Travel on one of the newly-accelerated GWR Cotswold Line services from London Paddington to Hereford and in the 44¼ miles from Moreton-in-Marsh to Ledbury you will pass no less than seven signal boxes controlling semaphore signals.
Having previously featured Moreton-in-Marsh, and the wonderful array of semaphore signals at Worcester’s two stations, it is time to head west over the River Severn for a visit to two lesser known outposts of mechanical signalling.
First up is Newland East, a Great Western Railway Type 7a structure dating from 1900, which boasts a 33-lever frame, whose appearance has been radically altered, like so many other boxes, by the replacement of its traditional windows with modern single panes.
170632 approaches Newland East on 21 December 2019 with 1V23 (08.50 Birmingham New Street to Hereford)
Newland East was previously known as Stocks Lane, the name of the road passing over a level crossing adjacent to the box, and was also once the site of Newland Halt (closed 5 April 1965) as well as extensive engineers’ sidings.
It stands only a short distance north-east of the nearest station, Malvern Link, and is a very peaceful spot from which to view the mixture of passing rail traffic, with an even better vantage point being Gas House over-bridge, three-quarters of a miles south of the box.
800014 approaches Newland East on 21 December 2019 with the 09.58 Great Malvern-London Paddington (1P19)
Regular traffic comprises Class 80x series units on the GWR London-Hereford services, Class 17x units on West Midlands Trains local services and Class 158/16x units on the two-hourly GWR service from Great Malvern to Bristol and beyond.
170512/507 approach Newland East on 21 December 2019 with 1M59 from Hereford to Birmingham New Street
The box at Newland East controls four semaphore arms, with the road over-bridge giving sight of the up home signal in front of the signal box, as well as an up section and down home signals, both on the left hand side of the line beyond the box. A down section signal is partially obscured by line-side trees (see above).
166212 at Malvern Wells Signal Box after working 2E54 (07.28 Warminster-Great Malvern)
Heading south-west and through the charming town of Great Malvern, the next signal box along the line towards Hereford is Malvern Wells, site of another station that closed on 5 April 1965 and once junction for a branch line to Upton-on-Severn and Ashchurch that closed between Great Malvern and Upton-on-Severn in December 1952.
170632 passes Malvern Wells Signal Box on 21 December 2019 with the 10.39 Hereford-Birmingham New Street (1M61)
Malvern Wells is a Great Western Railway Type 7d box dating from 1919, again with its appearance radically altered by replacement windows. It boasts a 40-lever frame and has rather more semaphores than nearby Newland East, with six of its seven arms visible from Peachfield Road over-bridge, east of the signal box.
172221/211 approach Malvern Wells on 21 December 2019 with 2V16 (09.46 Dorridge-Great Malvern). Note the trailing cross-over just in front of the train.
Looking west from the over-bridge past the former station site and towards the signal box, up starting signal MW4 stands close to the bridge, while down starter MW37 stands just beyond the signal box, with the final signal, that is not visible, being up home MW3, which stands where the single line emerging from Colwall Tunnel becomes double track.
Two home signals at the western end of the loop were both replaced in mid-2016 and are MW38 on the main line (pictured above), which remarkably is a centre pivot design, while alongside it stands MW33 controlling exit from the loop, which was shortened slightly as part of the 2016 re-signalling project.
Only a handful of the many daily services terminating at Great Malvern go into the loop – the majority of trains simply proceed past MW38 to halt in front of the signal box, before reversing and return to Great Malvern after crossing to the up line.
800032 returns to Great Malvern after working 1W11 (08.50 London Paddington-Great Malvern). Note the two signals installed in 2016.
170515/634 are about to pass new centre pivot signal MW38 on 21 December 2019 with with 1V25 (10.50 Birmingham New Street-Hereford)
Until its recent replacement by Tokenless Block working, a unique feature of Malvern Wells Signal Box was control of the single line section westwards to Ledbury by what is called a Lock and Block instrument, a Great Western Railway system of tokenless train control, where block instruments are activated by treadles in the track at each end of the section.
My new book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is out now, and is available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops and from many online retailers.