Station Name: HARPENDEN
|Location:||At the end of Station Approach|
|Company on opening:||Midland Railway|
|Date closed to passengers:||Still open|
|Date closed completely:||Still open|
|Company on closing:||Still open|
|Present state:||The platform is extant although its north end is buried under a ramp giving public access to the line. The lower quadrant signal at the south end of the platform also survives.|
|OS Grid Ref:||TL124147|
|Date of visit:||Not visited|
Notes: The station at Hemel Hempstead was always spelt Hemel Hempsted both by the Midland Railway and later by the LMS. This spelling always appeared on tickets, timetables and signs on the station. In this report when specifically referring to the station 'Hempsted' will be used but when referring to the town the correct spelling of 'Hempstead' will be used.
Initially Hemel Hempsted trains did not serve Harpenden as a north facing curve in to the Midland main line took the trains to Luton. From July 1888 trains were rerouted via a new south facing curve into a new short bay platform set into the down platform at Harpenden, a special booking office was also provided. The bay platform remained in use until closure of the Hemel Hempsted line in 1947. After closure the bay was filled in.
Harpenden was known as Harpenden Central between 1950 and 1966. Goods services were withdrawn from the station on 5th October 1964 a few months after the Hemel Hempsted branch lost its goods service to although a private siding remained in use after that date.
However, no construction work was undertaken due to difficulties with local landowners and problems agreeing the connection to the main line at Boxmoor and after a number of years of stagnation the earlier proposals were re-examined. Parliamentary approval was obtained in 1866 and construction work began. Construction proceded extremely slowly, the lower spur from Boxmoor to Hemel Hempstead only being completed by 1871, though the connection to Boxmoor was via an awkward turntable.Eventually, the HH and L&NWR Company ran into financial difficulties and it was the Midland Railway that came to the rescue, financing completion of the line and agreeing to operate it once it was built. The line was finally opened on 16th July 1877 with four passenger trains each day running between Hemel Hempsted and Luton stopping at Redbourn and Chiltern Green (on the GNR main line) with a journey time of 40 minutes; there was also an evening goods train. It provided a link for the straw plait trade that existed in Hemel Hempstead with the hat making centre of Luton and this is reflected in the fact that the initial connection at Harpenden headed north towards Luton rather than south towards London. Passengers travelling to St. Albans and London changed trains at Chiltern Green.
The terminus for the new line was on the south side of Hemel Hempstead on a viaduct extending across low lying ‘Marlowes’. Passengers on the new train service were able to reach St Pancras faster than those who took a pony and trap to Boxmoor station and then travelled to Euston. Hemel Hempsted station itself was a mile north of the terminus and was usually referred to as the 'Midland Station'. It stood on the site of a modern housing development, opposite the Midland Hotel. The company built a single road timber engine shed in the north west corner of the goods yard, this opened with the line in 1877 but was an early casualty closing in c.1910. After closure the line's locomotives were shedded at St. Albans until that closed in the 1950's then engines were stabled at Cricklewood.
Although the link with the L&NWR was completed it was not in the Midland's interest to open the connection to regular traffic as it would have provided a shorter route into London for both passenger and freight traffic. However from 1886, regular coal traffic used the connection to reach a gas works at Duckhall. This was always the principle freight traffic on the line although some local companies used the line to carry their goods to market , in particular the well-established paper firm of John Dickinson. There were also some wagons of mixed freight carried each day including watercress.
The rivalry between the Midland and L&NWR grew intense and on one occasion track was lifted at Boxmoor by angry L&NWR workers to prevent a goods train that had travelled along the Midland Railway from completing the journey to Boxmoor.
Due to this rivalry no passenger trains ever operated between Midland Station and Boxmoor and eventually the connection was permanently severed in c.1916. In 1905, a passenger terminus was opened at Heath Park Halt in an attempt to compete with the L&NWR, which had started a bus service to transport passengers from Hemel Hempstead to the main line station at Boxmoor giving passengers a journey time to London of 1 hour 35 minutes compared to 1 hour 56 minutes via the Midland route. Other halts were also opened in 1905 at Godwin's on the northern outskirts of Hemel Hempstead and Beaumont's on the west side of Redbourn. These halts were opened to coincide with the introduction of a railmotor service with an increase to nine daily trains, four of them starting at Heath Park.
The railmotor service continued into the 1920's but with a reduced frequency after WW1. With the Midland and L&NWR absorbed into the LMS through workings between the lines might have been expected but this never happened. Roundwood Halt was opened to the west of Harpenden in 1927 to serve a new housing development.
In 1929 the LMS introduced an experimental bus service running alongside the line and stopping at all stations including Boxmoor & Hemel Hempstead. The new service was a great success, carrying more passengers in its first week than the train did in a month. Following the success of this experiment, the LMS trialed a hybrid road-rail vehicle called 'Ro-Railer' in 1931 in an attempt to compete with road transport. Looking like a bus, the vehicle could be used both on the road and on rails. The experiment was short-lived and did not catch on and was withdrawn in 1933.
The regular passenger service on the line had been reduced from seven to four daily trains in 1929 and it remained at this level until the outbreak of WW2. During the war, additional traffic used the line including evacuees from London and military transports carrying tanks and other equipment were regularly seen. In December 1943 the Middlesex Regiment was billeted in Hemel Hempstead bringing additional passenger traffic to the line.Passenger demand was never high and had declined during the inter-war years. The rivalry between the Midland and L&NWR companies ensured that the line ultimately failed to serve the people of Hemel Hempstead in the most useful way possible. After WW2 it was clear that the passenger service couldn't survive and the last passenger train ran a few months before nationalisation on 16th June 1947, when there was a 'temporary' suspension of services due to the national coal shortage. When coal was once again available the service was never reinstated. The last passenger trains, after closure, were three enthusiasts’ specials. The Railway Correspondence & Travel Society (RCTS) organised two trips to Heath Park Halt on 11th May 1957 and 10th August 1958 and the South Beds Loco Club organised an excursion between Harpenden and Hemel Hempsted on 24th September 1960.
At least part of the line still had a future however. In the late 1940's a company had been established to make clinker blocks at the former Claydale Brickworks between Godwin's and Beaumont's. Initially the old brickworks sidings weren't used but in 1958 a huge investment programme brought new modern plant producing blocks under the trade name Hemelite. New reception sidings were laid and from late 1959 six wagons of aggregate arrived each day. In the early 1960's the line came under the threat of the Beeching Axe and it was eventually sold to the Hemelite company after parliamentary approval was received; the company taking control on 30th April 1968. It was the first BR line to be taken over by a private company.
The reprieve was to be short lived however and the end came on 24th July 1979 when BR removed the junction as part of upgrading the Bedford line though Harpenden. BR wanted to charge Hemelite a large sum of money to replace the access points just north of Harpenden Station. The cost was too much for the company to afford as they were struggling through a recession so they lost access to their line with deliveries continuing by road. The remaining track was lifted in 1982.
In the early 1980’s the railway land between Midland Road in Hemel Hempstead and Harpenden was purchased by St Albans District Council and Dacorum Borough Council. The line was opened to the public in 1985 for use as a footpath and cycleway. Since then, many improvements have been undertaken along the line including surfacing and the construction of steps and access points. The line is part of the National Cycle Network (the Oxford to Welwyn Garden City route) and this section is approximately nine miles long.
Source: Wikipedia and The Nickey Line by James and Hedley Cannon. Published 1977 by Barracuda Books ISBN 0 86023 050 3. Tickets from Michael Stewart, route map by Alan Young
Other web sites: Friends of the Nickey Line footpath and cycleway. Includes history of the line and maps of the current footpath.The Nickey Line - The Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead Railway. Web site with history of the line and pictures. Plus details of how to obtain the Nickey Line DVD. Nickey Line - a video tour of the Nickey line today lasting over 1 hour. Lost lines - Photographic tour of the Nickey line in 1990.