. Photo - Charles Weightman/Network Rail.

The listings come as Network Rail decommissions many mechanical signal boxes to consolidate signalling into 12 regional centres, as part of a 30 year plan to modernise the system.

Heritage Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “Our interest in everything to do with trains and railways – and the ‘golden age’ of steam in particular - is one of our most endearing and enduring national preoccupations.

“Signal boxes are a big part of this, and so I am very pleased indeed to be able to list these lovely examples of the type.

It is greatly to Network Rail’s credit that they have worked so constructively with English Heritage to bring this project to such a successful outcome.”

Installed from the mid-19th century onwards, signal boxes numbered around 10,000 at the peak of their use in the 1940s. Today fewer than 500 are still in use by Network Rail.

They were built in highly visible spots at stations or level crossings to an infinite variety of designs, sometimes with beautiful detailing and embellishment far beyond what was needed for their practical function.

They were constructed both by specialist contractors like Saxby & Farmer and individual railway companies, each developing their own distinctive style.

English Heritage has worked in close partnership with Network Rail to identify and protect a representative sample of the most significant designs, especially those within groups of historic railway buildings, capturing a snapshot of the Victorian heyday of railways for future generations.

From Cornwall to Kent and Sussex to North Yorkshire, the newly listed signal boxes date from the 1870s to the 1920s, many still retain their original operating equipment and have become much loved local landmarks.

John Minnis, Senior Investigator at English Heritage said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Network Rail as part of our National Heritage Protection Plan to seek out the best examples of historic signal boxes up and down the country.
“These are very special buildings, at one time a familiar sight on our railway system. Today’s listings will ensure that many of these highly distinctive designs, which were full of character, are protected for years to come providing a window into how railways were operated in the past.”

Jerry Swift, Network Rail’s head of community rail, added: “Our operating strategy would see a marked acceleration in the number of signal boxes decommissioned each year, so it is vital that we have plans in place to deal with that sensitively and sustainably.

“Identifying the most significant signal boxes so that they are safeguarded for future generations is something we are all committed to.

“It is important that they have a life after the national railway network has finished with them and we are working with a number of heritage organisations to try to find suitable homes for them for the future,

“It is great news that these newly listed boxes will survive as examples of our railway’s colourful past as we modernise the network for the twenty-first century.”