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British Railway Architecture and Heritage

British Railway Architecture and Heritage

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British Railway Architecture and Heritage

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Lançado em:
Apr 25, 2013


The majestic architecture of early railway buildings reflected the pride of the railway companies who commissioned them. These awe-inspiring structures ranged from classically-designed stations, waiting rooms and booking halls to mighty viaducts, tunnels and bridges. In this highly-illustrated book, filled with colour photographs and detailed drawings, Trevor Yorke describes the range of buildings associated with the golden age of steam. He explains the dynamics of their construction, the materials used and the myriad of styles employed by leading architects and engineers of the day. For everyone interested in the world of steam railways, this is an invaluable guide to the architectural legacy it left behind and the role the railways played in our social and industrial past.
Lançado em:
Apr 25, 2013

Sobre o autor

Trevor Yorke is a professional author and artist who has studied and written about various aspects of England's architectural and industrial heritage. He has produced many illustrated books that introduce the reader to these topics and writes articles and reviews for various magazines. He lives in the UK.

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British Railway Architecture and Heritage - Trevor Yorke


The Victorians were fervent builders in stone, brick and iron but nowhere did they construct in such vast quantity and scale as they did for their railways. They erected stations, hotels, engine sheds, bridges, tunnels and viaducts not just to handle the huge amount of traffic this new form of transport quickly generated but also to impress upon passers-by and potential passengers that the railways were here to stay. The eclectic taste of the period is also reflected in the designs that were used. Some were inspired by Ancient Greece, medieval Italy and contemporary France, whilst others drew upon revivals of domestic forms like Gothic arches and timber framing. New materials and methods of construction meant large, decorative and durable buildings could be put up quickly, while great feats of engineering allowed railways to span rivers and estuaries which would have been fantasies only a generation before. Although most railways were completed in the 19th century, some were still being built into the 20th century, so styles like Edwardian Baroque, Art Deco and Modernism can also be found, adding further variety to the structures which line the network.

With this bewildering array of building types, materials and styles it can be daunting for those who would like to know a little bit more about these architectural and engineering glories of the Railway Age. ‘What is the style of that station? – Why did they build that huge hotel? – How does that vast arched roof stay up? – And what was the purpose of that building? The aim of this book is to enable the reader to answer these questions, to understand how to date buildings, and to better appreciate their design. Using my own pictures, photographs and clearly labelled diagrams alongside the text, the vast range of decorative styles, complicated iron structures, and strangely shaped buildings can be more easily explained.

The first section includes a brief history of how the railways developed and there is an introduction to the styles used on railway buildings from the 1830s to the 1960s. It also gives an outline of the engineering principles and the properties of materials used in making the structures. The second section looks in detail at the different types of railway buildings from the huge arched roofs (known as train sheds), decorative booking halls and imposing grand hotels down to more humble structures like signal boxes, engine sheds and railway cottages. The final section explains how bridges, viaducts and tunnels were built around the country, from the south-east coast to the Scottish Highlands and from the Fens in the east to the estuaries of the west coast of Wales. The Places To Visit Guide at the end of the book includes a detailed list of London termini and features to look out for when commuting from them, as well as a list of all the structures illustrated in the book, along with a postcode to help find them and a glossary explaining some of the more complicated terms.

Railway architecture is only now becoming fully appreciated by the authorities and the building industry. Hopefully, this book will open more eyes to the value of these historic structures of the Railway Age, as well as enhancing a journey by rail.

Trevor Yorke

FIG 0.1: SOME ARCHITECTURAL TERMS: A Gothic railway station (top) and a Classical style one (below) with labels highlighting the key parts of these buildings.








FIG 1.1: CORFE CASTLE STATION, DORSET: This most romantic of settings for a railway station was all but lost when the branch line to Swanage was closed in 1972 after 87 years of service. However, a steam heritage railway was established in 1982 and thirteen years later Corfe Castle Station was reopened. Preserved lines like the Swanage Railway are not only an opportunity to see steam trains in all their glory but also give a glimpse of how station buildings originally appeared.

The architectural masterpieces and engineering wonders of the Railway Age were luxurious, fashionable and often groundbreaking. The Midland Railway’s St Pancras station in London was fronted by Gilbert Scott’s Midland Hotel, a Gothic Revival spectacle which was at the cutting edge of fashion. Behind it was William Henry Barlow’s huge, arched train shed which pushed the limits of engineering knowledge at the time. Even in humble towns, the station and its environment contained buildings which were vast in scale and lavished with stylish decoration, while the line itself could travel along imposing viaducts or through tunnel portals which resembled castles. Restored railways today illustrate that even in a small village a large number of structures were needed to service goods and passenger traffic and often dominated the community.

So why were these obviously expensive buildings and structures deemed a necessity by Victorian railway companies? Why did the Midland not just erect a functional station building at St Pancras? People had umbrellas so there was no need for a huge glass shed to keep them out of the rain; and surely there were plenty of other hotels in the area to save the company lavishing a fortune on that vast Gothic structure. Why were local stations such a jumble of different structures and what was the point in building a fashionable brick or stone booking hall when it was only for selling a few tickets and keeping passengers dry for ten minutes?

Before looking in detail at the buildings and structures erected by architects and engineers from the 1820s through to the 1960s, we need to answer these questions. This brief history outlines some of the key facts in the development of the Victorian network which resulted in such a rich architectural and engineering heritage that is only now beginning to be appreciated.

FIG 1.2: HIGH PEAK JUNCTION, CROMFORD, DERBYS: The Cromford and High Peak Railway was opened in 1831 and, like the earlier tramways, had a series of incline planes (steep sections of track up which wagons were hauled by a static steam engine) with horses initially used between these. The workshops in this view are at the junction with the Cromford Canal where goods were transferred. These buildings dating from the late 1820s are amongst the oldest of their type in the world.


The principle that heavy loads were easier to move if wheels ran along rails dates back to Ancient Greece, although it was not until the late 16th century that it was put into practical use in this country. Short waggonways built to carry coal from collieries to rivers or the coast appear from this date in Northumberland, Nottinghamshire and Shropshire; at first, with wooden wheels on wooden rails but, by the 1770s, iron was being used for both. By this time, tracks were being laid to bring stone or coal down to the new canals either using conventional rails with flanged wheels or, from the 1780s onwards, more simple L-shaped rails with flat edged wheels. The latter were usually termed ‘plateways’ or ‘tramways’ although dirt clogging them up meant conventional rails became standard in the long term. At this stage these lines usually had waggons pulled by horses with stationary steam engines hauling trains up steep inclines, sometimes involving substantial engineering works and a few functional buildings of which little survives today.

From the turn of the 19th century the speed of development and scope of ambition began to increase. The Surrey Iron Railway of 1803 was the first public tramway which was designed to be a common carrier on which separate companies could run their own services; and the following year the Oystermouth and Swansea Railway opened which soon became the first passenger line.

Around this time Richard Trevithick was experimenting with steam-powered locomotives with mixed success so that even when the first fully fledged railways were being planned in the 1820s many were still intended to be used by horses. The first of these, the Stockton to Darlington line opened in 1825, was run like a turnpike trust. Tolls were charged for anyone running services along it and the ensuing chaos meant the company soon took responsibility for the trains as well. In fact, the facilities and even carriages on the earliest lines mirrored those of the stagecoaches they were competing with. The Liverpool to Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, clearly demonstrated the potential of steam locomotives and the profits which could be made from building lines. It contained major engineering works and some of the first pieces of railway architecture which still survive today. The principal main lines linking most major towns and cities were built from the late 1830s through to the 1850s, with over 5,000 miles laid in the mania of the 1840s alone.


The promoters of these railways faced many problems. Firstly, concerns about traction between iron wheels and rails meant engineers designed these early railways with impressively shallow gradients. This resulted in the need for more major engineering works than may have been necessary and, hence, greater expense. Opposition was also faced from the gentry who had financial interests in canals and turnpike trusts and people like the Duke of Wellington who were filled with horror at the potential for these new railways to encourage the lower classes to travel. These landowners charged huge sums for passage

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