Restoration work gets under way on iconic Newton Abbot railway gantry

The British Rail Western Region signal gantry on busy Torquay Road is being given an overhaul courtesy of the rail buffs and Newton Abbot Town and GWR Museum.

Among the tasks involved are the rubbing down and repainting of the 70-year-old steel structure, replacing arms and fitting new glass.

The gantry and the land it sits on are owned by Newton Abbot Town Council which funds Newton Abbot Museum.

Curator Dr Charlotte Dixon said: ‘This very much needed work is kindly being carried out by volunteers at South Devon Railway. It is being restored to how it was in living memory and this will ensure the longevity of this iconic landmark for Newton Abbot.

‘The project has been made possible by donations, in particular from Denis Lewis from the Railway Studies Group who sadly passed away.

‘Donations to the museum will now be allocated to go towards this project for the duration of the work.’

The gantry originally stood in the neighbouring railway station but became redundant when modernisation works were carried out in the 1980s.

Author David St John Thomas, co-founder of the David and Charles publishing business, bought it from British Rail and had it moved into its current position which was then part of his company’s headquarters.

Among the volunteers carrying out the restoration is Trevor Hodgson, a former Assistant Linesman who worked on the gantry when it was still in service.

‘I never thought I’d be back here working on it again,’ he said from his lofty position on the scaffolding that now enshrouds the structure.

‘I was based at Newton Abbot and helped maintain this for a while, it was right up outside the west singal box.

‘Its job was to control movements from the down platform to the through line out of Newton Abbot station towards Aller Junction.

‘It was an important bit of kit.

‘Of course, it was replaced by modern colour light signalling.’

Fellow volunteer Bill Gadd is part of the Signal and Telegraph Team at South Devon Railway.

‘When the scaffolding was going up a lot of people were concerned that the gantry was being taken down, we’ve had one or two comments like that,’ he said.

‘I’m pleased that it’s being refurbished although rusty bolts are proving to be a bit of a problem.

‘Hopefully though if you come back in a few weeks it will all look a lot smarter.’

The David and Charles business was sold to Reader’s Digest in the early 2000s and eventually moved out.

In 2018 Aldi was given planning permission for the site, despite concerns that the scheme would involve demolishing a Victorian carriage and wagon repair shop.

The gantry, however, was retained.

Clerk Phil Rowe said: ‘The Town Council is very grateful for the invaluable assistance of volunteers and donations to the museum which will help fund this project.

‘The gantry is important to the people of Newton Abbot and I’m very pleased that it’s getting the attention it needs.’

The project is expected to take approximately eight weeks to complete.

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