After my final pre-lockdown visit to the charming station at Manea, near Ely, it is now time to head further west, and take a look at the half dozen signal boxes which retain semaphore signalling interest on the busy cross-country route between Leicester and Peterborough.
Along a 20-mile stretch of this line, from Melton Mowbray to the village of Ketton, three miles west of Stamford, you will find a couple of attractive stations, one of the country’s most famous signal boxes, and a remarkable survival in the form of a Midland Railway lower quadrant signal on a wooden post.
Rail traffic along this route is not as frequent or varied as it is on the Peterborough-Ely line through Manea, and largely comprises hourly XC Class 170-worked Birmingham New Street to Stansted Airport services and a fairly regular procession of Class 66-worked freight trains.
170519 approaches Melton Mowbray on 5 May 2017 with a service for Stansted Airport
Our journey begins in the famous pork pie-making town of Melton Mowbray, where the tall and attractive LMS Type 11c Melton Station Signal Box, dating from 1942, stands west of the station on the north side of the line and close to another impressive survival in the form of a traditional telegraph pole, as seen in the top photo.
As at Oakham there is rather limited opportunity to see the semaphores controlled by Melton Station Signal Box, with the only arm in view being an up (eastbound) home signal that stands just beyond a road over-bridge around 400 yards west of the station.
66759 approaches Melton Mowbray on 5 May 2017 with a long train of containers from Felixstowe Docks to Birch Coppice, a large distribution centre at Tamworth
Look east from the station platforms and just beyond a bridge carrying Burton Street over the lines you will see a down home signal, alongside another controlling exit from a down goods loop, but both are hidden behind sighting boards (as seen above) and I was unable to find any other accessible vantage point.
Driving south-east from Melton station over the Burton Street bridge and along the A606 will bring you after a couple of miles to a turn for Whissendine, the first of two neighbouring villages to each boast its own signal box and trio of surviving mechanical signals between them.
Whissendine Signal Box stands at the site of a former station (closed October 1955) around two miles north of the village, and besides its level crossing barriers has just one remaining semaphore, an up home signal standing 200 yards west of the box and crossing, as seen above.
A combination of lineside vegetation and crossing barriers that are set a fair way back from the line meant there was unfortunately no easy way of photographing a train passing the signal, although I did manage to capture a Class 170 unit speeding past the signal box, as seen above.
Returning to the centre of Whissendine village and heading a mile or so east brings you to another level crossing on the edge of a village. Here the 1912 Midland Railway Ashwell Signal Box (as seen above) controls this, and another nearby level crossing, and retains two semaphore arms, both also in the up direction.
This pair are a tall up home signal (AL9), which, as seen above, stands on a right hand bend approaching the signal box at the site of another former station (closed June 1966), while east of the box up section signal AL7 can be seen and photographed from the second level crossing, on a lane from Ashwell to the village of Langham (photo below).
A day after seeing the XC unit at Melton Mowbray, 170519 approaches AL7 on 6 May 2017
Continuing on from Ashwell towards Oakham and after little more than a mile a right turn will bring you to the route’s next signal box. Langham Junction is a Midland Railway Type 2 design dating from 1890, which stands at the northern end of goods loops on both up and down lines, which extend all the way to Oakham station.
Looking south from the level crossing in front of the box and there are a home signal on the down main line and another controlling exit from the lengthy goods loop but, just as at Melton Mowbray, they have sighting boards behind them, making photography impossible (pictured above).
In the up direction, however, a tall and very modern semaphore bracket houses up home signal (LM4) and a small junction arm for the up goods loop (LM2), with the motor-worked Oakham distant beneath LM4. The best spot I found here for photos was from a narrow and overgrown path along the south side of the line.
170117 passes Langham Junction Signal Box on 6 May 2017 with a Stansted Airport service
Rutland’s county town of Oakham, to the south of Langham Junction, boasts another attractively restored railway station and a Grade II-Listed signal box to the east of the station platforms, Oakham Level Crossing, best known for the Airfix kit modelled on it. Like Langham Junction, this is another Midland Railway Type 2 design, dating from 1899.
While the box itself is both photogenic and easily photographed from a nearby footbridge, there is limited signalling interest here and the only remaining semaphore is one controlling exit from the up goods loop, once again hidden from view behind a sighting board.
Fire buckets add an authentic touch to Oakham Level Crossing Signal Box on 6 May 2017 as XC 170106 is about to call at Oakham station with the 13.19 to Birmingham New Street
Head five miles or so east from Oakham along the A606 towards Stamford and after passing the north side of Rutland Water a right turn in the village of Empingham will take you to the last semaphore interest on the Leicester-Peterborough line in the village of Ketton, site of another station that, like Ashwell, closed on 6 June 1966.
Ketton boasts another attractive 1900-vintage Midland Railway Type 2 box, which controls level crossing barriers and, like Whissendine, just one remaining semaphore. But this is no ordinary semaphore signal; it is a unique Midland Railway lower quadrant on a wooden post.
This remarkable survival is Ketton’s down section signal, and stands on the north side of the line, some 300 yards west of the box, as seen above as 170637 passes on 6 May 2017.
DB 66129 passes the famous signal on 28 September 2017 with aggregates hoppers from Mountsorrel Quarry near Loughborough bound for Trowse Yard in Norwich
It can be seen from the level crossing, but the best vantage point can be reached by walking along Barrowden Road, south of the railway and west from the box until you reach a path leading to a foot crossing of the line within 100 yards of the signal.
GBRf 66745 passes Ketton Signal Box on 28 September 2017 with a working from Whitemoor Yard at March to Mountsorrel Quarry
Quite what the future holds for this remarkable signal, or indeed for all the signal boxes and mechanical signalling along this fascinating cross-country route, remains unclear.
Re-signalling has long been on the cards, and was originally scheduled for 2017, but as yet nothing has happened. Given many competing priorities, as well as Network Rail’s huge debts, it looks like mechanical control of this route will survive for a few years yet.
My book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops, and from many online retailers.