For a chance to savour Britain’s finest collection of lower quadrant semaphore signals, and a number of other unique historic features, it is well worth spending a few hours on and around Worcester’s two stations, Shrub Hill and Foregate Street.
The triangular layout north of these two stations is controlled by signal boxes at Shrub Hill and Tunnel Junction at the far tip of this triangle, while signals west of Foregate Street and its up platform 1 starter are controlled by a third box, Henwick, standing out of sight on the opposite side of the River Severn.
Two unique signalling features at Shrub Hill are the large round mechanical disc signal (SH80) midway along platform 1 (pictured right) and a mechanical route indicator below the platform 2 down starter, which will read either “B’ham” or “Hford” depending on the departing train’s routeing.
At the opposite (south) end of platform 2, up home signal SH7 is a rare centre pivot type, similar to other surviving examples at nearby Droitwich Spa, Shrewsbury and Liskeard.
Most up (southbound) services use platform 1, so it is not easy to see SH7 pulled off, although I was lucky on the day of my visit (19 February), when Network Rail’s New Measurement Train – the flying banana – passed on a working from Derby to Swansea.
Another remarkable feature on Shrub Hill’s platform 2 is a unique tile-clad waiting room. This was built in 1864 using locally-produced tiles, has a Grade II* Listing, and was fully restored in 2015 by Network Rail, with support from the Railway Heritage Trust.
Passenger services at Worcester comprise roughly hourly GWR Class 800 series workings on the Cotswold Line from Oxford and Paddington, two-hourly GWR trains from Great Malvern towards Bristol, operated by Class 150 and 158 units, and regular West Midlands Railway local trains between Hereford and Birmingham formed of Class 172 units.
Besides good vantage points from either ends of the platforms at both Shrub Hill and Foregate Street stations, and the view looking south from Shrub Hill’s footbridge, there is one other location worth visiting.
Take a brisk 10-minute walk south from Shrub Hill, past the aromatic Lea & Perrins sauce factory, to Perry Hill over-bridge, from where there is a good view looking north towards Shrub Hill station.
Shrub Hill Signal Box stands immediately south of platform 1 and is a Great Western Railway design from 1935, being fitted with an 84-lever frame. All signals in the station area remain semaphores, although the up section signal (immediately in front of Perry Hill over-bridge) is now a light.
This is one of a number of semaphores in the Worcester area that have seen piecemeal replacement by lights. Two others are the Henwick down starter and up junction signals at Norton Junction, three miles south of Shrub Hill.
For lots more history and pictures of Worcester’s wonderful semaphores, take a look at www.roscalen.com/signals. My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is being published by Pen & Sword in July 2019