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Book Reviews

Reviews on this page have been contributed by members of the Society who consider that the books concerned may be of interest to other members.

The content of each review, and the opinions expressed in it, are strictly those of the member contributing the review and must not be taken or interpreted as the official view of the Society. Similarly, the appearance of a book on this review page does not constitute an endorsement of the book by the Society.

Books reviewed are generally distributed through bookshops unless indicated otherwise.

Reviews for inclusion on this page should be sent to the Webmaster.


Signal Boxes on Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Lines

Author: Chris Littleworth

Publisher: Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society in August 2013 at £15.00; isbn 978-0-9559467-5-2.

Reviewed by John Lacy, August 2013. Cover image. Locations included.

Although labelled part 1 it is really volume 2 as it follows on from the North East Lancashire volume published by ourselves. This time Chris has covered the lines to the north and west of Manchester starting at Salford and reaching Euxton and Wigan. The book is copiously illustrated and with a narrative description of each box and its history and a signal box diagram for most locations - if it isn't included then one has not come to light anywhere! For good measure, some of the illustrations are in colour.

The section dealing with the development of signalling on the L&YR is well detailed and followed by an 'in depth' analysis of the types of signal boxes and lever frames used. This latter section, on its own, is well worth buying the book for, as several of the types mentioned were used are the same or siblings of those used by a number of other railways.

The book is almost everything one would expect of a diligent SRS member. Almost? The only item that is lacking is an index for the benefit of those who miss the names on the map.

A further volume is promised. That leaves the area west of the WCML and the Pennines eastward to do. Chris could be at this for some time!


ABC of Signalboxes (Second Edition)

Author: Michael A Vanns

Publisher: Ian Allan in July 2013 at £13.00; isbn 978-0-7110-3537-9.

Reviewed by John Lacy, July 2013. Cover image.

A handy, pocketable, reference guide to signal boxes in England, Scotland and Wales. Like any good 'spotters' guide' it lists the whereabouts of traditional style signal boxes together with more modern power boxes and signalling centres. There are many illustrations of structures and just a few interiors, most of them being in colour.

As a start point for anyone newly taking an interest in signalboxes it is excellent and could well encourage them to delve further into the subject. And delve further they will have to if they want to understand the type codes of signal boxes mentioned throughout the book. The codes are used with just an attribution to their published origin in "The Signal Box". Given that that publication is out print (Tim Bourne still has a small number for sale as I write), it would have been useful to have included more detail of what each type code means in terms of signal box structure and architecture. As some of these details are included in the "Signal Box Registers", a mention of that series of books and CDs would have been helpful.

There is an advert for the "Signalling Atlas" at the end of the book and several references to this Society. However, we seem to have lost (or were never given) the opportunity to include our web address or other means of contact as an encouragement to readers of the book to further their knowledge by joining us.

A map or route diagram of the area covered would have been helpful to readers not familiar with this part of the world, particularly when reading the introductory section.


The Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway

Author: Chris Booth

Published 2013 by the author and distributed through the Blurb print on demand system.

Reviewed by John Lacy, January 2014.

Two volumes have so far appeared:

  1. Chesterfield to Langwith Junction, Beighton Branch, Sheffield District Railway.
  2. Langwith Junction to Lincoln, Mansfield Railway, Mid Notts Joint..

Photographic albums with an introductory section setting out a brief history of the LD&EC and the lines concerned. Most signal boxes in the area concerned are depicted and some signal box diagrams are included. The LD&EC was a late addition to the railway system and only a small part of the original grand scheme actually came to fruition. As with other books covering railways largely dependent on mining and heavy industry for their revenue stream, it inevitably becomes a chronicle of decline and closure.


Signalling The Dorset Way

Author: Mark Jamieson

Published 2012 by the author and distributed through the Blurb print on demand system.

Reviewed by John Lacy, December 2013

Colour photographic album covering the interior and exterior of the signal boxes from Bournemouth to Weymouth in the run up to closure of most of the boxes and transfer of responsibility to the new Basingstoke Regional Operations Centre. Signal box diagrams are provided for the locations and every member of the signalling staff appears in one or more photographs, as do some past ones.

The book is intended as a souvenir of mechanical signalling and the people who operated it in southern Dorset before it disappeared rather than a serious attempt at a detailed history.

A map or route diagram of the area covered would have been helpful to readers not familiar with this part of the world.


40 Years of Sheffield Power Signal Box

Authors: Chris Booth, Mick Charlesworth & Andrew Overton

Published 2012 by the authors and distributed through the Blurb print on demand system.

Reviewed by John Lacy, January 2014

Photographic album celebrating 40 years of the PSB at Sheffield. It traces the signalling history of the area controlled by the PSB and includes pictures (and some signal box diagrams) of the various boxes that disappeared when their areas of control passed to Sheffield together with present day views of the same locations. A reasonable amount of historical information is included and there is a section on the PSB itself and the local control panels.

Quite apart from the signalling history it is a reflection on the tremendous changes that have occurred on the railway as a consequence of mining and industrial decline.


North and South - The Signal Boxes of Banbury

Author: Martin Creese

Published October 2011 by the author and distributed through the Blurb print on demand system.

Reviewed by John Lacy, November 2011

A nice colour photographic album covering the interior and exterior of Banbury North and Banbury South signal boxes in 2010-2011 that captures the atmosphere of the location, particularly at night. Well worth a look - the close ups of frame, diagram and instruments are particularly useful for anyone interested in the area. The only drawback is the price when compared to similar style albums published by Ian Allan.


Signalboxes (for the modeller)

Published by Ian Allan in 2011 at 14.99; isbn 978-0-7110-3501-0.

Reviewed by John Lacy, September 2011.

Michael Vanns has produced a useful book which also makes a good primer into signal boxes generally, the architecture and their positioning in relation to a railway layout. There is good information in here for anyone wanting to learn about the basics, not just the modeller who the book is aimed at. With a softback cover and plenty of photographs it is good value for money.


From Semaphore To C.T.C and More Southern Signals

Published privately 2010-2011 by the author and distributed through Blurb®'s print on demand system. Softback copies at £16.95 and £20.95 respectively, plus shipping at £3.99 the pair. Hard back editions are also available. ISBNs 7706236-1-443 and 7708235-1-443 respectively. These prices are probably 35% higher than the book sizes justify - the penalty of using a company that prints them in the USA and has to ship them to us at international rates.

Reviewed by John Lacy, March 2011.

Two books authored by Dominic Beglan who has had behind the scenes access to Irish signalling installations with the blessing of Iarnród Éireann and the good offices of I.R.S.E. This has enabled him to photograph at close quarters outgoing semaphore signalling installations, components and equipment and their modern replacements, and some derelict items as well, in the south and south east of the Republic of Ireland. There is a reasonable amount of narrative to accompany the pictures together with some historical background and the occasional plan. More plans would have helped, as having only the 'before' plan of Limerick Junction rather than both a 'before' and 'after' makes some of the narrative harder to follow.

Dominic's background is that of signal engineer with British Railways and in the heritage railway sector and it is clear these books are aimed at signalling enthusiasts rather than laymen as some of the technical aspects would benefit from 'plainer English' explanations. Between the two books there is but one map, and recourse to Johnson's Atlas and Gazetteer of The Railways of Ireland would be helpful if you have one to hand.

The books are well worth buying as a pair or singly but you will need to put up with poor or idiosyncratic application of punctuation, the odd page where captions have partially disappeared under the pictures or altogether, and some pictures that would have benefitted from 'photoshopping' to lighten the darkness. As a UK railwayman I found it strange that the signalling is primarily controlled from Dublin supported by some local operation, but level crossings from Mallow or Athlone. There was no explanation of this apparent divorce of safety responsibility beyond a statement that this is how Iarnród Éireann operate.

Among the spelling errors is the consistent use of Middleton for Midleton despite the correct spelling being visible in some of the pictures. There is also mention of a signal box that has (or had) 110 levers where numbers 1 to 73 have been removed and the other 38 are mostly still in use; and the fire brigade must be on permanent duty at Limerick Junction! A good proof reader would have picked up these glitches, and the others I haven't mentioned, and had them corrected before publication.

A third book is in the pipeline.


The Worcester Patch - and The Last Steam-Age Signalmen

Published 2010 by Kevin Robertson Books (Noodle Books), cover price £13.95. ISBN 978-1-906419-21-9.

Reviewed by John Lacy, March 2010. Cover image.

As the first part of the title implies, this book is about the signalling installations and the working arrangements in the earliest years of the 21st century in an area which spreads from Ascott-under-Wychwood to Ledbury and Droitwich Spa. The book concentrates on 11 of the 13 signal boxes that are still open for business out of the 58 that once existed in the area. For each of the 11 there is a Signal Box diagram from 2009 and an earlier one showing the position before white levers became all too common a sight in the lever frames.

The author, Matthew Morgan, a former 'Worcester Patch' signalman, adds much information about his own all too brief career and the human side of the life in these signal boxes. As he says at the start "Once upon a time all young lads wanted to be engine drivers.....But when I grew up, I didn't want to be a train driver. I wanted to be a signalman." Many of the pictures he has used are published here for the first time.

Of the signal boxes that are no more, a diagram of Rainbow Hill Junction is included and I, for one, would love to see a follow up volume or volumes covering the other 46 signal boxes. An excellent, eminently readable, book.


Chronicles of Croesor Crossing by Richard Maund

Published 2009. ISBN 978-1-906205-39-3. Copies are available, postage included, at 6.00 (cheques to Welsh Highland Railway Heritage Group) from: John Keylock, Weathervane Cottage, Childswickham, Broadway, Worcestershire WR12 7HL.

Reviewed by Edward Dorricott, December 2009. Cover image.

Much mystery and many assumptions have surrounded the history and operation of the level crossing in Portmadoc where the Cambrian Coast line intersected the narrow gauge Croesor Tramway, later to be incorporated into the Welsh Highland Railway. Using a range of original sources, some previously untapped, Richard Maund has here set out to trace the story of this crossing and to unravel some of its intrigue.

His 27-page booklet includes much of signalling interest and is furnished with pertinent illustrations, including a dozen historical photographs, and a detailed set of documentary references. This is the most comprehensive treatise to date about this fascinating location, carefully researched, well told and attractively presented. At a very modest price, it adds considerably to our knowledge of an area where interconnecting railway lines once abounded. Amazingly this particular crossing has recently been recreated for a new life in the 21st century.


Western Region Signalling In Colour

Published 2008 by Ian Allan Publishing, cover price £14.99. ISBN 978-0-7110-3328-3.

Reviewed by John Lacy, March 2010. Cover image.

Kevin Robertson has put together an interesting selection of pictures of semaphore signalling from the British Railways, Western Region era which have featured in his life. The Exeter and Westbury areas predominate and some pictures from other areas are also included. More than just a picture book, Kevin's introduction sets the scene and background to the book and the narrative is continued through the captions to the pictures.

What makes this book, however, is the inclusion of many interior views of signal boxes to complement the exterior ones and close up pictures of signalling equipment found inside the signal boxes. Also seen are views of equipment and clocks inside the Signal Works at Reading shortly before closure.