A signal achievement

© Philip Benham

The Rutland village of Ketton, on the Peterborough to Leicester cross-country line, still retains a traditional manual signal box. Of typical Midland Railway design, and over a hundred years old, today it has a particular claim to fame.

Personal recollections of Ketton go back to 1964 and 1965 travelling on the Seaton (Rutland) to Stamford steam push-pull service, with one of the regular engines being Standard Class 2 2-6-2t No 84008. In those days the signal box served a passenger station and goods yard bearing the name ‘Ketton & Collyweston', but the passenger service was withdrawn in 1966, by which time it was worked by Diesel Multiple Units. Later, as a Nottingham division inspector for British Rail, I regularly undertook single line working between Ketton and the next signal box, Luffenham during engineering operations.

Steam Loco Standard 2MTT 84008 Seaton. © Keith Widdowson / ANISTR.COM

Nearly a quarter of a century later, as Eastern Region’s King’s Cross Area Manager, a re-organisation gave me responsibility for Ketton which became a fringe signal box for the enlarged area – despite its Midland origins. It was one of only a handful of manual

boxes in our area which was

largely controlled by the power signal boxes at King’s Cross and Peterborough. While the station and yard were long gone, Ketton Cement still produced considerable rail traffic loaded in their private siding, much of it destined for a freight terminal at King’s Cross, with the signal box controlling the connection onto BR.

However, the most remarkable feature about Ketton was the Up starter signal which was still a wooden post ex Midland Railway lower quadrant, probably dating from when the signal box was commissioned around 1900. More surprising still, the signal is still in use to this day! Operationally, it is not really required with Ketton now just a ‘block post’ controlling the road crossing, but sentiment seems to have ensured its survival to become something of a celebrity as almost certainly the oldest signal still in daily use on the national rail network.

The photograph of the signal was taken from a passing train on 14 May 1988. As can be seen, it had lost the distinctive Midland finial, although happily this has been restored in recent years.

Philip Benham

About the Author: Philip started work with British Railways in 1968 in the railway town of Derby. His 47-year career was to take him across the country with the 1980s seeing him move east to be in charge of train operations first at York and then at London’s Kings Cross. Later he was responsible for the East Coast Main line stations from London to Scotland. Born in Hillingdon, in the London suburbs, his acquaintance with Yorkshire began at an early age when he would travel by train from King’s Cross up to Yorkshire on visits to his grandparents, his mother coming from Wakefield. From 2004 to 2015 he was General Manager/Managing Director of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and has been Chairman of the Friends of the National Railway Museum since 2012.

Find out how to become a Member of Friends of the National Railway Museum here

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