England’s last combined home and distant semaphores 

Returning to Parbold last month (feature 17 May and photo above) was a reminder that this is one of only a handful of locations in England where working examples remain of combined home (or stop) and distant semaphore signals – there are none in Scotland or Wales.

What was once a commonplace feature on main line railways has been dramatically reduced by two recent re-signalling projects to the point where I believe that there are now just a dozen remaining examples of working stop and distant signals on the same post.

Two examples are those controlled by the listed Parbold Cabin and nearby Chapel Lane Crossing, as featured below, while the only other surviving examples I can trace are those at Kirksanton and Limestone Hall on the Cumbrian Coast, at Cattal, Marston Moor and Hessay in North Yorkshire, at Langham Junction near Oakham and Sutton Bridge Junction in Shrewsbury. Another survivor is at Elmton & Creswell on the Nottingham-Worksop route, though the box is permanently switched out and scheduled for closure.

156471 approaches the junction at Norton East on 26 August 2020 with 2N18 to Nunthorpe

Of course a key requirement for having a combined home and distant signal is there being two signal or gate boxes in close proximity, since the distant signal will be controlled by the following box, probably no more than a mile away, as is the case with the examples on the Cumbrian Coast, in North Yorkshire, at Oakham, Shrewsbury, and at Parbold.

Before a brief photo survey of what remains, a reminder of how the railway used to look can be seen in what was in use until the Humberside re-signalling project (Gilberdyke-Ferriby) was completed in 2018 and the Teesside re-signalling (Billingham-Norton South), which was completed in February 2021.

Beginning on Humberside, the shot above shows Northern Rail 158904 approaching an up home signal controlled by the crossing box at Cave. It is working a Bridlington-Sheffield service on 9 August 2017 and the Broomfleet distant is beneath the home signal.

Moving north to Teesside, the other big elimination of combined home and distant signals came in February 2021 and meant the loss of scenes like this one above at Norton-on-Tees, where no less than three pairs of home and distant signals are in view as 156443 passes on 26 August 2020 with 2N24 from Newcastle (09.24) to Nunthorpe.

769442 departs Parbold on 11 May 2022 with 2K87 from Southport (11.31) to Alderley Edge

Starting at Parbold, one of the four remaining semaphores controlled by Parbold Cabin is its up section signal, which stands some 250 yards south of the station and level crossing and has the Chapel Lane distant signal mounted beneath it, as seen above and below, in a shot from the A5209 over-bridge looking back towards the station and box.

150121/156460 depart Parbold on 11 May 2022 with 2W56 from Southport (13.31) to Alderley Edge

Half a mile south-east of Parbold is sleepy Chapel Lane Crossing, where a wooden hut serves as its crossing box. Close to the crossing stands another home and distant combination, with the Chapel Lane down home signal above the Parbold distant.

769448 passes Chapel Lane Crossing with 2W10 from Alderley Edge (11.50) to Southport

Moving north, there are a trio of combined home and distant signals on the delightful Cumbrian Coast, protecting two level crossings close to each other on the A5093, just west of Millom. 

The first of these is Kirksanton, where the photo above shows 156428 nearing the crossing on 9 December 2020 with the 10.22 Barrow-Carlisle. In this direction Kirksanton is protected by its home signal (2) beneath which is a distant signal (1) controlled by nearby Limestone Hall Crossing.

Looking west from the same vantage point, 156428 can then be seen approaching another home and distant signal combination, comprising Limestone Hall down home (2) with the Silecroft down distant signal beneath. In view beyond is the up pairing of Limestone Hall’s home (6) with the Kirksanton distant (5) beneath. 

Another place like Parbold to boast a brace of home and distant signals are the crossing boxes at Marston Moor and Hessay on the charming York-Harrogate line in North Yorkshire. The view above shows 158792 approaching Marston Moor on 7 September 2019 with the 11.29 Leeds-York, which is about to pass the Marston Moor up home signal and a distant signal controlled by nearby Hessay.

Just a mile towards York is the site of another station which closed, like Marston Moor, on 15 September 1958. Hessay Level Crossing boasts another home and distant combination in the down (Harrogate) direction, with its home signal above the Marston Moor distant signal, as seen above when 158792 passes with the 13.11 York-Leeds. 

170477 departs Cattal on 19 January 2022 with 2C89 from York (13.42) to Leeds

A little west of Marston Moor and at the end of the section of double track from Hammerton stands this third example of a combined home and distant signal, with the Cattal down home signal – its only remaining semaphore – above a motor-worked distant controlled by Whixley Level Crossing.

170117 passes Langham Junction on 6 May 2017 with a service for Stansted Airport

Like a number of the now-gone semaphores on Teesside, the home and distant combination at Langham Junction on the Leicester-Peterborough line is a modern galvanised steel structure, with up home signal LM4 mounted above the motor-worked Oakham distant signal, one of only two semaphores controlled by the listed Oakham Signal Box. 

Elmton & Creswell Signal Box on the Nottingham-Worksop Robin Hood Line has been switched out for many years and is due to be closed, but for now retains a number of semaphores, including this home and distant combination, as seen on 16 June 2021 when 158865 passes with a Worksop-Nottingham service.

Since originally posting this feature, I have been told that there is a working distant signal on the down (northbound) line between the signal boxes at Great Rocks Junction and Peak Forest South, as seen above, though regrettably not when pulled off and without any passing train.

Last and by no means least of England’s surviving home and distant combinations is our only lower quadrant example, on the approach to Sutton Bridge Junction south of Shrewsbury. Here, as seen above, the down section signal controlled by Severn Bridge Junction is paired with Sutton Bridge Junction’s motor-worked down distant signal. 

800023 departs Worcester Foregate Street on 26 April 2022 and passes the Henwick up section signal, with Shrub Hill’s fixed distant beneath, working 1P05 from Hereford (15.18) to Paddington

There are a number of locations, including Workington, Worcester (as seen above), the Blyth & Tyne and Par/St. Blazey (as seen below) where fixed distant signals are mounted below home signals, but unless someone can prove me wrong I believe that the only working examples remaining on Network Rail are those featured above.

150246 departs Par on 2 August 2021 and approaches Par section signal PR9, with the St. Blazey fixed distant beneath, while working the 12.13 service (2N06) to Newquay
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