Station Name: DUNSTABLE TOWN

[Source: Nick Catford]


Date opened: 3.5.1858
Location: South side of Church Street just east of its junction with Station Road
Company on opening: Hertford Luton & Dunstable Railway
Date closed to passengers: 26.4.1965
Date closed completely: 26.4.1965
Company on closing: British Railways (London Midland Region)
Present state:

Demolished - no evidence of the station remains. The track bed now forms part of the Luton - Dunstable busway. The station site has been redeveloped for housing and is called Station Court.

County: Bedfordshire
OS Grid Ref: TL026220
Date of visit: June 1975 & 27th December 2010

Notes: Dunstable Church Street station opened with the first section of the Hatfield line between Dunstable and Luton on 3rd May 1858. As built, the station was a simple timber structure on an embankment south of Church Street.The original intention was for the Luton line to run across Watling Street to make an end-on connection with the LNWR's station at Dunstable. This would have involved raising the road by 3 feet to build a level crossing. This was turned down by Parliament. Instead a diversion was built taking the new line across Watling Street on a bridge, bypassing the LNWR's station. Initially through trains between Luton and Leighton were unable to call at Dunstable unless they reversed into the station.

The LNWR wanted a new station to be built on the diversion adjacent to their existing station but, rather than build one, the GNR offered to rebuild Church Street as a joint station. The LNWR agreed to this proposal so long as they had equal rights, but this was rejected by the GNR, and the offer was quickly withdrawn. The LNWR eventually built a new station

(opening in January 1866) but, before that, the GNR rebuilt Church Street in 1860 to coincide with the opening of the second stage of the Hatfield line, between Luton and Hatfield, on 1st September 1860. The station had a substantial three-storey building with an adjacent two-storey stationmaster's house. The building included stairs to take passengers from the ground floor booking office to the platform and waiting room high on the embankment. The platform was still constructed of timber and had a wide canopy projecting across the track.

The goods yard consisted of four sidings at the level of the booking office. There was a large brick goods shed with one siding passing through it. Another siding passed in front of a cattle dock which had a small pen at one end, and another siding terminated end-on to the dock. There was also a 5-ton crane in the yard.

In November 1890, a signal box was opened on the platform, after it had been lengthened. This remained in use until 22nd July 1934 when it was replaced with a ground frame to control access to the good yard; the box was quickly demolished

The station was renamed Dunstable Town on 1st January 1927. The goods yard closed on 7th December 1964 although a private siding remained in use after that date. After closure to passengers on 26th April 1965 the station, being largely of timber construction, was quickly demolished as was the three-storey brick building and adjacent house. Prior to closure part of the goods yard had been leased to a scrap metal dealer and they stayed on in the yard after closure. The yard was also used for storage of large diameter pipes for oil and gas pipelines. A footbridge was built on the west side of the railway bridge to take pedestrians across the busy A505 (Church Street). By the early 1990s the scrap yard had gone, and in later years the yard was used as a car park until it was redeveloped for housing in 2008.

The track through the station remained in use serving the Dunstable cement works and an oil depot on the site of the old GNR coal yard at Dunstable North; the bridge over Church Street was replaced in 1966. The last passenger train through Dunstable Town was on 17th January 1987 when Hertfordshire Railtours’ 'Chiltern Chariot' visited the line. The line closed in 1989 and the track through the station was mothballed and became heavily
overgrown. It was finally lifted in autumn 2010 during the construction of the Luton - Dunstable busway which will pass through the station site. The bridge over Church Street was demolished in October 2010.

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 opened on 25 September 2013.

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 & Jim Lake, route map drawn by Alan Young, Bradshaw from Chris Hind

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

Dunstable Church Street station looking south east before December 1910. The name Dunstable Church Street can be seen on the signal box. The station wasn't renamed Dunstable Town until 1927. The signal box was opened in November 1880, when the station was rebuilt, and survived until 1934 when it was replaced with a ground frame.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection


The line serving Dunstable cement works is seen to the north of the station.

1880 1:2500 OS map
.
1924 1:2500 OS map

Dunstable Town station looking north west c. 1950s.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

Dunstable Town station in January 1953. The goods shed is seen on the left. Note the signal box seen in the 1910 picture above has gone.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

A DMU bound for Welwyn Garden City waits at Dunstable Town station in 1960s.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

Dunstable Town station seen from a departing eastbound train in April 1965.
Photo by Bevan Price

D8046 calls at Dunstable Town with the 7. 03 p.m. Hatfield to Dunstable North train on 24 April 1965; this was the last 'Skimpot Flyer'.
Photo by David Pearson

After closure Dunstable Town station was quickly demolished, and the goods yard was leased to a scrap dealer. The cattle dock still survived in June 1975.
Photo by Nick Catford

Looking south east towards Dunstable Town station in April 2006. The station was on the far side of the bridge over Church Street. The mothballed track remained in place until autumn 2010.
Photo by Nigel Cox from Geograph. Reproduced under creative commons licence.


Dunstable Town - demolition of the bridge over Church Street in 2010.

Aerial view of the site of Dunstable Town station c. 2005. The car park occupies the site of the goods yard with the platform on the right side. The overgrown track is still in situ hidden by trees. The bridge over Church Street is seen at the top.
Looking south east across Church Street to the site of Dunstable Town station in December 2010. The new housing development (Station Court) was built in 2008 and occupies the south end of the former goods yard. Phase 2 of the development is currently underway with properties expected to be offered for sale in spring 2012.
Photo by Nick Catford

Looking south east across Church Street to the site of Dunstable Town station in July 2013. The new bridge across Church Street has been completed and the guided busway can be seen on the far side of the bridge running through the site of Dunstable Town station. It was due to open in April 2013 but was delayed, eventually opening on 25 September 2013.
Photo by Nick Catford

 

 

 

[Source: Nick Catford]




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