Amberley Museum is delighted to announce the official opening date for the newly restored Billingshurst Signal box and their newly constructed engine shed. Taking place on Sunday 25th March, the ceremony will start at 11am, being opened by Nicholas Owen, journalist, radio and TV presenter. Nicolas has a passion for railways, having written several books on the subject, and he is a valued supporter of Amberley Museum.
The Museum is very proud to be the new home of the signal box, a very rare Saxby and Farmer type 1b box, dating to before 1876. The signal box used to stand at the Billingshurst level crossing. Built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, the signal box is a welcome addition to the railway collection and complements the Ticket Office (originally from Hove) that was previously re-homed at the Museum.
The signal box was listed, and when Network Rail decided to widen the level crossing and modernise the signalling system, it was decided to save the box by offering it to the Museum. Upon being moved, the listed buildings lose their listing, but the Museum undertakes to treat the building with the associated level of care and attention as though it were listed. The top part of the signal box (the operating room) was brought in one piece to the Museum on a flatbed lorry and moved by crane. The lever frame, signalling leavers, the block instruments and the track diagram were also saved and form part of the new exhibit. The Museum is grateful for the generous support of Network Rail, BCM, The Railway and Heritage Trust, and a dedicated band of volunteers at the Museum whom have helped them complete the project. The vinyl flooring in the signal box was donated by local furnishing company, Funnells of Storrington.
The box is interesting historically, and also provides a good view of the site from the top of the historic De Witt kilns, which are one of the Museum’s scheduled historic monuments. The Museum is looking to attract new volunteers to help to man the box once it has opened. If you are interested, the opening event would be an interesting way to find out more about the new exhibit.
The Museum has a narrow gauge railway that visitors can travel around within the 36 acre site, and they also have a shorter section of standard gauge tracks. These used to serve the historic De Witt kilns on the site and originally joined up with the main line railway (at what is now the Museum’s entrance). The part of the network around the kilns themselves has been reconstructed and they have built a new engine shed to house their diesel locomotive, Burt (which is similar to the engine that worked here at the chalk pits in the 1920s) and two of the eight historic wagons they have on site, representing the range of wagons that would have serviced the kilns. These all help to give context to the kilns and help visitors to imagine what it would have been like when the site was a working chalk pit.
At the opening, they are planning to drive Burt along a section of the track towards his new engine shed. With the help of Tony Johnson, who has been a key part in the project from design to construction.
Amberley Museum is a remarkable heritage site in the Sussex South Downs, with 36 acres to explore and over 40 exhibit buildings to visit, focusing on industrial and transport history. Take a ride on the narrow gauge railway and historic bus. Exhibits include the telecommunications hall, electricity hall, working printshop, lime kilns, steam engines and more.
The Museum is home to traditional craftspeople such as the Woodturners and Blacksmith, with a café, gift shop, nature trails and picnic areas. The Museum is accessibility friendly and dogs are welcome on site.
This year the Museum is celebrating its 40th season, and they are hosting over 50 events in 2018 from children’s activity days to classic vehicle shows. They will be open from the 7th March to 28th October, for more information on their events, or education programme, please see their website for full details www.amberleymuseum.co.uk.