DERBY AREA SIGNALLING
Melbourne Junction has been cited as an example of the Midland Railway’s practice of naming its junctions almost arbitrarily based upon some remote destination rather than the geographical location of the actual installation. In truth, Melbourne Junction’s name is hardly arbitrary although it became somewhat irrelevant over the years and of course today it is wholly inappropriate.
Sited 1mile 27 chains south of London Road Junction in Derby, it is almost superfluous to point out that it was here that the line to Melbourne branched off to the south east from the Down side of the former Derby & Birmingham Junction Railway. As the opening of the Melbourne branch on 1st September 1868 occurred at a time that the control of points and signals was being concentrated in cabins rather than being operated by a Policeman walking around his layout, there was a signal box at the junction from the outset.
The next major development in the signalling of the growing railway network was the introduction of the Block Telegraph system and this method of working between Melbourne Junction and London Road Junction was, according to Gough, introduced in 1869.
Although no record of a new box at this time has been found it may be speculated that the change in requirements from a simple shelter for the "pointsman" to a structure with a good view of the passing trains demanded by correct operation of the Block may have necessitated the replacement of a hut like structure with the Midland Railway signal box we are familiar with today?
At the same time, developments along the Melbourne branch would be having an effect on Melbourne Junction. The opening of the Sawley and Weston line on 6th December 1869 resulted in the ‘branch’ at Melbourne Junction becoming the shortest route to St. Pancras. Thus, in accordance with common practice, the facing connection at Melbourne Junction became the "Up" line whereas on the main line (which of course didn't actually go to London) the "Up" was in the opposite direction toward Derby.
The Block Telegraph was installed on the Melbourne Branch early in 1882 although as there is no record of a new Box at Melbourne Junction, it seems that the 1869 structure was still up to the job. But only just. We know from MT6/292/3, a report dated 30th November 1881 by Maj. Marindin of the Board of Trade on work carried out on different dates since November 1871, that the Box contained 13 levers. The only fault the good Major could find was that the safety points required a second stretcher rod. At this time the layout shown on the accompanying diagram is already beginning to take the form it would retain throughout with the crossover road in front of the Box and a siding between the main line and the Box.
The 1881 diagram is also interesting as it clearly shows a 10’ x 10’ square structure which was typical of the Signal Boxes the MR used in the early days. Such a small box would be wholly inappropriate as layouts expanded with the need for more and more movements to be signalled.
As traffic on the Birmingham line had grown to such an extent that it was over capacity, the Midland decided to install Goods Lines where geography permitted. For reasons that aren't clear, however, the Midland saw fit not to quadruple the line north of Melbourne Junction and instead constructed a passenger station called Peartree and Normanton opening on 2nd June 1890.
It was clear by then that the diminutive box at Melbourne Junction had outlived its usefulness despite receiving a new 20 lever frame on 30th March1890 with just one spare. Thus the Midland Railway Weekly Notice for week ending 18th October1890 contained this entry:
On Sunday next, October 12th at 6.0am the old Signal Box will be closed and the new Box opened.
The points and signals worked from the old Box will be worked from the new Box.The points and ground disc signal giving communication between the new ballast siding alongside the down main line to Willington and that line will be worked by Guards and Shunters from a Stage, and bolt-locked from the Signal Box.
The points and ground disc signal giving communication between the new ballast siding and the line from Melbourne will be brought into use when ready. The home signal for the up main line from Willington will be placed about 30 yards further from the Signal Box.
As the Midland were becoming more responsible toward their requirements to have new connections on passenger lines inspected by the Board of Trade, we have a diagram which was contemporary to the opening.
The signals which appear in the 1890 diagram had been installed progressively during 1890 prior to the new Box opening. The Ballast Siding on the down side of the main line was for the use of the Engineer during the construction of the goods lines.
Progress was such that it wasn't until week ending 16th July 1892 that the Weekly Notice stated;
At 6.0am Sunday 10 July 1892 the present distant, home, and starting signals applicable to trains and engines going toward Willington, will be used to regulate the running of trains and engines approaching on the down main line and going forward on the new down passenger line.
A distant signal on the bracket post of L.&N.W. Goods Junction up main line home signal applicable to trains and engines gt Derby on the up passenger line, a home signal on a bracket between the present down main line home signals, and a starting signal on a girder between the present down main line starting signals, to regulate the running of trains and engines approaching on the down main line and going forward on the down goods line, will be brought into use.
The advanced starting signal for the down passenger line will be removed and dispensed with.
The present distant and home signals applicable to the up main line from Willington will be used to regulate the running of trains and engines on the up passenger line.
A distant signal on a bracket by the side of the present up main line distant signal, and a home signal on a bracket by the side of the present up main line home signal, to regulate the running of trains and engines on the up goods line, will be brought into use.
A ground disc signal to regulate the running of trains and engines from the siding in front of the Signal Box on to the down main line, will be brought into use.
The points giving communication between the ballast train siding and the down goods line, and a ground disc signal to regulate the running of trains and engines from that siding on to the down goods line, will be worked by Guards and Shunters from a stage.
Once again the new layout was inspected promptly so we are able to examine the changes:
The 1890 Box was of the design that has come to be categorised as Type 2a formed of two 15’ x 10’ flakes. Unusually, the steps were at rear, parallel to the track, with the operating floor door in the rear of the box toward the south end (away from traffic). The reason for this arrangement isn't clear, nor is it obvious whether the box was built in this way or if it was a later alteration. Both the 1890 and 1892 drawings show steps at the north end of the box, although the fact that the two ends match perfectly makes a later rebuild less likely.
There were locking room windows flush with the front on each end and flush with the rear away from traffic. At the end facing traffic the locking room door is flush with rear edge. A stove chimney was located at the rear with a distinctive T pipe and a window cleaning stage was provided along the front only.
From new the 1890 Box had 13 spare levers in its 36 lever frame. In his Chronology, John Gough lists Melbourne Junction as being reframed on 8th April 1906. I don't think that is correct for a number of reasons, not least being the following Weekly Notice extract for week commencing April 14th 1906:
On Sunday next, April 8th  commencing at 6.0 a.m. the points and signals will be disconnected from the Signal Box for the lever frame to be altered.
The MR were generally very particular in the way their Notices were worded. Where a frame was to be renewed, the entry would be specific on the point. In addition the Box retained a 36 lever frame to the end, the numbering of which also remained unchanged until abolition of the Box. It is my contention, therefore, that 1890 Melbourne Junction retained its original frame for its 79 year life.
Hitherto there has been no mention of Melbourne Junction's neighbouring boxes. The next Box northwards toward Derby was L. & N.W. Junction (sometimes known as "L. & N.W. Goods Junction"), a section of 733yds which remained the same to the end.
Meanwhile, looking southwards, there were four different signal boxes which were known by some variation of “Sunny Hill”, located in three different locations over the years. The original Sunny Hill was a diminutive seven lever 'break section' box located at 3 miles 52 chains and dating from the introduction of Block Telegraph. As it was on the Up side it shouldn't have been in the way of the 1890 widening which was to be to be on the east side. Nevertheless, on 8th November 1891 a new signalbox called Sunny Hill Goods Junction, located at 2 miles 51 chains, superseded the original. Perhaps, as the point of the widening was to increase capacity of the line, the original Sunny Hill box was simply in the wrong place?
Like the structure it replaced, the purpose of the 1891 box was to break up the length of the Block section between Melbourne Junction and Stenson Goods Junction at the south end of this section of goods lines. In addition the box had the ability to regulate traffic off the goods lines as there were facing connections from each goods line to the passenger line.
After being renewed on 8th March 1925, Sunny Hill Goods Junction was abolished on 15th November 1931 — presumably labour shortages/costs were such that having a block section of 2 miles 1,335 yards between Melbourne Junction and Stenson Goods Junction was no longer considered an impediment to the flow of traffic on the passenger lines. As the goods lines were signalled 'permissively' by a system known as Telegraph Bells, their capacity was not at issue. Indeed, only a few months later, on 26th June 1932, Stenson Goods Junction was itself closed and control of the south end of the goods lines passed to Stenson Junction, thanks to power operated points and signals. This resulted in the block section becoming 3 miles 483 yards long.
Back at Melbourne Junction, things weren't standing still. The heavy engineering industry in the Derby area was booming. Such was the inexorable spread of the factories — most of which required railway connections — that farmland in the hamlet of Sinfin was given over to industry. On either side of the Melbourne branch factories sprang up and an additional Signal Box was required to control the connections. Therefore on 2nd December1921 the Midland Railway opened Sinfin Sidings box on the Down side at 130 miles — just 769 yards from Melbourne Junction.
Known photographs of the box are limited to aerial views — specifically a series taken by Aerofilms in 1937 (17AUG1937, ref: 55931 & 55933, and 12OCT1937 ref: 55792). From these the Box appears to be a Type 4e — no finials and windows with just two panes of glass (i.e. no vertical bar). This is odd as this type was thought to have been introduced by the LMS in 1926. However, as the detail between types 4c, 4d & 4e relate to the design of windows and the absence of finials, these could be changed by later work on the Box. The Type 4c Box between 1908 and 1915 had windows with the two larger panes whilst the 4d from 1917 reverted to the original pattern of six panes per window and dispensed with the finials.
Whatever its "Type", Sinfin Sidings Box was formed of two 10' flakes with about 12 steps facing the traffic. The chimney at the rear confirms that the 20 lever frame was at the front of the box and the inspection by Col. J.W.Pringle dated 23rd October 1924 tells us more:
New sidings for the International Combustion Co. Ltd. Have been constructed on the west (down) side of the railway between Pear Tree and Normanton and Chellaston Stations. There are the following new connections -
(1) A through crossing from the sidings on the down side to up sidings, to which slip points have been added providing a trailing connection between the down sidings and the up line. These new connections are worked from Sinfin sidings signal box, which is an additional block post on the line and is situated on the down side of the railway. The necessary up and down line running signals, the latter being slotted from Melbourne Junction, as well as the backing signals with the new connections have been provided. A new track circuit is provided in rear of the new down home signal. Sinfin signal box contains a frame with 13 working and 7 spare levers.
(2) North of the above described new connections, siding accommodation has been provided for the Derby Corporation on the up side of the railway, with new facing points on the up line. There is also a new trailing crossover between the main roads. There are new up starting and up advanced starting signals in addition to the necessary signals for controlling shunting of movements. These new connections and signals are worked from Melbourne Junction signal box,, which contains an old frame with 34 working and 2 spare levers.
The interlocking in both signal boxes is correct, and the general arrangements satisfactory.
Although Col. Pringle didn't see fit to elaborate on it, the facing connection he mentions formed a "Running Line" alongside the Up Branch. This provided flexibility in operations between the two Block Posts. Contemporary diagrams confirm its existence from the outset. This was operated as a single line and authority to run over the line was given by an arrangement known as "Train Staff Without Tickets". The shape of the Staff was round, it was coloured back and lettered "Melbourne Junction Running Line".
The provision of the Running Line was especially relevant as the Down line of the branch was controlled by a system of Interlocking Block — a system of treadles ensured that once a train entered a section is exited it at the other end. This would be restrictive when shunting operations took a train into the advance section which then wanted to set back.
In the course of these developments, as Col. Pringle pointed out, the sidings behind Melbourne Junction box had been extended to serve Derby Corporation (and, later, the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Laundry). This resulted in the tailing connection to and from the Up Main and the sidings being abolished in favour of the route via the branch.<.p>
That brings the development of Melbourne Junction and its environs up to the inter-war years and into L.M.S. ownership. The signalmen at Melbourne Junction at this time were Messrs. B. Manning, J. Pullen, G.A. Martin whilst at Sinfin Sidings there seems to have been no regular man — the box being "Open as required for traffic purposes on Weekdays and Sundays" for most of its life. Sunny Hill Goods Junction was manned round the clock, usually by Messrs. J. Millband, W. Smith and A. Corden, for six days a week but was closed all day Sunday.
The pattern of traffic during this period was intensive as may be expected with over 50 passenger trains in each direction during a weekday. In addition, even the branch had a healthy ten passenger trains each way on weekdays, either to Ashby via Melbourne or Nottingham (or even Lincoln) via Trent. Freight services would have filled what remaining time the signalmen might otherwise have had to themselves — including whatever traffic requiring shunting at Melbourne Junction.
Of course dark times were approaching for the country and wartime brought extra work to the railway —Melbourne Junction being no exception. The Melbourne branch, like many others around the country, quickly lost its passenger service. Unlike any other branch, however, the line beyond Chellaston East Junction was pressed into service as a military training establishment. That function, as well as the huge stores built at Kings Newton, doubtless added to the traffic through Melbourne Junction.
On 24th July 1940, the signalman on duty at Melbourne Junction would have received a great shock. A Hurricane of the Free French Air Force on a training sortie suffered an engine failure and crashed on the embankment opposite the Box. The plane came to rest against the Up Main Home signal and burst into flames. The pilot escaped with his life and the signal survived — although it looks rather singed in a contemporary photograph.
The greatest long term impact of the Second World War on the area, was the establishment of an Ordnance Depot on Sinfin Lane. What had been the Macintosh cable works with a modest connection from the Down goods line, became another huge source of rail borne traffic. So much so that on 27th April 1941 a new signal box opened on the Up side at 1mile 71chains. This box was to be the third and final recipient of the Sunny Hill name.
In his report dated 18th March 1949 — the Inspection being delayed until after the War — Lt. Col. G.R.S.Wilson writes;
With reference to the plans submitted, a rail-served vehicle depot was constructed by the War Office in 1940-41 on the down or East side of the line, 2 miles south of Derby station. Access to the Derby end of the depot sidings is by facing and trailing connections in the Down Goods and Up Goods lines respectively, with a single slip to form a trailing connection in the Up Passenger lines. A double slip in the Down Goods line affords crossover facilities.
The diamonds and slip connections in the Passenger lines are of 95lbs R.B.S. material in stone ballast; alignment through the two diamonds required attention ('A'). There is also a trailing connection (not inspected) in the Down Goods line at the southern end of the layout. At present about 70 wagons are handled weekly at the depot, outwards traffic predominating.
There is a new brick and timber signal box, with a frame of 25 working levers including 2 detonator placers, and 5 spares, also a ground frame working the trailing connection in the Down Goods line. Certain block controls are installed as shown by the plan but there are no track circuits.
This was a rapidly constructed war time work, and with others of its kind on main lines, berth track circuits controlling the block will be provided in due course as programmed. The locking is correct, all necessary arms and lights are repeated and the signalman had no comments.
These new works appeared to be well constructed and in good order. Subject to the provision in due course of berth track circuits to conform with main line standards and attention to the point noted at 'A' above, I recommend approval.
In the modern method of categorising signal boxes, the new structure at Sunny Hill was a LMS Type 11c. It was built with brick as far as the operating floor with the rest of the structure being timber and a slate roof. The box was 20' wide with the upper section formed of two 10' flakes. Access to the box was provided by about 16 steps which were facing traffic. The signalman's 'needs' were catered for by a brick privy below the steps. A combination of its wartime heritage and the ready availability of electric light meant that there were no windows for the locking room. The roof was topped off with cockscomb ridge tiles which were a distinctive and pleasing adornment to this type of box.
Inside the box, the REC frame was located at the rear of the operating floor. Despite Lt. Col. Wilson's assertion that there were 25 levers, the box certainly had 35 levers for most of its life — in the absence of any evidence of reframing, it seem likely that the entry in the above report is a typing error. Another clue to the box's wartime origin is that the lever lead plates on the front of the frame were coloured according to the function of the lever. This was a wartime economy to avoid the need to paint the whole lever.
Sunny Hill was considered a training box and whenever a signalman new to Midland signalling came to the area they learnt Sunny Hill first. The goods lines were worked permissively with counters on the block instruments to keep count of how many trains were in the section — these were ex-London North Western Railway pattern instruments. As each train cleared the other end their exit from the section would be belled with a single beat on the bell — only when the section was clear would 2-1 "train out of section" be sent.
In extreme circumstances, if the passenger lines were unavailable for any reason, the issue of a ticket would authorise passenger working over the goods lines — in which case they would be signalled as absolute block until the ticket was withdrawn.
Following the War, the downturn in railway traffic began slowly. As Sinfin Sidings had never been regularly manned, opened only as required, its was vulnerable to a modern curse - vandalism.
Whilst the Derby Daily Telegraph article doesn't say that the fire which broke out on the evening of Monday 27th February 1950 was arson, there seems every likelihood that it was. In any event, it was clearly a serious enough fire to result in the abolition of the box, with a ground frame substituted in its place to control connections in to the International Combustion factory.
By the 1960's there was real evidence of decline although it wasn't until the end of that decade that it really took effect on the Melbourne Junction are. The Royal Ordnance Depot was being wound down with the consequence that most of the traffic was outward. This resulted in the layout at Sunny Hill being rationalised. On Sunday 7th January 1968 the following work was carried out:
The trailing connection from the up passenger line to the down goods line and the slip connections to the up goods line and the sidings will be secured out of use, pending removal.
The points in the sidings at the commencement of the Reception line and to the LMS shunting line will be converted to hand points.
The following signal arms will be taken away:-
the dwarf shunting signal, situated between the up goods line and the up passenger line reading set-back up goods line to down goods line or sidings;
the dwarf shunting signal, situated between the up and down passenger lines reading set-back up passenger line to down goods line or sidings;
the top and middle arms of the three-armed dwarf shunting signal, situated between the down passenger line and the down goods line, reading set-back down goods line to up goods line and up passenger line;
the three-armed tall sidings signal, situated between the Reception line and the down goods line and reading from the Reception Line;
the tall siding signal in the LMS shunting line;
the dwarf shunting signal in the departure line in the siding;
The "Limit of Shunt" board situated between the down goods line and the down passenger line on the Derby side of the box, will be superseded by a dwarf shunting signal in the same position and reading set-back along the down goods line.
A dwarf shunting signal, situated adjacent to the points of the connection from the sidings and reading from the sidings to the down goods line, will be provided.
This resulted in the situation where Up traffic was authorised to travel "Bang Road" along the Down Goods to Melbourne Junction, control being maintained by the relevant disc signals being 'slotted' so that only one could be cleared at a time. It was also at this time that the line from Sunny Hill to Stenson was being "De-quadrupled" — the goods lines were abolished according to the following timetable:
03NOV1968 - Lay in new connections in main lines
25FEB1969 - Down Gds to Stenson abolished.
02MAR1969 - Up Goods severed at Stenson.
09APR1969 - Down Goods severed at Stenson.
All of which allows us to date the following diagram as being applicable for the week in Feb/Mar 1969 while the Down goods was out of use and the Up Goods had yet to be abolished.
Throughout most of the 1950's and much of the 1960's the layout was as in the following diagram. The most significant change in later years being the substitution of the LMS gantry carrying the Up Homes with a BR(LMR) replacement.
The first major rationalisation at Melbourne Junction was the abolition of the Down Branch line junction with the Up Main, with a facing crossover on the branch in front of the signal box forming a single-lead junction. Later work, preparatory for a the simplified power signalling layout, saw trap points installed in the Up Branch on 27APR1969 prior to the Down branch being taken out of use on 08MAY1969.
Both Melbourne Junction and Sunny Hill were abolished, along with their neighbours at Stenson Junction and L.N.W. Junction were abolished on 28th June 1969 with the commissioning of Phase two of the Derby power signalling scheme.
At Sunny Hill two ground frames — Sunny Hill East and Sunny Hill West — were provided in lieu of the Signal Box. Part of the Royal Ordnance Depot became a storage facility for Rolls Royce and the remainder a similar facility for Raleigh, the Nottingham based bicycle maker. Rail traffic dwindled to nothing and the East g.f. was taken out of use on 22nd May 1974 whilst the West g.f. remained available for use until 13th August 1983.
The Chellaston branch was retained in part with the former Up branch becoming the "Up and Down Chellaston Through Siding". No signalling was provided, save for the connection with the main line with a protecting ground signal. The line was kept on as a diversionary route although to do so required Pilot Working to be instituted. To add to the complication of such use of the branch, the level crossing where the newly built Wilmore Road crossed the formation was protected by Trainman Operated Gates. This arrangement was due to last until 1971 but it wasn't until 30th December1973 that the line was severed, 1m 249yds from Melbourne Junction, in vicinity of Sinfin Crossing.
For much of the 1970's the truncated branch remained to serve the sidings of Rolls Royce, International Combustion, Qualcast and — via what was once the Running Line — the Co-operative Wholesale Society siding. All the sidings were hand worked and whether there was much traffic for those sidings as that time is questionable.
Although of no real relevance from a signalling perspective, the branch was resurrected on 27th September 1976 as the Sinfin Branch - part of the grandly titled Derby Mass Transit Scheme. Two new stations were opened at Sinfin North & Sinfin Central. A third station on the branch, to be named Sinfin South was planned but never built. Over the years, as the new stations were only intended to serve the nearby factories (Sinfin North having no public access at all), patronage steadily dwindled.
By the late 1990s it was apparent that the branch's days were numbered. The end finally came when Railtrack decreed that the modern fleet of Sprinter trains were unable to reliably operate the track circuits and were thus banned from the Branch. As all the first generation DMUs had by then been eradicated from the Derby area, there was effectively no stock to work the branch. What loyal passengers there were for Sinfin were provided with a taxi day-in and day-out. Clearly this state of affairs could not last and the passenger service was duly withdrawn.
Melbourne Junction still exists as a railway location today. The Sinfin Branch has a booked 0926hrs Thursdays only arrival of 6M41, a train of aviation fuel for the Rolls Royce test beds. In addition a passenger train reverses here each morning as part of a service terminating at Peartree & Normanton station.
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Dave Harris, Willington, Derby, UK.
Page last updated: 22AUG2014