Author Steven Parissien reveals the little-known gems on the English railway system worth getting off the train for
‘Union stations’, which bring together different railway companies’ railway lines in one terminus, were common in America and Germany in the nineteenth century, but were not often found in England. Sir William Tite’s magnificent Citadel Station at Carlisle of 1847-8 is a rare and fascinating example.
It was originally intended for seven railway companies: the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (which arrived in the city as early as 1836), the Maryport and Carlisle, the Lancaster and Carlisle, the Caledonian, the Glasgow and South-Western, the Port Carlisle (taken over by the North British Railway in 1862) and the London and North-Western Railway.
Built in fine, local red sandstone, its grand, five-bay, buttressed porte-cochère – a covered entrance for carriages – is complemented by a fine, ecclesiastical-looking clock tower topped by an open stone octagon. It is one of this handsome city’s most impressive monuments.
J P Pritchett’s Huddersfield Station of 1847, built for the Huddersfield and Manchester and the Manchester and Leeds Railways, is an outstanding English regional station of the early railway years.
It resembles the vast mid-Georgian country house, Wentworth Woodhouse, nearby – unsurprisingly, since Pritchett had been architect to the Earls Fitzwilliam, owners of Wentworth Woodhouse, for some years. Pritchett’s original plan, as commissioned by the wealthy Ramsden family who owned much of Huddersfield, was to use the imposing classical station as the centrepiece for a new civic centre: St George’s Square.
Disappointingly, Pritchett’s projected Town Hall was never built; a Town Hall of much lesser architectural weight was eventually built on a different site in 1878–81. Yet his magnificent station still dominates the town centre, terminating the vista up Northumberland Street in heroic fashion.
Further north, Monkwearmouth Station, designed by local architect Thomas Moore in 1848, now houses a small but intriguing railway museum. It began life as the terminus of the Brandling Junction branch of the York and Newcastle Railway, which in 1854 was absorbed into the North Eastern Railway.
A grand, tetrastyle Ionic portico was flanked by wings incorporating Greek Doric columns and Tuscan pilasters; the result was a strikingly handsome classical civic building which resonated dignity and permanence.
The man behind the impressive stone façade of Monkwearmouth, however, was the most notorious figure in the early history of the railways. George Hudson, the fifth son of a farmer from Yorkshire’s East Riding, progressed from running a drapery business in York to establishing a city bank and promoting a railway line from York to Leeds.
Elected MP for Sunderland in 1845, by which time he was vastly wealthy, he seemed the embodiment of the Railway Age, and was lauded in the press as the ‘Railway King’. However, in 1849, barely a year after Monkwearmouth had opened, it was revealed that Hudson’s railway empire was built on the quicksands of bribed MPs, shareholder dividends paid from capital, and large-scale personal embezzlement. Those who had always regarded the expansion of the railways with grave mistrust were seemingly vindicated.
In the subsequent financial panic, hundreds of shareholders were ruined. Hudson himself spent much of the rest of his life in self-imposed exile in France, returning to York in 1865 only to find himself summarily imprisoned for fraud.
Sir William Tite was one of the well-established architects who turned their hands to station design in the 1830s and '40s. While he made his name internationally with the Royal Exchange in London of 1842–4, it was his railway work that provided the bulk of his practice’s income.
Perhaps Tite’s most playful station was at Windsor and Eton Riverside: an engaging, Tudor-style composition of 1849. Passengers arrived under a grand, Tudor-arched porte-cochere, whilst a vast Tudor window lit the booking hall.
As the long, buttressed, station wall stretched northwards, its brickwork featured diaper patterns which spelt out the monograms of the current monarch and her consort. The diaper work also included the initials ‘WC’ – not for the nearby castle (or to sign the toilets) but for the railway’s Chairman, William Chaplin – along with ‘LSWR’ and ‘WT’, for Tite himself.
At the end of this north wall perched a jaunty stone-capped turret, built to give LSWR staff a good vantage point from where they could spot the Queen’s carriage emerging from Windsor Castle. Beneath this turret was, appropriately enough, the royal waiting room.
In 1852 the gifted architect William Tress was commissioned by the South Eastern Railway to build a railway station for the historic town of Battle in East Sussex, famous as the site of the Battle of Hastings of 1066 and for the Abbey William the Conqueror erected there after his victory.
Tress made his station look like something borrowed from the Abbey, using a domestic Gothic style to evoke the former splendours of the famous structures nearby. The station-master’s accommodation was behind the projecting, north gable and lit by grouped, Early Gothic lancet windows, while the booking hall – which boasted a collar-braced roof which looked like it came from some medieval Great Hall – was illuminated by two large, fourteenth century-style windows.
At Battle, Tress found the ideal balance between the new technology of the Victorian era and the rich architectural tradition of England’s past.