Plus parts of the South Hams and West Devon

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 10, 2018
Webpage updated: April 12, 2021




Laira Junction Signal Box was recorded in 1955 as being 244 miles 02 chains from London Paddington Station via Bristol Temple Meads.  The gradient on the approach was 1 in 143 falling but it increased towards Lipson Junction Signal Box to 1 in 77 rising.

It was one of the most important control points in the Plymouth area.  In addition to being a block post on the main line it controlled access to the Laira Engine Shed, Laira Yard, Laira Carriage Sidings, and the Sutton Harbour Branch.  The late Larry Crosier (1929-2010), upon whose research much of the Railways in Old Plymouth section on this website is based, was himself a signalman at Laira Junction Signal Box.  The Box was manned continuously as were the adjacent Tavistock Junction Signal Box and Lipson Junction Signal Box.

A signal must have existed soon after the South Devon Railway Company's main line was opened in 1849 to protect the level crossing of the horse-drawn Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway because the Board of Trade recommended that a signal worked by wire should be fixed three or four hundred yards further out than the existing signal to protect the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway.  Presumably the "existing signal" was worked by hand and was located at the very crossing itself.

The first signal box itself is said to have been opened in April 1876 in connection with the use of the broad-gauge main line by standard-gauge trains of the London and South Western Railway Company accessing Plymouth and Devonport via the Launceston Branch from Lydford Station.  The signal box was built by Messrs Saxby and Farmer Limited at an estimated cost of 579, subject to measurement.  The following year the Box was moved slightly west and a new connection provided off the Up main line to Laira Yard.

Laira Engine Shed was apparently in use by March 1901 and in May 1903 Laira Junction Signal Box was replaced by a new Great Western Railway Company one measuring 38 feet by 13 feet and containing a 57-lever frame, of which 41 were working levers and the remaining 16 spare ones.  By then Laira Yard had grown to seven sidings on the Down side of the Sutton Harbour Branch and twelve sidings plus five loop lines on the Up side.  On May 27th 1903 the Down and Up Goods lines between Laira Junction and Lipson Junction were brought in to use.  Addition levers were brought in to use during 1904 for the Laira Carriage Sidings installed on the Up side of the main line near Laira Farm.

Alterations to the signalling continued to be made during the 1920s, when first the Goods lines were extended and then the Laira Carriage Sidings were remodelled.  Between November 1936 and January 1937 a new overbridge on The Embankment was installed and this enabled the Signal Box to be extended to a length of 50 feet 3 inches and the Goods Lines to be lengthened to enable trains to enter and leave Laira Yard without fouling the main lines.  The lever frame was increased to 116.

There were two sidings on the bank of the River Plym between Laira Junction Signal  Box and Crabtrree.  They were given the grand name of "Ocean Sidings".  One of these, Number 2 Ocean Siding, was extended during the Second World War and converted in to an each-way Goods Running Loop line interlocked between Laira Junction and Tavistock Junction Signal Boxes.  At that time there were 98 working levers and 15 spares in Laira Junction Signal Box.

At a point 872 yards from Laira Junction Signal Box and 954 yards from Tavistock Junction Signal Box was Tavistock Junction's Down Main Outer Advanced Starting Signal, lever number 8.  Beneath it was Laira Junction's motor operated Down Main Inner Distant Signal, lever number 114.  On Sunday December 3rd 1944, between 8am and 5pm, two new signals were added alongside them over the Up Main line, facing Laira Junction Signal Box.  The top one was the Laira Junction's Up Main Advanced Starting signal, lever number 7, beneath which was Tavistock Junction's motor operated Up Main Inner Distant Signal, lever 105.  The work was undertaken between 8am and 5pm under the supervision of District Inspector Selley.

The situation began to change for the worst after the Second Wold War.  Laira Yard was closed on December 7th 1958, the Down Yard being converted in to eight dead-straight carriage sidings and the former Up Yard being transformed into Laira Diesel Depot, which was opened on March 13th 1962.  Laira Carriage Sidings were taken out of use on Sunday December 8th 1963 and removed in July the following year, when the double connection to the Goods Lines was also removed.  Finally Laira Engine Shed closed on Sunday June 13th 1965 and its lines were disconnected.  In 1967 points 84 linking the Down and Up Goods Running Loop Line (formerly Number 2 Ocean Siding, referred to above) to the Up main line, were removed.

^Laira Junction Signal Box was 1 mile 61 chains from Sutton Harbour plus 8 chains from North Quay Wharf; ruling gradient 1 in 203 rising.

The signalling regulations provided for the "Is Line Clear?" code to be sent to Lipson Junction Signal Box or Tavistock Junction Signal Box immediately upon receiving it.  For freight trains leaving Laira Yard it should be sent only when the train is ready to depart.  The special bell code 3 - 6 had to be sent by the signalmen at either end, and acknowledged by the other man, before the Goods Running Loop could be used.

The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Crossing, later used only by the Lee Moor Tramway, had gates which were opened and closed by a wheel which had to be unlocked by lever 116 and locked open by lever 115.    Each side of the crossing was protected by a signal and a catch point.  Lever 49 operated the catch points.

Laira Junction Signal Box was closed on or as from November 10th 1973. 


  With grateful acknowledgement to the late Mr Laurence 'Larry' William Crosier (1929-2010) of the Great Western Railway Company (1943-1947);
British Railways (1948-c1994); the Plymouth Railway Circle, the Lee Moor Tramway Preservation Society, and the Signalling Record Society.