Abandoned signal box set to become heritage centre in nod to Calder Valley's railway history

Few signalling boxes stand to this day as a surviving symbol of Yorkshire’s railway history.

Now, in Hebden Bridge, one is to be brought back into use, albeit in an unusual way. This old signal box, decommissioned in 2018, is soon to change hands to be turned into a heritage centre.

With a land trust taking over its lease from Network Rail, the hope is that its distinctive frame can be used to tell the tale of its riveting past and that of the railways it once served.

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Andrew Bibby, of the Calder Valley Community Land Trust, which is to take up the lease, said: “The railway was hugely important to the Calder Valley, socially and economically.

Pictured Calder Valley Community Land Trust treasurer Karin Lowson. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

“It came through in the 1840s and it opened up textile and cotton industries, which grew with the economy.

“Lots of these signal boxes, over the years, had their innards ripped out, with new ones put in. At Hebden Bridge it has survived, remarkably unchanged.”

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In the early days of the railways there were policemen, signalling with flags and boards, before signal boxes began to evolve from huts and towers in the early 1860s.

Pictured Chris Dale a member of the signal box steering community inside the signal box. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

They were a key part of station structures, ensuring, in effect, that trains would not collide.

After the Calder Valley Line opened in 1841, it was used to transport vast quantities of coal through Hebden Bridge and over the Pennines.

As commerce and the economy grew, the signal box was installed in the 1890s, on what was by then the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, with its “real gem” surviving in its original lever frames.

The box closed for the final time in 2018 as Network Rail upgraded under modernisation, and as signalman Paul Kenny retired after 23 years’ service.

Hebden Bridge Signal Box is to be turned into a heritage centre to showcase it's heritage as it's taken over by a community land trust granted lottery funding. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Custodians

Decommissioned and redundant, the future of the Grade ll-listed building had been uncertain, with the Friends of Hebden Bridge Station concerned it may not thrive. The Calder Valley Community Land Trust, with 250 members, offered to be custodians.

Now, after Lottery funding was secured in the summer, it is hoped a 25-year lease will change hands at the turn of the New Year.

It will mean planning for building work can start, with staffing to rediscover its history, collecting the stories of those who worked on the line, alongside lost photographs and videos.

Hebden Bridge Signal Box pictured in the 1960s. Image courtesy of the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.

Mr Bibby said: “It would have been pretty horrendous to have this beautiful station at Hebden Bridge and then the historic signal box all boarded up outside.

“We now have funds to be able to put some real TLC, a little bit of care, into the building. A lot of work has gone into this. I’m sure there’s plenty more to be done.”

Community ownership

Chris Gee, operations director for Network Rail’s North and East route, said: “We’re continuing to work with the Friends of Hebden Bridge Signal Box and the Calder Valley Community Land Trust to bring the Grade II-listed signal box into community ownership.

“The planned project will restore the signal box to its former glory so it can be enjoyed by people in the community and visitors to the area for years to come.”

A grant of £99,600 has been secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, supported by £25,000 from the Railway Heritage Trust, for the new heritage centre to take centre stage.

Pictured Chris Dale a member of the signal box steering community inside the signal box. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Plans so far involve a computer simulation in which visitors take a train through a section of track, as well as a series of oral history recordings to be made with those who operated it.

Additionally, part of the signal box is to be opened up as overnight accommodation, planned from summer, appealing to railway enthusiasts and creating a revenue stream for upkeep.

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Hebden Bridge Signal Box is to be turned into a heritage centre to showcase it's heritage as it's taken over by a community land trust granted lottery funding. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe