Alston Railway Station

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Britain retains a fascinating collection of small railway stations despite the steady stream of station closures over the years. Station building stretched over a 150 year period with the vast majority constructed during the 19th century. The result of numerous independent companies, these stations reflect the introduction of new building materials, remarkable changes in architectural fashions and the taste of the architects employed. Experimental and simple, the first country station buildings were small and with a need for resident station staff, a station house became a common feature. The earliest stations were not provided with platforms but were added later and the number of tracks through the station dictated the number of platform faces required (Binney & Pearce, 1979). While the most flamboyant architecture was the reserve of major town stations, a number of small stations are of the cottage orne style. Owing to their aesthetic qualities, sound structure and usefulness as houses, many of the fine Tudor station buildings have survived. Definite styles of architecture were favoured by each rail company and the great variety of buildings in a region is the result of numerous small companies building short lines in the early days of the railway.

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Immediately striking is the relationship of stations to their communities. Appearing to be in the middle of no-where, rural stations such as Alston served sizeable towns and catchment areas. The first part of the Haltwhistle to Shafthill line, later known as Coanwood, was opened in 1851. The southern section of 9 miles from Alston to Lambley Colliery was brought into use on 5th January 1852 for goods and mineral traffic. The whole branch was opened to all traffic on 17th November 1852 following the completion of the Lambley viaduct. The initial service consisted of two trains per day in each direction and by the turn of the 20th century, four trains per day were leaving Alston. Following the amalgamation of the four largest railway companies – Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway – British Railways (British Rail) was formed in 1948. British Railways inherited the Alston branch line, along which the South Tynedale Railway now runs, yet made little difference to rural branch lines other than the liveries of locomotives and rolling stock. Following the introduction of a diesel worked passenger timetable in November 1959, the last scheduled steam hauled passenger train pulled into Alston station (carrying ‘Royal Train’ headlights) on the evening of Saturday 27th September 1959 (South Tynedale Railway).

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The station master’s house (above) was built in 1852 and is believed to be the design of architect Benjamin Green who also designed a series of stations between Newcastle and Berwick. The Newcastle and Berwick Railway built a splendid collection of Tudor stations which are all stone built with tall chimneys and ball finials on their gables. The station and station master’s house are constructed of coursed squared rubble with string course and Welsh slate roofs. Built in a Tudor style, the symmetrical two storey building features gabled ends, corniced stone chimneys and mullioned windows. The use of the Tudor style was an important link between stations and domestic house building. The picturesque landscapes captured in the writings of the theorists of the 19th century was echoed in the choice of Tudor, or simplified Italianate, styled stations designed as elements in a landscape.

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The South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was formed on 3rd April 1973 following formal consent to the closure of the Alston branch in January of the same year. Although the intention was to purchase the line intact from British Rail, the last standard gauge train ran on 1st May 1976 and by September, the track had been lifted between Haltwhistle and Lambley. At the AGM in July 1977, the decision was taken to build a narrow gauge line and both Cumbria and Northumberland County Council were given first option to purchase the trackbed. Agreements were reached to enable the construction of a two foot gauge line northwards from Alston and Cumbria Council completed the purchase of all the British Railways land within the county in February 1979. Following a grant from the English Tourist Board in October 1980, for the cost of the first section of the line, the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society was able to start laying permanent tracks.

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Trackwork in the station area was completed in 1981 and following further track laying, the new railway’s initial destination of Gilderdale was completed. Cumbria County Council redeveloped the Alston site by converting the engine shed area into a car park and the goods yard was converted for industrial purposes. Passenger services once again started from Alston on 30th July 1983. The station is now used as a tourist information centre and the trains from Alston are hauled by Phoenix, a 4 wheeled Hibberd 40hp diesel locomotive. The line was extended in 1986 to Gilderdale Halt and a further section to Kirkhaugh Halt opened in 1999 (South Tynedale Railway).

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There are further plans from the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society to continue extending the line from Alston, the highest narrow gauge railway in England. On the opposite side of the station is the Hub Museum. Housed in the former railway goods shed, the museum contains a number of local transport and household exhibits together with historic photographs and memorabilia.

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The station master’s house is Grade II Listed.

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Knowle: Baddesley Clinton

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Badde’s Ley, Badde’s wood or clearing dates back to before the Conquest. The Saxon holder in 1066, Leuvinus, was replaced by the Norman knight Geoffrey de Wirce who was granted the manor by William the Conqueror. Walter de Bisege owned the manor 200 years later and his grand-daughter married Sir Thomas de Clinton – hence where Baddesley Clinton derives. With a number of defensive ditches being dug at the end of the 13th century when the Forest of Arden was being settled, it is likely that the moat at Baddesley dates from this time and that Sir Thomas may have been the first to construct a house on the site of the present building. Through the marriage of Nicholas Brome’s daughter Constance to Edward Ferrers, the Baddesley Clinton estate has passed through 13 generations of the Ferrers family until the mid 20th century. One of the most notable occupants at Baddesley is Henry Ferrers. Nicknamed the Antiquary, Henry was a historian who introduced much of the 16th century heraldic glass and the oak panelling in the Great Hall. The historian William Camden described Henry as “a man both for parentage and for knowledge of antiquary very commendable… who hath at all times courteously shewed me the right way when I was out, and from his candle, as it were, hath lighted mine.” Spending much of his life in historical research, he had planned to complete a history of the kings and queens of England.

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View through the Gatehouse to the 19th century Tudor style service wing

It is believed that there was a manor house on the site from around 1230, shortly after the estate came into the hands of the de Clinton family. Originally comprising a group of buildings surrounded by the moat, the medieval gatehouse would have served as the entrance to the original great hall and would have been a timber framed structure. With little remaining of the original house, the earliest visible elements date from the 15th and 16th centuries. A programme of rebuilding was underway in 1459 when John Brome acquired the manor which included a new L-shaped chamber block, a south-east tower and additional chambers. A new gatehouse range was added by Edward Ferrers during his rebuilding between 1526-1536. Henry Ferrers began a programme of improvements in 1574 which included alterations to the Gatehouse Range (new roof) and the rebuilding of the East Range, new staircases and first floor corridors for increased privacy. During the 17th century, the gatehouse had mullioned and transomed windows installed when a new Great Parlour was created by a rearrangement of the dividing walls over the gatehouse. Domestic gatehouses were not generally defensive in the military sense but gave sufficient protection against bands of marauders and provided a suitable place for the emblems of the owner, founder or patron.

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Often containing closets used as secret hiding spaces, houses of the late 16th century had vaulted cellars and tunnels connected with the sewage. A tunnel some 30 inches wide passes below the west wing at Baddesley which was constructed as a sewer to receive the drainage of the house (Wood, 1994). The level of the moat was raised at intervals to clean it with steps at one end allowing access for a servant to brush it out. During the times of religious persecution, the tunnel was transformed into a hide for Catholic priests by the 16th century architect Nicholas Owen, a specialist in building priest holes. Known as Little John, Owen trained as a carpenter and was a personal servant of Father John Gerard, the Jesuit Superior. With increased financial pressures, Henry Ferrers rented Baddesley out in 1590 to the daughters of Lord Vaux who were ardent Catholics. The Vaux sisters allowed a number of English Jesuit priests to use Baddesley as a base for missionary work and apparently did so without Henry’s knowledge. Following the Act of Uniformity in 1587, it was a treasonable offence to be or to harbour a Roman Catholic priest in your house so the Vaux sisters created a number of hiding places incase Baddesley was visited by the priest hunters. Despite the threat posed by the Act and risking their lives, the servants remained loyal.

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The Great Hall

A room of many uses, the Great Hall (above) was contrived by Henry Ferrers as a reception room and entertainments. Recording the installation of the great carved heraldic chimneypiece on 2nd March 1629, Henry remarks: “Work in the great chamber have finished and set up the chimneypiece… which I like well but the unicorn is not set up for the crest, and is as I think made too big and the horn too big, and too upright, and the eyes ill set and sidelong.” (Tinniswood, 1991) Formal dining took place in the first floor Great Parlour so although the Great Hall was recreated after the medieval fashion, it was quite different in function to other medieval manor houses. William Langland noted the tendency to dine apart in The Vision of Piers Plowman: 

Wretched is the hall… each day in the week

There the lord and lady liketh not to sit;

Now have the rich a rule to eat by themselves

In a privy parlour… for poor men’s sake,

Or in a chamber with a chimney, and leave the chief hall

That was made for meals, for men to eat in…

The great hall usually met several social needs, such as being a point of assembly for tenants, legal and administration purposes and was the main living room for the lord and their family. The central hearth, which necessitated a high roof, was gradually superseded by a wall fireplace, particularly from the 15th century onwards (Wood, 1994). It also became common during Elizabethan times for both the hall and the parlour to be “ceiled” with plastering becoming usual for ornament and effective protection against fire (Summerson, 1953). The fabulous fireplace at Baddesley is finely carved and derives from the printed designs in Sebastiano Serlio’s Five Books of Architecture and was moved to the Great Hall from the Great Parlour in 1572. Thomas Ferrers moved into Baddesey in 1747 and created a central door opposite the chimneypiece and added a plain plaster ceiling in this room. Concealing the 16th century timbers, the fine ceiling was not revealed until after a fire in 1940.

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The Library

The Library (above and below) was adapted from a first floor chamber and was created during the 17th century. In later centuries, this room was a bedroom and became known as the Ghost Bedroom. The fantastic carved overmantel is dated 1634 and was installed by Edward Ferrers. The beautiful oak lectern in the form of an eagle, made from a ship’s figurehead and dating to circa 1800, was introduced by Thomas Ferrers-Walker and his son in the 19th century. Thomas was responsible for recreating the Sacristy and removing an 18th century chimneystack. Thomas and his wife Undine also stripped back the many layers of paint in some of the rooms, repaired timberwork and revealed the ceiling in the Great Hall. Much of the furniture in the room is Georgian and many of the books are concerned with history and genealogy.

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The Library

Adjoining the Great Hall are the Drawing Room (below) and the Dining Room. Rebuilt in around 1790, the Drawing Room features glass, oak panelling and armorial chimneypiece that were re-used from other rooms in the house. One of the stained glass windows in the room is 16th century while the other was introduced in the 1890’s by Rebecca in memory of her two husbands. Rebecca Dulibella Orpen was born in 1830 and lived in County Cork with her aunt Lady Chatterton. The story goes that when the wealthy Edward Dering came to ask permission to marry Rebecca, the 53 year old Lady Chatterton misunderstood and announced to the world that she had accepted his proposal. Apparently too chivalrous to withdraw, Edward did indeed marry Lady Chatterton. Marmion Ferrers, the last Ferrers in the direct male line to live at Baddesley, married Rebecca in 1867. A talented and prolific painter, Rebecca filled the house with family portraits and many views of Baddesley Clinton. These four individuals – Marmion, Rebecca, Lady Chatterton and Edward Dering – became known as the Quartet. Living a “gentle Tennysonian existence” (Musson, 2015), the two inseparable couples restored and refurnished the house, recreated the Chapel and extended the servants wing. Lady Chatterton died in 1876 and following the death of Marmion in 1884, Edward finally married his true love Rebecca in 1885. After Edward’s death in 1892, Rebecca continued to live at Baddesley with her devoted servants until her death in 1923.

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The Drawing Room

After the death of Rebecca, Baddesley Clinton passed to her first husband’s great nephew. Much of the furniture was sold to Baron Ash at Packwood House (also in Warwickshire) as Ferrers relatives struggled to keep the house going. In 1940 the house was sold to Thomas Walker, a relation of the Ferrers family, and in 1980, his son, Thomas Ferrers-Walker, transferred it to the National Trust through National Land Fund procedures. The National Trust opened the house to visitors in 1982 and with the landscape that surrounds this idyllic ancient manor house being recognised for its environmental importance, there is a project supported by Natural England to restore the traditional character of the fields and park. Baddesley Clinton has a fantastic variety of architectural features that reflect both the changing fashions and the uses of this historic manor house.

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South side – the Chapel & Sacristy are located above the 18th century toilet block projection

The writer Fletcher Moss visited Baddesley Clinton following the death of Edward. Noting in Pilgrimages to Old Homes (1912), Fletcher describes the moment he was greeted at the door by a priest in Benedictine dress: “In the quaint epauletted livery of black is a butler whose mien is that of a family servant – not one who is bought with mere wages, but a survival from the days when servants were serfs or chattels, bred and reared on, and part of, the estate.” Speaking of Rebecca, he goes on: “In thorough harmony with the place is the Lady of the Manor, a handsome courteous elderly lady whose time is spent in works of charity, and who comes to say a few words of welcome not only for this day but also for another.”

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Coach House completed in 1714

An illustrated article on Baddesley Clinton appeared in the first issue of Country Life in January 1897. Described as “a truly quaint and beautiful domestic survival of the English country life of the olden time” (Tinniswood, 1991), John Leyland gives the following description of Warwickshire country houses: “mailed knights have dwelt within their walls, fugitives in troublous times have fled to their secret chambers, cavaliers have knocked at their oaken doors.” On arriving at Baddesley, Leyland notes: “About seven miles from Warwick… all amid the silent woods, its grey walls and timber gables reflected in a lake-like moat, stands the old Hall of Baddesley Clinton. Its aspect carries you back hundreds of years. You will readily, if so disposed, conjure up an old-world history when you look at it, and if you have any antiquarian interest – and who has not at least a tinge of it? – you can easily forget for the time that you are living in the Nineteenth century.”

Baddesley Clinton is Grade I Listed.

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East Range containing the Great Hall