South Saint Albans Signal Box is a little treasure for any 3 year old plus to visit that engages parents with a fascinating historical glimpse into just one part of the complicated story of safely getting a train to run on time.
Built in 1892, the wooden signal box, or as our little boy has now nicknamed it, the train box, helped control the trains on 4 tracks between Harpenden and Napsbury until it was abandoned in 1980, but after some devout tlc restoration it is now an official historical monument. We enjoyed a hearty welcome, were given some retro style platform style tickets to enter with, and, like all other visitors, we received a personal tour of the working signals and railway memorabilia in the gardens. This provided wonderful make believe in that real trains are simultaneously slowing down to stop and whooshing past on their way to London and Luton Airport as we pretended to be Owen the Signalman (from Ivor the Engine). There were several nice touches on the cold winter’s day we visited, including a coal fire and oil lamps lit in the garden, the smells from which took me back decades to the coal works that supplied the trains behind my grandparents’ house.
In the upper floor of the signal box we were treated to an explanation of the working 44 lever frame by one of the trustees, interesting more to parents than the younger, fidgeting children who were obviously more intent on pulling things than hearing about them! It was fascinating to watch the realisation by our little boy of what the old skool landline bakelite telephones actually were as he sat next to them, though he was soon lifting each receiver and engaging in a (we hope) fantasy conversation with a mystery operator…before he got lost in having a pull and a turn of the brightly coloured levers and wheels. Downstairs there is a small museum, little shop and video to see the restoration of what had been a derelict building.
I’m looking forward to popping back to the ‘train box’ in the summer to see just how glorious a signalman’s garden really looks and I am sure Little A will eagerly accompany me!
Cost: Free but donations gratefully received to assist with the upkeep.
Open from 2:00 to 5:00 pm
April-September: 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month
October-March: 2nd Sunday of the month
Address: Ridgmont Road, St Albans AL1 3AJ