Great Little Railway Stations of Northern England: The Not So Perfect Ten

Plus the odd not-so-little one perhaps…

Stalybridge Station, signal gantry
Under Starters Orders.

Of late, I have rediscovered Gordon Buck’s ‘A Pictorial Survey of Railway Stations’ (Oxford Publishing Co., Oxford, 1992). For lovers of architecture as well as our railways, it is an excellent book with reference to each station by year, railway company and architect. As it has been long deleted, try your local secondhand bookshop. Failing that, Amazon.co.uk and eBay might have copies knocking about. This very book has inspired our latest Not So Perfect Ten.

Thanks partly to little investment and historical leanings, a fair amount of railway stations north of Crewe seem to have been untouched by progress. Whereas a sizeable number of unstaffed stations became glorified bus stops, there are still a few gems.

For the purpose of this entry, each Great Little Railway Station can either be staffed or unstaffed, must have five functioning platforms or less and be judged on architectural merit. Our ten GLRSs are as follows:

  1. Middlesbrough (2 platforms);
  2. Beverley (2 platforms);
  3. Bridlington (3 platforms);
  4. Keighley (4 platforms);
  5. Hellifield Junction (2 platforms);
  6. Carnforth (2 platforms);
  7. Bolton (4 platforms);
  8. Manchester Oxford Road (5 platforms);
  9. Stalybridge (5 platforms);
  10. Dewsbury (2 platforms).

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1. Middlesbrough: the entrance to Middlesbrough railway station reflects the town’s most prosperous times, and in spite of its small size, oozes a sense of grandeur. The current station dates from 1877 and was designed by William Peachey for the North Eastern Railway. His better known work is York railway station. The canopies on its two platforms are a more recent development: the original roof was struck by World War II enemy bombing in 1942. The station belies its industrial air with the freight lines out of sight.

Train One: 1023 Middlesbrough – Darlington (arr. 1052): A chance to view the fine train shed at Darlington North Road. We board Northern Rail’s stopping service from Saltburn-by-the-Sea to Bishop Auckland, arriving in Darlington 29 minutes later. Between trains, we have enough time for a photo stop or an insipid vending machine brew. Or a paper cup of Pumpkin’s finest Latte.

Train Two: 1105 Darlington – Doncaster (arr. 1157): from a Pacer to Voyager? Quite probably as our next stage covers Arriva CrossCountry’s route to the noted rail centre which is Doncaster. Ample time to get a quick plastic sandwich but not enough time for a Wimpy meal at the nearby Frenchgate Centre.

Train Three: 1219 Doncaster – Beverley (arr. 1327): back on Northern Rail’s rolling stock, we may be enjoying our butties on anything from a Class 158 to a Class 150. One of the great pleasures of this route is the rural idyll north of Hull, the industrial views of Hull and Goole, and a chance to cross the River Humber.

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2. Beverley: the town of Beverley is a fine place noted for its Wednesday and Saturday outdoor markets. There is also the Minster and a range of independently owned shops. Amid this is the town’s imposing railway station. It was built in 1846 and designed by George Townsend-Andrews for the NER. Unlike Filey (which we pass on our next train), it retains its overall roof in full and station staff.

Train Four: 1357 Beverley – Bridlington (arr. 1429): unless we choose to spend longer in Beverley, our fourth train takes 32 minutes for the modest journey to Bridlington. Again, one of Northern Rail’s finest.

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3. Bridlington: for most Northerners, the seaside town needs little introduction, but its station demands closer inspection. The centrepiece of Bridlington railway station is its concourse. Built in 1912 to replace a previous version of Bridlington station (identical to Beverley and Filey), it was designed by William Bell, with a similar design seen at the tastefully restored Tynemouth Tyne and Wear Metro station. Hitherto unused rooms are now used by MIND (as an arts centre) and the Bridlington Model Railway Society. As well as its spacious lobby, its other main attraction is its Buffet Bar – well worth calling in for café style grub or real ale.

Train Five: 1538 Bridlington – Hull (arr. 1625): after a leisurely pint or two, we return to the same platform we alighted from and board Northern Rail’s Doncaster train up to Hull Paragon. On alighting, we are able to appreciate the vast train shed and its more present day function as a true bus/rail interchange. In contrast to previous facilities, Hull’s bus users have the joy of a spacious roof and real time bus departure information.

Train Six: 1640 Hull – Leeds (arr. 1736): this time, aboard one of Transpennine Express’ Class 170s on the Manchester Piccadilly route. With only two intermediate stops, it takes four minutes short of an hour and offers splendid views of the Humber Bridge.

Train Seven: 1756 Leeds – Keighley (arr. 1821): unfortunately for us, we cop for the evening rush hour on the Airedale Line. Luckily, we have – all being well – 20 minutes to transfer to our end platform nearest the city centre.

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4. Keighley: along with Grosmont and Paignton, Keighley railway station offers interchange between National Rail scheduled services and preserved line timetables. In this case, we mean the Keighley and Worth Valley Line. Though the original Keighley station opened in 1847, the present site opened in 1883 as part of the Midland Railway. It is largely unspoilt by time apart from the Metro West Yorkshire paraphernalia and other aspect of modern day operation like CCTV and electronic real time displays.

Hotel Break: owing to the paucity of trains to Hellifield Junction after 1900 hours, cheap digs for the night are needed. Thankfully, there’s a Travelodge seven minutes walk away with a Toby Carvery nearby. Alas no real ale but a viable breakfast joint nonetheless.

Train Eight (obviously keeping it cheap being after 0930): 1042 Keighley – Hellifield Junction (arr. 1114): another quick half hour journey, on a Pacer unit of some description.

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5. Hellifield Junction: till the Beeching Cuts came, Hellifield Junction was an important connection point with Lancastrian and Yorkshire trains. It was a calling point for Midland Railway’s Anglo-Scottish expresses as well as excursion trains to Morecambe. The present station opened on the 01 June 1880. It is still used by steam trains as a stop and watering point. Today, the station is unstaffed though its buildings see usage as a café and a gift shop. Even so, it retains much of its canopy and appears to have changed little since 1963.

Train Nine: 1448 (this is not a misprint!) Hellifield Junction – Carnforth (arr. 1534): given the long gap between trains, there was ample time for birdwatching on Hellifield Flash, a substantial meal in the café on Hellifield station and a wander around the village. Once more, another one of Northern Rail’s Pacer units would whisk us to Carnforth. We take in the Yorkshire Dales and turn left at the junction of the Settle and Carlisle line.

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6. Carnforth: for railway fanatics and film lovers, this station needs little introduction. Like Hellifield, this too was a principal junction for Anglo-Scottish trains albeit on the West Coast Main Line. It was the electrification of the Crewe – Scotland section in 1974 and its loss of Anglo-Scottish service in 1970 which saw Carnforth demoted to being a local station. From the late 1960s to the 1990s, it was popular with rail enthusiasts with its steam depot being the Steamtown tourist attraction. The station became a junction in 1857, and substantially enlarged in 1880.

However, it was a plot worthy of David Lean’s films which led to the station’s revival. Carnforth railway station was the fictitious Milford Junction in Brief Encounter, and the station’s clock and buffet bar featured heavily. Since 2000, the station buildings have been refurbished for community use with buildings on Platform 4 restored as the Brief Encounter Visitor Centre (with buffet bar!). Its canopies have been restored, and the famed clock is also working again.

Train Ten: 1609 Carnforth – Bolton (arr. 1708): this time, we board one of Transpennine Express’ Class 185 Desiro units, which begins its journey at Barrow-in-Furness.

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7. Bolton: whereas Carnforth and Hellifield have lost its Anglo-Scottish trains, Bolton has retained hers. Owing to electrification and possible change of route, Bolton could lose them as Transpennine Express’ forthcoming Class 350/2 EMUs may reach Glasgow Central or Edinburgh via Newton-le-Willows and Wigan North Western.

Bolton was one of two railway stations in the Lancashire town and remains an important station. Soon it will be joined by a new bus interchange on the site of the former avoiding line. Prior to 1985, its on-street concourse straddled the Trinity Street Bridge and had a distinctive tower. Though its facilities were modernised and relocated near TfGM’s bus interchange, it retains a Victorian air and has the feel of a major station. At one time, there was a nearby parcels depot. The buffet bar and newsagent on the Manchester and Blackburn platforms is worth a visit.

Train Eleven: 1713 (or 1735) Bolton – Manchester Oxford Road (arr. 1730 or 1752): we could either choose Northern Rail’s or Transpennine Express’ Manchester Airport bound train for Manchester Oxford Road. Pacer, Sprinter, Super Sprinter or Desiro? The choice is yours.

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8. Manchester Oxford Road: the original Oxford Road railway station opened in 1849, but today’s example was rebuilt in 1960. The rebuilt version had two bay platforms nearest Whitworth Street West plus three through platforms. By 1972, the most northerly bay platform was closed with a fourth through platform added. The station’s piece de resistance is its wooden conoid roof and circular ticket office. At one time, there was a small car park and access to parcels lifts from there. Recent refurbishment work has seen the addition of ticket barriers and new shelters – inspired by the conoid roof instead of the usual bog standard bus shelter style design.

Train Twelve: 1809 Manchester Oxford Road – Stalybridge (arr. 1826): Transpennine Express’ train to Scarborough and another Desiro. Pity the poor passenger who boards at Manchester Piccadilly and tries in vain to get a seat! One of our shortest journeys gets us to our ninth station in time for tea. Tripe and Onions? Sausages and Mash, all washed down with a pint of Hop Scotch or something more esoteric? We shall see…

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9. Stalybridge: need I say more about our ninth station. This has had an improvement in fortunes thanks to the Buffet Bar on Platform 4 and the now infamous Rail Ale Trail. The station buildings on Platform 4 date from 1885 replacing hitherto inadequate facilities. It was jointly operated by Great Central, London and North Western and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. The latter had their own station north of the present buildings. After the 1923 Grouping, it was jointly ran by the LNER and LMS railways who ran the station on alternate years. At one time it was an important junction station thanks to the Stockport -Stalybridge train (now once weekly), though its glory days are set to return thanks to electrification work on the Transpennine Express route.

Since 2005, it has been refurbished with improved disabled facilities, toilets and the introduction of a coffee shop. It has been remodelled with five platforms (three of which through platforms) and new signalling.

Train Thirteen: 1842 (or 1926) Stalybridge – Huddersfield (arr. 1912 or 1944): nice and squeezy on a Sprinter out of Manchester Victoria or a Desiro. I’d go for the latter if not in a hurry – also more drinking time.

Train Fourteen: 1927 (or 2016) Huddersfield – Dewsbury (arr. 1936 or 2025): Sprinter or Pacer, or a Desiro. Decisions, decisions again… if I’ve paid enough for my ticket, I always go for luxury. Still, a chance to explore Huddersfield railway station properly between trains and to take a picture of the Harold Wilson statue.

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10. Dewsbury: our final station was one of four stations in the town, known at one time as Dewsbury Wellington Road and on the former London and North Western Railway route. It opened on the 18 September 1848 and retains canopies on its up and down platforms. The main buildings and forecourt includes a taxi office. Left of the main entrance is the West Riding Refreshment Rooms. The owners of the buffet bar also own The Sportsman pub, just off Huddersfield railway station and Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar.

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Here’s where our journey ends. Unless of course we make our way back to Middlesbrough, and already have somewhere to stay for the night. Which means (if we caught the 1842 from Stalybridge)…

Train Fifteen: 2026 Dewsbury – Middlesbrough (arr. 2304): one of Transpennine Express’ Desiros, for the very last time.

Which also means…

Some serious rail roving along our ten stations, which would save me a fortune on fares. The most suitable one would be the North Country 4 in 8 Day Rover at a staggering £84.00.

But, typically, the section between Preston and Leeds (via Manchester Stations isn’t covered). Therefore, another £24.30 from Preston to Leeds via Stalybridge.

A grand total of £108.30, and that’s before the fares go up next year. But hey, I could for another two days go to Workington, Hexham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Colne and Scarborough. Though not Blackpool. Still, I wouldn’t mind the jolly.

Hang the expense – life is too short for going beyond the TfGM boundary.

S.V., 14 August 2013.

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