Last semaphores on the Esk Valley Line

Among numerous surviving outposts of mechanical signalling in the North-East, one rather pleasant place I had not previously managed to visit is Nunthorpe, 4½ miles south of Middlesbrough on the 35-mile long Esk Valley Line to Whitby.

Here an attractive Grade II Listed signal box controls a level crossing, passing loop and four semaphore signals, as well as overseeing train movements towards Whitby and the junction at Battersby, where services to and from Whitby reverse.  

Nunthorpe is terminus to hourly services from Newcastle via the Durham Coast Line, as well being served by six daily Middlesbrough-Whitby services and two further weekday services along the Esk Valley Line, one as far as Castleton Moor and one to Battersby.

The regular terminating services use the down platform (2), where they typically wait for around five minutes before returning north, while platform 1 is normally only served by northbound trains from the Whitby direction.

Semaphore signalling here comprises a home signal N10 at the level crossing end of platform 2 and a northbound home signal N1 beyond the signal box, while at the Middlesbrough end of the station N2 (the only one carrying a plate) controls exit from platform 1 and N6 from platform 2.

Its 2013 Listing citation describes Nunthorpe Signal Box as “a very rare (possibly unique) surviving example of the North Eastern Railway (NER) TypeC2b design” while its notable architectural features were “use of gablet mounted ventilators cleverly combines the constructional advantages of a gabled and hipped roofed, producing a visually striking signal box.”  

In addition, the box “retains its external balconies and timber steps (both relatively rare survivals) and has not been altered with the addition of a toilet extension. Although the windows are replacements, they preserve the original glazing pattern.”

Nunthorpe Signal Box was built in 1903 to a NER Central Division design (now known as the Type C2b) of circa 1899, a design that continued to be used up until about 1905. It houses a reconditioned 16-lever McKenzie & Holland frame that was fitted in 1966.

From a photographic point of view, the best vantage point to capture train movements at Nunthorpe is from the southern end of platform 2 in the case of an arriving service from the Whitby direction, where you will see the driver surrendering the single line token to the signaller alongside the signal box.

For trains from the Whitby direction departing towards Middlesbrough the best view is from platform 2 while to capture the far more regular northbound departures from Platform 2 I would recommend standing at the north end of platform 1, where there is a good view of the two up starting signals.

Anyone taken with the peaceful charm of Nunthorpe might like to consider buying the original 1853 station house. The fully restored 4-bed property known as Railway Cottages (pictured below) is currently on the market through local agents Michael Poole, with an asking price of £380,000.

The delightful Esk Valley Line has been a designated community rail line for the past 15 years (since July 2005) and at its eastern end a unique feature of the section between Grosmont and Whitby is its shared use with North Yorkshire Moors Railway services from Pickering.

Services on the Esk Valley route, and between Middlesbrough and Nunthorpe, are currently in the hands of Class 158 and 158 units, after the final displacement late last year of the reviled Class 142 Pacer units. There is no freight traffic, but the line does see occasional excursions to Grosmont and Whitby. 

Check back on later this week for an extensive and illustrated feature on more Teesside semaphores and good news about Britain’s oldest working signal box

Pictured above at Nunthorpe on 25 August 2020 are 156444 departing with the 12.40 Newcastle-Whitby, 156469 on the 14.03 Battersby-Newcastle and 156443 on the 15.18 Nunthorpe-Newcastle

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