A rare surviving signal box that once controlled trains through London Bridge is now being restored — at the National Railway Museum in York
For over 80 years, the small Victorian structure sat upon a brick tower above the tracks and guided trains through Borough Market Junction, where the lines from London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross converge.
Traffic through the junction reached 1,000 trains a day, according to the National Railway Museum, often requiring two signallers to operate its 35 levers. Space was tight – the box measures about 24 square metres – and work inside it tense; a signaller once said staff only cleared the signals when they could see the whites of the drivers’ eyes.
Built in 1895 to a standard South Eastern Railway (SER) design, Borough Market Junction signal box is one of only eight surviving SER-designed signal boxes. It closed in 1976 when a new power signal box at London Bridge replaced it, and the wooden box was shipped up to the National Railway Museum in York, where it sat outdoors for the past 40 odd years.
Network Rail recently donated original bricks from the box’s foundations in London as part of a project to move it indoors, build a new base and provide access for visitors. Once completed, the box will once again sit at its original height.
The height wasn’t just to allow signallers to have a good view, as unless you know your signal boxes, you might not be aware that the tall brick base they stand on would have originally been filled with a massive metal interlocking rack that turns the human actions above into commands for the signals and switches along the railway, and ensures the wrong levers can’t be pulled when they shouldn’t.
Andrew McLean, assistant director and head curator at the National Railway Museum, said: “[Borough Market Junction signal box] has been displayed outside for a number of years. Previously, we have replaced rotting woodwork, painted it and cleaned up the interior, which is otherwise largely untouched from when it was an operational box.”
“The bricks recently presented to the museum from the remnants of the base will become part of the new base once the box is moved into the museum’s Great Hall.”
Remains of the rest of the brick base are still in place next to the tracks outside London Bridge station — still serving a purpose by protecting modern equipment from the weather.