All good things must come to an end so they say and this was certainly the case for the signal box at Billingshurst railway station in West Sussex this weekend.
The signal box at Billingshurst station
On Friday 14th March the signal box pictured above closed and control of the level crossing passed to a modern centralised control system several miles further up the line at Three Bridges in Crawley. Obviously this is a good thing in terms of public safety and network efficiency, but it is sad that something so very much a part of the street scene of the village has outlived its usefulness.
The signal box and level crossing looking in towards the station
The signal box is a Grade 2 Listed structure dating back to the mid 1870’s and is thought to have been one of the oldest working signal boxes left in the country. The actual signalling system inside it was equally old dating back to the 1870’s with ‘modern’ updates from 1910 to 192o’s and with 35,000 trains a year using the line it is a testament to the engineering that it rarely went wrong.
The crossing barriers operated by the signal box close for an approaching train
Overnight on the 22/23rd March the signal box took its final journey to the museum of industrial heritage at Amberley. The curator of the museum speaking to the Horsham County Times (13 March) said “It fits in with our collection policy of collecting items from the London and Brighton Line. We have got the Hove ticket office which came to us 4 or 5 years ago. As you come in to the station you will see the signal box, the ticket office and then the station. Billingshurst signal box is a beautiful piece of kit. It will finish off the station area.”
Sadly it was removed without any fuss or farewell which is a shame for the village of Billingshurst. I took photographs of it yesterday (the afternoon before its removal) and there were a couple of other people obviously doing the same thing, I even had a conversation with a gentleman outside the pub opposite, The Railway Inn, who told me that he had known the box his whole life and as a child he had been inside the box to watch the signalman operate it. It obviously stirred up some emotions.
This morning (Sunday) I went round, together with Mr PP (a train buff) to see if the box really had gone overnight – it had, leaving in its place a grubby space surrounded by safety fences. A man and his teenage daughter were also there looking at the “Place the signal box once stood” and I suspect we will not have been the only ones there as the day progressed.
Mr PP contemplates the “Place the signal box once stood”
Looking down from the footbridge toward the Railway Inn – and ” the place the signal box once stood”
Across the level crossing towards the station – without the signal box
On a final, sad note the characterful old box which stood in place since the railway first came to Billingshurst has had part of its job replaced by….
…the hideous automated control system box!
We must not stand in the way of progress as it helps us develop as a community and as a nation; but neither should we just assume that just because something is no longer viable it should be discarded. The Billingshurst signal box is fortunate to have found a permanent home at the Amberley museum; but in reality, it would have looked better restored and preserved on its original site, adding character and interest to the station area of the village.