Conservation of the Barnstaple (L&B) Signal Box – Part 1

Published: 2nd February, 2024

After dismantling and removal of the ex-Barnstaple signal box from the garden in Umberleigh,  a start has been made to assess and conserve the various components. Perhaps the most distinctive and delicate parts of signal boxes are the windows, so this is where work has initially been focussed.

The box was originally built with windows on all four sides, with a total of eleven separate sashes of 6 slightly different sizes/types. 7 of the 11 were fixed and the other 4 slid behind their adjacent fixed sash on plain rollers along rectangular section sash rails.  Only three sashes have survived to the present day –  a matched fixed+sliding pair from the RHS of the front elevation facing the track, and a larger ~2m wide fixed sash that would originally have been on the rear face of the box overlooking the transhipment siding.  At some time post-1935, this large sash had been relocated to the front LHS of the box.

Fixed and sliding sashes

Window sashes

Of the three survivors, the smaller fixed sash was in the best condition. After removal of all the paint and putty, the top cm of the bottom rail was found to be rotten, so a new piece of wood was inserted. One of the vertical glazing bars was missing so a replacement had to be made.   Following treatment of all components with wood preservative, the sash was reassembled and primed.

Window sashes

Damaged and rotten tenon joint

Sliding sash

The matching sliding sash required rather more remedial work. The entire outer face, the tenon at one end, and two other sections of the bottom rail needed replacement, along with part of the outer face of one of the stiles.  The outward-facing ‘noses’ of most the glazing bars had been badly damaged by repeated re-glazing/redecorating  over 125 years, so had to be replaced by new sections inserted into slots made in the body of the original glazing bars.

Sliding sash

Wet rot in base of stile

Large fixed sash

Work has just started on the large fixed sash that is in relatively poor condition compared to the other two. Its conservation will hopefully be the subject of Part 2 of this blog.

Traces of royal blue paint

Paint colours

Regarding paint colours, all the paint removed so far from parts of the sashes that would have been visible (inside or out) has been white.  Where they were joined onto the window frames, there are some traces of royal blue paint that had presumably strayed into the joint from the frame.