To see pictures of the Full restoration at CLIK HERE
Over the summer of 2014 my family and I saved an old derelict railway signal box from demolition that had stood rotting and neglected for more than 50 years since its last use as a shop. We were giving our tired garden a bit of a makeover as the last few summers had been pretty wet and miserable we never really used it and allowed it to become overgrown and slightly neglected, we began tidying it up and decided it would be nice to have a cosy sheltered space to enjoy the benefits of the garden all year round, and so the summer house search began. We looked in various garden centres but soon grew bored of mass produced generic sheds! They had no character and lacked quality, we wanted something different/unique/ something with a personality! My dad then asked me to come and have a look at this old abandoned railway hut he's admired for years. We drove up to Mealsgate (Cumbria) to check it out, on first impressions it looked a crooked rundown wreck but looking beyond the ivy overgrowth, mess and rot on the lower parts inside thought WOW this buildings awesome, I can see the potential in it !
Allhallows Colliery Signal Box before removal to Wigton
Knowing it would take a lot of work to restore we then had to sell the idea to the rest of the family, we brought them up and thankfully they instantly fell in love with it! This was all great but would only just add to the disappointment if we couldn't actually acquire the building. So after a little research we found that a local farmer now owned it, my dad and I called round to see him and told him our idea of restoration. He was more than happy to let us have it as long as we cleaned up the site as it was just going to eventually be pulled down one day had it not collapsed before hand with decay! FANTASTIC we thought but now the hard work really starts! So we got started strait away pulling all the ivy off, cutting down a tree growing through it, clearing all the mess inside and revealing how bad of a condition the floor was actually in, Unfortunately it was unable to be saved as it had just sat on the ground with no foundations when it was moved to its Mealsgate site back in 1921.
Allhallows Colliery Signal Box - Ivy Everywhere
The rot had started creeping up the four corner posts a foot or more and the lower panels but the rest was pretty sound, it's quite amazing that a wooden structure of approximately 150 years sited on no foundations was actually still standing.. Victorian rail structures we're certainly built to last! So we toyed with the idea of how exactly are we going to move this 12ft x 9ft structure to our front garden? the first suggestion was to dismantle it piece by piece but as it was so well crafted and such an age we knew it would never go back together as well and we wanted to keep as much of it original as possible as opposed to building a replica, So we then decided the only way would be to transport it by crane, we carefully took the window frames out and saved what glass panes we could, we then jacked the building up to get it square before building a wooden frame around it to support it for transportation, we cautiously put more strengtheners in than we needed but the last thing we wanted was it to fall to pieces on the lift.
The Big Lift into the Garden
There was quite a lot of interest in the project by this stage due to its railway, mining & early motoring history, so my sister sent an email for fun to channel 4's George Clarke's Amazing Spaces' who eagerly got in touch the very next morning to say how pleased at our find they were as it was an ideal feature for their show! They requested we didn't do anything more as they wanted to capture it in its worst possible state and the crew jumped on a train the next day to come up and film a recce! The show wanted it featured on series 4 which was to be aired in Autumn. This put us under immense pressure to have the build finished by then but pushed us on in a sense to make the most of the hot dry summer we were experiencing! So using the crane we transported it to our garden on the prepared concrete pad, the move went without a hitch other than a couple of loose slates breaking off, once it was in place the restoration project got into full swing. We started by cutting the rot out out of the bottom of the corner posts and lap joined on four new hard wood replacements in which to hold the building up, then installed a new floor, replaced 1 windowsill, replaced all the lower panels all of which were made to the original patent, almost all the original window frames we're reused there was only a couple of muntin windowpane dividers and a few corners that needed re-doweling, the coving had perished as the original guttering was missing so that was replaced and also a new gutter fitted, we adapted the front a little and fitted double doors on, to open up the internal space. We also installed a multi-fuel stove in the building like it had in its previous life's so its a place we can enjoy all year round as opposed to only in summer months. We installed electrics to the building and made a signal leaver to operate a model rail track running around the roof just to bring the building back to its roots as a signal box, We scoured salvage yards and found two pews from Ambleside church which date back to a similar age as the signal box. They made fantastic seating. We also have a photo collage inside with associated pictures of the buildings history.
Work In Progress
It has quite an interesting history as it was originally built for Maryport & Carlisle Railway on the Bolton Loop to control traffic at Allhallows Colliery where it was in operation for about 55 years directing trains bringing miners to & from work & exporting coal out of the county and beyond making it part of one of the earliest & most consistently profitable pregrouping railway companies in Britain. Then as the mine & track grew two new smaller signal boxes were installed further down the track either side of the colliery to give earlier signalling this work commenced on Monday July 18th 1921 and made the original signal box now redundant.
1900 Map Showing Allhallows Signal Box
Luckily local coal merchants at the time The Blacklock's acquired the signal box saving it from the scrap heap & moved it a few fields away to the roadside at Mealsgate and initially used it as a coal agents office. It later developed into a shop and garage throughout the war years up until around 1960 where it stood derelict and abandoned ever since.
Isaac Blacklock's Shop and Petrol Station for rations during the War
We've had several elderly people coming round telling of fond memories they had as children coming into Isaac Blacklock's shop for rations during the war, he was also one of only a few in the village to have a Television during the 1950's which made it a hub for the local children. After Isaac's passing and the closure of the shop/garage the local teens still congregated in the now abandoned building for several more years (Making it an unofficial youth club.)
The Finished Signal Box
We worked all summer long with the help of some great friends and neighbours to get the project completed & in time for the TV's deadline, had it been a normal Cumbrian summer we wouldn't have got it finished, we were so blessed with the good weather ! We have also been overwhelmed at the response and support we have had from the locals too and welcome passers by who pay an interest to have a look inside and reminisce.
As advances in today's technology look to consolidate all current functioning British signal boxes, into 14 state of the art rail operating control centres throughout the national railway network. (80% within the next 15 years!) This means phasing out such well crafted buildings of purpose! we feel very lucky to have such an iconic historical surviving building in our garden. Its a place where we now spend a lot of time and somewhere we hope to create a lot more memories for many more generations to come. And so the Signal Box lives on.
To see pictures of the Full restoration at CLIK HERE