Midsomer Norton was a relatively busy rural railway location on the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway line from Bath to Bournemouth. Not only dealing with a large number of passing heavy freight and passenger trains (including the famous ‘Pines Express’),in the summer it handled substantial holiday traffic, a regular stopping passenger service , a busy goods yard and the traffic from the largest colliery in Somerset – Norton Hill. The signal box was usually open for two turns ( 06.00 to 21.00) Monday to Saturday and was switched-out on Sundays. The layout had two crossovers which allowed the trip working from Radstock yard to run round the colliery trains before heading back. In common with normal S&D practice both were hand signalled. Such was the colliery output that this was required twice a day so there was usually a locomotive at Midsomer Norton which would be stabled in the yard while through trains passed. In latter days this could be a Standard tank, class 4 and 5 or 8F in place of the usual ‘Jinty’. Through trains were often doubled headed in the down direction (towards Bournemouth but ironically very much uphill ) and despite this it was often necessary to bank freight trains from Radstock the 13 miles to Masbury summit . Special arrangements were made at Binegar so that the banking loco could be detached on the move by the guard and return wrong road so saving the expense of opening Masbury signal box. These locos all returned to Radstock via Midsomer Norton where they were often intercepted for shunting purposes.
The signal box was built around 1892 when the line was doubled and furnished by the L&SWR using Stevens and Tyers equipment. It had a wooden first floor set on a blue lias stone base probably quarried from Chilcompton Tunnel and was a standard S&D design similar to several others in the locality being set into the up platform. The 16 lever frame was a Stevens four and one eigth inches centres tappet frame built in Glasgow which proved inadequate for the later additions of gate locks, shunt signals and crossovers and only partly solved by using ‘push/pull’ levers. The running signals were all Stevens lattice post signals with lower quadrant arms – all later replaced as upper quadrant pre WW11. Disc signals were all of the Westinghouse/SR type which presumably replaced the Stevens flap signals originally supplied.
The through traffic ceased in 1962 and after that the railway began a rapid run down until eventual closure on March 5th.1966 although it remained exclusively a steam operation until the end but immortalised by Ivo Peter’s lovely photographs.
Like the whole of the S&D, Midsomer Norton ( ‘South’ since the takeover by BR(WR) in 1954) remained virtually intact for many years after closure. The track locally was lifted by the end of 1968 and the Silver Street underbridge removed, thus ending a long resented local road traffic bottleneck. Remarkably the signalbox remained substantially intact until around 1974 when it finally succumbed to the attentions of the local vandals. The up starting signal, however, remained as a defiant standard for the old railway and despite a couple of years absence remains to this day.