Hall Royd Junction Box nameboard as preserved at the East Lancashire Raiway, Bury

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway signalling survivors:
a survey of the Bala Lake Railway


Notes on the George Barnes L&YR signal legacy

George H Barnes was a Lancashire railway enthusiast. He was born in 1923, and when aged 18 months, his father would take him to watch the trains at Stubbins Junction. There followed a move to Heapey, a village just outside Chorley, which was on the LYR Chorley to Blackburn line.It was at Chorley that George first took note of the signalling and concluded that both the 1889 an 1912 signals "were by far the smartest and most beautifully proportioned of any Pre-Grouping railway".

In a letter published in the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Newsletter 191 of September 1996 George told how he would visit relatives in Bolton in the 1930s from Chorley. The train would arrive in Bolton's platform 2, and standing in platform 1 was always a railmotor to take passengers onto Radcliffe for Bury and East Lancs. In Newsletters 202 and 203 George told of how he acquired his first two L&YR signals.

In 1957 George and his young family booked a camping coach at Squires Gate in Blackpool. One evening George literally stumbled across an 1889 spectacle plate with its 1.25" diameter shaft still attached, lying in the grass. With it were a lamp bracket and a 14lb counterweight. Despite the weight and size, George was able to load the items into his 1937 Hillman Minx along with the family and possessions on the following Saturday. And so started George's L&YR signal collection. This date was subsequently queried by Tom Wray, who had photographed the both the 1889 signal and the lead into the camping coach siding in the same year.

George found his second signal, also 1889 pattern, between Chorley and Blackburn, at Woods Sidings Signal Box. The Home signal post had rotted at the top, and it was dealt with by having the top of the post sawn off, and an Upper Quadrant arm fixed to it. The resulting surplus post top and arm were left propped against the wall, under the signal box. Subsequently, after the box had been abandoned, George discovered the arm in the locking room, so making his second 'trophy'. In the article George mentions 1952, but this may well be a misprint, with the date more likely to be 1962.

George also noted that Wood's distant was on Brinscall's starter, this being a 1912 pattern. Instead of a black chevron, the arm had a white one, and carried it for the duration of the War until 1945.

George records that shortly after this, he moved to Bala, "where I changed from motor engineering to take an appointment as engineer of a creamery/dairy which was located half way between Bala and Dolgellau. The single line of the Ruabon to Barmouth passed here on a falling gradient behind the creamery". George also bought a caravan site at Pen y Garth Farm at Rhosygwalia, a few miles from Bala on the Llangynog road. His wife ran the site, whilst George worked at the creamery at Drws y Nant.

In 1971 George founded the Bala Lake Railway, having persuaded the County Council to acquire part of the track bed of the Ruabon - Barmouth Junction line, which BR was in the process of dismantling. George was on hand when the gang arrived at Llanuwchllyn Station and paid them the princely sum of £15 to leave the signal box and its frame intact.

George needed signals for his new railway and had the foresight to return to Lancashire and acquired a quantity of redundant Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway equipment from the Bolton and Manchester areas. This included the Raynar Wilson-era (1889) signal that stood next to Bolton West signal box and was frequently photographed from the footbridge. 

The story goes that George was on-site when the demolition gang got to Llanuwchllyn, and he paid them £15 to leave the signal box and its fittings. Consequently the two original token machines are in-situ with a full set of tokens in both directions, along with the GWR double twist frame - the only one in its original box.

Details of the ground signals - and the deployment of L&NWR ground signals in L&YR territory from 1922 onwards - is contained in the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's 'LYR Focus' Journal 76,

Harlech Television made a documentary in 1976 which is on YouTube, and the link to it is shown below. This was a series on the 'Great Little Trains', and I remember watching the Ffesftiniog episode at the time and feeling it was rather patronising. But watching the Bala Lake episode with fresh eyes - some 40 years later (!) - it is an absolute delight. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas gentle teases George Barnes, who handles it all very well, with the result that the Bala is very well served by this TV production. Highly recommended!

Points of particular interest in the video is the interview with George at 2.41 - 6.31 minutes in which George reveals his love of interlockings, and shows how the point rodding deals with expansion and contraction. At 7.27 - 7.40 there is a visit to the signal box and early shots of the two Lanky signals, including some footage close to the Raynar Wilson starter (ex-Bolton West). There is a tail piece by George at 25.09 - 25.25. 

Finally, if you play the film note the wooden ground frame hut that appears at 13:46 minutes. This is believed to be of L&YR origin, but rotted away, and was subsequently replaced by a GWR lamp hut. No photographs or details of the original source of this hut have emerged, although it too was probably from Bolton.