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railway stations

railway stations had no distinctive history until the Liverpool and Manchester railway of 1830, with the opening of Manchester Liverpool Road and Liverpool Crown Street: the light passenger traffic on the Stockton and Darlington had run in a horse-drawn coach from inns. Both consisted of two-storey classical town houses, controlling access to a departure platform, the model for the first phase of British railway development. No intermediate stations were built.

Initially, stations were located on the fringes of the urban area to ease access and economize on land costs. Facilities shared by different railway companies normally proved unworkable and led to their proliferation. Some early developments were able to trace a route to central locations through undeveloped land: London Bridge (1836), and in the 1840s, the Great Western's route to Paddington ran to the fringe of London's built-up area. Curzon Street (Birmingham), Oldham Road (Manchester), and Bridge Street (Glasgow) were similarly approached through uncongested lands in the 1830s and 1840s.

Competition intensified the pressure to attain more central termini, and made the first mile for every railway by far the most expensive. Town-centre land values were consistently expensive: the London and Birmingham's entry from Camden Town to its new Euston terminus in 1838 cost an additional £380,000, and the imposition of a supplementary fare, in addition to a renewed call on the shareholders. Routes of entry were selected to affect the minimum number of most co-operative landowners. The new Hunt's Bank (Victoria) terminus for the Manchester and Leeds (1839) affected more than 250 properties, but most lay in the hands of two owners, the earl of Derby and Lord Ducie, who also controlled the line for the link to Liverpool (1842). Only at Birmingham New Street did civic support create an equivalent to the grand central station of many European cities.

This was precluded for London in 1846, when the Royal Commission on Metropolis Railway Termini recommended the exclusion of termini from the city north of the river, creating the ‘London quadrilateral’. Development was thus concentrated upon New Road in the north; east of the City; south of the river; and west of Park Lane. Seven of the fifteen termini London acquired by 1894 broke these precepts. Other cities too saw the wasteful proliferation of termini, with, by 1900, five in Glasgow, three each in Liverpool and Leeds, and four in Manchester. With sidings and other facilities, railway stations both defined the central business districts of Victorian cities and occupied up to 9 per cent of inner urban land.

The characteristic elements of British station design emerged early: the open-box ‘U-shaped’ terminal of platforms fronted by service buildings at Nine Elms (1838); the ‘train shed’ of ribbed iron supporting glass at Newcastle Central (1846); and the railway hotel at Euston in 1839. Hotels were first integrated at the U-planned Paddington station in 1854. Railways led the adoption of Greenwich time nationally, promoted through the station clock, standardized by telegraph to the Royal Observatory from 1852. Architecture rapidly became an element in competition by ‘quality’, and aped the classical temple (Euston, Newcastle, Huddersfield) and the Italian villa, popular for country stations but employed at Chester General (1848); it reached its creative height with the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras (1876); and admitted nationalist aspiration in the Scottish baronial style adopted at Dundee West (1889). Intermediate stations employed local materials, echoing the regional vernacular, with a characteristic corporate style: Italianate villas for the London, Brighton, and South Coast railway; French Renaissance châteaux (GWR); or Swiss chalets (Furness railway).

Separate goods stations were modelled on the integrated warehouse and trans-shipment operations of the canal companies: the Camden depot of the London and Birmingham (1830s) developed into the separate goods station and wholesale market, as at King's Cross (1852 and 1864), and the two-tier goods and passenger station at Broad Street (1865). In the smaller towns these tended to displace livestock and provisions markets, and by the 1880s auction markets at railheads were extinguishing the long-distance droving trades. Redundant passenger stations, such as Birmingham's Curzon Street, were converted to goods use.

Stations as interchanges for sea travel or river crossings effectively served new ports: Lowestoft by the Great Eastern, from 1844; Penarth by the Taff Vale for coal (1865); and Hartlepool (1840). Before dining cars (King's Cross to Leeds, 1878), there were designated refreshment stops: by contract until 1895, all Great Western trains stopped at Swindon for a ten-minute refreshment break, leading to its nickname ‘Swindleum’; and Normanton's grand suite of rooms provided dinner for the Midland's Scottish route.

New station developments took place with the creation of the London Metropolitan railway in 1863, the completion of the Circle Line (1884), and the beginnings of deep ‘tube’ services in the capital (Monument to Stockwell, 1890). Suburban stations proliferated around London and other cities as passenger facilities were generally improved.

Evidence on numbers is lacking before 1947, when passenger and passenger/freight stations peaked at 6,701, and all stations, including freight units only, at 8,448 in 1950, before falling to 4,877 and 7,283 respectively in 1960, and 2,446 and 2,868 in 1970. Post-war contraction concentrated upon freight units, which collapsed in the Beeching cuts from 1963, and less than a quarter of stations were engaged with freight by 1970. This facilitated some station redevelopments, as in the rebuild of Birmingham New Street incorporating a shopping mall (1972), but the performance of British Railways' portfolio compared poorly with that of the general property market in the 1970s. Since 1970, some new development has occurred in ‘park-and-ride’ stations, of which the first, Bristol Parkway (1972), remains the distinctive success, followed in the 1980s by new commuter station developments or reopenings under the initiative of local Passenger Transport Executives.

J. A. Chartres

Bibliography

Gourvish, T. R. , British Railways, 1948–73: A Business History (Cambridge, 1986);
Richards, J., and and MacKenzie, J. M. , The Railway Station: A Social History (Oxford, 1986);
Simmons, J. , The Victorian Railway (1991).

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