The station, level crossing and the signal box form the centre of Highams Park ‘village’, a suburb of London. The history of Highams Park and the railway are completely intertwined: the village grew up in this location because of the railway station, and the village gets its name from the station, not the other way round.
When the railway came in 1873, the station was sited a short distance outside the small hamlet of Hale End. The station was initially called Hale End and houses started to grow up around it. In 1891 the lake and grounds of the Highams house were given to the public, and to encourage inner city dwellers to make the journey to visit the lake the station was renamed Highams Park in 1894. New residents moving into newly built housing started to call the place where they lived Highams Park in line with the name of the station. In due course the Post Office recognised this and Highams Park became the official name for the area.
The current signal box was built in 1925. It bears large signs which La Boîte have restored, which reads ‘Highams Park’ and stands as a tall, dominant, symbol, visible from all approach roads. The two-tone audible warning when the level crossing barriers descend can be heard throughout the village and, far from being annoying, is like the heartbeat of the village.
The signal box would not attract architectural awards, but is a working building which has been important to the lives of Highams Park and its residents for over 75 years. We believe it to be the only one of its kind left in the London postal area – the juxtaposition of the signal box, crossing, shops and station in a busy commercial centre is the essence of Highams Park. This was recognised by Waltham Forest Council in erecting the Millennium Clock nearby- The Signal Box is located on the Greenwich meridian. It is also included on the Council’s Local List of Buildings of Architectural/Historic Interest.
From 2002, the Association and the Forum worked with Waltham Forest Council and Network Rail to find uses for the box, which would be of value to the community whilst generating an income stream sufficient for its on-going repair and maintenance. There was also the need for some significant initial works to transform the derelict interior into something that was safe and usable. Many uses were explored, all attempting to make it accessible to the public, unfortunately when looked at in detail all ideas proved to be unrealistic for either practical reasons or funding reasons (or both) and the building started to fall into a state of disrepair. A new approach was necessary with the focus on preserving the physical structure, and discussion began with local building firm Dendale Construction Ltd, who specialise in repairing and restoring period buildings. An elegant solution began to emerge.
In 2013 a lease was signed between Network Rail and Dendale Construction Ltd for the construction firm to repair and restore the box at their own expense. The firm are very community minded and sympathetic to the iconic nature of the box and have worked with the Forum and Association to arrange open days for the public.
In late 2016, the concept of La Boîte emerged, combining the history of The Signal Box and the history and tradition of a French Crêperie. La Boîte along with Dendale Construction Ltd have transformed the building into a truly unique venue restoring and keeping the original structure and features.