One of Southport’s most historic buildings celebrates its 115th birthday this year.
And as one of our town’s most senior citizens, our Birkdale Signal Box deserves to be treated with great care and respect.
This grand old lady is not looking in her best shape at the moment. We would all love to see her being given some careful repair work to cheer her up.
Millions of people trundle past this landmark building while sitting on Merseyrail trains between Southport and Liverpool, or drive or walk past at Birkdale Level Crossing every day. But few realise its rich history.
This Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway signal box was built in 1905, just four years after the death of Queen Victoria.
They were once a common sight on railway lines across Britain. There were still over 10,000 mechanical boxes in 1948 but numbers then fell to 4,000 by 1970 and perhaps tenth of that today.
From the 1840s, huts or cabins were provided for men operating railway signals. These were often located on raised platforms containing levers to operate the signals and in the early 1860s, the fully glazed signal box, initially raised high on stilts to give a good view down the line, emerged.
As with stations, the different railway companies had their own distinctive designs and liveries, and while most were of a fairly standard design, some signal boxes were one-offs, especially at major stations.
Birkdale Signal Box has been given Grade II Listed status because of its lack of alteration over the years. The unmodernised signal box still retains its original windows, lever frame and other rarely surviving features such as the external boardwalk.
Local photographer Dave Brown, owner of Dave Brown Photography, took this great picture of the facility earlier this week.
Signal box numbers peaked at around 12,000-13,000 for Great Britain just prior to the First World War and successive economies in working led to large reductions in their numbers from the 1920s onwards. British Railways inherited around 10,000 in 1948 and numbers dwindled rapidly to about 4,000 by 1970. In 2012, about 750 remained in use; it was anticipated that most would be rendered redundant over the next decade.
Birkdale Railway Station was opened as part of the Liverpool, Crosby and Southport Railway in 1848. In 1904 the line was absorbed into the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway which replaced the 1870s signal box with one of its own design in 1905.
It is a remarkable piece of local Southport history, with signal boxes fast disappearing all over the UK.
This week we have seen much about new plans to create new landmarks in Southport – they include a brand new waterside events centre, light shows in the Marine Lake, a new Southport Cove surf resort.
Southport needs to move forward, and new investment in new attractions is very welcome.
But let’s spare a thought too for some of Southport’s older buildings, for some of our hidden gems such as Birkdale Signal Box.
Places like this are truly unique, part of the rich character that makes our town what it is.
They deserve preserving and looking after.
Here’s hoping for many more birthdays, if only we look after it well.
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