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Signal Boxes

In July of 2013 I discovered that the historic signal boxes in the Peterborough region were to be "decommissioned" by National Rail; in other words bulldozed. The Guardian reported, “National Rail is decommissioning many mechanical signal boxes to consolidate signaling into 12 regional centres as part of a 30-year plan to modernise the system. There will be a marked acceleration in the number of signal boxes decommissioned each year.”
When I heard this news I decided to preserve the images of these historic structures in the form of screen-prints.  Living on the edge of the Fens, railway level crossings and signal boxes have been a very familiar part of local journeys for generations. You do not have to be a railway enthusiast to appreciate them.

A railway enthusiast friend identified the signal boxes that were closest to my home. I immediately set out to photograph them before it was too late.  What inspired me most about these buildings was their individuality and character.  No two are the same, despite their common purpose, and they all show the effects of time, wear and weather in different ways. I have produced a prints of the four boxes between Deeping St. James and Spalding from those photographs.

The Spalding Line


In the first print in the series I brought all the four boxes together in an invented landscape. The rail enthusiast’s teenage ticket collection either rains down as autumnal leaves or flows out of the engine’s funnel as ticketed steam. It is not intended as a record of the structure, rather a hymn to their passing.

Screen-print in 6 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 50cms x W 70cms, Image: H 32cms x W 63.5cms Limited Edition of 25

John Lee's Box


Whilst photographing the Peckover Road box in Spalding I noticed a plaque dedicated to John William Lee, who had worked as a signalman for 51 years. I decided to make a print entitled “John Lee’s Box” to make sure his achievement would not be forgotten. I have digitally removed all the scrappy fencing in front of the box and enlarged the plaque. In the background there is a platform timetable from 1964. My initial attempt to contact a member of the Lee family initially failed but a chance enquiry at Spalding Station elicited the information that, after the box’s demolition, the plaque was to be re-sited on the station platform. The family came to its unveiling. I was able to give his son, a copy of the print. He loaned me some photographs of his father and gave me a brief biography.

Screen-print in 6 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 46.5cms x W 32.5cms, Image: H 39cms x W 29cms Limited Edition of 25

St. James, Deeping


The third signal box print features the one nearest home and the one I visited most frequently. I was able to photograph the box in different seasons, inside and out. I came to admire the barge boarding decoration and it pinnacle. In order to create this image I have removed a rail track and moved the gate closer to the box. The trees can be viewed on the other side of the tracks. I was there at the box’s demolition. The good news is that the Deeping Signal Box group is determined to rebuild it close to its original site.

Screen-print in 7 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 50cms x W 38cms, Image: H 40cms x W 28cms Limited Edition of 25

Anyone wishing to buy a brick for £10 to help rebuild this historic signal box is asked to send a cheques made payable to "St James Deeping Signal Box Group" to Mr. A Bowell, 43 Burchnall Close, Deeping St James, Peterborough, PE6 8QJ. The group can also be emailed at

Gates and Gauges


After making a series of prints which featured the external design of local signal boxes I decided to make a print which showed the specific features which give the boxes their character: inside and out. Most of the images are from the St. James Deeping Box but others are the result of extensive photographic research in the area around Oakham and Melton Mowbray. This is the largest print I have ever made and it tested my skills to the max.

Screen-print in 5 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 83.5cms x W 64.5cms, Image: H 73.5cms x W 54.5cms
Limited Edition of 12



The images in this print are visual quotes from the "Gates and Gauges" print and which made before this. All of the images are from the St. James Deeping Box.

Screen-print in 5 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 42.5cms x W 43.5cms, Image: H 36.5cms x W 36.5cms Limited Edition of 15

The process of decommissioning has been completed. I hope the prints will help preserve our memories of these historic and fascinating buildings.

Nene Living has been kind enough to write an account of my signal box prints - click here to read.

John McGowan  
December 2015

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