Train stations are more than just the beginning and end of the journey. Here are 10 of the quirkiest ones in the UK, from architectural works of art to infamous film locations
10. Peckham Rye
Peckham Rye station is a phoenix still hiding in its ashes. It lurks behind a near-derelict 1930s shopping arcade, where Peckham Rye remains un-gentrified and exotic. The local council has long been intending to restore the area in front of the building, but has yet to do so. When it does, the old façade should emerge in all its Victorian glory.
9. Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf is like much of Foster’s brutalist work, impressive in scale but cold and hard. What is masterly is the manipulation of space, and as such is in the great railway tradition. Canary Wharf is an antidote to the claustrophobia of stations on the earlier Victoria line and the northern section of the Jubilee line. Already by 2013, Canary Wharf had won the accolade of being cited as London’s favourite Underground station, a prize appropriately shared between the newest and the oldest, Baker Street.
In 1841, at the peak of the Mania, Brighton was maturing as England’s most fashionable seaside resort. It needed a station to match. The London Brighton & South Coast company had the good fortune to have as its architect David Mocatta, master of so-called ‘railway Italianate’.
Small is beautiful at Dolau, styled the Welsh Adlestrop. Following closure in 1983 and after the station buildings had been demolished, an action group erected a small shelter and turned the verge of the single-line platform into an extended garden. The station name is written in clipped box and there are paintings by local people displayed among the flowers.
The initial station was built in 1862 for the use of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) after the purchase of Sandringham. The Norfolk landscape apparently reminded his homesick wife, Alexandra, of her native Denmark.
Wolferton was the scene of one of the best-known railway anecdotes. Edward VII and Tsar Nicholas of Russia, having abandoned their guards, went walking in the Sandringham woods and became lost. Hitching a lift to a neighbouring station, they boarded the train for Wolferton, and were duly asked for their tickets. ‘But I am the King of England and this is the Tsar of Russia,’ said the king. ‘Glad to meet you,’ said the ticket collector, ‘and I am the Archbishop of Canterbury. Tickets, please.’
Nowhere is Sheffield’s hesitant renaissance more evident than in the former Midland Railway station in Sheaf Square. At night, its environs recede into the darkness and careful lighting picks out Charles Trubshaw’s twelve-arched screen. For a brief moment, Sheffield becomes the Rome of the North, with the Baths of Caracalla and the Trevi Fountain in the foreground.
Desolate, savage, brooding, rain-swept Rannoch Moor is reputedly the largest uninhabited wilderness in the British Isles, covering some fifty square miles south of the Great Glen. It is certainly a wild place even in the most clement of weathers. One imagines its only customers were Macbeth’s witches, on a trip into Fort William to stock up on eye of newt.
3. Great Malvern
Victorian Malvern espoused one industry, that of retirement. It was an upland Torquay, spread along the soft slopes of the Malvern Hills. As such, it offered much scope for ambitious architects such as Edmund Elmslie, from a local family rich on West Indian sugar. The station, on the Worcester to Hereford line, had opened in 1860. Elmslie was designing at the height of the battle of styles. His Great Malvern station was an essay in neo-romanesque – known as trecento.
2. Wemyss Bay
This is one of the few stations that qualify as a coherent work of art. It is the masterpiece of the dominant personality of Scottish railway architecture, James Miller. The style is impossible to classify, variously called domestic revival, Queen Anne, arts-and-crafts and ‘chalet’.
The station was perfectly cast as the set for ‘Hogsmeade’ on Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express (having previously featured in the television series Heartbeat). This celebrity has earned the line much profit. The NYRM claims the most passengers of the heritage sector and ‘maybe the busiest steam heritage line in the world’.
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It is the scene for our hopeful beginnings and our intended ends, and the timeless experiences of coming and going, meeting, greeting and parting. It is an institution with its own rituals and priests, and a long-neglected aspect of Britain's architecture. And yet so little do we look at the railway station.
Simon Jenkins has travelled the length and breadth of Great Britain, from Waterloo to Wemyss Bay, Betws-y-Coed to Beverley, to select his hundred best. Blending his usual insight and authority with his personal reflections and experiences - including his founding the Railway Heritage Trust - the foremost expert on our national heritage deftly reveals the history, geography, design and significance of each of these glories.
Beautifully illustrated with colour photographs throughout, this joyous exploration of our social history shows the station's role in the national imagination; champions the engineers, architects and rival companies that made them possible; and tells the story behind the triumphs and follies of these very British creations.
These are the marvellous, often undersung places that link our nation, celebrated like never before.