... After almost two centuries of rail movement at Northallerton, a new image has transformed an old town...
Then and Now - a good location for a railway
From the time the railways spread across the face of Britain, services have never been as fast and as clean as they are now. Only constant engineering works get in the way of enjoying train travel. Services around Northallerton in North Yorkshire have waxed and waned since the first rails were laid south-north across this part of the county in 1841.
Had it been built today without links to the south the North Eastern Railway would have run direct between the two main cities of the region - Leeds and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, connections with York may well have been less important. Leeds has grown from a village in the 19th Century to a city of commercial importance. York, on the other hand is still little more than a sizeable market town. Much of its rail traffic comes from the south.
When the North Eastern Railway achieved maturity it had the York-Newcastle main line - the Race Track as it has been described - as its main artery. Leeds, on the other hand was little more than a town on a thirty mile long branch line from York. On the other hand it was better served by the Leeds Northern Railway, which bypassed York and headed to the North East coast by way of Harrogate, Ripon and Stockton-on-Tees. Here it was linked to the Saltburn-Middlesbrough-Sunderland-Newcastle route that had been developed partly by the Stockton & Darlington, and Hartlepool, Dock & Railway companies.
Its intersection with the York line was introduced first at Thirsk as the Leeds & Thirsk Railway, and then at Northallerton when given assent for the name change to Leeds Northern. Here the Leeds Northern passed first parallel for a few miles, and then beneath the York Newcastle & Berwick Railway on its way north.
With a population of around five thousand souls in the early 19th Century Northallerton was no metropolis. Had the London & North Western Railway come this way no doubt it might have been turned into another Crewe, with ten or more platforms, marshalling yard and maybe a couple of locomotive sheds. True, the North Eastern was not backward in building big, yet for all its situation as a junction with lines radiating two ways north and one west (Wensleydale) Northallerton Station was a shade on the sparse side. An Up and a Down platform did for southbound and northbound traffic, a bay each for Leeds City Station and Garsdale.
For a rail enthusiast traffic held multiple charms, with trains from the Ripon or Eaglescliffe* direction giving the keen-eyed a bonus in locomotive numbers (there was a position spotters knew that overlooked the avoiding lines that passed Castle Hills in the 'V' of the converging lines). By and large traffic was predictable, with main line trains on the upper level for York or Newcastle, and below for Leeds or Stockton. There were exceptions, such as the King's Cross-Leeds-Newcastle-Edinburgh-Glasgow 'Queen of Scots' Pullman that approached Northallerton from Ripon and passed through the platforms northward towards Darlington for the remainder of its route north.
Most traffic on the Leeds Northern was unspectacular, with Leeds Class D49/1 4-4-0 'Shires' or D49/2 'Hunts' and Class B1 4-6-0 on stopping trains. Expresses might be hauled by Pacific classes A1, A2, A3 or A4 4-6-2, even V2 2-6-2 rushing through. The 'Queen of Scots' could be hauled by any of the Pacifics from 'Top Shed' (Kings Cross) or Edinburgh. There was also the Leeds-Glasgow 'North Briton' behind a Leeds A3. Then there might be a Liverpool Exchange-Newcastle (formerly a Lancashire & Yorkshire locomotive turn) behind a York V2 on the East Coast Main Line, the return working might be behind a B1. There might be a through run from Newcastle to Wakefield Kirkgate before a change of motive power was made. This engine could return with a Liverpool-York service, working back to Newcastle the following day on a stopping train.
Despite its location, locomotive allocations were minimalistic, catering largely for Wensleydale traffic. In the Coronation Year (1953) allocations were: 1949 Class K1 2-6-0 62044, 1899 Class D20 62347, 62372 and 62388, 1886 Class J21 0-6-0 65038, 1898 Class J25 0-6-0 65693, 65720 and 65726, 1894 Class G5 0-4-4 Tank 67312, 67318 and 67342, 1927 Class Y3 0-4-0 (Sentinel Shunter) 68159, generally 'out-shedded- at Leyburn to shunt the yard, 1891.Class J73 0-6-0 68359. From the build dates of the locomotives you can see most of Northallerton's engines approached life-expiry. They had been withdrawn before the shed closed in 1959, and the Wensleydale line was closed to passengers in 1954. In 1959 its allocation was more 'modern', with five BR Class 2 2-6-0, one ex-LMS Ivatt Class 2 2-6-0 and one Class K1 62044,
* Eaglescliffe was named thus in error. The village the station was supposed to serve - two miles away - was Egglescliffe. With time a larger community grew around Eaglescliffe station, formerly known to the Stockton & Darlington Railway as 'Preston Park' before re-alignment of the line to accommodate the LNR's extension to nearby Stockton.
Early days, York north to the border
The first company to establish a rail presence in Northallerton was the Great North of England Railway
The GNER opened 1841 between York and Darlington, with its one branch that left the main line at Eryholme for Catterick and Richmond to the north-west of Northallerton. The company built a small station on a high embankment to the west of the town, between two under-line road bridges. The station consisted two staggered platforms, with a handsome triple-roofed brick station building on the 'Up' side (York-bound trains) that housed the usual facilities. The architect commissioned to design this structure was Benjamin Green, a contemporary of the York & North Midland Railway architect George Townsend Andews. In 1846 the GNER was leased to the Newcastle & Darllngton Junction Railway, later leased to the York & Newcastle & Berwick Railway (YN&BR) in 1848. In 1854, amalgamation reared its head - this time with the Leeds Northern Railway and York & North Midland Railway to form the North Eastern Railway. From opening the station had changed hands four times in thirteen years. Heady times during the 'Railway Mania'!
Let's get back to the Leeds Northern Railway and work from there: the company opened from Leeds to Stockton-on-Tees via Harrogate and Thirsk. In 1845 the Leeds & Thirsk Railway was given permission for a line from Leeds to Thirsk via Harrogate, Ripon and Wath, (renamed Melmerby owing to the pre-existence of a Wath further south in Yorkshire) opened 1848. Problems at the Leeds end from construction of the Bramhope Tunnel delayed trains to Leeds until 1849. The Leeds & Thirsk Railway (L&TR) applied for and was given permission by Parliament on 22nd July, 1848 to build a line from Melmerby direct to Northallerton, and then on 3rd July, 1851 received permission to change its name to the Leeds Northern Railway (LNR) in 1851. The northern end of the line to Stockton passed under the.the YN&BR by means of a bridge, built without interfering with services. The fare for the 238 miles from Leeds to Newcastle via the existing line from Stockton dropped to 2/- (two shillings).
Despite having the direct link, pressure was exerted by George Hudson of the Y&NMR/YN&BR for the LN to use the YN&BR line from Thirsk via a spur to the west of Thirsk.
The LNR formed an alliance with the West Hartlepool Harbour & Railway (WHH&R), resulting in a price war with the YN&BR. A merger with the York & North Midland Railway (Y&NMR) was accepted by LNR shareholders. Royal Assent was given 31st July, 1854 to form the North Eastern Railway (NER) with the YN&BR as a third partner. A curve connected the LNR line to the YN&BR station at Northallerton on the east side, opened in 1856, with signal cabins at High and Low Junctions. Until 1901 Harrogate to Stockton traffic still used the main line from Thirsk. The line via Ripon to Northallerton operated as a branch line. That year a new set of junctions was installed at the southern end of the station and the track from Melmerby was doubled to allow through running, by-passing Thirsk. The former LN low level station at Northallerton closed that same year, all passenger traffic being re-routed up to the main line station via a spur at the southern end. Another was added at the northern end of the station to leave the main line for Stockton across the main line for down traffic.
The first part of the Hawes branch opened 1848 as far as Leeming, west of the Great North Road [now the A1(M) multi-carriageway]. Its junction with the main line faced north, about a mile from the station. Trains therefore had to reverse into Northallerton station. A southern connection was laid in to the branch in 1882. The triangular junction was controlled by cabins named Castle Hills North, South and Inner Junction.
Victorian provincial elegance
A long time ago, when I first joined the North Eastern Railway Association I was told of this hefty tome - and bought a copy. A quarter of a century later here I am telling you about it. It's an investment, a bit like buying a house... or a railway. A little about the book:
The North Eastern Railway and Tomlinson are interlinked in the same way as Robert Stephenson and railway building. If you want to know the in-depth history of the North Eastern Railway, this is the definitive work. Exhaustive, thorough-going, call it what you will, but his perception of the company, its predecessors and its early history are second-to-none. Having lived in the company's heyday, his observations are immediate and accurate. Many of its founding fathers were contemporaries. George Leeman steered it through its infancy, Robert Stephenson was commissioned on a number of its projects. The NER's territory, after acquisition of neighbouring railways, stretched from Selby north to Berwick-upon-Tweed, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle in the west, from Northallerton to Garsdale on the Settle & Carlisle Railway. With its sea-going ferries there were links to the Netherlands, North Germany and Scandinavia. Its hotels were sought out by the rich and powerful and its carriages were the envy of many in their deep crimson lake livery. Freight from the steel works, ironstone and coal mines was taken across country, to the several ports and cities of the region. Riches flowed back, making the NER one of the wealthiest companies in the empire.
Publ. David & Charles 1987 ISBN 13: 97807 15390023, available Abe Books, https://www.abebooks.co.uk from £22 + £2.75 carriage to £48.50 + £3.50 carriage, hard cover - see website for copy comparisons,
March of time... Keeping traffic rolling
In 1911 the former GNER 'Down' Platform became an island, with a single track bay at the north end for the Hawes branch.
The 'Up' side platform was lengthened and a bay was installed for services to Harrogate, also without a run-round loop. Operation saw terminating trains use the 'Down' side island platform, to allow engines to run round and set back with their trains in their respective bays. Engines were serviced in the shed located between the station and the old LNR low level line. Engines therefore had to negotiate two junctions and about a mile of track to reach it. A link under main line connected the 'Up goods line with the LNR route in 1931.
A new power box and colour light signalling was installed in 1939, making High, Low, Cordio and Longlands signal cabins redundant. However Boroughbridge and Romanby Gates cabins remained in use on the old LNR route until the 1970s. .
Northallerton Station, North Yorkshire
Inter-war, Wartime exigencies and post-War Austerity
The Railways Act of 1921 foresaw the North Eastern Railway amalgamating with other east coast companies to form the London & North Eastern Railway and came into force on 1st January, 1923. The inter-War slump saw investment in the railways decline, although new locomotives were introduced.
Locomotives were designed and built, such as the D49 'Shire' class 4-4-0, soon joined by sister class D49/2 'Hunts' produced nearby at Darlington to supplement stopping services between Hartlepool and Leeds. These had previously been hauled by D20 4-4-0. Both classes continued in service throughout the 1930s-1950s. Class D20 shared passenger services on the Wensleydale branch with Class J21 and Class G5. Freight down that branch was handled by Classes J25 and J27 (and Darlington J39). Freight on the LNR section to Leeds was handled by J27 and J39. The other way saw a wider range of motive power in use, including Q6. The main line expresses saw a range of Pacifics in use on passenger expresses, from 1923 Class A1 (rebuilt post-War to A3) and A4 'Streaks' in the 1930s. Class V2 2-6-2 was introduced for express freight services on the ECML as well as express passenger services. During the war, after Gresley's death in 1942 the next Chief Mechanical Engineer - Gresley's deputy - Edward Thompson introduced a few more classes, including B1 4-6-0, largely named after antelopes and nicknamed 'Bongos', that saw use on both main and LNR lines on freight and passenger traffic.
Wartime brought new problems. although avoiding lines were augmented by a rolling connection to the main line and Darlington over the Wensleydale line. A steeply graded link was made from the low level to the main line. It was unique in having a bridge under the 1882 Hawes branch tracks with a mere two foot height difference. As the link was only to be used if bomb damage rendered the station inoperable, the 'bridge' was bolted in place, to be rolled aside for Hawes traffic. The measures never needed to be used in earnest, however, although not removed for a long time after the war. Pacific classes were 'harnessed' for military purposes on troop trains as well as the V2, which also saw service alongside Robert Riddles' Austerity Class 2-8-0 on heavy freight (military hardware and vehicles).
In 1941 new platforms were built on the site of the old low level station's. These platforms were for emergency use during WWII and would have been used if Northallerton staton was damaged during an air attack. Trains would have been diverted onto the avoiding line, calling at the emergency station. There were two side platforms 784 ft long, with ash surfaces behind a revetment of corrigated iron and old sleepers. These were retained by sectons of old vertical rail bent over at the top to support platform edges made from old sleepers. Each platform had a re-used timber waiting shelter and oil lamps for illumination. The platforms were not used during the war, but were retained at least until the 1960s for use by trains bound for Teesside when there was engineering work on the main line. The platforms were finally demolished at the same time as the engine shed in 1964. No trace of the station remains following track realignment and deep ballasting. The low level line is still used occasionally by diverted trains during engineering work, but has no regular time-tabled passenger service.
The railway companies wiere never recompensed for their contribution to the war effort and to maintain safety and service operating standards the post-WWII Labour Government under Clement Attlee nationalised the railway system on 1st January, 1948. New classes of locomotives saw service on the infant British Railways, including the hard-working North British built Arthur Peppercorn designed K1 2-6-0. Class A1 and A2 were introduced. The K1 saw service largely on freight, sometimes on passenger traffic. The A1 and A2 augmented passenger services, sharing duties with their predecessors on fast services.
Halfway through the 20th Century
A time of closures and modernisation
The former North Eastern Railway that was drawn into the LNER became the North Eastern Region of British Railways in 1948. The notion was to safeguard jobs and lines. Things changed fairly soon, not necessarily for the better.
In 1954 the Wensleydale Railway closed to passengers, and the classes of locomotives that saw service on the branch were either transferred elsewhere or withdrawn. In the later 1950s diesel multiple units were introduced on branch lines to reduce costs and further classes were withdrawn, including class D20 and D49 between Hartlepool, Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds. Freight was still operated by steam for a while longer. The line from Melmerby to Thirsk was closed to passengers in 1959, and the former LNR Starbeck(Harrogate)-Northallerton was closed to passengers in 1967, although some goods services lingered on until 1969. A little further north the Richmond branch closed to passengers from Eryholme in 1967, goods services lasted a little longer.
**Northallerton-Stockton (Hartlepool and Sunderland to Newcastle) is still extant, with divers companies offering passenger services from Teesside to York, Manchester Airport and Kings Cross. Eighteen freight trains daily use the route to access the ECML. .