GNSRA, Great North of Scotland Railway Coat of Arms.

Great North Signal Boxes
The Types of Box

Introduction | List of the boxes

PortsoyType 1 was the earliest design of Great North box and is illustrated by Portsoy. It had a substantial brick or granite base up to cabin floor level supporting a wooden superstructure - with either vertical or horizontal boarding. It is not known if the both arrangements of boarding are original or if one form is the result of rebuilding. The sides were fully glazed with six-pane windows in a two by three arrangement (some had nine panes arranged three by three) and the roof was hipped with overhanging eaves. While the two Kittybrewster cabins and that at Dyce were very high, all the others were of normal height. Dyce is the only example still in use.

 Elgin CentreType 2 was a gable-roofed box of quite simple design. This type is subdivided based on the design of the roof. Type 2a, exemplified by Elgin Centre which is still standing although not used for signalling, was of wood construction from ground level, with four solid timber corner posts, horizontal boarding and six-pane windows in a 2 by 3 arrangement. There was full glazing on each end and a small but noticeable overhang on both the front and the sides. A brick chimney was provided. This design was first used in 1884 on the Coast line, which was interlocked from its opening, and examples continued to be built until 1888. In addition two late examples, Banff of 1900 and Spey Bay of 1912, are recorded. The design of Spey Bay fits in nicely with the original box of 1886, so it is likely that the so-called new box of 1912 was in fact the original box. The date for Banff is based on the introduction of interlocked signalling - one of several places about which the Board of Trade complained continuously.

Huntly SouthType 2b was very similar, again of timber construction, with the principal difference being that the roof finished almost flush with the sides. Most had windows on two-thirds of the ends only, although there are examples with completely glazed ends where the extra visibility was needed. This was the commonest design and can still be seen at Huntly South. Several had toilets added at the top of the steps in later days. This design was installed between 1888 and 1901 at locations throughout the system, with a further example at Aberlour in 1910 (another transplant?).

The subdivision of type 3, which had a hipped roof, is based on the design of the wooden panelling.

Ellon Type 3aType 3a was in many ways a hipped-roof version of type 2a. Of all wood construction, it had horizontal boarding, with 6 pane windows which only covered part of the ends and again a sizeable overhang to the roof. Terracotta finials and ridge tiles made this an attractive design. The only surviving example is at Knockando, where it is preserved as part of the Tamdhu Distillery visitor centre.

Keith Type 3bType 3b was a development of 3a, again wooden, with horizontal boarding, but the addition of some larger horizontal panels to give relief to an otherwise plain design. The roof had a large overhang and the windows 3 panes. Four examples are known, of which those at Inverurie and Keith are still in service. Both survivors are sagging badly in the middle. 

KennethmontThere were three locations with Railway Signalling Company hipped roof boxes. Two boxes were installed at Kennethmont, the South box later being moved to Craigellachie, where it was installed on the branch platform and is therefore referred to as Craigellachie Strathspey.


SpeybayAmong the 15 boxes which do not fall into the above classification, there are cases of the same design being used two or three times, but these are not worth designation as separate types. Of the one-off designs, that at Kintore was of all stone construction with no overhang to the roof and quite distinctive windows on part of the ends only. Nearby, Boat of Kintore crossing box was a small square one of all brick construction on a granite base with a low hipped roof.

A really strange affair was the box at Pitmedden, which guarded the level crossing gates there. This was of brick with eight sides and a form of hipped roof to match. Although there were windows on each side, only about half the total frontage was glazed. A booking office was included in the building, which must be a very early one, possibly because there were no other buildings at the station to accommodate the crossing keeper while on duty. The granite foundations still exist. There was another odd box of great antiquity at the north end of Maud which had some similarities to Pitmedden. It can be seen in the distance in a photograph taken in GNSR days and appears to have a fully glazed, wooden superstructure on a stone base. The base survives - with six sides!

Macduff had a wooden box with vertical boards and hipped roof. The windows consisted of four panes with no vertical divider and there was a small overhang to the roof. Lossiemouth was similar to 3a but had stone up to the window level at the front and to the roof level at the rear. There were no ridge tiles. The minor boxes at Banchory (1903) and Torphins (1895) were small, all brick, hipped roof structures, with the gable end parallel to the track. The roof had a good overhang.

Another design which recurred, albeit at only three known locations, was that used for the minor boxes at Spey Bay, Buckie and Tochieneal. This was a small, square, four-sided roof box. Construction was stone to floor and then horizontal weather-boarding. The existence of the box at Tochieneal only recently came to light, and that at Buckie only appears in early George Washington Wilson photographs, but it is quite possible that this design was installed on the Coast line at other stations where two boxes were provided, such as Portknockie and Calcots.

The box at Aberdeen North was a late installation which had large windows in a wooden superstructure and cement rendering to the base. It was shown as a type 3 in The Signal Box[1], but does not have enough of the characteristics of that type to be included.

A section of double track on the Buchan line was introduced just after the First World War between Parkhill and Elrick but no details of either box have come to light. The LNER spent very little on the infrastructure of the ex-GNSR lines. Some signals were renewed as upper quadrants, but the only new signal box was that at Maud, to a North British type 8 design!

[1] My thanks go to Peter Kay, one of the authors of the Signal Box, for his critical analysis of my conclusions and the encouragement in the preparation of this piece.

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