Broxbourne Railway Station and Signal Box
When we think of listed railway stations, most people’s minds would go to something like Barlow’s Grade 1 Victorian gothic palace at St Pancras. Broxbourne Station, opened in its present form in 1960, wouldn’t be such an obvious choice. However, the present station at Broxbourne was innovative in its design, combining all its various functions in a single space, and in recognition of this was awarded Grade 2 status.
History of Broxbourne Station
The original Broxbourne Station was opened on 15th September 1840, as part of the Northern and Eastern Railway’s line to Cambridge. The line was extended outwards from London in sections, and Broxbourne was briefly the terminus, until the section to Harlow opened the following year.
The station was originally accessed directly from Station Road, with a design differing little from the houses adjoining it. It used the traditional type of layout, with the main building housing the ticket office, and other services, such as the waiting room, built separately on the platforms.
Broxbourne Station acquired greater significance when the Hertford East branch line was opened in 1843, and then the Buntingford Branch Railway (which split off from the Hertford line) in 1863. The junction was located just north of Broxbourne, and a signal box was built to control the junction.
The New Broxbourne Station
In 1959, the section of the line up to Bishops Stortford was electrified, and as part of the project many of the stations and other buildings were upgraded. The biggest upgrades were at Broxbourne and Harlow Town, both of which were demolished and completely rebuilt.
The new Broxbourne Station, opened on 3rd November 1960, is located a little further north than the original. Instead of a direct entrance from Station Road, a ramp now leads down into the car park, with the station buildings at the far end.
The new station was designed in the then-fashionable Brutalist style by H.H. Powell of the British Railways Eastern Regional Building Authority, with T. Rainier as the project architect. The concept was that all elements of the station (ticket hall, waiting room, toilets, footbridge etc.) should be housed in the same single building.
The ground-floor entrance opens into a ticket hall, leading to a choice of stairs or lift to the footbridge. This is enclosed as part of the same building, with various facilities opening off it, notably the toilets and, since 2011, a dedicated waiting area with seats and information screens. Stairs and lifts lead down to each of the four platforms, which are partly roofed and featured sheltered seating areas.
At the same time, the signal box was rebuilt in a similar style. According to the listing citation:
This was one of the first purpose-built electric signal boxes and brought into operation the new electric signalling system created by Westinghouse, known as the Entrance / Exit (or “NX”) panel system, operated by a panel of electric buttons. As with the station, the use of the building informed the design, with a glass box on the top housing the NX panel to afford the signaller a 360-degree view of the railway lines, with offices and banks of electric switches housed in the ground floor.
In 2003, signalling for the line was centralised at Liverpool St, resulting in Broxbourne signal box being decommissioned. The offices on the ground floor continued to be used, and in 1921 the diagram panel was sold by auction.
The station was upgraded in 2011 as part of the Department of Transport’s Access for All programme. This involved installing automatic doors and ticket barriers, as well as creating a new waiting area on the footbridge.
Historic England Listing
An unusually extensive official listing webpage gives a history and description of the station and signal box. It sums up the materials used as:
Reinforced concrete with stock brick infill, with dark purple brick towers. Internally there are hardwood handrails and ceiling cladding.
and the plan as:
The building consists of a rectangular entrance and ticket hall to the west of the tracks. There is an enclosed footbridge extending in a line eastwards across the four railway tracks. Canopies extend northwards from this on the platforms.
The architectural interest, given as the principle reason for listing, is described as:
* For the innovative approach to spatial planning combining in one building all the usual station components of ticket hall, footbridge, waiting rooms and kiosks; * For its striking visual quality with the strongly-emphasised horizontal form of the station and signal box; * For the quality of original fixtures and fittings in the station including hardwood handrails and ceiling cladding; * For the survival of most of the original fixtures and fittings in the upper storey of the signal box.
As so often, the crowds of commuters who use Broxbourne Station every day give little thought to the building they’re passing through. But next time you’re there, if you have the leisure to look around, perhaps you might stop to appreciate that you’re in a piece of railway history.