Among the many memorable outings I had while researching my signalling book during 2017, one of the most enjoyable was a day spent visiting four semaphore-signalled locations along the delightful Tyne Valley line between Carlisle and Newcastle.
Highlights for me of that day (19 June 2017) were seeing the two remarkable and Grade II Listed over-line signal boxes at Hexham and Wylam, visiting a remote station whose signal box had been routinely “switched out” for decades (since closed), and the kind invitation from a lady signaller into one of Britain’s oldest working signal boxes.
Travelling eastwards from Carlisle, I unfortunately did not have time to alight at Wetheral and visit the nearby Corby Gates Signal Box, so my first port of call was remote Bardon Mill, just a few minutes after my two-hourly stopping train had called at Haltwhistle, one-time junction for the branch line Alston.
Bardon Mill Signal Box (North Eastern Railway, 1874) had been retained in order to break up the section from Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge, but it had not seen regular use for at least 40 years, and finally closed two years after my visit, on 15 September 2019.
The box stood 200 yards west of the station (above), and from the station platforms there was a chance to see three of its four semaphore arms. These were an eastbound home signal beyond the box and, looking east, a starter in the Newcastle direction and a westbound home, both on brackets on the north side of the line, as seen below.
Next up and less than ten minutes after leaving Bardon Mill, the stopping service from Carlisle will pause at Haydon Bridge. This is a delightfully quiet spot, with an attractive NER signal box dating from 1877, with an unfortunately very faded name-board (top photo), controlling a level crossing at the west end of the station.
There are a total of five semaphore arms in view from the platform ends – three in the westbound direction (no signal numbers are displayed) and two in the eastbound direction. Besides the station, there is also a footbridge around 400 yards west of the station (pictured above), with good views back to the signal box.
One noteworthy feature close to the signal box at Haydon Bridge was a pair of original North Eastern Railway trespass warning signs alongside the line.
Continuing our journey towards Newcastle and five minutes after departing Haydon Bridge we arrive in the route’s principal station. Besides well-preserved station buildings, the main item of railway interest at Hexham is its remarkable Grade II-listed signal box, on a gantry 300 yards east of the station.
This 1896-vintage NER box, which is identical to the one further east at Wylam, now appears to control just two semaphore arms, after the loss a few years ago of a famously tall eastbound home HE3, now a short single aspect colour light, as seen below.
Its surviving duo are eastbound home HE10 at the end of platform 2 – where hourly terminating services return towards Newcastle (photo above) and cross to the eastbound line just beyond the signal box – and westbound starter HE43, which stands some distance from the station and appears motor-worked (photo below).
Ten miles east of Hexham we reach the final outpost of mechanical signalling along the Tyne Valley, and its finest of all. While Prudhoe lacks any station buildings, its magnificent and tall NER signal box is one of the oldest working boxes on the national network, dating from around 1872.
It also boasts more surviving semaphores (7) than any other location along the Tyne Valley, with all but one of its signals being visible from the station platforms. In the eastbound (up) direction, these are outer home (PE15), home (PE16) starter (PE17) and section signal (PE18), with the latter two seen in the photo above.
In the westbound (down) direction, a sighting board obscures outer home signal PE42, home signal PE41 stands at the end of the down platform, while section signal PE40 also has a sighting board behind it and stands some 400 yards west of the station, adjacent to a foot crossing of the line, as seen with PE41 above.
This crossing is a great spot point from which to see the one signal (PE15) not visible from the station (as seen above), while looking back towards the box and station there is the rare sight of the three other up signals.
I can’t think of anywhere else where it is possible to photograph a train with three semaphore arms ahead of it, although until re-signalling earlier this year a similar sight was possible from the foot crossing west of Brundall station.
By contrast to the antiquity of the box at Prudhoe, it is interesting to note that three of the signals (PE16, PE40 and PE42) are on very modern galvanised steel posts.
Two particular highlights for me of my 90-minute stop at Prudhoe were an invitation to visit the signal box, and the rare sight of a triple-headed freight train, when 66065/66+67007 passed with a working from Carlisle to Tyne Yard (photo above).
My book “Britain’s last mechanical signalling” is available from publishers Pen & Sword, from good transport bookshops, and from many online retailers.