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This is a brief overview of the signalling of the original Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (L&BR).

For more detailed historical information please visit the West Country Railway Archives, and for general information about the basic principles of railway signalling, visit The Signal Box.

Opening the L&B

The L&BR was not constructed under the Light Railways Act but under its own act of Parliament. From the outset it was signalled throughout by a single contractor, Evans O'Donnell (EoD). This meant that, unlike some other railways which extended over the years, the L&BR's signalling was consistent in application and appearance along the whole line.

Most of the original EoD equipment remaining unchanged until the takeover of the line by the Southern Railway (SR) in 1923, after which many of the signals were replaced. All the EoD signals had lower-quadrant arms, as did most of the SR replacements except for one upper-quadrant example which was installed at Woody Bay in 1934.

Signal-boxes and signals were erected at the two terminal stations and at the passing-loops at Pilton Yard and all the main stations. At Barnstaple Town the L&BR signal-box was a conventional wooden structure adjacent to the transhipment siding (the L&SWR had their own brick-built signal-box for the standard-gauge main line at the other end of the station). A similar signal-box was erected also at Pilton, but at all the other stations the lever-frames were housed in small wooden huts on or near the platforms.

The signalling installations were quite simple, being essentially just Home and Starting signals in each direction, facing points at each end of the passing-loops and a siding connection. With the use of ‘economic’ Facing Point Locks (worked from the same lever as the relevant point) the lever-frames were quite small – only 7 levers in most cases. There were also two gated level-crossings on the line, one across Pilton Causeway immediately next to (and worked from) Pilton signal-box, and the other a short distance away at Braunton Road where a crossing-keeper was provided.

Up and Down

It is normal British railway practice to identify the opposing directions of travel as ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ and by tradition ‘Up’ usually (but not always) means ‘towards London’. In the case of the L&BR therefore the line was regarded as ‘Down’ to Lynton and ‘Up’ to Barnstaple Town (from where you could catch a L&SWR train to London).

Block Sections

The L&BR was a single-track line worked under the Electric Train Tablet (ETT) method, using the very rare Tyer's No 7A instruments. The line was divided into six ‘block sections’ between the various signal-boxes, namely Barnstaple – Pilton – Chelfham - Bratton Fleming – Blackmoor – Woody Bay – Lynton.  Use of the ETT system provided a safe method of working by ensuring that only one train could be in any one section at any time. Except for Barnstaple and Pilton the ETT instruments were housed in the station buildings, where they were operated by the stationmaster or signalman-porter. Only needing to go the actual signal-box when it was necessary to operate the lever-frame.

Southern Railway

After 1923 the SR transferred overall control of the L&B layout at Barnstaple Town to the former L&SWR signal-box, although the ex-L&BR signal-box remained in use as a ground-frame.

In 1931 the signal-box and passing-loop at Bratton Fleming were taken out of use as a further economy measure. By the time that the railway closed in 1935 nearly all the original EoD signals had been replaced (the one sole exception being the Up Starting signal at Chelfham now preserved privately), although ironically most of these renewals only took place during the last few years of operation


It was thought that little signalling apparatus survived the closure of the line in 1935, but some items do still exist:

  • The signal-box at Chelfham is undergoing restoration, having last served as a chicken coop.
  • The Woody Bay signal-box has been restored and is now back in service, although the lever-frame is not fully authentic.
  • One wooden post and two SR rail-built signals have been erected at Woody Bay, in the same locations as the originals.
  • A ground frame, point rodding and full interlocking has been reinstated, matching as closely as modern operations allow, the original installation.
  • Although unlikely ever to be returned to their original location, the Pilton Bridge crossing gates are now restored awaiting reuse at Woody Bay.
  • The Trust owns two of the brass tokens used with the Tyer's ETT system. Others are also known to exist but these are in private hands.
  • The Pilton signal-box is currently serving as a summer house in a garden some miles from its original home.

In December 2010, the National Railway Heritage Awards, Invensys Rail Signalling Award was presented to the L&B for the installation of fully interlocked signalling at Woody Bay. The awards are open to national railway companies as well as heritage railways and the Invensys Award is a tribute to a small but dedicated group of volunteers who have spent many years working on this project. The award plaque was officially presented at Woody Bay during the Vintage Weekend in May 2011.

John Ellis (left) chairman of the National Railway Heritage Awards, unveiled the plaque commemorating the Invensys Rail Signalling Award at Woody Bay, with L&BRT Chairman Peter Miles

For more details about L&B signalling, see Chris Osment's masterful resource page here.




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