A image showing York (Old) station as seen from the city walls in 1907.
Photo from the John Mann collection
For centuries York had been one of the principal cities of England as well as an important regional centre. It is therefore not surprising that within three years of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway discussions on creating a railway between York and Leeds had started. In 1836 the York & North Midland Railway (YNM) was authorised to build a 32-mile railway between York and Normanton where it would make a connection with the North Midland Railway (NMR) which had been authorised at the same time. The NMR connected with the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway which in turn connected with the London & Birmingham Railway. All of these lines together created a route between London (Euston) and York.
The driving force behind the YNM was the company Chairman, George Hudson, who was also the Mayor of York. George Stephenson was appointed as Engineer for the line.
York retained its walls and a recent campaign had ensured that they would remain after demolition had been mooted. George Stephenson was in favour of creating a station for the YNM outside the city walls as there would be more space for future expansion; Hudson, however, felt that it would be more prestigious to have a station built inside the walls and he overruled Stephenson. Two available plots of land existed within the city on its western side at Tanner Row: a nursery garden and a house of correction. Being Mayor of York, Hudson was able to ensure that his railway obtained both the land he needed and the required permissions.
The station was designed by York Architect George Townsend Andrews, a close associate of George Hudson, and it was approved by George Stephenson in October 1839 after which work begun. On 30 May 1839 the first section of the YNM line opened between York and York Junction on the Leeds & Selby Railway. As work on the station had not even started a temporary facility had to be created just outside the city wall. On 1 July 1840 the line was completed through to Normanton and a trunk route between York and London had been created.
Six months later on 4 January 1841 the permanent station for York was opened. The double-track line entered through the walls, via a Tudor-style arch that had also been designed by George TownsendAndrews, and ran into the station. Based upon the London & Birmingham station at Euston the main facilities fronted onto Tanner Row and were housed in a handsome classical building. The main south elevation had at its centre a portico, a five-arch rusticated colonnade fronting the booking office, and the arches were repeated above on the first floor in the window openings of Hudson’s boardroom. On either side were two wings in which the portico became a line of Tuscan columns. The building was faced with pale buff brick.
On the ground floor there was a booking hall, first and second class waiting rooms, toilets for both sexes, a parcels office, an office for the stationmaster and store rooms. On the first floor the offices of the YNM were located.
Behind the station building (to the north of it) was the departure platform. Five sets of rails separated it from the arrival platform to which it was linked by a cross platform at the eastern end of the station. Both platforms were covered by 40ft-span trainshed roofs between which there was a gap at the point where the centre line of the five tracks ran. The two trainshed roofs were of hipped profile, with ‘Euston’ trusses, and the gap between them allowed ventilation.
The arrival platform was provided with a smaller two-storey building. On its ground floor there were first and second class refreshment rooms and on the second floor there was living accommodation for the stationmaster.
Three months after the station had opened, on 1 March 1841, the Great North of England Railway (GNER) introduced passenger services onto its Newcastle and York line (opened to goods 1 January 1841). The GNER had reached agreement with the YNM that it would use that company’s York station.
By 1842 the YNM and the GNER had opened a joint goods warehouse at the station. Located to the south of the passenger station on the east side of the line it was a two-storey structure and attic with transshipment facilities on the ground floor and warehousing upstairs.
On 8 July 1845 the YNM opened a line between York and Pickering which made an end-on connection with the Whitby & Pickering Railway (opened throughout on 26 May 1836 and purchased by the YNM on 30 June 1845). This development required expansion of the facilities at York station. In November 1845 consent was given for a second Tudor-style arch in York city wall. Located to the south of the original it enabled two more tacks to be laid to serve the goods station.
The platforms at the passenger station and the trainshed were extended and a third platform was created on the eastern side of the departure platform. In September 1846 a further two platforms were created to the west of the original station. The supporting bank of the city wall had to be cut back and a retaining wall constructed. The new platforms became known as the Scarborough Bays as they were used by services to that destination. Like the original station these platforms were provided with a trainshed roof.
In 1847 links were made to Harrogate and Market Weighton and in 1848 to Hull.
The March 1850 Bradshaw timetable shows services operating between York and Birmingham, Harrogate, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Scarborough, Whitby and of course London (Euston). The fastest journey time between York and Euston was 6 hours and 5 minutes; Newcastle could be reached in 2hr 20min.
The route that had been established between York and London was anything but direct. A more direct route had been proposed as early as 1836 but that had proved to be too ambitious and it came to nothing. In 1845 the London & York Railway scheme was submitted to Parliament. It was opposed by George Hudson who saw a threat to his YNM and other associated companies in which he had a financial interest. He was able to put up a series of objections and the Bill ran out of Parliamentary time. It was submitted again in 1846 but this time the project had gained more support. With a change of name to the Great Northern Railway (GNR) the project was given Royal Assent on 26 June 1846. The authorised line was from London (Pentonville) via Huntingdon, Peterborough, Grantham, Retford, Doncaster and Selby to a junction with the GNER just south of York station. Having failed in his attempts to frustrate the GNR, George Hudson decided to engage with the project. He persuaded the GNR to abandon its plans for its northern section of line and use the YNM Knottingley to York line (opened 1850) instead. The GNR agreed to this on 6 June 1850 by which time George Hudson had fallen from grace being mired in a number of corruption scandals (he resigned from the YNM on 17 May 1849). On 8 August 1850 services between a temporary station at Maiden Lane (replaced by Kings Cross station on 14 October 1852) in London and York began. A more direct trunk route between London and York had been created.
From 2 September 1850 through services between London and Edinburgh via York began.
The railway developments that had taken place since York had opened in 1841 proved that George Stephenson had been right with regards to locating the station outside the city walls. The terminus station at York, on a major trunk route which stretched between London and Edinburgh, with other links stretching across the north of England and into the Midlands, and with many local lines serving it, had become a serious bottleneck. All trains, including through services, had to run into the station and, if they were continuing onwards, back out again. Trains coming from the Scarborough/Whitby line had to reverse into the station as the junction was configured in a way that directed them away from the station.
On 22 February 1853 the YNM opened a hotel for York station. Located at the eastern end of the station its main façade was a tall and somewhat austere three-storey structure, with a fourth floor added above a cornice. Lower wings, added some years later, curved round to join it to the station offices and refreshment rooms.
By 1854 the YNM had 113 route miles of line.
On 31 July 1854 the YNM, the YN&B and other associated companies merged to form the North Eastern Railway (NER). The NER decided to have its headquarters at York and this necessitated expansion of the station. An additional floor was added to the station building in 1860 complementing the original design but provided with segmental-arched openings rather than straight lintels for the attic windows of the central block.
In 1860 the companies that made up the east coast trunk route between London and Edinburgh (the GNR, NER and NB) established the East Coast Joint Stock shared coaches that could be used on through services. From June 1862 express services commenced between Kings Cross and Edinburgh departing from each place at 10.00am each day (from the 1870s the service was given the name ‘The Flying Scotsman’).
By the 1860s congestion at York had got to the point where trains were having to queue up on the approach lines just to get into the station. It was during this decade that ideas for a new through station were first mooted. On 25 June 1877 the new through station at York was opened and the original was closed.
The station trainsheds became carriage sidings but little by way of alteration was carried out. The original departure platform was removed to make more space for sidings.
In 1906 the NER built a new headquarters opposite the 1853 hotel. The structure was designed by NER architect William Bell with external embellishment and interiors in a rich Edwardian Baroque style by Horace Field.
During the early 1920s the trainshed over the ‘Scarborough Bay’ platforms was removed as was the section over the former departure platform. Space was made at the eastern end of the ‘Scarborough Bay’ platforms to create a war memorial. The NER board had voted in early 1920 to allocate £20,000 to create a War Memorial for its employees and it was unveiled on 14 June 1924 by which time the NER had been grouped (from 1 January 1923) into the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).
On 1 January 1948 the old York station became part of British Railways (North Eastern Region) (BR[NE]). The station buildings became the headquarters of the regions Technical (engineering) Department.
In the 1950s the former First Class Refreshment Room became home to the Railway Museum small exhibits collection.
In 1956 BR(NE) removed further sections of the trainshed and created additional office accommodation to cope with extra staff needed to carry out work associated with the BR ‘Modernisation Plan’. The accommodation included two bland one-storey elevated sections that straddled the lines. They were carried on girders recently recovered from a dismantled bridge. By this time the station was also used by the BR(NE) Public Relations and Publicity department who occupied part of the first floor, with their store on the ground floor.
From 17 June 1956 car-carrying sleeper services were introduced between York and Inverness. Titled as the ‘Highlands Car Sleeper’ the booking in and loading of cars was carried out at the York ‘Old’ station. The loading took place at the ‘Scarborough Bay’ platforms and passengers then walked over to the 1877 station to board the sleeping coaches. The car-carrying wagons would then be shunted out of the old station and attached to the passenger coaches in the 1877 station.
The ‘Highlands Car Sleeper’ was a summer service and in 1956 it operated between 17 June and 9 September. The service did not appear in the timetable until 1957. In that year departure from York was at 9.55pm on Fridays only. Arrival from Inverness was at 7.09am on Sundays only. A further service appeared in the timetable in 1957: ‘the Continental’. It ran between Newcastle and Boulogne (France) and called at York. Departure from York for Dover and Boulogne was at 10.24pm on Wednesdays and arrival from Boulogne and Dover was at 6.25am on Fridays (when first introduced in 1956 ‘The Continental’ had called at Stockton rather than York). These services became very popular and additional trains were run. In summer of 1962 an additional ‘The Continental’ went south on Mondays and north on Tuesdays from 24 July to 28 August. The return working was on Tuesdays. Three ‘The Highlands’ services were operating in 1962 two going north on Fridays and Sundays throughout the summer period and one running on Wednesdays between 26 July and 16 August.
In the early 1960s sidings within the former departure side of the station were cut back to make space for a wooden hut that was erected to act as a classroom but later (in the 1980s) became Central Despatch Office for the Headquarters complex.
In the spring of 1966 the brand name ‘Motorail’ was applied to the car-carrying services that operated throughout the British Rail network, but on the 17 July 1966 a new terminal was opened at York at the south end of the 1877 station and car-carrying trains ceased to run from the old station. Shortly after the car-carrying trains ceased all tracks were removed from within the city walls.
In 1967 BR merged its NE and Eastern (E) regions into an enlarged BR(E). Further office accommodation was required and more sections of the trainshed were demolished along with the 1842 goods station. BR(E) built a new office complex ‘Hudson House’ on the site of the goods warehouse. The old station buildings became known as the ‘West Offices’. Hudson House became the Engineering headquarters of the new Region, and Regional Operations headquarters moved to the West Offices from the 1906-built NER headquarters.
In 1992 the Operational function was divided by business sector. The staff generally stayed where they were at the old station, but responding to the sector to which they were allocated. Trainload Freight also placed its national operations headquarters in West Offices at this time.
Privatisation of BR in 1994 led to changes at the old station. The privatisation demanded the physical separation of staff between their new companies. Most operations staff transferred to Railtrack: either the North East Zone or the East Coast Zone. The Zones shared the accommodation and merged into the London North Eastern Zone in 1995. Operations staff concerned with traction, rolling stock and train crews moved out of the station as the operating companies found new premises. The Railtrack Zones placed engineering and purchasing units in West Offices, and other companies also took space from time to time, but as time went by fewer and fewer staff were using the old station facilities. Eventually they fell out of use.
In February 2010, the City of York Council announced that it intended to convert the station into its headquarters, which would become known as the West Offices. There were some delays due to objections but work began on 17 November 2011 and council headquarters opened on 20 September 2013.
Between February and September 2018 Hudson House was demolished and April 2020 the site had been redeveloped with a mixed residential and commercial complex.