Signal boxes bewilderment in Polegate

Polegate and Berwick signal boxes
Polegate and Berwick signal boxes

To the naked eye there might not seem much difference between the two signal boxes pictured.

But despite their apparent similarities, one box was given listed status by English Heritage while the other was refused.

Cllr Michael Clewett, chair of the Save our Signal Box campaign group, has been fighting to get the Polegate signal box listed since National Rail revealed plans to close signal boxes up and down the line and replace them with a new state-of-the-art facility at Three Bridges.

It looked as if the signal box might be demolished but National Rail agreed the community could have the building if there was a use for it. The plans for this are yet to be finalised, but Cllr Clewett said he is still bewildered as to why Berwick signal box, just four miles up the line from Polegate, has been given the accolade even though it has original features missing.

He said “It exasperates me and my committee that English Heritage refuse to list our box when that at Berwick is Grade two and both boxes are very similar, built by Saxby and Farmer. I consider, as an Architect, that ours is a superior building in that we have much more interesting patterned coloured brickwork and also have the window cleaning galleries. We are a smaller version of the Eastbourne box which was recently listed. In particular we do not think due consideration has been given to its prominence in the High Street.”

Cllr Clewett, said the main differences between the boxes are Berwick’s locking room windows were blocked up during the war as a precaution against the Luftwaffe who targetted the railways, where as Polegate’s are still in place. He also said a gas flue terminal has been placed directly through the middle of the roof ridge at Berwick and it has had its original staircase replaced by a scaffolded structure with metal gates rather than the original timber gate that existed before. He also said there is no cleaning gallery or ornamental brickwork at Berwick. In Polegate the brickwork is Alfriston Ecclesiastical around the windows and it has its original staircase.

English Heritage refused listing the building because of the loss of its distinctive, timber horizontal-sliding sash windows.

Cllr Clewett continued: “At Polegate we consistently told English Heritage that our first intention is to replace the plastic windows with timber to match the originals of which we have photographs. English Heritage dismiss this saying they will still be replacements. I have pointed out that as a Diocesan Architect we were always renewing door and window surrounds under the watchful eye of English Heritage and I never heard this argument advanced. Our final appeal to the Secretary of State was dismissed basically on the ground of plastic windows.”

If the building is given to the community, the group plan to turn it into a museum.