Plus parts of the South Hams and West Devon

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 25, 2018
Webpage updated: December 02, 2020




A board at 245 miles indicating a Permanent Speed Restriction of 15mph heralded arrival at North Road Plymouth Station, with North Road East Signal Box at 245 miles 66 chains on the right-hand side of the train.

North Road East Signal Box pictured on November 15th 1938.
  Great Western Railway Company.

The original Signal Box was opened in 1876 preceding the opening of North Road Plymouth Station itself in 1877.  It was constructed by Messrs Saxby and Farmer and had just 19 levers.

With the alterations and enlargement of the Station a new Great Western Railway Company Box was provided in November 1908 to hold 48 levers.  It measured 38 feet by 13 feet.

As part of the pre-War plan to enlargement the Station still further, a new Box was provided to take 185 levers and this was brought into use on June 25th 1939.  This one measured 79 feet in length by 15 feet 4 inches in depth.  That Box remained in use, open continuously, until the re-signalling in 1960 and the opening of the Plymouth Panel Box on November 26th 1960.

On Sunday October 18th 1942 three new signals and a new track circuited crossover were brought into use (see illustration below).  The latter was on the far side of the road overbridge, making a facing link between the Down and Up main lines.  This enabled Down trains to newly access platforms 5, 6, 7, 8 and the Up Siding.  Although its official purpose seems to have been to give access from the Down Main to the UP Siding, it also enabled Up trains to access the Down line quicker in an emergency, without the need to reverse the train.  The signal gantry just outside Mutley Tunnel was enlarged by one new Home Signal, from lever 6, named "Down Main to Up Siding".  In the Up direction a new Backing Signal was added to the post just 17 yards from the Signal Box, alongside signals 1 and 2.  On the gantry almost opposite the Signal Box, just 15 yards away, another new Backing Signal was added for the Up to Down Main, signal 4.  Inspector Harris was in charge of the work.

The diagram for the signal alterations detailed above.
From GWR Signal Notice B757 dated October 12th 1942.
Author's collection.

Signalling Regulations said that for Down trains the "Is Line Clear?" had to be asked of North Road West Signal Box as soon as the Train Approaching code was received from either Mannamead Signal Box or Lipson Junction Signal Box, whichever was in circuit.  For Up trains the request was to be sent either on receiving that same code from North Road West Signal Box for trains not stopping at North Road Plymouth Station or when the signal was received from the platform that a stopping train was ready to depart.  Every Signal Box between North Road East and Plympton had to pass that request on immediately until it reached Hemerdon Siding Signal Box, where it would be held.

The Down Distant Signal, fixed beneath the Mannamead Signal Box's Down Starting Signal, was fixed at Danger.

Larry Crosier, a former railway signalman, drew attention in his book "Mechanical Signalling in Plymouth" to three important levers in the North Road East Signal Box that greatly affected the efficient working of the trains at that end of North Road Plymouth Station.  The first was lever 32.  This was on the Down main line at the entrance to the Station and actually worked a facing point lock on point 40.   When pulled "on" it would lock the points in whichever direction they had been set for.  The problem was that this lever was so arranged that it locked all the other points at that end of the Station so any other movements could not take place when a train was coming in.  As a result it had to be replaced to the "off" position once a train had passed clear of the points.  But this could easily be forgotten and if the signalman was seen to forget to replace the lever, his colleagues would shout ""Front Door", the lever's nickname, to remind him otherwise no further movements could take place.  The second significant lever was number 85.  This lever was painted white, which indicated that it was a spare lever.  In fact it had been connected up to all the other levers in the frame that it was intended to be linked to but nobody had bothered to paint it to show that it was,  in fact, in use.  Thus, with all the other white, spare, levers, in the frame it was easy to forget that this one had to be pulled to allow other locks to operate.  To miss this one out brought a shout of "Dirty White".  The final important lever was number 178.  This operated the Up Main Starting signal, which was on a gantry right outside the Signal Box.  It made no difference if signals on the platforms allowed an p train to proceed, they would not get very far if number 178 was forgotten as it controlled all further movement on the Up line.  It's controlling importance gave rise to its nickname, "Sergeant Major".

In 1957 North Road East Signal Box, which was 528 yards from North Road West Signal Box, was open continuously.  The Box was not provided with a closing switch.


  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.