Brading Station Visitor Centre, Isle of Wight
Come to visit Brading Station’s Heritage Centre and the signal box, a real joy to railway enthusiasts everywhere. The centre’s tea room provides refreshments which include railway man’s lunches, cream teas, snacks and drinks to suit all tastes.
In 1987 Brading Station was threatened with demolition. A strong reaction from Brading community prompted the Brading Town Trust and Brading Town Council to resolve to save the Station. In 1989 the entire Station complex was made a Grade II listed building and leased to Brading Town Trust.
A community group, the Brading Station Community Centre Association, was created to manage the Station which continued until 1998. However, by the end of 1998, the Association had largely disbanded and the Station was further vandalised. In 2000 the Town Council entered into an agreement with Brading Town Trust to manage the Station. Again, efforts were made to hire out the building but insufficient income was generated.
In 2002 a Market Towns Health check was undertaken and a Community Development Action Plan created. The Plan consisted of a number of projects, one of which was the restoration of the Station. In 2004 grant funding was obtained from Leader +, the Railway Heritage Trust (RHT) and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and the buildings on the western platform were restored.
The building opened to the public in June 2005. In 2005 further funding was secured from Leader + to staff the Station. The Station opened in 2006 and over 1000 people visited the Station. In 2007 further restoration of the eastern platform took place and in 2009, grants from Leader and the RHT enabled restoration of the Signal Box and waiting rooms. In March 2010 they were opened to the public for the first time in 40 years. The Town Council currently hold a lease, which expires in 2017, with South West Trains, which covers all of the station buildings.
At their June 2013 meeting, the Town Council resolved to form a Station Committee comprising of Town Councillors and volunteers. The terms of reference of the committee include the development of a Business Plan which would aim to make the Station Centre self-financing.
The public can visit the Station’s Heritage Centre and the signal box from May to October. Group and coach visits are always welcome by arrangement. There is much railway ephemera, books and gifts on sale – a real joy to railway enthusiasts everywhere. The centre’s tea room provides refreshments which include railway man’s lunches, cream teas, snacks and drinks to suit all tastes.
The signal box was probably built to a design by the Isle of Wight Railway and was opened in 1882, the same year that the branch line to Bembridge was brought into operation. The frame – that is to say the levers and associated mechanical parts – was manufactured by Stevens & Co. What perhaps is immediately striking is the lofty position with its good visibility. Signal boxes were sited so that the signalman could see as much as possible of the immediate area he had to control. In the days when the lineside was trimmed regularly, he could see trains approaching from Ryde and Sandown as well as observe the progress of the branch train across the marshland from St Helens.
The number of levers in the frame – some 30 in all – may seem a lot but in days gone by Brading, signalmen had a fair amount of work to do as we shall see. When the line opened in 1864, the single line from Ryde continued to Sandown also as a single line with Brading a station where trains could pass each other. After the formation of the Southern Railway in 1923, a programme of work was undertaken to improve the service on the Island’s railways and the line from Brading to Sandown was made into a double track. In 1988 some rationalisation was carried out and the Brading – Sandown section reverted to single track and the signal box was closed on 29 October 1988, all trains now being controlled from Ryde St Johns Road signal box.
So, what was it like in days gone by and how did it all work?
First, there are four simple terms which need to be understood. Two concern the direction of travel, in this case Up meaning a train from the Sandown direction and going to Ryde, and Down meaning a train coming from the Ryde direction and going to Sandown. The other two terms concern the position of the levers in the frame. When they are away from you and in the back of the frame they are described as being in the Normal position and when you pull them over towards you they are in the Reverse position.
Look out of the window in the Down direction and just beyond the public crossing over the line there was a siding on the Upside, officially called No. 1 Up Siding but always referred to by railwaymen as ‘Chalk Siding’. Access was controlled by points 11 and signal 6. Now look in the Up direction at the Ryde end of the station and on the Upside, there was No. 2 Up Siding which led to a loading dock at the end of the platform and also past a goods shed. Access was controlled by points 18 and signal 7.
Now let us look at the Downside of the layout. You may have probably noticed that the signal box is set some way back from the platform and that is because the intervening space had to accommodate the arrival/departure track of the branch train to Bembridge, a track for the engine to run around its train and also a siding. All these movements were controlled from the signal box. In addition, there were the normal passenger trains to control and signal so it is easy to see why so many levers were required.
The line from Brading to Ryde was a single track and each train had to carry a ‘single line token’ for safety and to ensure that only one train was on the single line at any one time. The signalman, therefore, had to go down the steps and onto the platform to meet every incoming train from the Ryde direction and collect the token or, for trains going to Ryde, go to the platform and hand a token over to the driver. That must have kept the signalman fit!
The last passenger train on the Bembridge branch ran on Sunday 20 September 1953. The branch did, however, remain partially open until 1956 for goods traffic and the storage of rolling stock at St Helen’s. When all traffic finally ceased then some levers in the frame were no longer required and were classified as ‘spare’ and painted white.
If you wish to imagine that you are on duty and want to send a train to Ryde, you will need to do the following. Begin with all the levers in the Normal position, then reverse 19, 20, 17 in that order. After the train has departed replace 17, 20, 19 to Normal in that order. To receive a train from Ryde and send it on to Sandown, begin with all levers in the Normal position, then reverse 20, 28, 29 in that order. After your imaginary train has departed, replace 28, 20, 29 in that order.