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Lewes Signal Box

A Grade II Listed Building in Lewes, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.8707 / 50°52'14"N

Longitude: 0.0136 / 0°0'48"E

OS Eastings: 541779

OS Northings: 109846

OS Grid: TQ417098

Mapcode National: GBR KQ2.B8G

Mapcode Global: FRA B6XS.WMR

Entry Name: Lewes Signal Box

Listing Date: 10 November 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1450545

Location: Lewes, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7

County: East Sussex

District: Lewes

Civil Parish: Lewes

Built-Up Area: Lewes

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex


Type 5 Signal box, 1888, built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway company at Lewes Station, by Saxby and Farmer.


Type 5 Signal box, 1888, built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway company at Lewes Station, by Saxby and Farmer.

MATERIALS: constructed of London stock brick in a Flemish bond with a timber superstructure, under a Welsh slate roof.

DESCRIPTION: a tall, narrow signal box with a shallow-pitched, hipped roof which has a broad overhang, supported by curved timber brackets. Brick pilasters divide the ground floor of the front (northern) elevation into four bays. Each has a bricked-up former window aperture, under a red-brick, segmental arch. There is a further doorway with matching red-brick, segmental arch to the ground floor of the eastern elevation. The lower southern and western elevations are blind and the southern is also divided by brick pilasters and relieved by a red-brick string course.

At first floor, both the front and side elevations are fully glazed with timber multi-paned horizontally sliding sash windows. The separate top lights have rounded ends, and the western elevation has a five-paned glazed door with timber panelling below. This doorway to the operating room is accessed from a cross-braced timber open landing which is reached by an external timber staircase, with metal treads. A shallow external metal gantry runs along the northern and eastern sides of the first floor. The rear (southern) elevation is blind, and to the western end there is a weather-boarded timber outshut at first floor level, supported by an open timber-frame. The outshut has a small casement window on the western and eastern elevations.

INTERIOR: the operating room is fitted out with late-C20 signalling equipment, and the outshut has a late-C20 toilet.


The Type 5 signal box at Lewes station was built in 1888 by Saxby and Farmer. It was part of a general rebuilding to ease the curve east of the station, which was also rebuilt in 1889, for the London and Brighton South Coast Railway Company.

From the 1840s, huts or cabins were provided for men operating railway signals. These were often located on raised platforms containing levers to operate individual signals. In 1856 John Saxby (1821-1913) patented the interlocking of signals and points, which was perhaps the most important single advance in rail safety, and was the first step in the evolution of the recognisable form of the Victorian signal box. These boxes were often fully-glazed and initially raised high on stilts to give a good view down the line. Signal boxes were built to a great variety of different designs and sizes to meet traffic needs by signalling contractors and the railway companies themselves.

In the later 1870s railway companies started to develop their own signal box designs, and boxes became more elaborately decorated. These structures were often highly visible at stations or level crossings, so an effort was made to ensure that they were not purely utilitarian. The most obvious manifestations of this were to be seen in bargeboards, finials, eaves brackets, and larger windows with more decorative framing. By the early 1890s, there was a reaction against this elaboration and simpler designs were developed by most companies, probably for reasons of economy as well as taste. There were also many more very large boxes built in the 1890s and 1900s as lines were quadrupled and signals proliferated.

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 4000 by 1970. In 2012, about 750 remained in use, and it is anticipated that most will be rendered redundant over the following decade.

At the Lewes signal box, the upper part (known as the operating room) would have housed the signal and point levers, and provided shelter for the signalman. Access to the box was by external timber steps leading to a landing outside the box door. The lower-storey (known as the locking room) would have been occupied by the lower part of the lever frame. The locking room was probably lit by four windows on the northern elevation, which may have been bricked up to reduce the risk of blast damage during the Second World War. Heating of the operating room would have been by open fire or stove while lavatory accommodation took the form of a small privy hut in an outshut. At some time in the later C20 the original lever operating frame has been removed from the signal box and replaced with electrical switches. The timber treads of the steps up to the first floor of the box have been replaced in metal. At ground-floor level, late-C20 electrical plant has been fitted on the southern elevation.

Reasons for Listing

Lewes Signal Box, constructed in 1888 for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* An architecturally impressive signal box which is a good example of a larger Saxby & Farmer Type 5, and retains its characteristic rounded upper lights;

Historical interest:

* Designed by Saxby & Farmer, who patented mechanical interlocking of points and signals;

Group value:

* With the adjacent Lewes station, which is also listed at Grade II.

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