Station Name: AYOT

[Source: Nick Catford]


Date opened: 2.7.1877
Location: At the end of a short approach road off Ayot St Peter Road. The south end of the former goods yard is now a car park for the Ayot Greenway footpath.
Company on opening: Great Northern Railway
Date closed to passengers: 26.7.1949
Date closed completely: 1.5.1963
Company on closing: British Railways (Eastern)
Present state: The station has been demolished with little evidence remaining. At the south end of the station two sets of crossing gate posts survive. To the north of the crossing the foundations of a number of buildings, including the signal box, can be found in the goods yard. The stationmaster's house alongside the approach road is in private occupation.
County: Hertfordshire
OS Grid Ref: TL222144
Date of visit: May 2006 , 27.12.2010 & 15.1.2011

Notes: Ayott St Peters station was a later addition to the Hatfield to Dunstable line opening on 2 July 1877. The suffix was dropped in October 1877 when the station was renamed Ayott, and there was a third change of name in April 1878 when when the spelling was corrected to Ayot.

Initially there was only one platform on the down side of the line but, c. 1890, a passing loop was added and a second platform was provided. At the same time, the two-storey stationmaster's house was built alongside the station approach road, at a lower level to the platforms, and the signal box was relocated from the north side of the crossing to the south side. A new 35-lever box was built; both were on the up side of the line.

A modest goods yard was sited on the south side of the level crossing on the down side of the line. As the two maps below show, it was later extended and, in its final form, comprised two loops and two short sidings. There was a weigh office and weighbridge at the entrance to the yard with a small tin shed alongside. At the far end of the yard there were a long cattle dock

and cattle pens. There was also a coal yard. Other goods traffic handled at the station included corn, as well as red bricks from Deard's brickworks immediately north of the station (see map below).

On 26th July 1948 the station was destroyed by a fire. The following is an extract from a local newspaper, "The ‘wooden box’ railway station at Ayot was gutted by fire on Monday morning. During the two-hour blaze smoke and flame enveloped the station and the smell of burning creosote drifted for miles. Firemen struggled across fields with hydrants but the all-wooden structure defeated them; only cinders and a chimney stack remained of the up platform with its waiting room.

Spectators helped the firemen handle a pump and hoses over the burning track and across the fields to a nearby pond. The down platform, waiting room and booking office were severely damaged. Flames spread along the sleepers and the track curled and buckled in the heat. An emergency gang from Hitchin found the lines three feet out of true. They restored service during the afternoon.

Firemen from Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Harpenden and St. Albans were there. The Welwyn brigade was the first there. A porter spotted the fire at 10.33 a.m., just after a passenger train had left. With signalman, George Hercock, he fought with extinguishers but when the fire got out of hand they called the brigades and began to salvage stores.”

The station was never rebuilt and was officially closed on 26th September 1949. The goods yard was renamed Ayot Sidings and remained open until 1st May 1963. Goods traffic continued to pass through until November 1965 when a connection with the Midland line at Luton opened. This made the track east of Luton redundant, and the rails were lifted between Luton and Blackbridge.

Ayot signal box had closed in January 1966, and the passing loop was lifted. The only remaining traffic was refuse trains to the tip at Blackbridge sidings which continued to run until closure of the landfill site on 24th May 1971. By July 1971 all of the track had been lifted and the remaining goods yard buildings demolished. The signal box had already burnt down by this time.

Towards the end of 1971 the cutting at the south end of the goods yard was infilled in readiness for the Al(M) Motorway which was in the process of being built.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEIGHTON BUZZARD TO WELWYN GARDEN CITY LINE
The London & Birmingham Railway opened the first section of its line between London Euston and Boxmoor (Hemel Hempstead) on 20th July 1837 and from Boxmoor to a temporary northern terminus at Denbigh Hall on 9th April 1838. The line had originally been planned to pass through Buckingham, but opposition from the Duke of Buckingham ensured that it was forced east through Linslade. One of the intermediate stations opened with the second part of the line was at Leighton, ¼-mile south of the Linslade tunnels.

Leighton was the nearest station to Luton, which was developing as an industrial town in the early 19th century. Although a direct stagecoach service between Luton and London had started in 1810, and Dunstable, to the west, was on an existing busy coach route, neither could serve the needs of the area. A branch line from Luton to the London & Birmingham at Leighton was proposed by George and Robert Stephenson in 1841, and it initially received considerable local support.

Nothing was done until 1844 when a meeting was held in Luton. By now there was mounting opposition to the scheme which would have to cut across the 'Great Moor', a large area of undeveloped common land close to Luton. This angered George Stephenson who vowed that Luton would not get a direct railway connection to London as long as he lived.

Although the Luton line was not built in Stephenson's lifetime (he died in 1849), a branch line to Dunstable received Royal Assent on 30th June 1845 with the passing of the Dunstable, London & Birmingham Railway Act which authorised a line between Leighton and Dunstable. Inevitably a meeting was held in Luton to discuss proposals from local businessmen to build a
line from Luton to the new line at Dunstable once it was completed. Many people preferred a counter proposal for a direct line between London and Manchester passing through Luton, which would be 14 miles shorter for passengers travelling to London, avoiding the need for a change of trains at Dunstable and Leighton. Another option was to build a branch to the Great Northern Railway's London to York line which was already under construction and would pass 12 miles to the east of Luton. The direct route was chosen as the best option which, at that time, left Luton without a railway while other branch lines in the area were already being planned and built.

The double-track Dunstable branch opened on the 1st June 1848 with a terminus on the west side of Watling Street and no intermediate stations (although a station at Stanbridgeford was opened in November 1860). By 1851 Luton was the largest town in Bedfordshire without a railway or canal to cater for its increasing industrial growth. In 1853 the GNR was approached to build a branch to their line at Hatfield, but this was turned down.

On 3rd July 1854 the Hertford & Welwyn Junction Railway received parliamentary authority to build a line from the North Eastern Railway at Hertford to the GNR at Digswell, and on 30th September 1854 there was a proposal to extend this line across the GNR to Luton and Dunstable linking three established railway companies (NER, GNR & LNWR). Not wanting to be left out, the GNR offered to work the line between Hatfield and Luton although it was not prepared to provide any finance.

The Luton, Dunstable & Welwyn Junction Railway Act was passed on the 16th July 1855 authorising a junction with the LNWR at Dunstable and a triangular junction with the GNR at Digswell together with a bridge over the GNR to allow through running over the H & WJR between Hertford and Dunstable. All three companies were authorised to work the line.

A single track was built (with the intention of doubling in the future) with construction starting on 16th October 1855 which, in Luton, was designated as a half-day public holiday as residents had waited so long to get a railway!

Unfortunately the company was unable to raise sufficient capital to purchase all the necessary land between Welwyn and Luton. The LNWR refused to help by leasing the line although they did offer to work the line for two years after completion. In an attempt to save the line an amalgamation between the H & WJR and the LD & WJR was proposed. This was bitterly opposed by a minority of disgruntled Luton shareholders who claimed that passengers would be forced to travel to London via the Eastern Counties main line at Hertford rather than using the shorter GNR route via Hatfield. The amalgamation and formation of the Hertford Luton & Dunstable Railway was passed at a heated meeting on 26th January 1858, but although both lines were completed and approach embankments were constructed, the linking bridge was never built due to restrictions imposed by the GNR. The Hertford line was opened to passenger traffic on 1st March 1858 between Hertford (Cowbridge) and a short-lived station at Welwyn Junction on the GNR.

Work on the Luton line had been progressing during the amalgamation negotiations, and at a shareholders’ meeting on 6th August 1857 it was announced that the first section of the line between Luton and Dunstable was ready for goods traffic. Several goods wagons were fitted with seats to take shareholders along the line. The line was initially inspected on 18th March 1858 and, after a turntable was provided at Leighton at the request of the Board of Trade inspector, the line was passed a month later, with a goods service running from 5th April 1858 and a passenger service from 3rd May 1858; large crowds travelled to Luton station for a day to take part in the celebrations and ride on the new line.

Initially there were five trains in each direction on weekdays only; two of these were later extended to Leighton. At this time Luton trains used a new station in Church Street, Dunstable, with through trains to Leighton bypassing the LNWR station which was at a lower level. Initially an end-on connection had been proposed which would have required raising the level of the road by three feet to provide a level crossing. This was rejected by Parliament, so a diversion was authorised in 1856 taking the new line over Watling Street, rejoining the Leighton line to the west of Dunstable station. A proposed new station at the junction was not built at that time, although through trains from Luton could back into the LNWR station if required.

April 1860 the HL & DR informed both the Eastern Counties Railway and the GNR that they were ending the 1858 agreement. The GNR immediately took steps to take over the line because of its strategic importance as a link between the three main lines; a Parliamentary Bill was prepared to facilitate this. At this time the line was nearing completion, with a special train carrying
LNWR officials on 12th June and another 'special' on 17th July for company shareholders. After passing its Board of Trade inspection, the line between Luton and the Great Northern was opened to both goods and passenger traffic on 1st September 1860 with intermediate stations at New Mill End, Harpenden and Wheathampstead. At this time a Sunday service was introduced for the first time.

There was a junction with the GNR at Welwyn, but no station was provided, and the H & WJR station at Welwyn Junction was closed with trains on both lines terminating at Hatfield.

In 1864 there were six daily down trains between Hatfield and Leighton, with five up trains. There were a further two down trains between Luton and Leighton in the early morning with two up trains in the afternoon and evening and one train in each direction between Hatfield and Dunstable. On Sundays there were two down trains between Hatfield and Dunstable, with one up train with two short-running services.

The Hertford, Luton & Dunstable Railway was absorbed by the GNR under the Great Northern Railway Act of 12th June 1861. This gave the GNR exclusive rights to operate the line, although a clause in the Act gave the LNWR joint rights to use the section between Dunstable and Luton. In December 1868 new parallel lines into Hatfield were brought into use for the branch services, and the earlier junctions were removed in January 1869.

Although built as single track throughout, it was always the intention that the line would be doubled, and sufficient land was acquired over some of the route. In the late 1890s the Great Northern line between Digswell and Hatfield was widened with a new track being provided for Dunstable trains, and the old Dunstable line becoming the new down slow main line In 1890 passenger numbers were sufficiently high for doubling the line between Luton and Dunstable. This was authorised by Parliament in 1891, but progress was slow and it did not open until 10th September 1899. Proposals to double the remainder of the line brought a lukewarm response from the GNR. Passenger numbers increased through the 1890s, and by 1900 there were nine trains in each direction between Luton and Dunstable, with eight in each direction between Luton and Dunstable and seven between Dunstable and Leighton.

In 1920 the new town of Welwyn Garden City was founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard, following his previous experiment in Letchworth Garden City. Howard had called for the creation of planned towns that were to combine the benefits of the city and the countryside and to avoid the disadvantages of both. During the construction of the new town, temporary contractors’ halts were provided at the junction of both the Hertford and Luton lines, close to the site of the earlier Welwyn Junction station. The halt on the Luton line became a public station on 14th August 1920, remaining in use until 20th September 1926 when the new Welwyn Garden City station was opened.

Through the 20th century the line remained very profitable, due in part to the large number of private sidings, in particular those serving chalk quarries near Dunstable, the sand and gravel pits around Leighton Buzzard and, later, Vauxhall Motors in Luton.

Following the 1923 general grouping the Dunstable branch became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway while the Hatfield to Dunstable line was part of the London & North Eastern Railway. This split continued after nationalisation in 1948 with British Railways Eastern Region being responsible for the Hatfield line as far as Harpenden down distant signal, with the remainder of the line coming under the London Midland Region. On 2nd April 1950 the boundary was adjusted, transferring Harpenden (East added on 25th September 1950) to the LMR.

Diesel-hauled freight trains started replacing steam in February 1959, and passenger trains in June 1959, the latter being replaced with DMUs in 1962.

In common with many other branch lines passenger numbers went into rapid decline in the 1950s. The Sunday service was withdrawn on 21st January 1951, but a service of seven down and five up trains between Hatfield and Dunstable was maintained until closure of the line with four trains in each direction between Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard. The passenger service between Dunstable North and Leighton Buzzard was withdrawn from 2nd July 1962 with the last 'Dunstable Flyer', as it had been nicknamed, running on 30th June.  Two enthusiasts’ specials travelled along the line after closure, both arranged by the South Beds Locomotive Society: the first on 22nd September 1962 ran between Luton and Banbury and the second, the 'Cobbler Tour', on 19th September 1964, ran from Luton to Leighton Buzzard and on to Newport Pagnell, returning to Luton via the Midland main line.

The line remained open for freight traffic until 1st January 1966 after which it was cut back to Grovebury sidings south of Leighton Buzzard, serving sand and gravel pits, until final closure on 5th December 1969. Track-lifting was piecemeal, starting at Dunstable in late 1968 but not reaching Stanbridgeford until July 1969. Track-lifting west of Stanbridgeford started in February 1970 and was not completed until February 1971. National Cycle Route 6 now follows what is now known as the Sewell greenway between Stanbridgeford and Dunstable.

The Hatfield line was scheduled to close on 6th January 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts. Closure was deferred following local objections - but only until 24th April when the last 'Skimpot Flyer' carried a wreath and a large number of passengers on a farewell journey along the line: it returned to Hatfield almost empty! The line remained open for freight and for goods traffic to Luton Bute Street until 26th June 1967. After that date the line between Luton and Dunstable was singled and retained to serve the Dunstable Cement works at Houghton Regis, with a new connection from the Midland main line at Luton opening in November 1965. The east end of the line was also retained for rubbish trains bound for Blackbridge sidings east of Wheathampstead. Track lifting on the remaining section between Blackbridge and Luton started at the Eastern Region/London Midland region boundary west of Harpenden East station on 8 May 1966 towards Luton and from 26th February 1967 towards Blackbridge. Blackbridge sidings closed in May 1971, and much of the track between Welwyn Garden City and Wheathampstead now forms the Ayot Greenway cycleway and footpath, with the the trackbed between Luton Hoo and Harpenden is incorporated into the 50-mile Lee Valley Walk.

A number of enthusiasts’ specials visited the remaining line between Luton and Dunstable. In October 1968 a special train ran from St Pancras to Bedford, returning to Luton, where it was the first passenger train to use the connection between the Midland and Bute Street station. It continued to Dunstable North as part of the Midland Railway London Extension centenary celebrations. The last passenger excursion was on 17th January 1987 when Hertfordshire Railtours’ 'Chiltern Chariot' visited the line running to the Dunstable cement works via the Vauxhall sidings. The line was finally closed to all traffic when trains to the oil depot, on the site of the Great Northern goods yard at Dunstable North, were withdrawn in 1989, by which time the line had just one train per week. Apart from the section through the site of Bute Street station, the track was then mothballed.

In the early 2000s the South Midland Railway Group set up a base in the ex-Bedford Trucks sidings on White Lion Retail Park at Dunstable and planned to form a transport heritage centre. The site was linked to the mothballed line to Luton via an illegally reinstated connection which the group hoped to reopen in the long term. The lease of the yard, however, was not
secured, and in July 2001 it was reported that the group was in dispute over their occupation of the site. The project ended when the illegal connection to the Luton to Dunstable branch line was removed in March 2001, and vehicles were removed in July 2001 and January 2002; the remaining railway vehicles on the siding were finally cut up by the council, and the tracks were lifted in 2005.

In December 2003 the Department for Transport approved the Transport & Works Act submission for a £85m scheme to convert the line into a guided busway. Planning permission and a Transport & Works Order were granted in November 2006, and the Transport Minister gave the go-ahead in August 2008. Tenders for its construction were sought in July 2009.
 
In May 2009 a group called the South Bedfordshire Railway was proposing to set up a short heritage railway at Dunstable alongside the proposed busway. Luton Borough Council said the scheme might be possible if a society and funding were in place by winter 2009. The group was unable to meet the deadline.

The overgrown track was cleared of vegetation in spring 2010, and funding for the busway was approved in June. Track-lifting between Luton and Dunstable began in autumn 2010 and was completed in January 2011. Three bridges, including one immediately north of Dunstable Town station, were demolished in October 2010. The 'Luton to Dunstable Busway' (previously known as Translink) will link Luton airport and Houghton Regis following the former railway line between Luton and Dunstable and the route of the siding to the Dunstable cement works at Houghton Regis. It will open in 2012.

Sources: Wikipedia (Leighton Buzzard station) and the Hatfield, Luton & Dunstable Railway by G & S Woodward (1977). Published by Oakwood Press ISBN 978-0-853614-58-6.

For further reading see Hertfordshire's lost railways by Keith Scholey ISBN ISBN 1 84033231 X and Bedfordshire's lost railways by Keith Scholey ISBN ISBN 184033 271 9 and Branch Line to Dunstable by Sue & Geoff Woodward (2008) Published by Middleton Press ISBN 978-1-906008-27-7.

Other web sites: Lost lines - features photos taken along the line between 1989 - 2007. BBC Beds, Herts & Bucks web site. Disused Railways web site. Click here to see an aerial view of the whole Leighton Buzzard - Dunstable line on Google Earth. All the stations are shown. Prepared by Mark Percival.

Tickets from Michael Stewart , route map drawn by Alan Young,

To see other stations on the Leighton Buzzard - Welwyn Garden City line click on the station name: Leighton Buzzard, Stanbridgeford, Dunstable North, Dunstable Town, Chaul End, Luton Bute Street, Luton Hoo, Harpenden East, Wheathampstead,Welwyn Garden City Halt (first station)
& Welwyn Garden City (second station)


Ayot station looking south east c 1905.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection



1878 1:2500 OS map. Note there is only one platform and no passing loop.

.
1898 1:2500 OS map. A passing loop and a second platform has been added. The signal box has been re-sited to the other side of the crossing, and more buildings have been added to the goods yard. The stationmaster's house has also been built.
.
Ayot station looking north west c.1910. The stationmaster's house can be seen far left.

The Stephenson Locomotive SocietyTour of 7 Branch Lines railtour stands in the platform. 1247 hauled the train from Hitchin to Luton Bute Streetrailtour stands in the platform.
Copyright photo by R M Casserley

Looking south east from the site of the Ayot down platform in the 1960s.
Photo by John Mann

Ayot passing loop with D5589 leaving on an up passenger on 24th April 1965 the last day of passenger service. An English Electric type 1 loco. waits with freight. The disused cattle dock is seen bottom left.
Photo by David Pearson

Looking north west towards the site of Ayot station in 1970. The goods yard is on the left. The weigh office at the entrance to the goods yard can be seen being the tin hut.
Photo by Dave Cotton

Ayot cattle dock in 1970, looking south east towards Welwyn Garden City.
Photo by Dave Cotton

Looking north west towards the site of Ayot station in April 1976. The station was on the far side of the crossing. The signal box was to the right of the photographer.
P
hoto by Alan Young

Looking south east towards Ayot goods yard, which was on the far side of the crossing, in 1976. The signal box was on the left.
P
hoto by Ian Baker

Looking north west towards the site of Ayot station in May 2006.
P
hoto by Nick Catford

Looking north west at the site of Ayot station in January 2011. Taken from a similar view point to the 1910 picture above. The stationmaster's house can be seen on the left in both pictures.
Photo by Nick Catford

Click here for more pictures of Ayot station


 

 

 

[Source: Nick Catford]




Last updated: Tuesday, 01-Mar-2011 23:19:31 GMT
© 1998-2011 Disused Stations