It is exceedingly fortunate that the main buildings at the intermediate stations of the Wirksworth branch all remain in existence over half a century after they ceased to be required for the passenger traffic they were built to serve. Hazelwood and Idridgehay are now both private residences, while Shottle has served as offices for many years, but it is sad that the corresponding buildings at each end of the branch were demolished many years ago. All were in a similar, gabled, twin-pavilion style with Wirksworth being on a slightly larger scale, and Duffield being even larger still. This design was more-or-less standard for Midland Railway station buildings dating from the period when the Wirksworth line was built, and was conceived by the company’s Chief Engineer, John Sydney Crossley.
Crossley was born in 1812, and having been orphaned at the age of two, was articled to his guardian’s son, who was the engineer of the Leicester Navigation. His railway work began on the Leicester and Swannington Railway in 1833, from which he progressed to the Midland Counties Railway, one of the three constituents of the Midland Railway. He became Chief Engineer to that company in 1858, despite suffering a stroke six years earlier. In this position, he was responsible for constructing some 225 miles of new line, including the Wirksworth branch, the Clay Cross tunnel and his greatest achievement, the Settle and Carlisle line. This badly affected his health, however, and in 1875 the Midland Railway accepted his resignation, but only on condition that he completed the line, and remained as a consultant afterwards. The line opened a year later, but Crossley’s health was ruined, and he died in 1879 at the age of 66.
His basic single-storey design typically included an office and porters’ room in one pavilion and ladies’ and gentlemen’s waiting rooms (quite separate of course!) in the other pavilion, the two linked together by a central waiting hall. Tickets were bought from an archetypal window in the wall between the office and the waiting hall. To this basic plan were sometimes added ancillary buildings, and Wirksworth, for example, had an extensive urinal block with entrances from each of the waiting rooms and also from the platform.
A feature of the buildings was a pierced iron lintel supporting the roof of the central area, and forming a canopy between the pavilions. With a corresponding flourish, the wooden barge boards on the pavilions were also elaborately fretted, with the result that these otherwise mundane and functional buildings were blessed with a beauty and quaintness sadly lacking in more recent edifices. In every respect, this was a classic design for a country station building, and many railway companies had examples of buildings that used the same simplicity, logicality and elegance. The Midland repeated the formula in many locations, and if you visit the preserved Avon Valley Railway at Bitton (between Bristol and Bath) you could be forgiven for thinking you were standing on Shottle station, for the building here is identical (as was its neighbour at Weston) having been built for a line that opened just two years after the Wirksworth branch.
Similarly, travel north to Carlisle via Settle, and you will notice that the Midland Railway’s magnificent route to Scotland (opened a further six years after the Bristol-Bath line) is similarly graced with variations on the “Wirksworth branch” theme. Indeed, all but two of the stations on the Settle and Carlisle line were of this style. Nowadays, we hear a lot about corporate identity, but the idea (although not identified as such) was certainly present in the middle of the nineteenth century, and there was a very real desire on the part of railway companies that the traveller should be in no doubt about whose facilities he or she was enjoying.
Some variations were more startling, and in the Birmingham area for example, the station buildings at Moseley, Balsall Heath, King’s Norton and Water Orton sprouted a third pavilion and a further extension, so that the result was something like “Shottle on Growmore”! A nice detail on these buildings was the use of round-topped windows, and here we have a link back to Duffield, which despite sharing the twin-pavilion approach of its branch-line neighbours, was much grander, as befitted its main-line status. The company knew when it was onto a “winner”, and this enlarged and more ostentatious design found itself repeated at other locations too, including Hathern on the Derby to Leicester line.
A variation on the “round-windowed” design can be seen at Butterley, but this time, the roofs of the two pavilions are hipped rather than gabled. This standardisation of design was particularly useful to the Midland Railway Trust when it sought to replace the demolished building at Butterley; it needed to go no further than Whitwell in the north of Derbyshire, to find an identical building. Transported to Butterley and rebuilt stone by stone, it is the erstwhile Whitwell building that you now see at the Midland Railway Centre’s headquarters.
At some of the stations that have been mentioned here (and no doubt at many others) the Midland Railway sited examples of one of its other standard designs. This was a smaller cruciform or cross-gabled waiting shelter, that was provided on secondary platforms, and complemented the larger twin-gabled design perfectly. Duffield had one of these too, and users of the Wirksworth branch would have known it well, for it stood on the branch platform until the late 1960s. What is less well known is that an identical shelter stood on the island platform at Duffield, to the south of the footbridge, at least until the early part of the twentieth century.
It is appropriate to close by looking at the fate of the buildings, and how the survivors are currently used. Duffield, of course, disappeared around 1969, and it seems incredible to think that this was forty years ago! Moving down the line to Hazelwood, the site here for many years hosted a riding establishment, the proprietors using the station building as living accommodation. More recently, the station has become a timber yard, having relocated from a site adjacent to the station at Duffield. Uniquely for the intermediate stations on the line, the platform edge has been cut back.
Shottle is perhaps the best-preserved of the three surviving examples, having been used for many years as offices for an oil-distribution company. The station doors here are still labelled “Ladies Room”, “Station Master”, etc., and the owners are to be congratulated on the way that they have maintained and preserved the building.
Idridgehay station building is now a private house, and although not too apparent from the outside, this one has undergone the most significant changes inside. These changes took place in the early 1980s, and involved the insertion of a second floor just above window level. The new second storey is therefore in the old roof space, and of necessity, skylights have been placed in the roof to light the top floor. I was privileged to see the conversion work being done, and it was quite strange to stand on the new floor, and look down to the platform. This must now rank as a highly-desirable residence - especially as it now enjoys the benefit of mains water and electricity!
At Wirksworth, the station building survived for many years, but slowly became derelict, and was demolished in January 1967 as part of the site’s conversion to a stone terminal. The stone from the building was, allegedly, used in the construction of the embankment for the “dust dock” – an ignominious end for a fine building. Whatever the basis for this story, though, recent work in that area has failed to unearth a kit of parts for Wirksworth’s former station building.
It is said that classic pieces of design never become obsolete, and whether Crossley was actually the architect of these fine buildings, or whether he merely oversaw their design by a minion in the Midland Railway’s drawing office, they have become an essential part of the “Midland scene”. We are indeed fortunate that this collection of three examples remains complete in the Ecclesbourne valley.
Our thanks to Howard Sprenger for the text and the various other contributors for the photographs.