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Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin

At Frome

Frome Box
Frome North Box
John Vincent - 1983

The history of Frome North Signal Cabin is, thankfully, somewhat simpler than that of Radstock North Signalbox - though not, as we shall see, entirely without controversy.

Although the box itself, being the first and only box on that site, was not built until 1875, it is perhaps instructive to look briefly at the history of the lines which it was later to control.


On 9th July 1844, Brunel presented a scheme to the Directors of the GWR, for a railway from Thingley Junction to Salisbury, with branches to Bradford-on-Avon, Frome and Devizes.

This scheme in an expanded form, with the Frome branch extended to Weymouth, and the Bradford-on-Avon branch extended to Bathampton, became the basis of the Wilts. Somerset & Weymouth Railway.

(Phillips. 1994. p.11)


The Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Act was passed on 30th June 1845, and construction was begun by the nominally independent company, with Brunel as Engineer, and four of the twelve directors appointed by the GWR.

Phillips. 1994. p.12; Thomas. 1973. p.164)


A supplementary Act was passed which, amongst other things, moved the junction of the Salisbury and Weymouth lines from Upton Scudamore to Westbury, with a consequent effect on the location and layout of the junction for the Radstock branch, which was later to be the controlled from our signal box.

(Phillips. 1994. p.13; Thomas. 1973. p.164; Vincent. 1990. p.24)


The Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth company completed the Thingley Junction to Westbury section, which was opened on 5th September 1848, but had no further capital for constructing the rest of the lines

(Phillips. 1994. p.14; Thomas 1973. p.169)


The Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth company was finally absorbed by the GWR on 14th March 1850. Thus the broad gauge single line from Westbury to Frome, which opened on the 7th October 1850, following an inspection on 27th September 1850 (Inspector's Report: PRO MT6/9/70), was completed under the auspices of the Great Western Railway.

(Phillips. 1994. p.14; Thomas. 1973. p.170)


The broad gauge branch from Frome to Radstock, authorised by the same act of 1845, was inspected on the 23rd October 1854 [Inspector's Report] (PRO MT6/11/109) and opened for freight traffic on 14th November 1854.

(Phillips. 1994. p.15; Thomas. 1973. p.170)

The, Westbury facing, junction of this branch with the Frome-Westbury main line, known as Frome Mineral Junction, was later to be controlled by our signal cabin, but at this stage the single-lines on the route were all controlled by double-needle telegraphs located in station offices, and a system of train staffs.

(Phillips. 1994. p.25)


The Frome to Yeovil line was opened as a single broad gauge line on 1st September 1856.

(Phillips. 1994. p.15; Thomas. 1973. p.171; Inspector's Report:PRO MT6/13/76)


It is not clear when the line through Frome Mineral Junction from Westbury to Frome was doubled, though it may well have been very early on. Certainly the 'GWR Regulations for Working The Single Lines of Railway by means of the Electric Telegraph' issued circa 1860 (PRO RAIL 1135/39) lists the lines so worked, which include Yeovil and Frome; Salisbury and Westbury; Bradford and Bathampton; but significantly not Westbury and Frome. This would imply either, that this section was not worked by electric telegraph; or, more probably, that it was no longer a single line. By the time that the first 'Return of Railway Signal Arrangement and System of Working' was required by the Board of Trade in 1875, this section is most certainly listed as a double line worked by Absolute Block (PRO RAIL 1053/187).


At around this time double needle telegraph instruments were replaced with the single needle type, to control trains on the single line sections of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth routes. In the absence of signal boxes these instruments were still located in station offices. Westbury to Frome and Radstock to Frome are given as still being worked by single needle telegraph in 1873.

(Phillips. 1994. pp.25-26)


All the lines in the area were converted to narrow (standard) gauge in June 1874. The last broad gauge train left Frome on 21st June 1874 and both tracks to Westbury were available for narrow gauge trains by 25th June 1874. Conversion of the Radstock Branch took place between 18th and 26th June.

(Phillips. 1994. p.24, p.107; Thomas. 1973. p.172)


Major works were undertaken at this time to permit replacement of Permissive Block with Absolute Block (completed on all single track sections of the Wilts. Somerset, and Weymouth by 1874) and the general introduction of signal boxes concentrating point and signal levers in an interlocked frame, on the whole of the Bath to Weymouth line (completed by 1877)

(Phillips. 1994. p.26)

Considerable work was also undertaken in the Frome area to permit the working of a through passenger service between Frome and Bristol. The works included a new chord line (The West Curve) leaving the branch at the newly created Frome Mineral Loop Junction (or West Junction) and giving direct access to Frome station.

(Phillips. 194. p.18; Vincent. 1990. p.246)

The passenger line was inspected by Colonel Yolland on 25th June 1875 [Inspector's Report] (PRO MT6/142/10) and passenger services commenced between Frome and Bristol on the 5th July 1875. The local press declared that “The boon conferred upon the travelling public by the opening of this small branch is considerable” as the journey from Bristol to Frome could now be “accomplished in and hour and a quarter without change of carriage” as opposed to two hours via Bath and Westbury [Press Article] (BTM 6th July 1875).

Frome Box
The turn of the 20th Century - as recreated at Didcot
R J Heron 1989

Frome No 1 Signal Cabin was opened, as part of this work, to control the original junction for the branch. The works on the original line between this cabin and Frome Mineral Loop Junction (The Mineral Loop or East Curve) were apparently incomplete at the time of the inspection by Colonel Yolland (PRO MT6/142/10) and were not therefore passed, a re-inspection being undertaken by Captain Tyler on 18th September 1875 [Inspector's Report] (PRO MT6/150/5).

(Phillips. 1994. p.113; Vincent. 1990. p.61)

Frome No. 1 Signal Cabin, is typical of the type referred to by the Signalling Record Society as GWR Type 2, having a brick lower storey and brick back wall, with a three quarter prefabricated wooden structure, mounted on top.

(Signalling Study Group. 1986. p.161: Vincent. 1990. p. 246

Frome Number 2 (later Middle box), Number 3 (later South Box) and Number 4 (or West Box) were opened in the same year

(Phillips 1994. p.107)

A Controversy: Frome Mineral Junction

It has been suggested that the box was named 'Frome Mineral Junction''by 1895' (Vincent. 1990. p.246), but no evidence has so far been found to support this claim. The Working Timetables (PRO RAIL 937/xx) certainly refer to Frome No. 1 as early as 1880 and as late as 1896, in which year it was most certainly renamed Frome North.

It seems that whilst the junction itself may have been officially called 'Frome Mineral Junction' the box itself was never so named, until this name was conferred upon it, in preservation at Didcot, by the Great Western Society.

There is further confusion regarding the name of the junction itself; Colonel Yolland refers to 'what is called the North Junction' in 1875 (PRO MT6/142/10), whereas diagrams of the period shew it as Frome Mineral Junction. It has been suggested that it was popularly referred to as Frome Mineral Junction as late as the 1950's, though in the current working timetables it is shewn as Frome North Junction!

Neither is the term Frome Mineral Junction used exclusively to refer to the North Junction. Various GWR working timetables shew Bristol-Frome passenger trains passing Frome Mineral Junction where the routing is clearly not via North Junction. What is more the chainages from Frome Station to Frome Mineral Junction are given as 13ch in 1895 but 21ch in 1933. One explanation would be that the terms Frome Mineral Loop Junction or even Frome Mineral Loop Line Junction, originally used to refer to the West Junction, have become contracted to Frome Mineral Junction at some stage so that both North and West junctions have been so designated. The other possibility is that the entire triangle was known as Frome Mineral Junction at some period. Clearly this is potentially a major source of confusion.

With the commencement of passenger services it can be seen from the Working Timetables (PRO RAIL 937/xx) that the single line between Frome No. 4 (West) and Mells, which had been worked by staff and ticket, was subsequently worked by Train Staff and Auxiliary Disk Telegraph, the latter we believe referring to Disc Block Telegraph invented by Spagnoletti in 1863. That is to say the one engine in steam staff (or maybe staff and ticket system) was supplemented by a block telegraph system which indicated the state of the line, but had no physical linkage with the staff itself.

Note that all the lines directly controlled by Frome No. 1 (North) were double track at this time.

Another Controversy - The Electric Train Staff

Phillips makes claims concerning the Board of Trade pressing for the use of the Electric Train Staff in 1877, and alleges that a GWR General Manager's Report to the Board of 1880 states that Electric Train Staff working has been introduced on the Radstock branch and that the GWR had decided to retain its use after a trial period.

(Phillips. 1994. pp. 26-27)

This is however a misrepresentation of the situation, for the Electric Train Staff was not invented until the late 1880's and not used on the Great Western until 1891. The General Manager's report (PRO RAIL 250/691) in fact refers to 'Train Staffs' and not 'Electric Train Staffs' and the debate seems to have revolved around whether train staffs were required on single lines where disc block telegraph was in place.

(Kichenside & Williams. 1998. p.88; Vaughan. 1984. p.13)



The signalbox was renamed Frome North, plates for Frome North, South, Middle and West, having been ordered on 22nd June 1895 (Signalling Record Society). This name change occurs between the January and May 1896 timetables (PRO RAIL 937/64).

Signalbox Namplate

In 2007 the Great Western Society were pleased to be able to purchase the original signalbox nameplate for Frome North Box.



The single line section between Frome West Box and Mells Road began to be worked by Electric Train Staff at some stage between the May and October Timetables (PRO RAIL 937/67).


Additional siding accommodation in the form of a single down refuge was provided at North Junction. The plan submitted to the Board of Trade prior to the inspection of these works is interesting for whilst the plan is headed 'Frome Mineral Junction' the signalbox depicted thereon is clearly labelled North Signal Cabin (PRO MT6/1105/2).


The route past the box gained importance on 2nd July 1906, when the new direct double track route to the west via Castle Cary was fully opened to passenger traffic.

(Phillips. 1994. p.20; Thomas. 1973. p.173)


Frome Box
Frome North Box 19-Aug-1933
Brunel University, Mowat Collection; (a section of) M623
(This and other pictures are available from:
Mr Warwick Burton, 3 Fairway, Clifton, York YO30 5QA)

The traffic would have decreased again however with the opening of the two-mile Frome by-pass between Clink Road Junction and Blatchbridge Junction, in 1933 which allowed goods and express trains to bypass both Frome Station and the Radstock branch junction. Freight trains started to use the avoiding line from January and express trains from the start of the summer timetable.

(Phillips 1994. p.20; Thomas, 1973. p.173

Frome South Box and Frome Middle Box were replaced with a new Frome South box which took over the functions of both former boxes on 17th September 1933. Frome West Box was reduced to a ground frame on 24th September 1933, the single line section on the Radstock branch becoming Frome South - Mells Road.

(Phillips. 1994. p.29; Vincent. 1990. p.246)

At about this time, the west curve (South Box to West Ground Frame) was singled, and the Electric Train Staff instruments between Frome South and Mells Road were replaced with an electric token system.

It is unclear in which order these actions took place, as whilst the Inspector's visit was requested in December 1933 it did not actually take place until 29th June 1935 [Inspector's Report] (PRO MT29/90 p.112). By this time all of the works listed were complete but there was apparently still some track circuiting going on at the south end of the station.

It is possible that as a temporary measure the Electric Train Staff apparatus was moved from West Box to the new South Box but if this is so it remains unclear how trains coming onto the branch from North junction gained access to a Staff, when required. By the time of the Inspector's visit, token apparatus was in place and an intermediate token instrument was provided at Frome West Ground Frame, for use of trains coming onto the branch via the North junction.


Frome Box
Frome North Box
John Vincent - 1983

Plans were produced to substantially rebuild the box. The plans, from the GWR Signal and Telegraph Engineer's Office at Reading (ME.5408. GWS Collection) dated 24th June 1947, show proposals to remove the existing timber framing and roof of the box completely, brick up to the underside of the new sill level and to new brick gables and to install completely new woodwork. Also to shore up the structure with four RSJ's below rail level and substantial rebuilding of the existing brickwork. At this date it is interesting to note that the box had already acquired a porch which is not thought to be part of the original structure. Clearly not all of this work was ever carried out, though at some stage new windows were fitted and the brickwork was extended up to sill level replacing the original vertical boarding under the windows.


The Bristol to Frome Line was closed to passengers on Saturday 31st October 1959 [Press Article] (WDP 2/11/59) [Press Article] (BC 2/11/1959).

(Phillips. 1994. p.22; Vincent. 1990. p.156)


The West Curve, between West Ground Frame and South Box, was closed on 10th November 1963. Presumably the token instrument for the line to Mells Road was moved from Frome South Box to Frome North Box at this point.

(Phillips 1994. p.117; Vincent. 1990. p.159)


The line north of Mells Road to Radstock was closed on 15th August 1966 leaving only the stone trains from Whatley Quarry, and a few other minor sources of traffic in the Frome and Mells area, served by the branch from Frome North.

(Vincent. 1990. p.163)


The line from Mells Road to Radstock was reopened following the closure of the Radstock to Bristol section on 10th July 1968 bringing the Radstock coal trains via Frome.

(Vincent. 1990. p.163)

The remaining double track section, of the former triangle, between Frome North Box and West Ground Frame was reduced to a single line on 11th August 1968 with the up branch converted to a siding and all Radstock Branch traffic running over the former down line.

(Phillips. 1994. p.117)


Frome Box
Frome North Box
A R Hook Sep-1975

A new frame was installed in the box, and brought into operation on 19th August 1970. This frame, probably the third in the box's history, was a 34 lever Vertical Tappet frame from Marsh Junction Box, in Bristol. (This frame has now been installed at Crowcombe on the West Somerset Railway). Tracklaying and resignalling also took place at this time with the effect that the line from Frome North to Blatchbridge Junction was singled, track-circuited throughout, and controlled by Acceptance Levers. Also a direct facing connection was made at Frome North to avoid the need for trains to reverse into a siding before entering the branch.

(Phillips. 1994. p.32, p.117, p.113; Vincent. 1990. p.247)

 Key Token
R J Heron 14-Aug-04

By this time No Signalman Electric Key Token (NSKT), D Configuration, was in use between Frome North Box and Mells Road, with intermediate instruments at Frome West Ground Frame and Somerset Quarry Siding.

(Vincent. 1990. p.250)



Frome Box
Frome North Box
John Vincent - 1983

Although all the routes originally controlled by the box remain in use to this day Frome North Box closed on 6th October 1984, with all the lines in the area being brought under the control of the new Westbury Panel Box on 8th October.

(Phillips. 1994. p.113; Vincent. 1990. p.247; Vincent. 1990. p.249)

The box top was removed on a low loader by the Great Western Society on October 28th 1984 and subsequently transported to Didcot Railway Centre (See Section Below).


As well as the published and public sources quoted above, I should like to thank: Chris Osment and Tim Venton, and also Derek Coe, Reg Instone and John Morris of the Signalling Record Society, who have all provided assistance with this research.

(Section still being researched)


The Move to Didcot

With the restoration of Radstock signalbox nearing completion, thought was given to what the signalling project at Didcot Railway Centre was really hoping to achieve. This resulted in the production of a ‘Discussion Document’ in 1980 which essentially suggested that a second signalbox was required to allow the demonstration of passing trains between boxes. So the search for a second box was joined.

Bruton Box
Bruton Box
G C Drew 1983

Clearly a typical G.W. box made at Reading was required, but also one that was relatively small and in a location that was easily accessible. Then the Taunton Group requested a box of the broad-gauge period at the north of the site and B.R. announced their West of England resignalling. This suggested that one of the few remaining Mk.2 GW boxes in the area, in particular Bruton might be suitable. Bruton was suitably small, built in 1875 and had good access, however, it was of mainly brick construction and contained a hybrid frame. A reservation was placed on the box in early 1983, in the expectation that it would become available around October 1984.

The G.W.R. stud-locking frame of 25 levers in Bruton was unusual in having 4" between the lever centres instead of the usual 5 1/4" centre. Unfortunately this spacing would preclude our providing a label board - a long brass strip set behind the levers which described their function - as with a 4" centre frame you would not be able to read the board between the gaps. So the first stage in the downfall of Bruton came with the decision not to buy the frame and instead to obtain the 5 1/4" centre stud frame from Stoneycombe Sidings during June 1984. The second stage came when BR informed us that Bruton was closing on December 7th 1983 giving only three weeks notice.

(BGN Jul 84; GWS NN 148a)

Frome Cabin
A R Hook 7-Oct-1984

Therefore it was decided to change to our fall back option - Frome North which was a similar building and would be available in October 1984 when the job could be undertaken with proper planning.

The lift was planned for October 28th 1984 three weeks after the box closed at 08.00 on Saturday October 6th. In the intervening four weekends the box was prepared for movement by demolition of the bulk of the brick base and the erection of a huge timber girdle around the wooden top, which was actually only 3/4 of a box when the brick back is removed. Other issues included closure of a main road for 3 hours, and isolating nearby overhead electricity cables. Sparrows Crane Hire offered a complete package deal including movement and off-loading at Didcot.

Frome Cabin
A R Hook 28-Oct-1984

After the closure of the box by BR on the 6th the girdle was erected, having been pre-fabricated out of huge baulks from the post-office demolition in Bath. The roof was stripped to save weight and it was creosoted to provide temporary protection from the elements.

Sunday October 28th 1984 began at 6.00 a.m. with the collection of all the concrete blocks purchased from the area and loading them onto a 3-ton lorry that was being used to bring all the ‘extras’ up to Didcot.

Frome Cabin
A R Hook 28-Oct-1984

The crane arrived at 9 a.m. and the lift began in front of a huge crowd of local people. With the stretchers in place the lift proved no problem and the box was very soon on the lorry and on its way to Didcot.

Frome Cabin
G C Drew 29-Oct-1984

On the morning of Monday 29th confusion reigned supreme in the provender yard. We had rail wagon, signalbox, workers and loading inspector but no crane. After a three hour wait it finally turned-up - just after we had adjourned to the station for tea and the loading went very smoothly though not quite quickly enough to prevent the shunters going for lunch and another 1 1/2 hour wait. Finally at about 2.30 the journey onto Didcot site began via some very unusual goods lines at about 5 m.p.h.

The description of the move above, is an adapted and much shortened version of an article: ‘The Frome North Project’ by Alan Price. Great Western Echo – No. 89. Spring 1985 pp, 4-6



Frome Cabin
A R Hook 8-Nov-1987

Once the box top had been recovered and safely stored on site, proceedings were somewhat interrupted by the commissioning of the level crossing and Radstock North box, together with the other events of GW150 in 1985.

However the concrete 'raft' foundations of the box were completed by June 1986 and the brick locking room was complete by September of that year.

It was not until November 1987 that all was ready for the remains of the box top to be lifted onto the new brick base.

Fortunately as the box top was lighter than that of Radstock, particularly in view of the removal of the slates and windows from the box, it was possible to use the site 5t steam crane to undertake the lift.

Frome Cabin
A R Hook 13-Dec-1987

Once on top of the brick base, the next stage was to complete the remaining brickwork - mainly the rear wall. It was then possible to reinstate a replica of the original vertical boarding under the windows, together with replacement window sills and repair to rotten timber when necessary.

The final parts of the exterior restoration involved the installation of new window frames and box steps to the original pattern, and re-slating the roof with new materials.

Frome Cabin
A R Hook 25-Sep-1988

Once this was complete the box was fully repainted in traditional Great Western light and dark stone and attentions could turn to interior fittings and the creation of the broad-gauge period signalling installation which was to surround the box.

Frome Cabin
5051 'Drysllwyn Castle' is seen, in high summer, drifting past the recently completed box structure .
A R Hook 6-Aug-1989

At this stage the box looks somewhat isolated, there is no point-rodding or signal wires, nor any sign of habitation. To achieve the full effect the next few years were spent not only building a complete 1870's period signalling installation, but also, putting up such items as a telegraph pole route and appropriate staff exchange apparatus.

As well as this a considerable amount of landscaping was carried out, involving cutting trees back, planting and trimming hedges, planting a flower border and a rose bed and surfacing the area with boards, paving and ash as appropriate, not to mention growing some strips of grass on either side of the box.

Frome Cabin

The finished result is, we think, a box in harmony with its surroundings. As with all our work at Didcot, we aim to make the buildings look as though they have 'always' been there and now that the box has been in place for several years, that is what we believe we have achieved with Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin.


Published Photo's

A listing of published photographs which include Frome North Box, before its removal to Didcot.

For reference information on the books see “Bibliography”, section below.

  Where Published Description of Photograph Date (where given) Attributed to:
1 Vincent, p.248 Front view of Frome North Box. 2/3/1973 G.F. Gillham
2 Leigh, p.88 Front view of Frome North Box after closure 1984 P.W.Durham
3 Leigh, p.89 Rear view of Frome North Box showing extensive brickwork base   D.J. Hyde
4 Vaughan. (1990), p.125 Inside view of the box showing Tom Baber, Signalman 1973 A. Vaughan
5 Phillips, p.116 Front view of Frome North Box 21/3/1965 C. L. Caddy
6 Phillips, p.116 View of Box looking towards Frome station 1973 Adrian Vaughan Collection
7 Phillips, p.116 Inside view of box showing part of the frame and block shelf 1974 John Morris

Vaughan. (1977), p.330

Clark, p.75

View of Box from Frome direction showing porch 1973

A. Vaughan

South Devon Railway Museum

9 Vincent, p.229 47122 in charge of a Whatley Quarry-Westbury Stone Train drops of the single line token 13/5/1981 Mike Miller



An incomplete list of where to find published information on the history of the GWR line through Frome, and photographs of Frome North Box.

See the “Published Photo's'” section above for more detail of the photo-coverage.

Clark, Ralph H. 1981. An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Stations, Layouts and Illustrations, Volume Three. Oxford Publishing Company, Headington, Oxford.

One Photograph of the box on page 75.

Kichenside, Geoffrey & Williams, Alan. 1998. Two Centuries of Railway Signalling. Oxford Publishing Company, Sparkford, Somerset. ISBN 0 86093 541 8

Leigh, Chris. 1984. GWR Country Stations:2. Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey. ISBN 0 7110 1438 8

Two Photographs of the box on pages 88-89

Phillips, Derek. 1994. The Story of the Westbury to Weymouth Line. Oxford Publishing Co. Haynes, Sparkford. ISBN 0 86093 514 0

A general history of the line with a section on Frome pp. 107-121 and three Photographs of the box on page 116.

Price, Alan. 1985. The Frome North Project. Great Western Echo – No.89. Spring 1985 pp, 4-6. Published by the Great Western Society Limited, Didcot, Oxfordshire.

Signalling Study Group, The. 1986. The Signal Box. Oxford Publishing Company, Poole, Dorset. ISBN 0 86093 224 9

General information about GWR Type 2 boxes (pp.160-161).

Thomas, David St. John. 1973. A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 1, The West Country (fourth edition). David and Charles, Newton Abbot. ISBN 0 7153 6208 9.

A railway history of the area is offered on pages 164-179.

Vaughan, Adrian. 1977. A Pictorial Record of Great Western Architecture. Oxford Publishing Company, Poole. Dorset. ISBN 0 902888 22 6

One Photograph of the box on page 330

Vaughan, Adrian. 1984. A Pictorial Record of Great Western Signalling (Revised). Oxford Publishing Co, Poole, Dorset. ISBN 0 86093 346 6

Vaughan, Adrian. 1990. Signalman's Reflections. Silver Link Publishing, Great Addington, Northants. ISBN 0 047971 54 8

One Photograph of the box on page 125

Vincent, Mike. 1990. Through Countryside and Coalfield: the GWR’s Bristol and North Somerset Railway. Haynes, Sparkford. ISBN 0-86093-428-4

Information about the box on pp. 246-247 and a Photograph of the box on page 248.

In addition various copies of the Great Western Echo (GW Echo), Great Western Society National Newsletter (GWS NN) and Great Western Society (Bristol Group) News (BGN), all published by the Great Western Society, have been consulted.

Original Documentation has been consulted at The National Archives - Public Record Office at Kew (PRO)

Newspaper reports were taken from the Western Daily Press (WDP), Bristol Times and Mirror (BTM) and Bristol Evening Post (BEP), all of which are viewable (mostly on microfilm) at Bristol Central Reference Library, the various incarnations of the Bath Chronicle (BC) which are viewable (on microfilm) at Bath Central Library, and the various incarnations of the Somerset Guardian (SG) which are viewable (on microfilm) at the Somerset Local Studies Library in Taunton.


Recreating the golden age of the Great Western Railway