The Box Working Life Princes Risborough North Signal Box The lever frame installed was the GWR standard of the time, a “double twist” frame, so called because it describes the action of the interlocking components. It was sized for 126 levers, which determined the size of the building. 97 were actually fitted, though there may have been alterations over the years. There would have been very little electrical equipment: probably just the bell telegraph to adjacent signal boxes and some indicators for signals too far away for the signalman to see. They would have depended on batteries for their operation. Mains electricity was not common, and wasn't provided to the North box. It would have been lit by oil lamps, and probably did not have mains water. There were water butts at each corner collecting rainwater from the roof, which would have been used for cleaning and perhaps topping up batteries. Drinking water would have been carried from the station, which had a borehole. The loo was a “thunderbox” style earth closet, housed behind one of the outside doors by the staircase at ground level. Heating was of course by coal, using two fireplaces. Different types of stoves have been fitted over the years, but the box was reputedly always difficult to keep warm. At some stage a gas supply was provided and gas lighting installed. The original installation, with a few alterations, lasted over 50 years. In 1958, now nationalised under British Railways, the box got a thorough refit and a new lever frame, 125 levers in size. This was of the state-of-the-art “5-bar vertical tappet” design, and because its levers were closer together it was shorter than its predecessor. Much greater use would by then have been made of electrical equipment for track circuits and other signalling equipment. It is likely that mains power would have been provided by then along with the luxury of electric lighting. Other changes were made. We don't know exactly when, some may have happened at the time of the '58 refit, some earlier: a flush toilet was provided in a new booth on the operating floor; the staircase was replaced (probably due to condition); running water was provided; floor standing staff instruments for the single lines were replaced by Tyers key token instruments on cupboards. Unfortunately the new installation was not to perform in its 1958 form for long. In 1967 the route was downgraded and express services from Paddington to Birmingham and beyond ceased. In 1968 the line from Princes Risborough to Aynho was singled, with just a two hourly DMU service running through. Many other signal boxes on the line were closed progressively. The track layout at Princes Risborough was simplified, and the Down platform was closed and its buildings demolished. All trains used the Up platform or the Aylesbury bay. Eventually the footbridge was demolished, and the Down platform site became a ballast storage area. Signals added for the layout changes were colour lights, worked from circuit controllers (switches) on the levers. Inside the box, the lever frame was shortened to 70 levers, and the operating floor was partitioned. The signalling was now worked from the north end, the south serving as an office and later a crew mess room. The control panel seen on the left of the picture was added to remotely work the crossing loop at Bicester, when the local signal box there closed. Around this time, a ladder appeared on the north end of the box to serve as a fire exit for any signalman faced with the choice of scorching or leaving via the window. The coal stoves were still in place, but some electric heaters were installed too. There were minor changes and additions subsequently, as is common, and there was building refurbishment (a repaint) around 1976 but things stayed much the same until the “Route Modernisation” of the 1980's came along. Despite starting the decade with proposals to close the line north of Risborough, to shut Marylebone and to route any vestigial passenger traffic into Paddington, the line was progressively upgraded. All semaphore signalling was replaced with modern colour lights working from Solid State Interlocking and an Integrated Electronic Control Centre at Marylebone. February 1991 saw the last train signalled from Princes Risborough North box, and the redundancy of its last resident signalmen. The era of mechanical signal boxes was drawing to a close.
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