Instow Signal Box

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April, 2019

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The signal box at the south end of Instow village was built by the London and South Western Railway in 1873, replacing a crossing keepers cottage. It is a typical of signal boxes built by the company and controlled the level crossing at Marine Parade. At its height, there were up to 14 trains a day including both passenger and freight (ball clay and milk).

Although the line closed to passenger traffic in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts, freight traffic continued to use the line until 1982. Many other boxes were shut, but Instow survived as it was on a busy road crossing and also the operational half way point between Barnstaple and Torrington.

With the arrival of automatic barriers and crossing lights, British Railways were keen to close the box as part of their manpower savings. The locals were up in arms about the possible dangers to elderly people , especially those in nearby residential homes. Conversion work started in 1979 and the box was closed. However, the line was closed to freight before the box was demolished. The villagers came to its rescue and set up an emergency fund to save the box. They managed to persuade the Department of the Environment to list the box, making it the UK’s first Grade 2 listed signal box. Its future was assured.

When Devon County Council bought the track bed for the Tarka Trail , they became owners of the signal box. This is now in the care of the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre and has been beautifully restored by its members. It is now resplendent again in the green and cream colours of the Southern Railway. The crossing gates have been restored too.

The signal box is open on occasional Sundays and Bank Holiday afternoons, depending on volunteer availability. It still has its sixteen lever frame which operated the signals and points, along with the large wheel to open and close the level crossing gates. Two semaphore signals have been replaced as well as a short section of track and the level crossing gates.

The station is still there but the station building is now used by the Royal North Devon Yacht Club

I was lucky as the box was being painted when I walked past, so I managed a glimpse inside. Even if it is shut, it is still a much photographed building.

There is a short video about the box “here.”:


The nearest postcode is EX39 4HX and the grid reference is SS 474301


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