1875 - Signal Box

The building of 20,000 route miles of railway was perhaps the most far-reaching achievement of Victorian days, utterly changing Britain from a rural to an urban society. For the first time, food could be grown and goods manufactured far away from where they were consumed. People could be cheaply moved about - to work, to visit, to enjoy themselves. Railway companies were leading patrons of architects, and could afford to hire the best. This concern for good design applied not just to such major buildings as main-line termini or railway hotels but also, in many cases, to purely functional structures such as signal boxes. What does a signal box actually do, and how has its function influenced its design?

Though each company served a particular part of the country, the tremendous range of architectural styles employed for railway buildings in the 19th century often reflected the taste of the directors more than any specifically regional characteristics. Though the structures of the Caledonian Railway, for instance, had an unmistakably Scottish air, the North Staffordshire Railway's grander stations aspired to the status of Jacobean country houses. As architecture - though perhaps 'engineer's vernacular' would be the more accurate term - most railway structures have counterparts in domestic and industrial usage, but the signal box is unique as a building type. It is, effectively, a raised observation platform, roofed and extensively glazed. The signal box is absolutely vital to the working of a railway. To ensure the safety of passengers and railway staff, movements on each stretch of line need to be carefully monitored and rigidly controlled. The operation of every point and signal is co-ordinated and this is done from the signal box; the large windows ensure staff have a clear view of what is happening, while communication by telegraph or a system of bell codes enables them to keep in touch as a train is passed from one box to another along the line. In the traditional kind of box, pulling the levers - grouped together in a frame on the upper floor - demands considerable strength. They are connected by a purely mechanical system of wires and pulleys to points or signals that may be anything up to a mile away. The interlocking mechanism designed to prevent conflicting movements is housed on the ground floor. At the turn of the century there were over 13,000 signal boxes of this kind but now — with the development of power-operated equipment and, latterly, the advent of sophisticated electronic signalling centres that each control hundreds of miles of track - the number is under 2000, with a hundred or more disappearing each year.

1825 - Dockside Warehouse

1885 - Tram shelter