The Controlling the Trains exhibition, which is planned to open early in 2017, aims to tell the story of the ‘signalling centre’ on the ‘Great Western region’, ranging from the Railway Policeman to the Thames Valley Signalling Centre, by linking together:
to provide an interactive historical narrative divided into five time zones.
The Railway Policeman – 1830 – focuses on the life of the Railway Policeman, considering Hand signals, Time Interval Block, local control of Points (and signals when Introduced) and early GWR signals – such as the Disc and Crossbar. This will link to existing features such as the Policeman’s Hut and signalling on the Mixed Gauge line.
The Signalbox – 1870 – looks at the way control of signals and points were brought together at one location and considers interlocking, the role of the Signalman, Absolute Block, and the Railways Act of 1889. This introduces the signalling on the Branch line at Didcot, especially Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin of 1875, and Radstock North Box of 1909.
The Power Box – 1930 – Centred around an Illuminated diagram for Bristol East Box, in the GWT collection, from the GWRs power re-signalling scheme of 1935, this considers the greater concentration of control in fewer places with less staff and also looks at operation of points & signals by electric/pneumatic methods. The locations of major GWR re-signalling schemes of the period are noted.
We intend to the display the diagram with its 250 lamps in working order so wish to simulate a typical day in the life of the signal box. Can anyone provide us with information on the platform arrangements at Bristol Temple Meads for this period, especially which platform was used for which trains. We have working timetable information for the era but naturally this gives no mention of which platform was used for the various arrivals and departures.
The Panel Box – 1960 – Using Swindon Panel, which is being preserved by the Swindon Panel Society, as an example this considers further concentration of control and also touches on electromechanical interlocking.
VDU-based Signalling Control Systems – 2010 - Capitalising on the view of the Thames Valley Signalling Centre from Radstock Level Crossing, this looks at further centralization of control, digital operation, with pre-programmed timetable information and the role of the ‘Signaller’.
If anyone is interested in helping with the exhibition or can provide interesting anecdotes from any of these eras please get in touch with Robert Heron who is co-ordinating the exhibition side of things.
The building forms a major extension of the Electricity building, in the same Chester Red Blend 73mm brick, towards the Great Western Trust Museum & Archive. It uses doors and iron windows from the former GWR Permanent Way building on Station Road donated by Oxfordshire County Council as part of the Didcot Parkway station forecourt works.
Approaching along a path from the Engine Shed, and beside the steps to the north air raid shelter, visitors will enter a lobby where the scene will be set. The signalling zones will be laid out anti clockwise through the building with the Swindon panel arranged in the large room at the Museum & Archive end. Glass doors to the panel room will allow visitors to see the panel even when it is not being staffed.
Preliminary excavations for the foundation began on 2 September 2014 with the first full working party taking place on 25 September. We will be using all the experience we have gained from construction of the adjoining buildings to pursue our aim of a usable building by autumn of 2015 and to be open to visitors in spring 2016.
During the Autumn of 2014, our four 'Network Rail approved' wagons were used to bring all the structural materials for the building on site, including all the bricks, the steel reinforcement bar and mesh grill for the foundation, considerable amounts of aggregate, cement and blocks.
By the beginning of December the foundation was taking shape with blinding concrete across half of the site and steel reinforcement cages made up for the quarter beside the Switch Room. Two 4 1/2" holes had also been drilled through the 16" thick solid concrete wall of the Switch Room base for the cable route to the Panel.
The first of six concrete pours to form the foundation slab took place on 16 December 2014 and, with work continuing through the start of 2015, culminated with pours in quick succession on 10, 17, 26 and 31 March 2015. The foundation slab is now ready for our contract bricklayers who hope to start work in early May. Work has also been continuing, to landscape the approach pathway next to the North Air Raid Shelter, including repairs to the sandbag retaining wall of the Shelter steps, removal of a sizable tree stump and removal of a bank of ash and soil.
In the background much work is taking place to finalize the details of the building design and electrical systems and to design and develop the displays themselves.
The bricklaying contractors started work on 11 May 2015 and by early June the shape of the building was starting to be revealed.
The doors and the three large windows being installed at the rear of the building are genuine Great Western items, having been recovered from the Didcot Station Road permanent way building when it was demolished a few years ago as part of the station forecourt redevelopment. The bricks forming the window sills are also of impeccable Great Western Railway origin having come from Taunton goods shed.
By October the brickwork was nearing completion and the brick arches (also genuine GWR reclaimed items) were being installed.
A milestone on the project was reached on Friday 11 December 2015 when the ridge beams were lifted into place using the Didcot Railway Centre 5 ton steam crane. This will allow the finishing touches to be made to the brickwork and also permit the timber roof structure to be erected.
In the meantime the first ‘exhibit’ has been put into place, namely the rare GWR lattice post signal from Wheatley. This was planted in the ‘Railwayman's Allotment’, with kind permission of ‘The Railwayman’ on 22 November 2015 by the S&T Department with the help of the diesel crane.
By the beginning of April 2016 the roof slating was completed, just in time for the arrival of one of the major exhibits - the Swindon Panel. The 1960s British Rail (Western Region) Turn-Push panel is being preserved by the Swindon Panel Society and had been removed from its former home, after several weeks of preparation, on Saturday 2 April 2016. After same-day delivery it had spent a few days in a wagon in the Engine Shed and then on Thursday 7 April 2016 it was lifted from the wagon by our 5-ton Steam Crane and placed on to a specially built trackway so that it could be rolled into its new home. Much more information about the move can be found on the Swindon Panel Society website.
In the meantime work continues on fitting out the building with work being undertaken on guttering and drainage, ceilings, doors, floors and windows as well as preliminary work on the electrical installation.
By the end of May much of the scaffolding surrounding and inside the building was starting to come down, making access much easier.
The Civil Engineering department completed an eight stage programme of fortnightly concrete pours on 19 July 2016 to complete the floor of the whole building. The whole floor is underlaid with insulation and includes provision for signal pulley and wire runs for the signals that will be worked off a two lever frame.
August and September saw a great deal of work by the electrical team to make and fix all the ducting and conduit runs needed for alarm systems, general lighting and power and the many outlets to allow maximum flexibility in the display of exhibits in the longer term.
The first plaster was applied to the Swindon room walls on 26 September 2016 after much preparation. We have glazed the big windows on the Centre Sidings side and fitted the first of the external doors.
The scaffolding was taken down from the outside the building, on 15th June 2016 revealing the simplicity of the building and the authentic GWR feel. The gutters had all to be fitted before the scaffold removal, OG profile, and were finally connected to their down pipes in September (it doesn't rain in the summer) which are now painted in Dark Stone. Before the down pipes came the ground drainage network, now all hidden and one run being under a new concrete path leading from the Museum side door to Centre Sidings, that leads to our largest soakaway yet with a chamber formed from redundant Eynsham Platform concrete trestle supports.
In parallel with this, now that a dry interior is available, work has commenced on some of the major exhibits. The S&T department are busy completing the two working signals that will be connected to the lever frame in the building, and also constructing the ‘signalbox roof’ structure that will support a block shelf. They are also building the substantial structure that will be needed to support and display the 1935 diagram from Bristol East Box. Swindon Panel Society are of course continuing to work on their particular project. The Bristol East Diagram was lifted into place on 15 April 2017.