Notes: The present-day East Coast main line station at Durham was, in effect, the third station to serve the city of Durham. The first was the terminus of the Durham & Sunderland Railway (via Hetton) opened in 1839 which was actually in the village of Shincliffe a couple of miles south of the city. The second one, which the present station replaced in 1857, was on Gilesgate, the terminus of a branch from Belmont on the Darlington to Gateshead line via Leamside. The fourth was Durham Elvet, opened in 1892 to replace the inconveniently located Shincliffe terminus – by that time renamed Shincliffe Town.
Today’s Durham station was originally just an intermediate stop on the Bishop Auckland branch from Leamside. However, as befitted the historic city, it was favoured with a most attractive building. Biddle (1973) notes the similarity of the Tudor-Gothic building to G T Andrews’ remarkable edifice at Richmond, and suggests that although the Durham building is credited to Thomas Prosser, the NER architect at its opening in 1857, it was likely to have been an Andrews design that had been laid aside when George Hudson’s downfall postponed the completion of this line. Biddle also remarks that the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral opposed the construction of the railway, and the choice of a well crafted, traditionally styled building on the elevated site in view of the cathedral and castle could perhaps have placated them.
The buildings on both platforms are in dressed sandstone. The main building is on the up (east) platform, and its frontage is a two-storey gabled block with a crenellated portico of three pointed arches in front and one on each side. Other features of interest are the groups of octagonal chimney stacks and mullioned windows. A screen wall formerly linked the building to the stationmaster’s house and refreshment room.
The station sufficed for over a decade, but the re-routing of the East Coast main line through the station in 1872 required superior facilities. Consequently Prosser undertook major improvements in 1871-2. The site needed to be widened to the west, to accommodate two through platforms and bays for local services. The station originally possessed a trainshed, which was demolished. The main east side station building with its office range was retained for its original purpose, and it influenced the style of the new work, notably the booking office and waiting rooms on the new down platform; Fawcett notes that these formed a virtually independent station. The down platform offices took the form of a single-storey cottage-style pavilion, reflecting the Tudor-Gothic of the original station. He also remarks that with four tracks between the through platforms, goods and express passenger traffic could avoid the platform roads, and extensive circulating areas and bay platforms on both sides were also features of the generous accommodation offered by the station. In place of the trainshed there was fully-glazed ridge and furrow roofing, with a slated skirt at the platform edge.
Fawcett’s description of the re-vamping of the original up side building refers to the rearrangement of the offices, the refreshment rooms being re-sited in a new building north of the old one, and a new ramped platform entrance being formed between the two. The new rooms were in a two-storey and raised basement block, appearing rather like a prosperous suburban villa, stylistically similar to the old building but ‘livened up’ with a crenellated parapet, punctuated by corbelled chimneys. Inside there were staff bedrooms and a sitting room on the upper floor. Downstairs was a large first-class refreshment room with a pair of bay windows looking out towards the city, while other travellers had to make do with a smaller room looking out onto the platform. The original station building ‘underwent some surprising external surgery at the same time: the turrets at the corners of the portico were replaced by angle buttresses, and the shaped stone mullions of the ground-floor windows were replaced by flat timber ones’.
To increase office space wooden buildings were added to both platforms, including a general waiting room on the up side and a bay-windowed stationmaster’s office, with nicely detailed Gothic windows, on the down side. However not all alterations were in such good taste. Fawcett notes that the breaking through of the front wall of the original station, to extend the parcels office into a wooden lean-to with a vestibule formed by partitioning off one bay of the portico was unfortunate.
In the Grouping of 1923 the NER network became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). Nationalisation in 1948 allocated Durham to the North Eastern Region of British Railways. In 1939 the Lanchester Valley route to Blackhill was closed to passengers by the LNER, and in 1951 BR withdrew the single advertised train per day on the Waterhouses branch. The two remaining ‘branch’ services, to Sunderland and Bishop Auckland, were axed by BR in May 1964, leaving Durham as a main line through station only.
The station received unusual signage, probably very early in the BR era, of rectangular enamel tangerine nameplates, rather than totems, and these remained until the late 1960s, accompanied by standard BR(NE) running-in boards, until replaced with Corporate Identity signage.
Further modifications to Durham station were made in the 1960s and ’70s which paid scant regard to the attractiveness of the buildings. The refreshment rooms were closed in the British Railways era and demolished. Fawcett (2005) is highly critical of Martin Little and Colin Phipps’ alterations, completed in 1966, in which Prosser’s original building was given over to parcels and a new station entrance was provided. A boxy new building was installed employing a modular timber construction, with plywood-faced cladding panels, and was designed to tuck under the edge of Prosser’s platform roof; the new structure housed a booking hall, offices and waiting rooms. In Fawcett’s opinion it looked like a temporary fix from the outset, and has worn very badly.
The track alignment through the station (dictated by the need to reduce to two tracks on the approach to Durham Viaduct) impeded high-speed running by through expresses, so in 1969 the up centre line was removed to allow for realignment. In 1972 all of the tracks were moved eastward, requiring the narrowing of the up platform and replacing Prosser’s attractive verandah with a clumsy and inelegant structure – a combined portal frame and cantilever design with profiled steel sheet cladding.
Despite the insensitivity of some of the changes to Durham station it enjoys Grade II listed status.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SUNDERLAND TO DURHAM (AND BISHOP AUCKLAND) VIA LEAMSIDE LINEDespite its name the Durham & Sunderland Railway (D&S) – not via Leamside – never did reach Durham City. Its route from South Dock, Sunderland, extended through Murton to Haswell (where the Hartlepool Dock & Railway Company already had a terminus) which opened in 1836, with a branch from Murton through Hetton, Pittington and Sherburn House to Shincliffe, two miles south-east of the Durham City centre, which opened in 1839. The North Eastern Railway eventually diverted the line from Shincliffe to terminate in Durham at Elvet station in 1893.
In an Act of 27 July 1846 the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway (see ‘Old Main Line’ history) was authorised to build a line from Pensher (later known as Penshaw) to join the D&S Railway at Sunderland. The line was known as the Painshaw Branch (another variation on the spelling of Penshaw). From Sunderland as far as Penshaw the line followed the River Wear valley but its route was generally some distance from the river to avoid a meander near Hylton and to serve the communities which were growing south of the river. The line opened on 20 February 1852 for goods traffic and 1 June 1853 for passengers. The terminus in Sunderland was Fawcett Street station, which opened on the same day on the southern edge of the developing commercial centre of the town.
The Bishop Auckland branch from Leamside via Durham opened to passengers on 1 April 1857. Beyond Leamside, at Auckland Junction (later known as Leamside Junction) it swung westwards from the route to Ferryhill, crossed the River Wear on a viaduct, then sharply south-west to reach Durham City. The curious dog-leg in the route enabled the line to follow the intended course of the moribund YN&B project of 1848: see details in the section below on the ‘new’ main line. Durham City’s centre is densely built up on the narrow, steep-sided peninsula within a meander of the River Wear, dominated by the cathedral and castle; the railway did not enter this historically important area, but passed by to the north-west, where a substantial viaduct was necessary and the city’s station was found.
The Leamside – Bishop Auckland branch now provided an alternative route between Durham and Sunderland, far more convenient than via the Durham & Sunderland’s Shincliffe (for Durham) terminus – which was abandoned in 1893 when the D&S was re-routed to a terminus at Durham Elvet. On the day the Bishop Auckland branch was opened the branch from Belmont Junction to Durham Gilesgate closed to passengers: this had been opened by the N&DJ on 15 April 1844, providing the first station in Durham City.
From 1857 Leamside station enjoyed some importance as the de facto junction where trains to and from Sunderland and Durham connected with the services on London Kings Cross – Newcastle – Edinburgh main line. Fencehouses or Penshaw could equally have been awarded this status, but Leamside station, in its remote rural surroundings, was rebuilt with an island platform and bays at each end to accommodate the connecting services and allow convenient interchange by passengers. Its importance was short-lived and was suddenly removed when the new main line route between Ferryhill and Newcastle via Durham opened in 1872. Leamside station was now an extravagance, with little local population to serve; conversely the splendid Durham viaduct, originally serving only the Leamside – Bishop Auckland branch, was now a prominent feature of the main line providing a vantage point from which millions of passengers would be able to admire Durham and its cathedral.
In Sunderland the inconvenient gap between Monkwearmouth, the terminus of trains from Newcastle and South Shields on the north bank of the River Wear, and the lines from the south was closed in 1879 when in the ‘Monkwearmouth Junction’ project a bridge over the river and a tunnel under the town centre were constructed together with a new station known either as Sunderland (or Sunderland Central). From August 1879 Fawcett Street station closed and trains on the Durham line ran into the new station. The Central station also replaced the Hendon terminus, formerly used by trains to Seaham and West Hartlepool.
As with most lines in northern County Durham the Sunderland – Durham route carried large quantities of goods and mineral traffic, notably coal. Several collieries were directly linked to the line, and there were branches into shipyards and Deptford staiths on the Wear as well as to the Hudson, Henson and South docks on the coast.
Expecting that coal exports from Sunderland’s South Dock would increase, the North Eastern Railway and local authorities jointly funded the construction of the Queen Alexandra Bridge, to carry both rail and road traffic in the manner of High Level Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle. The NER paid £325,000 (including railway approaches) while Sunderland Corporation contributed £146,000 and Southwick Council a further £11,000. The new bridge and associated lines would enable coal from the ex-Stanhope & Tyne line to reach South Dock, eliminating reversals at Washington and Penshaw, using instead a mineral line from Southwick Junction (between Washington and Boldon) over the new Queen Alexandra Bridge, then the Sunderland – Durham line from Diamond Hall Junction (just west of Millfield station). The bridge opened in 1909, but from the NER perspective it was a financial disaster since it apparently carried one coal train per day until the early 1920s when regular traffic ceased.
Passenger services on the Sunderland – Durham line remained frequent. However from the 1920s motor buses began to provide a more intensive service and linked the numerous mining villages and towns in north-east Durham. The ‘Old Main Line’ south of Leamside lost its passenger services in 1941. On the Sunderland – Durham route, apart from the very early loss of Frankland station, between Leamside and Durham, in 1877, casualties began with Leamside in 1953, followed by Millfield in inner Sunderland in 1955. Diesel multiple units replaced steam haulage on the route during 1957.
Further economies were exercised when Pallion and Penshaw were downgraded to ‘staffed halts’ and Cox Green became an ‘unstaffed halt’ on 14 August 1961. Passenger traffic censuses in summer 1962 and winter 1962-3 showed a respectable level of use on Monday-to-Friday of Hylton and Pallion stations, but limited traffic at the other stations, notably Cox Green. The Reshaping of British Railways (‘Beeching’) report of March 1963 recommended the withdrawal of passenger services between Sunderland, Durham and Bishop Auckland - as well as the services between Newcastle and Washington - and the official proposal of closure was published on 19 July 1963. Not a single objection was lodged to the Washington closure, which took place on 9 September 1963. BR must have been unprepared for the lack of resistance to this closure as a timetable for Usworth and Washington stations appeared in the winter 1963-4 North Eastern Region book. On 28 February 1964, having considered objections to the Sunderland – Durham – Bishop Auckland proposals, Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, consented to the closure, and services were officially withdrawn on 4 May 1964.
The author was blissfully unaware of this development, and alighted from a Newcastle train at Durham on 15 May to catch the Sunderland train, only to be informed that the last one had gone! He decided to travel on to Darlington and Middleton-in-Teesdale instead – which was still open.
Goods services ceased between Leamside (Auckland Junction) and Durham (Newton Hall Junction) and at Finchale siding (Frankland) on 22 October 1964. The tracks into the former Fawcett Street terminus in Sunderland, which had continued as a goods facility reached from the Durham line, were severed on 3 October 1965. Goods services were retained between Penshaw and Sunderland until 21 August 1967 when they were discontinued west of Hylton Quarry sidings. In 1971 the line from Pallion to Ford paper works at Hylton was singled and ceased to be signalled when the factory closed, but Dolomite from Hylton Quarry continued to be carried until 1976 when the line was cut back to Pallion; it was officially taken out of use on 20 November 1976. The remainder of the line to Hendon, including Deptford Johnson Siding closed to goods on 27 November 1984. The section of the ‘Old Main Line’ which the Sunderland – Durham services shared between Penshaw Junction and Auckland Junction continued in goods use for some years more, but was ‘mothballed’ in 1991 and closed in 2012.
Sources and bibliography:
- Biddle, Gordon Victorian stations (David & Charles 1973)
- Biddle, Gordon Britain’s historic railway buildings (Oxford University Press 2003)
- Bragg, S and Scarlett, E North Eastern lines and stations (NERA 1999)
- Clinker, C R Register of closed passenger stations and goods depots
(Avon Anglia 1978)
- Cook, R A and Hoole, K North Eastern Railway historical maps
(RCHS 2nd edition 1991)
- Fawcett, Bill A history of North Eastern Railway architecture (Three volumes)
- Fawcett, Bill George Townsend Andrews of York (NERA 2011)
- Guy, Andy Steam and speed: railways of Tyne and Wear from the earliest days
(Tyne Bridge Publishing 2003)
- Hoole, Ken A regional history of the railways of Great Britain: vol 4 The North East
(David & Charles 2nd edition 1974)
- Hoole, Ken Railway stations of the North East (David & Charles 1985)
- Hurst, Geoffrey Register of closed railways 1948-1991(Milepost Publications 1992)
- Quick, Michael Railway passenger stations in Great Britain: a chronology
- Sinclair, Neil T Railways of Sunderland (Tyne & Wear County Council Museums 1985)
- Teasdale, John G (Ed) A history of British Railways’ North Eastern Region (NERA 2009)
- Young, Alan Lost stations of Northumberland & Durham (Silver Link 2011)
- Hansard Various (HMSO)
- North Eastern Express North Eastern Railway Society (various)
- Darsley, Roger R Darlington - Leamside - Newcastle (Middleton Press 2008)
Tickets from Michael Stewart (except 2165 JC Dean). Bradshaws from Chris Totty and Nick Catford. Route maps drawn by Alan Young.
Route maps drawn by Alan Young.
To see other stations on the Old Main Line click on the station name: Felling 2nd, Felling 3rd , Felling 1st, Pelaw 1st, Pelaw 3rd, Pelaw 4th , Pelaw 2nd, Usworth, Washington 2nd, Washington 1st, Penshaw 1st, Penshaw 2nd, Fencehouses, Rainton, Rainton Meadows (on branch), Leamside 1st, Leamside 2nd, Belmont Junction, Durham Gilesgate (on branch), Sherburn Colliery, Shincliffe & Ferryhill
See also Coxhoe (branch from Ferryhill)
See also: Springwell, Brockley Whins (1st site), Brockley Whins (2nd site)
& Boldon (route prior to 1850)
See also Sunderland and Durham (via Leamside):
Frankland, Cox Green, South Hylton , Hylton, Pallion 1st, Pallion 2nd , Millfield 2nd, Millfield 1st, Millfield 3rd , Sunderland Fawcett Street (on branch) & Sunderland Central (Still open)
Station still open as part of the Tyne & Wear metro
See other ECML stations:Tweedmouth, Scremerston, Goswick, Beal, Smeafield, Crag Mill, Belford, Lucker, Newham, Fallodon, Little Mill, Longhoughton, Lesbury, Warkworth, Longhirst, Morpeth, Stannington, Plessey, Annitsford (1st), Annitsford (2nd), Killingworth, Forest Hall, Heaton (2nd), Heaton (1st), Croft Spa, Eryholme, Otterington, Alne & Tollerton