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John Griffiths was employed as a Signal Lampman, he recalls his responsibilities.


'As lampman I was responsible for all signal lamps in an area. There was a small lamp hut with a 45 gallon drum of paraffin at each location.

For each lamp I had to clean the glasses, trim their wicks and fill them with two pints of Paraffin. Then I would climb up to the top of each signal post or gantry (I could manage two in each hand, not easy climbing a moving swaying ladder clinging on only by your wrists as two fingers were required for each lamp.) When you were at the top you could lean back into the hoop at the ladder top and balance the lamp(s) on top of the ladder while you took out the old lamp and cleaned the bulls-eye glass and the small rear tell tale glass. The tell tale glass got covered by a small arm that worked with the main arm so that when it went "out" the signalman knew the signal was off. This was not of course necessary if the signal was facing the box. You then put the new lamp in. Two pints of paraffin lasted one week so they had to be attended to every seven days and no longer. If any went out the signalman would called me out to relight them.’

Signal Lamps


These were mounted on the Signal frame and shone through the red or blue/green glass that was on the frame attached to the signal blade.  Some of the lights had an extra window on the back.  These were for an away facing signal and served as an indicator to the signalman that it was lit.  


Engine Lamps


These were hung on the front of locomotives to indicate to the signalman the nature of the train.  They are clearly identified by a slot for the hook at the back.  All trains had to carry these lights which shone a white light to the front.  All trains also had to carry a single red light at the rear of the last coach or wagon.  This was to show the signalman that the train was complete and that coaches or wagons had not become detatched.  All Steam engines carry the hooks for the 4 lamp positions.  These are also present on the rear of the engine or the tender for reverse running.


Examples of locomotive headcodes.


Blue Peter waits patently outside Barrow Hill displaying an unusual layout of head code lights to indicate a Royal Train


Drivers or Fitters Lamp


As their name suggests, these lamps were used during routine maintenance work.  This might include 'oiling up', filling sandboxes etc.  The hanging hooks were large and designed to go around underframe members and axles etc.  The open nature of the lamp was to allow the wick to be lengthened for a brighter light. The last picture shows a Carbide lamp which was normally used inside the smoke box or fire box


Miscellaneous lamps


There are many other types of lamps associated with the railways designed according to purpose.  Hand lamps were used by guards and shunters and would often be able to show white, red and green lights.  Interestingly the filter used to show a green light was often more blue than green to compensate for the yellow flame inside.




To keep goods and passengers moving, railways continued to operate through the night.  A range of lamps were used burning either oil or paraffin..  We have an instruction manual concerning the cleaning, trimming and lighting of oil lamps which may be viewed on request ref. BHESS 2013 121

Blue Peter lights
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