Intermediate stations are of all sorts and sizes, and their accommodation and architectural pretensions also vary. Sometimes they are handsome or heavy, sometimes neat or pretty, and sometimes the characteristics or materials of the neighbourhood have determined their structure and style.F. S. Williams, Our Iron Roads, p.279
Either seen flashing past a window or through the eyes of a weary or impatient traveller, railway stations don’t tend to linger for long in the minds of most of us. In comparison with the great tunnels, cuttings and viaducts which carry the Midland Railway Company’s crowning achievement, the Settle-Carlisle Line, through the Yorkshire Dales, its stations do little to capture attention and imagination. However, if you look a little harder, you will find that these stations are of significant architectural interest. They, in the words of F.S. Williams, have “…characteristics of [their] own, and they are, by one and all interested in railways, worth noticing.” (Our Iron Roads, p.281.)
Most of us are familiar with the archetypal large Victorian train station – typically grand and highly stylised. For example, the Midland Railway built St Pancras station (designed by William Henry Barlow) in 1868. It is now a Grade 1 listed building.
Before the Settle-Carlisle Line, railway architects tended to have a considerable deal of artistic freedom, leading to stations with greatly varied designs across the country. But the Midland Railway Company came to realise that this was missing a key trick.
The stations on the Settle-Carlisle line were designed by John Holloway Sanders, the chief architect of the Midland Railway until c.1884. He based the designs on the previously established concept of Midland Railway station buildings elsewhere, but chose to make a deliberate move away from the typical buildings and towards a more utilitarian appearance. This style became known as “Derby Gothic” or “Midland Gothic” despite there being very little traditionally “Gothic” about them.
Despite this new pared down design, the buildings were still a major departure from the traditional vernacular architecture of the area. The Midland Railway insisted that only top quality materials could be used in their construction. A mixture of national and local materials, such as Welsh slate and local limestone or sandstone, were used. This did go some way towards helping the buildings reflect the characteristics of the area, but of course this was only a partial solution. However, the buildings were never intended to blend in. This is because Holloway Sanders had designed the stations and related buildings to be highly standardised – right down to the ornate timber bargeboards and windows. There were even different building design types based on each of the three station size designations along the line.
In standardising the buildings in this way, an early form of corporate identity emerged on the railways. The buildings were all immediately recognisable as Midland Railway owned. This had the effect of not only advertising to passengers, but also encouraging corporate loyalty in the workers living in them.
Of course, there were inevitably some differences between the buildings. These differences could be small – for instance, non-standard doors. They could also be large – for instance, just outside the Yorkshire Dales at Appleby workers struggled to find a water source for the 50,000 gallons of water that needed to be supplied daily for the smooth running of the station. The nearest mountain stream was three miles away, so it was eventually decided to build a pumping engine and establishment close to the river. The engine pumped water into a tank at the station. F.S Williams noted that there was “electric communication” between the station and the pumping-room.
What then, might a typical Settle-Carlisle train station look like? Inevitably, the stations have changed a little over the years. Originally, for example, they were all painted in brown and cream. This may surprise some, as the maroon and cream of the Midland Railway colours are so recognisable these days, but in fact the Settle-Carlisle stations were probably not coloured this way until the mid-twentieth century.
Aside from the colour scheme, stations were ‘decorated’ with flyers or posters providing instructions for passengers. All railway companies were legally required to display the fares to and from all stations but – according to F.S. Williams, a lot of these posters were often placed so high up that “…no one, unless he was very long-sighted or eight feet high, could read them.” (Our Iron Roads, p.264).
Taking a Closer Look…
The fencing along the line is very distinctive. The Midland Railway Company had six standard patterns of fencing at stations elsewhere in the country, but type seen here (the sawn diagonal fence) was the one that became most associated with the Settle-Carlisle line. Wherever you go along the line, you will see this fencing (and now you’ve read this, you won’t be able to walk past it without noticing!). The fences were originally made using redundant sleepers, but this is no longer standard practice.
Station Master’s House
The Station Master was (and remains) the person responsible for the management of station employees. The Master also held the responsibility for the safe and efficient running of the station. They came to be seen as high standing members of society, particularly in rural settings like the Dales, where it wasn’t uncommon for them to be responsible for a number of smaller stations. The Station Master was given lodgings on-site so that he was always on-hand.
On the Settle-Carlisle Line, the Station Master’s Houses, like the other buildings, were highly standardised and built in the Derby Gothic style. They were usually two-storey gabled houses intentionally designed to remain in-keeping with the setting by reflecting the other utilitarian station buildings. They typically had overhanging eaves, distinctive bargeboards and ridge tiles, and even specified casement windows. Like all buildings, they were painted in the corporate colours.
Workers’ Cottages were, as the name suggests, used to house the railway workers and their families once the line had been completed. They were typically not located at the stations but as close-by as space allowed. The Midland Railway Company built almost 150 workers’ cottages along the length of the Settle-Carlisle Line – all of which are now in private ownership.
The cottages typically have porches and tall chimneys, and much like the Station Master’s Houses, overhanging eaves. There were two main types of workers’ cottages on the line: the first had smooth, unbroken eaves and the second had large dormers.
Waiting Shelters are an easily recognisable feature of railway stations. In the early days of the railway there were not as many trains on the tracks as there are today, so wait times could be hours or even days! It was important that there was a shelter available to keep travellers out of the wind and rain. For those with the longest wait times, it was necessary to find accommodation in the towns or villages where they stopped. The Midland Railway Company actually built their own hotels in Derby, London, Leeds, and Morecombe in order to house passengers and keep them loyal.
From the beginning of the development of the railway, the refreshment room became recognised as an important addition to the railway station. As F.S. Williams put it:
At many intermediate stations, as well as termini, there is a department of great importance devoted to the proper maintenance of the British constitution. [Railway managers have generally] taken care to promote the good temper of their travellers by the establishment of those most characteristic railway institutions – “refreshment rooms”. p.264
According to reports, the quality of the refreshments provided here varied greatly station to station. Some were known for their decent food and drink, perhaps made in a local bakery or butchers, while just as today, at some places passengers joked and complained about the awful pies, tea and coffee. Because stoppage time could be a short as a couple of minutes, it was important for people to be able to get their chosen refreshments as quickly as possible. This meant that those serving and selling had to be fast and efficient – some accounts tell of passengers who were impressed at the skill of women who were able to pour coffee with startling speed and without spilling a single drop.
Sidings had several uses. They were used to create passing places, for instance when a slow train passed by a faster one, and were used to store rolling stock during loading and unloading to keep the main line clear for through traffic. In some cases, these were known to sit on the sidings for months waiting to be moved and became the unintentional home for wildlife! The more goods traffic a station was expected to see the more sidings it would have. Sidings were also used for access to railway infrastructure like goods sheds, turntables or cattle docks, and to locomotive servicing facilities like engine sheds, coaling points, water points. Private sidings also provided direct access to specific industries or factories such as Craven Lime Works.
Sidings had other practical features, for example weighing machines and wagon loading gauges. These were used to prevent railway “trucks” from being loaded too high to be able to pass under the many bridges and tunnels along the tracks. The loading gauges were simple frames hung with a bell, which rang if the load touched it when it passed. If the bell rang, the load was too high and would need to be reduced.
Signal boxes were a slow development in the history of railways. This made rail travel a dangerous enterprise, and many accidents were caused by poor or lack of signals. At first, each station had a different way of signalling to drivers – this could be as simple (or dangerous!) as a small candle being placed in a window. Eventually signal boxes did develop and become standardised along lines – although not every worker used them correctly. For example, one particularly awful crash happened in December 1910 between Hawes Junction and Aisgill. It was caused when the signalman forgot about a pair of light engines waiting to travel in the direction of Carlisle and signalled to the Scotch Express to come through. This signal mistakenly invited the light engines to set off in front of the Express, and because they were travelling at a much slower speed, a collision was inevitable. The express was derailed and 12 people died.
Midland Railway Company signal boxes are an instantly recognisable sight along railways in this country. This is because the Midland Railway Company set up their own signal works at Derby, which by the time the Settle-Carlisle was being built was producing their own standardised signal boxes in prefabricated sections (flakes). The basic design of the boxes was distinctive and has changed very little, although over time four different types evolved. Originally, the structure was timber in construction, but eventually a concrete base was added to the final type to combat the long-held problem of rot. If you’re interested, you can read more about the different types here.
So there you have it – one of the important but lesser talked about aspects of the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Not only was the route itself pioneering, but the buildings that are now so recognisable sprung out of a new desire for the promotion of corporate identity. If you’d like to learn more about the railway stations on the line, The Settle & Carlisle Railway Trust has created a fantastic Design Guide to aid the conservation of the line. You can access it here.
With special thanks to Andrea Burden (Sustainable Development Officer) for photos
Settle & Carlisle Railway Trust, Design Guide, <https://settlecarlisletrust.org.uk/design-guide/>
Williams, Frederick S., The Midland Railway: Its Rise and Progress, (London, 1876).
Williams, Frederick S., Our Iron Roads, (7th ed., Derby, 1888).