The Future of the Box
The restoration and development of Princes Risborough North Box is intertwined with the extension of the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway into the station. It currently ends at a boundary with Network Rail about half a mile away. Negotiations are in train between CPRR and NR to lease the relevant land for this extension, and this land will include the North Box.
Until these negotiations are concluded, it is unlikely that major works on the signal box, or even large-scale fund raising for those works, can begin. There are many complications concerning the adjacent running of trains from different organisations, and the retention, use and signalling of links between the two railways. This is why it is taking a while to reach a conclusion. However, as a result of improved access and of an ongoing appeal started in 2011 (use the buttons on the left hand side to get more detail), a start has been made.
The first priority has to be to halt the deterioration of the building. As you can read on our history pages, time has not been kind and the ongoing threats of weather, vibration, vandals and pigeons all have to be combated. Again our history pages show what we have already been able to do. Early on we hope to be able to insert steel tie rods to prevent the brickwork cracks from widening, and to replace some structural timberwork which has rotted out requiring insertion of a temporary prop.
With deterioration controlled, we then move on to repairing the damage already done. The roof needs significant attention. The (external) staircase has been taken down because some timbers were unsafe, but we have all the Great Western Railway castings and fittings so this will be restored when funds allow. Over 190 window panes are broken (still less than 50% hit rate by the vandals!), and some window sashes will need rebuilding before we can take the boarding off to flood the currently dark operating floor and equipment room with daylight once more. Some of the structural joinery at one end has shifted and distorted so the windows (including the fire exit) can't open. All of these large jobs will need significant funds, so are unlikely to be achieved instantly.
Once the major works are done, we can focus on sprucing the place up. We need to replace the omnipresent covering of pigeon droppings inside with paint in the colours of the GWR, and renew lino etc. as needed. We need to get the fire and stove working. We will need to make everything safe, which is a large and movable feast these days.
Then, for the first time, we will be able to open the building up to visitors to the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway so they can see inside. But really only the first phase of our works will have been completed.
The Eventual Aims
We want to restore the building and equipment to function as a working signal box to control the trains of the CPRR when its line is extended into Princes Risborough station. However this only requires part of the building, as our track layout will be very simple compared to the main line station and rail traffic the box was built to serve. This provides us with the opportunity to open up the rest of the building as a museum and visitor attraction.
Generally we want to restore the box to its post 1958 working condition, and through the use of simulators enable visitors to see and feel how such a large mechanical signal box looked and was worked: the levers, the bell telegraphs, the wood-cased instruments and telephones, and the polished brass. We want people to be able to “have a go”, perhaps in some sort of training sessions. It will also be possible to put on demonstrations and talks, or mount different displays etc. from time to time. (Why 1958? The box was re-equipped by British Railways in that year, and some of the kit from that time survives. It is not feasible to go back to original 1904 equipment – it isn't available!)
Below the operating floor we want to open the interlocking room to visitors too. It will be possible to see how safety was ensured through the mechanical interlocking of the levers. There is also space for museum displays related to the history and principles of signalling, to this building in particular, and to the history of the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway (the former Watlington Railway) and others in the area.
The Practicalities of Restoration
Once ownership is sorted out, funding can be sought (please use the buttons on the left to see more detail on this). We will then progress as the twin resources of money and volunteer time allow. Most of the work will probably be done by us as volunteers, but for certain things we will have to use contractors at considerable expense: scaffolding and roof repairs for example. There will be a balance to be struck: for example if we have the money we could employ glaziers to get the window panes replaced quickly. If we don't have money but we do have plenty of volunteers, we can do it ourselves more cheaply over a much longer period. The glass alone is still likely to cost over £3000.
The truth is we won't know how fast we can proceed until we see the results of our fund raising campaigns. These in turn depend on first finding volunteers who have the enthusiasm and skills to launch those campaigns and make them successful!
Some of the major tasks are noted above. One not mentioned is re-pointing: there are lots of cracks, and generally the mortar is not in good condition. This on its own will be a long job on a building of this size.
Making the Building Work
The Signalman's Territory.
The focus for visitors, and therefore for us initially, will be on the operating (upper) floor. This is where all the levers and instruments go, so will be the part our clientèle will most want to see.
As you can read in our history pages, the box interior has been altered several times in its history. As built, the lever frame extended the full length of the structure (indeed the frame defined the size of building). The frame was replaced by a shorter one in 1958 and this was shortened again in 1968, leaving space at the South end. We propose to refit lever frame back to the original length.
The operating floor was also partitioned by British Rail in 1968, and the separated space on the South side of this was used as an office and later as a train crew mess room. Once restoration is complete, on the North side of the partition will be the rejuvenated post-1958 installation, open to the public. On the South side will be the smaller operational area using the same type of equipment, controlling the CPRR. The partition is part-glazed, so visitors will be able to see into the operational area, but it will only be open to the public by special arrangement.
In the “museum” section, we will restore everything so far as is possible to operating condition and make it work. “Off stage” modern technology will be used to simulate telegraph communications with adjacent signalboxes, to work indicators and other instruments, and to show the passage of trains. Many of the electrical instruments were removed at closure, but we are working to source replacements. We will probably also add other relevant artefacts to increase interest, and add explanations and features to inform visitors as to how what they see works and why it was needed.
The Lineman's Land
Downstairs was the territory of the signal and telegraph linemen who looked after the equipment. It houses the base of the lever frame with all its interlocking. We aim to open the ground floor to the public, so they can see the kit in action. There is space along the back wall for further museum displays etc. We want to make the best use of this area possible, but the detail is still some way off. The part of the locking room beneath the operational end of the signalbox will not be open to visitors as it will contain equipment pertinent to the safety of the active railway. It will look similar to the rest of the locking room as more of the same kit will be used, so this is no great hardship.
There is an intermediate level in this building, but its ladder-accessed floor is little more than a walkway for maintenance to the upper parts of the interlocking, and it has limited headroom. We don't plan to open this to visitors, partly for safety reasons; the locking at this level can be seen from below anyway. Some space on this level could be used to hide away some of the necessary modern evils: CCTV equipment, simulator computer and audio visual presentation kit for example!
It will take many years to achieve all of the above, but hopefully it gives an idea of our target!
The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway Association is a registered charity. It and the railway it owns are operated, managed, developed and maintained entirely by volunteers.
|©PRNB 2012||Updated: 27/04/2012||E&OE|