Photo courtesy of Barry Blight
The traditional railway signal box, once immortalised by Charles Dickens, is fast disappearing from the UK’s railways. Every junction once had a signal box, but not many were as large or as important as Princes Risborough North. This controlled railways radiating to every point of the compass and today, it is the largest former Great Western Railway signal box still standing, but has been out of use as a listed building for 25 years.
The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway Association (C&PRRA) purchased the branch-line from British Rail between Chinnor to just 800 metres from Princes Risborough in 1991, expecting to buy both the remaining section and the signal box, just a few years later on… but due to changes within the rail industry, negotiations at that time ran into the buffer-stops.
Meanwhile, the signal box was stripped of useful materials, all maintenance ceased and the building was effectively abandoned. In 2011, a break-in occurred and it was found that it had much deteriorated and was in danger of collapse, with water ingress and failed brickwork. Had the roof caved in, the building would surely have been demolished on safety and expense grounds.
Further changes in the rail industry brought in-train a new and supportive relationship between Network Rail and the C&PRRA, which meant that the previous neglect is being rectified by C&PRR volunteers: including the renewal of 200 panes of smashed glass, the building of a replica staircase and, fittingly, the casting of replica nameplates - which Cllr. Matthew Walsh, Town Mayor, unveiled on 4 July, during ‘Risborough Festival’ week.
Cllr. Matthew Walsh, Town Mayor, Princes Risborough, said: ‘I was delighted to unveil the replica nameplates on this historic signal box, 110 years after it was first commissioned. I look forward to making future visits, when regular running of steam hauled trains commences between Princes Risborough and Chinnor. Construction of a new platform for the steam railway, allowing visitors to start, end, or interchange their journeys here, is due to begin later in 2016. It will bring more tourists to the area and help to boost our local economy, and I hope this achievement will encourage more local volunteers to come forward to help run the heritage line.’
Danny Woodward, Chairman, C&PRRA, said: ‘Our dedicated band of volunteers have not
only saved this historic Great Western Railway building, but they have also
saved a widely recognised landmark that millions of Chiltern Railways’
passengers and townsfolk will be familiar with. We aim to begin running steam
over the extension into Princes Risborough from late summer, although it won’t
be until we have constructed a new platform that visitors can join or alight here.
During Festival Week, I invite local people to visit our Princes Risborough
North signal box Open Day on Saturday 9 July, or our more general railway Open
Day at Chinnor station on Saturday 16 July. You can visit for free between
10.00 and 15.00, when our volunteers will take great pleasure in showing you
around and explaining our exciting future plans.’