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Dent Railway Station Dent Railway Station from above ©YDNPA

A Proven Track Record: The Settle-Carlisle Railway Stations

Wednesday 19 May, 2021, by Lily Mulvey

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.

Photo shows London's St Pancras Station on a sunny day. The clock tower is against a blue sky
St Pancras Railway Station by © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons

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.

Photograph is an old image of Dent Station. Some passengers wait on the platform in front of the booking hall, which looks much the same today as it did then
Dent Station – Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the Rowley and Ellwood families, and North Yorkshire County Council, Skipton Library

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.

Photo shows Dent booking hall in the background and a maroon and cream coloured sign in the foreground
Dent booking hall ©YDNPA
Photo shows a close up of Dent booking hall. The classic Midland Railway bargeboards (cream) and casement windows (maroon frames) are visible alongside the slanted fence and welsh slate. The building is built using rusticated limestone
Welsh slate, coursed rock-faced sandstone and ornate bargeboards and casement windows at Dent ©YDNPA
Photo shows a close up of Dent booking hall. The classic Midland Railway bargeboards (cream) and casement windows (maroon frames) are visible
Ornate bargeboards and casement windows at Dent booking hall ©YDNPA

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.

Photo shows the tracks and platforms at Appleby Station
Appleby Station (Wiki Commons Creative Commons Licence)

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).

Photo shows the booking hall at Ribblehead Station. The building is a copy of others along the line, including Dent and Garsdale Head. It i coloured maroon and cream and is built of rusticated limestone
Ribblehead Station ©YDNPA

Taking a Closer Look…


Photo shows the distinctive slanted fencing of the Midland Railway Company at Garsdale Station
Fencing at Garsdale Station ©YDNPA

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

Photo shows the Station  Masters' House at Hrton-in-Ribblesdale. Unusually the bargeboards are painting Midland Railway maroon instead of cream. Aside from that, the house is stereotypical with specified chimneys and a porch
Station Master’s House at Horton-in-Ribblesdale ©YDNPA
Image shows a carefully drawn map of the Settle-Carlisle Line (black and white) including details of the train station
A 1911/12 plan (2 chains to an inch) of the line showing Horton-in-Ribblesdale Station

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

Photo shows a line of workers' cottages at Chapel-le-Dale. They are terraced with slate roofs and large dormers
Salt Lake Cottages, Chapel-le-Dale (terraced with porches and large dormers) ©YDNPA
Image shows a map of the line (black and white) drawn to show the detail of the line at Salt Lake Quarry. It also indicates the location of Salt Lake Cottages
A 1911/12 plan (2 chains to an inch) of the line showing Salt Lake Quarry and associated cottages

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.

Photo shows a row of workers' cottages. They are stepped terraces with porches, tall chimneys and unbroken eaves (no dormers)
Workers’ Cottages at Garsdale Station. These have unbroken eaves. ©YDNPA

Waiting Shelter

Photo shows the exterior of a waiting shelter at Garsdale. The door and drains are painted maroon whole the window surrounds are cream. The building is long and low with a slate roof
A waiting shelter at Garsdale Station ©YDNPA
Photo shows the interior of the building. There are wooden benches (maroon) with cream walls and maroon detailing. There is a small fireplace and timber flooring
The interior of the shelter shown above. The Midland Railway colour scheme is continued inside ©YDNPA

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.

Refreshment Room

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.


Photo shows a view of the sidings. There is some vegetation scattered around and part of a building is also visible.
Sidings at Ribblehead Station from Wiki Commons, subject to Creative Commons Licence
Photo shows a small waiting shelter and the lines at Ribblehead Station. A bridge is visible in the far distance
Ribblehead Station ©YDNPA

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.

Image shows a detailed map (black and white) of the lie going past Craven Lime Works, which is indicated on the far right of the section. The sidings are detailed too
A 1911/12 plan (2 chains to an inch) of the line showing the sidings at 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

Photo shows Garsdale signal box from across the track. The box is timber and painted cream and maroon. A maroon street lamp stands outside
A great example of one of the famous Midland Railway signal boxes (Garsdale) ©YDNPA

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.

Photo looks diagonally on to the signal box against a blue sky
The signal box from the front ©YDNPA
Photo shows the view looking up a bank at the Garsdale signal box. The ground floor windows are visible from this side
Garsdale signal box from below ©YDNPA

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, <>

Williams, Frederick S., The Midland Railway: Its Rise and Progress, (London, 1876).

Williams, Frederick S., Our Iron Roads, (7th ed., Derby, 1888).

Picture of Lily Mulvey

Lily Mulvey

Lily is the Authority's Historic Environment Apprentice

7 Replies to “A Proven Track Record: The Settle-Carlisle Railway Stations”

  1. Glen Dugdale says:

    Brilliant work Lily. A fascinating read and I enjoyed learning a bit more about this great engineering achievement.

  2. Linda Smith says:

    Another masterly piece of research Lily and only two puns (if I counted them correctly)!

  3. This is absolutely brilliant. May we put it up on the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line web site and possibly publish it in our quarterly magazine?

    • Lily Mulvey says:

      Hi Richard, I’m glad you enjoyed reading the blog. I’d be very happy for you to post/publish it. I have also spoken to Andrea Burden, YDNPA Sustainable Development Officer, who kindly went out and took a lot of the photos and she is happy for them to be published. However, one of the historic photographs of Dent Station belongs to the Rowley Ellwood Collection. Before publishing you should get permission from Skipton Library to reproduce the photo. Their contact address is Alternatively you could remove the photograph before posting. I’m happy to help further if needed – my contact address is

  4. JIM BARWISE says:

    I was looking at items related to the field system at Grassington just now. Until yesterday, I had no idea that it existed, let alone knowing how old it is. My attention wandered then further afield, so to speak, and I found this about the Settle-Carlisle. It’s true that you often see but don’t look and, having travelled on the line a few times, it is true to say that the stations, particularly Dent and Ribblehead, “passed me by”. This article told me loads that I just did not know about the line’s stations: very enlightening and enjoyable. My Thanks to the author.

  5. Ericgreen says:

    The only bad thing is the horrible yellow paint used for bottom part of armathwaite signal box .why not cream like rest of boxes

    • Highfields92 says:

      The colour is authentic Midland – Venetian red (brown) and lemon chrome. The colours did fade so yellow became cream but where the purple red currently used originated from is anyones guess.

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