Station Name: SPOFFORTH

[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 10 August 1847
Location: Station Court now occupies the site of the station
Company on opening: York & North Midland Railway
Date closed to passengers: 6 January 1964
Date closed completely: 6 January 1964
Company on closing: British Railways (North Eastern Region)
Present state: Demolished
County: Yorkshire
OS Grid Ref: SE365508
Date of visit: 7 September 2008

Notes: Because of the heavy engineering works between Spofforth and Harrogate the line opened in two stages, with Spofforth opening as a temporary terminus on 10 August 1847. Passengers were transported onward to Harrogate by horse-drawn omnibus. Spofforth ceased to be a terminus on 20 July 1848 when the extension to Harrogate Brunswick opened.

Just to the west of Spofforth Station the line crossed a small viaduct of five spans, 35ft in height and a little over 30yd long. The viaduct is mostly stone-built, but boasts segmental brick arches. The two easternmost spans stand in the back garden of a house; ownership of the structure comes with the property. In 2013 both were put up for sale at an asking price of £450,000. The condition of the viaduct is indifferent, with considerable weathering of the stone and a crack running up the north side of the parapet, resulting in the end spandrel face being pushed outwards. Beyond it is a substantial embankment running across the valley, close to the south-west side of the thirteenth century Spofforth Castle. The coming of the railway substantially changed the appearance of that part of the village. A right of way passes beneath the central span.

The building of the line was not without incident. It was reported that, with the large number of workmen engaged on the construction of the line, poaching and drunkenness had become so common that, in Spofforth, nine special constables were sworn in to help the regular force.

Spofforth station had two facing platforms with the main station building on the up side of the line. It was one of many attractive stations designed by the architect George Townsend Andrews, and bore a strong similarity to his station building at Ruswarp, which is extant and open on the Middlesbrough to Whitby line. The station was stone-built with contrasting quoins of a darker shade of stone. The central portion had two storeys, flanked on both sides by single-storey sections with ridged roofs parallel to the platform. The two-storey section included a gable facing the platform, set a little forward of the rest of the block and a most attractive pair of gothic arches at platform level with stone buttresses embracing them.  Bargeboards of a geometric design added interest to the gables, which were embellished with wooden finials and pendants. A small shelter, serving also as a porch at the entrance to the booking hall, adjoined the south-eastern end of the building, partly screened and with a hipped roof; this was a later addition. Altogether it was a building possessing charm and dignity.  On the opposite (down) platform was a standard NER pent-roofed timber waiting shelter.  Passengers crossed the line at the level crossing at the south-eastern end of the station.

A signal box on the down side, south-east of the crossing, controlled both the crossing and access to the goods yard, with sidings on each side of the line. The main yard was behind the down platform and was entered from the west. There were two sidings: one passed through a large stone goods shed with a hipped slate roof and one wall butting up to the back of the platform; the other siding looped widely round the shed, passing a loading dock to terminate close to the level crossing. In 1904 a two-ton crane stood between the two sidings at the east end of the goods shed. There were two additional parallel sidings on the up side, south-east of the level crossing, one of which ran up onto coal drops. The coal depot was entered from the east. There was a further siding on the up side, north-west of the station, serving a cattle dock.

In 1911 the station had a catchment area with a population of 1,534. 13,898 tickets were sold that year, and the main freight handled was barley, with 224 tons being dispatched, but only two wagons of livestock were loaded at the station. The 1956 Handbook of Stations states that the yard now had only a one-ton capacity crane and handled general goods, livestock, horse boxes and prize cattle vans, and carriage of motor cars by passenger and parcels train was available.

The station closed to passenger and goods traffic on 6 January 1964. The former trackbed between Spofforth and Wetherby is now a public footpath and cycle path that begins in Spofforth at the bottom of East Park Road.

Notes: Harrogate was known as 'The English Spa' in the Georgian era, after its mineral-rich waters were discovered in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the chalybeate waters (containing iron) were a popular health treatment, and the influx of wealthy, but sickly, visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of the town.

With the country in the grip of 'railway mania' in the 1840s Harrogate was an obvious target for railway entrepreneurs who were eager to cash in on the town’s popularity, with its wealthy clientele able to pay high fares.  In Harrogate local townsfolk and businesses initially opposed the railway, fearing that an influx of people from Leeds and Bradford would lower the tone of the area; but this opposition was overcome. It was going to be a race to see who would be first to reach the town.
The Great North of England Railway (GNER) made the first proposal. Having opened their main line between York and Darlington in 1841 they proposed a branch from Pilmoor, 16 miles north of York, to Harrogate via Boroughbridge and Ripon.

The York & North Midland Railway (Y&NMR) opened in 1839, connecting York with the Leeds & Selby Railway and, in 1840, with the North Midland Railway at Normanton near Leeds. The line was largely financed by ‘Railway King’ George Hudson who invested a substantial inheritance in the North Midland, becoming a director. He then took an active part in the promotion of the route and commissioned George Stephenson to construct the line. Having completed the York line, George Hudson then turned his attention to Harrogate, proposing a branch to the town from a junction with the Y & NM at Church Fenton, ten miles south of York.

The final player was the Leeds & Thirsk Railway (L &TR) who had an ambitious scheme for a new main line linking the industrial regions around Leeds with the north-east. George Hudson had an interest in this scheme as well.

George Hudson was clearly keen to increase the size of his empire, and by 1845 he had taken a lease on the GNER, and he immediately withdrew the Pilmoor - Harrogate proposal to leave the way clear for the two other routes.

The Y&NMR obtained their Act for the Church Fenton - Harrogate line in 1845, and the eighteen-mile route was staked out in September of that year. It was opened in two stages, with the first 13-mile section between Church Fenton and a temporary terminus at Spofforth opening on 10 August 1847. There were intermediate stations at Stutton, Tadcaster, Newton Kyme, Thorp Arch and Wetherby, with passengers being conveyed the last five miles into Harrogate by horse-drawn omnibus. The only engineering feature of note was a two-span iron girder bridge over the River Wharfe between Newton Kyme and Thorp Arch.

The shorter five-mile section between Spofforth and Harrogate took a further year to complete owing to much more difficult terrain, with a gradient of 1 in 36 taking the line up to the unusually narrow 825yd Prospect Tunnel in which trains were not permitted to pass; then 300yd from the tunnel portal, the line crossed the 624yd, 31-arch, Crimple Viaduct whichtowered 110ft above the valley floor at its highest point.  Beyond the viaduct the line went through the 400yd Brunswick Tunnel before entering the terminus at Harrogate Brunswick. (This was the official name of the station, although in timetables it was shown only as Harrogate). The extension to Harrogate opened, without prior announcement or ceremony, on 20 July 1848. 

The initial service was five trains per day in each direction with no trains on Sunday. Within two years this had been reduced to three trains each day, probably owing to the opening of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway just five weeks later on 1 September 1848; their station was 1¾ miles to the east at Starbeck.  When completed in July 1849, this line provided a more direct route to Leeds without the need to change at Church Fenton.  The L&TR had planned to extend their line into Harrogate, but this had to be shelved because of the higher than expected cost of completing their line between Leeds and Starbeck.

In an attempt to prevent competitors from encroaching on its territory, a direct Leeds to York railway was promoted by George Hudson through the Y&NMR. The construction of the line was authorised in 1846 and was to run from Copmanthorpe on the outskirts of York to Cross Gates, several miles east of Leeds, joining the Church Fenton to Harrogate line between Tadcaster and Stutton.

In 1849 George Hudson was forced to resign as chairman of the York & North Midland Railway following his involvement in dubious business activities. The collapse of railway investment in 1849 resulted in the abandonment of the project, but a ten-arch stone viaduct over the River Wharfe at Tadcaster had already been constructed. The need for the line evaporated with the opening of the Micklethorpe to Church Fenton line in 1869 although the viaduct did eventually see rail traffic in the form of a siding serving a flour mill on the east side of the river. The siding closed in 1955. The viaduct is Grade II listed and is owned by Tadcaster Town Council; it now carries a public footpath and cycleway.

The L&TR was renamed the Leeds Northern Railway in 1851, and it was joined by the East and West Yorkshire Junction Railway from York at Knaresborough, east of Harrogate. In 1854 the York & North Midland Railway amalgamated with the Leeds Northern Railway and the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway to form the North Eastern Railway (NER) which brought control of all the railways in the region under one company.  The fledgling NER was quick to improve the railway layout around Harrogate.

The NER built a spur from the former L&TR line at Pannal to join the Y & NMR line west of Prospect Tunnel. Just short of Brunswick Tunnel another new line was built to join the line from Starbeck enabling trains to run into a new central station which opened on 1 August 1862. Brunswick station was closed; initially it was retained for goods traffic, but this was short-lived.  By 1880 the service between Harrogate and Church Fenton was restored to five trains per day. 

The North Eastern Railway soon had plans for other new lines in the region. One of the most ambitious was for a direct route between Leeds and Scarborough by-passing York.  For much of its route it would utilise existing lines, but it included new construction from Cross Gates to a junction with the Church Fenton - Harrogate line at Wetherby. On 5 May 1866 The York Herald reported that the Leeds - Wetherby Railway Bill had been put before the Select Committee of the House of Commons for a single line to run from the Leeds and Selby branch, near Cross Gates, to the Church Fenton and Harrogate Branch at Wetherby - a length of 10 miles 66 chains. New capital to be raised was £210,000, with borrowing power of £70,000. The work was to be completed in five years, under penalty. Tenders for the project were invited in November 1871 and seven firms responded with bids.

The Leeds to Scarborough line was eventually abandoned owing to the economic downturn, although some sections were completed including the Cross Gates - Wetherby line which opened on 1 May 1876 with intermediate stations at Scholes, Thorner, Bardsey and Collingham Bridge.  The junction at Wetherby faced Church Fenton so it was not possible to run trains into Harrogate. This was rectified in 1901 when the line was doubled and a new curve facing Harrogate was built at Wetherby.

Cross Gates - Harrogate now became an important alternative route to the L&TR which was used increasingly by goods traffic and by the recently introduced Liverpool to Newcastle passenger expresses, which we now able to avoid a reversal at Leeds. As this route by-passed Wetherby station, which was sited to the east of the town, a new Wetherby station opened on 1 July 1902 at the south end of the new triangular junction, with the old station being retained for goods.

In 1902 the Great Northern Railway started running express services from Kings Cross to Harrogate via the Church Fenton to Harrogate line, with three daily trains in each direction. These continued after the grouping in 1923 and included the prestigious 'Harrogate Pullman'.  Although the Cross Gates to Harrogate line was always considered the major route, the August 1906 timetable shows a good service on both lines with a mixture of stopping and express services. Express trains from London over the Church Fenton - Wetherby line had stopped running by 1947. 

Wetherby racecourse opened in 1891, and an untimetabed station was opened c1924 to serve it.  This was last used on 18 May 1959, but racecourse specials continued to run to Wetherby station from Bradford Exchange on race days until 1963. A new station called Penda's Way, between Scholes and Cross Gates, was opened on 5 June 1939 to serve the growing residential development in that area.

In March 1940, additional traffic came to the Church Fenton to Wetherby line when a Royal Ordnance Factory was opened at Thorp Arch just to the north of the station. It was constructed for the Ministry of Supply and built on a 450 acre site. It took 18 months to build and cost £5.9 million. Thorp Arch was considered to be an ideal site, away from the large centres of population, possessing a reliable water supply, good rail links and proximity to the A1 trunk road. Workers were brought in from Leeds, Selby, York and all surrounding areas. 10,000 people, mainly women, were employed there at the height of production, and it is believed to have had 619 buildings. In World War II it produced light and medium gun ammunition, heavy ammunition, mines and trench mortar ammunition for the Army; medium and large bombs for the RAF; and 20mm and other small arms ammunition for all three services.

It was linked to the London & North Eastern Railway, which was used in its construction, for supplying raw materials and for transporting away filled munitions. The factory was served by a 6½-mile single-track circular railway with four platforms for munitions workers: these were named River, Ranges, Roman Road and Walton. Special workmen's trains ran from Leeds and Bradford Exchange and from as far afield as Hull and Doncaster on Monday to Saturday calling at the four halts. The last passenger traffic was in 1957 when the five unadvertised trains were withdrawn.

ROF Thorpe Arch closed twice: once after World War II and then finally after the Korean War in April 1958. Once production had halted, the site was gradually de-contaminated. In the early 1960s George Moore, a local businessman, bought most of the site and the development of the area as a trading estate began. The estate was later owned by Thorp Arch Limited Partnership, but is now known as Thorp Arch Estate and is owned by the trustees of Hanover Property Unit Trust. It comprises an area of over 100 businesses, including the Thorp Arch Retail Park. The most notable addition to the estate is the Northern Reading Room, Northern Listening Service and Document Supply Centre of the British Library, occupying what was the locomotive shed and engineering department. Another part is a prison, originally HMP Thorp Arch, now HMP Wealstun.

Whereas the route between Cross Gates and Harrogate maintained a reasonably frequent weekday service the train frequency via Tadcaster was drastically reduced after WWII. The winter 1937-8 LNER timetable showed 7 trains from Church Fenton to Leeds via Tadcaster on Monday to Friday in each direction, whilst there were twice as many between Leeds, Wetherby and Harrogate. No trains ran on Sunday. The first British Railways (North Eastern Region) timetable of summer 1948 had only three Monday-Friday trains via Tadcaster, but five on Saturday.  In summer 1950 only three trains to Leeds and two to Church Fenton were shown. By 1961 there was only one local morning train between Church Fenton and Leeds via Wetherby, and another, also in the morning, from Leeds to Tadcaster, which ran only as far as Thorp Arch on Saturday. No passenger service was shown from Tadcaster to Church Fenton. By 1963 only the 7.44 am departure from Church Fenton to Leeds was shown in the public timetable, the train actually having run from Leeds via Garforth. It is likely that its principal role was to carry parcels. In 1961 there were four trains between Harrogate and Leeds in each direction, with two additional trains between Wetherby and Leeds and one in the opposite direction. Long distance traffic between Leeds and Newcastle had continued to use the line, but this ended with the completion of the quadrupling of the East Coast main line in 1959. The earlier twenty freight trains between Harrogate and Wetherby (in each direction) had fallen to five by 1960.

In 1961 the recently introduced diesel service between Liverpool and Newcastle was switched from the Arthington route bringing new traffic to the Wetherby line. Although this route was slower it avoided a reversal at Leeds.  This renewed importance could not however save the lines. At the time of the Beeching enquiry, there was a maximum of eight passengers on the one train a day between Church Fenton and Leeds via Wetherby, with no regular passengers. There were a few more passengers on the Leeds to Wetherby route but competition from an improving bus service
eventually made passenger numbers unsustainable despite the increase in the number of commuters living in Wetherby. Stations had received minimal investment since Nationalisation, amounting to little more than painting the nameboards in BR(NE) tangerine and installing totem name signs at Wetherby.

Given that all stations were manned, together with sixteen signal boxes and three manually
operated level crossings (requiring 35 staff in total), and the number of steep gradients requiring the use of banking engines, it is of little surprise that it was considered uneconomical. At Wetherby station alone, 14 staff were employed attending to the needs of only 30 passengers per day. The economics of the Wetherby lines were, in fact, worse than the cautionary examples given in Beeching's report. It had a yearly operating cost of £57,000 compared to receipts of £9,000, though some argue that the Wetherby to Leeds route could have been made profitable with some adjustments. Local freight now consisted largely of house coal, the use of which was declining.

A notable headline at the time read 'First lamb to the Beeching slaughter', cheerfully further stating 'No regular passengers object at inquiry’, which was the case, but only for the Wetherby - Church Fenton line. It was also inaccurate in that the Newcastle – Washington service, earmarked by Beeching, had closed the previous September!  A decision was reached on 24 October 1963, the inquiry having taken just three months, with both lines closing to passengers from  6 January 1964. The original Wetherby station remained open for goods traffic until 4 April 1966.  The only section of the original route to remain open is the short section of line from the Crimple Viaduct (where the spur from Pannal joined the Church Fenton route to the junction with the line to the former Brunswick terminus. This section is used today by the frequent Leeds – Harrogate – Knaresborough – York services. A new station called Hornbeam Park opened just south of this junction on 24 August 1992.

In the late 1960s, it was evident that Wetherby was going to grow. In 1965 it was estimated that by 1981 the town's population would double to 12,000 and this estimate proved quite accurate.
There were ambitious plans to relieve growing congestion through the town centre and on the A58 and A661 by converting the disused railways into relief roads. These suggestions never came to fruition. In Railways around Harrogate, Volume 3 (1998) Martin Bairstow presents a compelling case, headed ‘A lost commuter route?’ for the restoration of passenger services between Leeds and Wetherby. He also remarks that the dieselisation of the service in January 1959 could have increased the use of the trains, but without improved frequency of trains that some neighbouring lines enjoyed, there was really no incentive to use them.

Some parts of the former railway tracks between Wetherby and Leeds have been used for housing development at Bardsey and Collingham Bridge. Sustrans National Cycle Network routes 66 and 67 use some of the remaining trackbed. This line is walkable from Cross Gates to a point south of Collingham where a landowner refuses access to a short section of the line. At Scholes muddy conditions are encountered, but this soon gives way to a grassy embankment with lots of sandstone bridges in situ. The most impressive stretch is just north of Thorner where the line passes through a very deep, narrow cutting with the Seacroft road soaring above on a high brick bridge. At Collingham the road bridge must be used to cross the Wharfe, but from the north bank a footpath follows the embankment, sandwiched between a golf course and the river, into Wetherby. A public footpath and cycleway follows the trackbed from the A1 (M) to Thorp Arch station and from Wetherby to Stofforth - this section of the path is known as Harland Way.

Click here to see Church Fenton to Harrogate gradients.

Tickets from Michael Stewart, Bradshaws from Chris Hind & Nick Catford, Route map drawn by Alan Young

Thanks to Martin Bairstow (author/publisher), Peter Tuffrey (author) and the Wetherby Historical Trust who supplied many of the photos used in this feature.


To see other stations on the Harrogate - Church Fenton line
click on the station name:
Harrogate Brunswick, Hornbeam Park, Crimple, Wetherby (1st site), Wetherby Racecourse, Thorp Arch, Newton Kyme, Tadcaster,
Stutton & Church Fenton
See also River Platform, Ranges Platform, Roman Road Platform &
Walton Platform on the ROF Thorp Arch Militery Railway.
Special feature: Royal Ordnance Factory 8 - Thorp Arch

To see stations on the Cross Gates - Wetherby line click on the station name: Cross Gates, Penda's Way, Scholes, Thorner, Bardsey, Collingham Bridge and Wetherby (2nd site)

Spofforth station looking south-east along the up platform before December 1907. Note the well kept flower beds at the back of the up platform. The large stone goods shed is seen at
the far end of the down platform.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

1890 1:2,500 OS map shows the station with its rambling goods yard. The main yard was behind the down platform. The coal depot is seen on the south-east side of the level crossing on the down side, whilst another siding to the north- west of the station, also on the up side, served a cattle dock. The ‘Railway Hotel’ is still there, and is now called the ‘Railway Inn’.

1909 1:2,500 OS map. Little has changed since the 1890 map. The siding running behind the goods shed has been extended and Furmard Hill Quarry, to the south of the station, has closed.

Spofforth station, looking south-east in the 1930s. The main goods yard is seen to the right, with one siding passing through the large stone goods shed immediately behind the down platform.  The other siding curves very widely round the back of the shed to serve a loading dock.
Copyright photo from Stations UK

Spofforth station, looking north-west along the down platform c1930s. A typical NER timber waiting shelter is seen on the left; there were no other facilities on the down platform. The entrance to the booking office is seen on the far right. It will be noted that the shelter over the booking office entrance, seen on the 1959 photograph, has not yet been built.
Photo from John Mann collection

A returning Wetherby races special passes through the down platform at Spofforth in the 1950s. 64942, a Gresley-designed J39, was built at Darlington in 1938 and numbered 1551. It entered LNER service on 16 March at Middlesbrough shed and was renumbered to 4942 in 1946. It had a working life of well over 24 years and was withdrawn from 52B, Heaton shed on 3 December 1962, then scrapped during July 1963. Note the whitewashed planters in front of the station buildings. These were a common feature on North Eastern Railway stations to help brighten up the platforms. The diagonal woodwork of the fence (also a Midland Railway feature) and the casement oil lanterns were typical NER designs.
Photo from Armstrong Railway Trust

61255, a Thompson-designed B1, carrying class A (express passenger) headlamps and double heading with 61275, another loco of the same class, is seen approaching Spofforth station in August 1957. This loco was built for the LNER at the North British Loco works in Glasgow, entering service on 14 November 1947 as No. 1255. Renumbered shortly after Nationalisation, it was one of the LNER's answers to the LMS Black Five, and a total of 410 were built and were very successful. 61255 was withdrawn on 24 June 1967 from Hull (Dairycoates) shed to be cut up by Garnham, Harris & Elton of Chesterfield in August of that year. It is hauling a Leeds City to Newcastle relief service. Spofforth coal yard is seen on the left, beyond the crossing. A West Yorkshire Road Car Company bus waits at the crossing gates.
Photo by Mike Mitchell

A class H freight service passes the up platform at Spofforth station in July 1959. Note the shelter that has been built in front of the entrance to the booking office. 90457 is a Riddles-designed 2-8-0 built at Vulcan Foundry in May 1944 for the War Department. It lasted in service until January 1966, when it was withdrawn from Wakefield shed to be broken up at Drapers of Hull. In 1948 the newly nationalised British Railways agreed to take over from the Ministry of Supply the 733 Austerity 2-8-0 freight engines still remaining in the UK which had been designed by Riddles during the Second World War, when he held the position (and the impressive title) of Deputy Director of Royal Engineering Equipment. The last of the class to be built was 90732 and was named 'Vulcan' in honour of the Vulcan works of the North British Loco Co. who assisted with the design and construction of many locos
Photo by H B Priestley
A diesel-hauled passenger service pulls into the up platform at Spofforth in December 1963, a month before closure of the line. The running-in nameboard on the far left has been hand-painted in BR (NE) colours, and oil lanterns are still in place.
Photo from Jim Lake collection

The attractive station building at Spofforth seen just before closure in January 1964.
Photo by Geoffrey C Ewthwaite

By July 1971, only 7 years after closure, the scene has changed dramatically. All of the station buildings have been demolished, with the degraded remains of the cattle dock are seen on the left. The photo is taken from the west side of Park Lane level crossing looking towards Wetherby.
The station site is where the tractor showroom is seen on the other side of the crossing.
Photo by John Mann

The site of Spofforth station is now occupied by Station Court, a new housing development built in the mid 1990s. This view is from September 2008.
Photo by Nick Catford


July 1971

September 2010

Click on thumbnail to enlarge




[Source: Nick Catford]

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