[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 3.5.1858
Location: South side of Station Road
Company on opening: Hertford, Luton & Dunstable Railway.
Date closed to passengers: 26.4.1965
Date closed completely: 26.6.1967
Company on closing: British Railways (London Midland Region)
Present state: Demolished
County: Bedfordshire
OS Grid Ref: TL093215
Date of visit: May 1968 & 27th December 2010

Notes: The first section of the Hertford Luton & Dunstable Railway to open was between Luton and Dunstable. The line opened to goods traffic on 5th April 1858 and, after several delays to the planned opening to passengers, this finally happened on 3rd May 1858. The town had waited a long time to be connected to the railway network, and huge crowds flocked to the station to travel on the trains. Special cheap returns tickets to Dunstable were available on the opening day, and the first train consisted of 22 coaches which required two engines to haul it. Many of the passengers didn't bother with tickets, and some passengers even travelled on the roof of the coaches as they couldn't get a seat inside. The St Albans brass band travelled on the train to entertain the revellers. The final train of the day was due to depart from Dunstable back to Luton at 9.30 pm and, although its departure was delayed until midnight, many passengers had to walk home as there wasn't room for them.

Luton station had a large forecourt at the end of Bute Street. Approaching the station the GNR coal yard was on the right and the goods yard was on the left. The station building was somewhat austere in appearance comprising a two-storey brick building with a single-storey booking office at the east end. The building also included station offices, parcels office, waiting rooms and, after 1886, a refreshment room.

The booking office opened onto platform 1 which served the down line. Opposite this platform there was an island (platforms 2 and 3) for the up line. In later years this had its own waiting room and a police office. Platform 1 had a substantial canopy supported by the station building, while the canopy over platforms 2 and 3 was supported on central metal columns. On the north side of the island platforms there were two sidings used for the storage of freight rolling stock. The station was refurbished in 1876.

The goods yard was extensive with four sidings accessed from the east end of the down line serving the coal yard and the Great Northern steam mills. One of the sidings ran into a bay behind platform 1. A further four sidings were accessed from the west, also on the down side. One of these passed through a huge three-storey bonded warehouse, and another served the cattle dock with adjacent pens. There was also a 5-ton crane in the yard.

Private sidings close to the station included Arnold & Co., Luton Gas Co., West Hydraulic Engineering Co. and Williams siding. At least four other private sidings were sited between Luton and Luton Hoo. Access to the two yards was controlled from two signal boxes (Luton East and Luton Yard) at either end of the station on the up side. There was also a third signal box, Luton West opened in 1899, some distance to the west of the station on the west side of Bedford Road.

South Bedfordshire Locomotive Club The Lea Flyer railtour at Luton Bute Street station on 16th September 1961
The GNR opened a large coal depot in Church Street to the west of the station in 1906. At this time the cattle pens and dock were relocated to the former coal yard which allowed the goods warehouse to be extended. The goods yard was always very busy with much of the town's trade in plaited straw goods bound for London. Luton was the centre of the hat industry
with all the raw materials to support the industry arriving by rail and the finished hats being dispatched each evening by rail, mainly to London and Manchester.

A single-road wooden engine shed was opened on 3rd May 1858; it is not known whether it was built by the LNWR or HL & DR. It was closed c1861 to be replaced with a brick GNR shed to the east of the station on the up side; this was also short-lived, closing c.1908. After closure the building was partially demolished, leaving just the centre section supporting a water tank; it was demolished in October 1970. There were also two water columns, one on platform 1 near the footbridge and the other at the east end of the island platform.

The Midland Railway opened their station at Luton on 13th July 1868 on the extension to St Pancras, the Midland line running parallel to the GNR through Luton. For some years, it was known as Luton Midland Road to distinguish it from the earlier GNR station. The station originally consisted of 3 platforms before modernisation in 1937 saw an additional fourth platform added. In 1960 a further platform was added for the suburban services to and from St Pancras. The two stations were spanned by a lattice footbridge which ran from High Town, to the north of the Midland, with access to platforms on both stations before running above the Great Northern forecourt to Bute Street. The station was renamed Luton Bute Street for goods services on 1st July 1950 and for passengers on 25th September 1950.

Bute Street closed to passengers on 26th April 1965 but remained open for goods traffic. A new connection to the Midland main line east of Bute Street station opened in November 1965 allowing trains to reach an oil depot at Dunstable and the Dunstable cement works. This allowed the track between Welwyn Garden City and Bute Street to be lifted. Church Street coal depot closed on 4th July 1966, and Bute Street closed to goods traffic on 26th

June 1967, although a private siding remained in use after that date. By May 1968 all the station buildings and platform 1 had been demolished, leaving just the island platform which lasted into the early 1970s when it was removed to make way for additional parking for the Midland station.

After final closure of the line in 1989 the remaining track through Bute Street was lifted in 1992 to create additional parking, while the remainder of the track into Dunstable was mothballed, the Great Northern warehouse was demolished in 1994. The trackbed through Bute Street will now be used for the Luton - Dunstable busway.

The footbridge linking High Town with the Midland station and across the site of Bute Street station to Luton town centre was still in use until early 2011, although the original lattice bridge has been replaced with a modern structure. The council plans to redevelop the area. This included demolishing the bridge which has stood in the same position in one form or another for over 150 years. The proposal met with strong local opposition but the campaign was lost in the spring of 2011 when the bridge was demolished. The redevelopment of the area includes the Bute Street station site which has been a car park since closure of the station.

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 & Jim Lake, 8804 from Brian Halford, route map drawn by Alan Young, Timetable from 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 Hoo, Harpenden East, Wheathampstead, Ayot, Welwyn Garden City Halt (first station) & Welwyn Garden City (second station)

Luton Bute Street station looking west in July 1956. 69586 is seen on the left with the 8.14 am departure for Hatfield, and 44364 on the right is the 7.30 am service from Leighton Buzzard. 69586 is a Gresley-designed N2/4. A development of the earlier N2/2s, they had larger boilers, superheaters and piston valves. The N2/4s were also built with smaller chimneys and condensing equipment to enable them to work to Moorgate from Kings Cross, over Metropolitan lines. The last of the class was withdrawn in 1962. 44364 is an ex-LMS 4F. Built to a design by Henry Fowler, they were introduced in 1923, and the last one to be withdrawn was in 1967
Copyright photo by H C Casserley

1880 1:2500 OS map
1901 1:2500 OS map

Looking east towards Luton Bute Street station on 14th April 1962. Enthusiasts are waiting on the footbridge for the arrival of a Stephenson Locomotive Society railtour. The gauge goods warehouse is seen on the right.
Copyright photo by H C Casserley

Luton Bute Street station looking east from the station footbridge on 14th April 1962. The Stephenson Locomotive SocietyTour of 7 Branch Lines railtour stands in the platform. There was a change of locomotive at Luton. 1247 hauled the train from Hitchin and is seen on the left. 40646 took over at Luton taking the railtour on to Birmingham New Street. 1247 is a J52, 0-6-0 tank, designed by H.A Ivatt, updating a Patrick Stirling GNE design. It was built in 1899 by Sharpe Stuart & Co and survived all grouping and nationalisation, where it was given the number 68846 by BR. Withdrawn in 1959, its preservation story is now legendary. It was preserved by Captain Bill Smith in 1959 and became the first locomotive to be privately preserved from BR. In 1980 it was donated to the National Railway Museum as part of the national collection and resides at the Shildon outpost of the NRM.
Photo from Jim Lake collection

The 7.28 am Leighton Buzzard to Luton Bute Street train arriving at Luton Bute Street on Saturday 30th June 1962. This was the last day of passenger services between Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable North. The view is from the Luton station footbridge. The huge goods warehouse is seen on the left. One of the goods yard sidings passed right through the building.
Photo by John M Cramp (from 30937 Photographic Group web site)

The 8.25 am train to Leighton Buzzard leaving Luton Bute Street station on 30th June 1962, the last day of passenger service between Dunstable North and Leighton Buzzard.
Photo by David Pearson

Luton Bute Street station forecourt in the early 1960s.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

A wet day at Luton Bute Street station looking east in April 1965.
Photo by Bevan Price

D5589 on Skimpot Flyer on last day of Welwyn to Dunstable line at Luton Bute Street on 24th May 1965
Photo by David Rice

Luton Bute Street station west in May 1968. Luton Midland station is seen far right.
Photo by Nick Catford
Luton Bute Street station looking east from the station footbridge in April 1969
Photo by J E Connor

45134 standing on the remaining track through what was once Bute Street in the late 1980s.The adjoining bus station is now closed and the GNR good warehouse demolished,replaced by student accomodatation.The locomotive met its fate at MC metals. The footbridge was demolished
in spring 2011.
Photo by Richard Thomasson

The site of Luton Bute Street station looking east from the station footbridge in December 2010. The Luton - Dunstable busway will use the road on the right.
hoto by Nick Catford

The site of Luton Bute Street station c.2005. Luton Midland is seen on the right. The blocks of flats at the top stand on the site of the goods warehouse. The large building bottom left has now been demolished.

Click here for more pictures of Luton Bute Street station




[Source: Nick Catford]

Last updated: Sunday, 21-May-2017 14:37:16 CEST
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