Station Name: THIRSK (JUNCTION)
|Location:||North side of Station Road (A61)|
|Company on opening:||Great North of England Railway|
|Date closed to passengers:||Still open|
|Date closed completely:||Still open|
|Company on closing:||Still open|
|Present state:||Still open|
|OS Grid Ref:||SE409816|
|Date of visit:||Not visited|
Notes: Thirsk station opened with the Great North of England Railway on 31st March 1841. Initially the station had two platforms but the East Coast Main line from south of Pilmoor to north of Thirsk was quadrupled in 1942 as a wartime necessity and the two platforms were rebuilt as islands with local trains using the two outer faces, and long distance services stopping at Thirsk using the inner faces. Sidings to the north of the station were also brought back into use during WW2 for shunting main line goods traffic which could then be conveyed south either via York or on the Leeds Northern line via Harrogate and Leeds.
Thirsk station was a mile west of the town. Although inconveniently situated for the town, it is admirably placed to serve the adjacent race course. The Leeds & Thirsk railway opend their station at Thirsk Town, close to the town centre on 1st June 1848. This crossed over the GNER 1/2 a mile south east of Thirsk station, but there was also a junction between the two lines with trains from Leeds being required to call at the GNER's Thirsk station and then reverse to the junction before proceeding to Thirsk Town, greatly adding to the journey time. The GNER's station was usually referred to as Thirsk Junction after the opening of the L & T. Although this name is shown on Ordnance Survey maps and on running-in boards, it does not appear in timetables or on tickets.
When the Leeds & Thirsk opened their line to Stockton in 1852 it was only single track, and initially the company routed many of its trains via the old line to Thirsk Junction and on to the York Newcastle & Berwick line to Northallerton, where they rejoined the Leeds Northern towards Stockton. When the Leeds Northern between Melmerby and Northallerton was doubled in 1901 more trains took this shorter route, with some Leeds Northern trains now terminating at Thirsk. Thirsk also became the destination of trains from Malton via Gilling,. joining the YN & B at Pilmoor south of Thirsk.
After closure to passengers, Thirsk Town became a goods station but there was also a goods yard at Thirsk Junction which comprised six sidings, three of them serving coal drops. There was also a 5-ton crane and the private Jackson's siding. All livestock from the surrounding farms was handled here, with a cattle dock and pens to the north of the station on the down side, rather than at Thirsk Town. In later years only the coal depot remained open. This closed on 3rd October 1968 at the same time as Thirsk Goods (Thirsk Town had been renamed Thirsk Goods in 1960) although a private siding remained open after that date. A private siding opened at Thirsk on 9th February 1970 although, by the end of the 1970s, all lines had been lifted and the goods yard cleared.
As Thirsk Junction was a mile west of the town the North Eastern Railway ran a bus service from the Junction station into Thirsk. At one time this service was operated by steam buses but these were eventually replaced by petrol engined vehicles.
The fast line platforms were taken out of use c. early 1970s and the platform edges were removed to allow high speed trains to run through the station. The canopies on the platform building continued to project over the line until all the buildings were replaced in the 1980s.
The station, which is now unstaffed, is currently operated by First Trans Pennine Express. Other train services are provided by the open-access operator Grand Central Railway.
There is generally an hourly service northbound to Middlesbrough and southbound to York and beyond (usually Manchester Airport). Some northbound Newcastle Trans Pennine services also stop at Thirsk as do Grand Central Railway services between London Kings Cross and Sunderland. Sundays generally have two-hourly services towards Middlesbrough and York.
The Leeds & Thirsk Railway was incorporated by Act on 21st July 1845 to serve Harrogate and to provide an alternative route from Leeds to the north east to break George Hudson's monopoly of rail transport in that area. Although the line was built in four years it was opened in stages, as the southern section of the line was more demanding of the engineer’s skills. with five major viaducts and Bramhope Tunnel (which, when finished, was exceeded in length only by Standedge and Woodhead).
Intermediate stations were opened with the line at Wath (later renamed Melmerby), Baldersby and Topcliffe. At Thirsk the line passed over the YN & B to a terminus close to the centre of the town, with the YN & B station being over a mile to the west of the town.
The next section to open completely was from Ripon to Weeton via Starbeck. This opened on 1st September 1848 with intermediate stations at Wormald Green, Nidd Bridge and Harrogate (renamed Starbeck in August 1857).
The final section between Weeton and Three Bridges Junction at Leeds (which included Bramhope tunnel and two of the viaducts) opened on 9th July 1849, linking up with the existing line into Leeds Central station which it shared with Leeds Dewsbury & Manchester Railway, The Great Northern Railway and the Manchester & Leeds Railway.
Under the NER’s Harrogate Branches Act of 8th August 1859 all of Harrogate’s services were brought together in one centrally sited station. This required construction of four connecting lines including a curve from Dragon Junction, east of the new Harrogate station, to Bilton Road Junction on the L&T, and from Dragon Junction toStarbeck. Harrogate Brunswick was closed when the new through station was opened on 1st August 1862.
The architecture for the Leeds and Thirsk is attributed to Thomas Grainger but with considerable involvement by John Bourne. The latter became resident engineer of the L&T in 1846 and sole engineer in 1852 when Grainger died in an accident on the line. The stations on the L&T were nothing of merit, and only three of them were permanent structures at its opening, namely Thirsk, Topcliffe and Starbeck. The seven others were nothing short of basic, with low platforms and simple timber shelters.In 1846 the L&T sought powers to extend their rails northward from a junction at Melmerby, passing under the Great North of England Railway at Northallerton and then on to Stockton-on-Tees to link up with the Stockton & Hartlepool Railway. This was opposed by the GN of ER who persuaded the L&T to apply only for the northern section of their line from Northallerton in return for an agreement to build junctions at Thirsk and Northallerton which would allow through running between the two lines.
The first scheme for a station near the small market town of Masham in Wensleydale, was proposed by the Northern Counties Union Railway for a 127-mile line from the Leeds & Thirsk Railway at Melmerby to Leyburn, Hawes, Kirkby Stephen and Appleby and on to a junction with the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway south of Clifton At Kirkby Stephen, there would be a junction with the Stainmore line running between Bishop Auckland and Tebay. Although the company received its Act on 27th July 1846, the scheme was doomed to failure owing to unworkable clauses being inserted into the Bill at the instigation of the London & North Western Railway and Lancaster & Carlisle Railway who did not want the line to be built, and also opposition from the Duke of Cleveland who was reluctant to sell the company a vital strip of land. Despite this opposition, a total of 2 ¼ miles was completed, including a section of earthworks north of Melmerby.
In 1848 the L&T made a further attempt to extend their line northwards from Melmerby to Northallerton, and this time they were successful in receiving parliamentary approval. The partially completed earthworks to the north of Melmerby were purchased from the Northern Counties Union Railway formed part of the new route.
The line from Melmerby to Northallerton was initially single track and was not doubled until 1901. The bulk of the passenger services continued along the original L&T to Thirsk Junction (as the YN & B’s station at Thirsk was now known) where it took the YN & B route to Northallerton, beyond which it branched off to the east for Stockton. Such a service even continued beyond the doubling of the line in 1901, but gradually passenger trains took the shorter route to reach Teesside. In later years this route increased in importance and was used by the Newcastle - Liverpool dining car trains and the LNER and BR Pullman trains. With trains now running onto the YN&B and on to Northallerton, Thirsk Town station closed in December 1855, although it was retained as the town's goods station until 3rd October 1966.
Melmerby station was given an extra platform to the north of the road level crossing forming a ‘V’ with the platform on the Thirsk line. The extension opened on 2nd June 1852 between Melmerby (renamed from Wath) and Northallerton Town, which was on the east side of the YN & B. Intermediate stations were provided at Newby Wiske and Sinderby (and further stations between Northallerton and Stockton). Northallerton Low Level opened in December 1854 and an additional station at Pickhill was added in March 1875.
On 1st January 1856 a spur was opened allowing services to run from the Stockton line onto the YN & B where they called at the main (high level) Northallerton station. At this time Northallerton Town was closed, but the low level station was retained as the northern terminus for local services to Melmerby.
A branch opened from Ripley Junction (between Nidd Bridge and Starbeck) to Pateley Bridge on 1st May 1862 (closed to passengers on 2nd April 1951), and a branch from Melmerby to Masham was eventually opened on 10th June 1875 (closed to passengers 1st January 1931)When the Leeds & Thirsk first opened, the Great North of England Railway was not too concerned so long as traffic from the south of England was routed via their line to the north. However once the Leeds Northern had a connection with the London & North Western Railway at Leeds, and access to the docks at Hartlepool via the Stockton route, it was clear that the two lines would be competing for traffic. Initially the YN&B slashed fares, but it was soon clear that amalgamation seemed the best option. This followed on 31st July 1854, when the Leeds Northern, York & North Midland and the York Newcastle & Berwick amalgamated to form the North Eastern Railway, the fourth largest of the pre-1922 grouping companies.
In July 1922, Bradshaw's Railway Guide shows 14 down trains and 13 up trains calling on weekdays at Ripon, the principal station on the line, with three on Sundays; however these did not stop at all stations. Baldersby had three down and five up trains, with two on Sunday. Sinderby had 3 up trains and three down trains with no Sunday service. Pickhill had a limited service on certain days of the week.During WW2 the War Office considered Northallerton to be a 'vulnerable point', with its strategically important junctions between the former Leeds Northern (although part of the NER since 1854 the line was often still referred to as the ‘Leeds Northern’ until closure) and the main line. If one of the under-line bridges was destroyed during an air attack it could block all north - south traffic through the town. To safeguard against this, an emergency connection between the two lines was authorised on 28th November 1940.
At the same time, emergency platforms were built immediately south of Romanby Gates level crossing. These would have been used if Northallerton station was damaged during an air attack. The avoiding line was lifted by the end of 1947, but the emergency platforms remained at least until the 1960s for use by trains bound for Teesside during engineering works on the East Coast main line.The old Leeds Northern survived until nationalisation with the exception of Newby Wiske station which was closed as an economy measure in both wars, finally closing on 11th September 1939. After WW2 both passenger and freight traffic was in decline and Bradshaw's October 1951 Railway Guide shows 13 down trains and 11 up trains calling at Ripon with five on Sundays. Baldersby had three down trains and four up trains, with two on Sunday, while Sinderby had two down trains and one up train, and no Sunday service.
It was soon clear that the service could not be maintained. Pickhill, Baldersby and Topcliffe closed on 14th September 1959, and the line from Melmerby to Thirsk closed completely and was lifted. Nidd Bridge Wormald Green and Sinderby closed on 18th June 1962, but all remained open for goods traffic - Sinderby until November 1963 and the other two until August 1964. This left a reduced service between Harrogate and Northallerton calling at Ripon and Melmerby. This was finally withdrawn on 6th March 1967 as part of the Beeching cuts, when Melmerby closed completely. At closure, Ripon station was still quite busy with 19 daily departures and 6 on Sundays.North of Ripon, a daily freight working shunted the yard at Ripon then worked on to Melmerby, where there was an MoD ordnance depot. This closed at the end of 1968 with the last freight working on 3rd October 1968 with the final trip along that stretch of line on 31st December to collect the last wagons. Ripon station remained open for goods traffic arriving from the south until 5th September 1969, with a private siding remaining in use after that date.
The story has a twist in that shortly after closure a serious accident took place just south of Thirsk on 31st July 1967. This closed all but the up slow line on the ECML, and the resulting chaos can easily be imagined. The situation was made no better when attempts to operate the slow line as a dual direction line under a pilot proved to be chaotic. A radical solution was to reopen the Leeds Northern route from Harrogate to Northallerton for northbound trains only, (southbound trains continued on the slow line). As signal boxes had been shut and battery boxes removed, no interlock detectors could be operated, and the first priority was to replace batteries. On the same day as the accident, a train had been sent from Darlington with the required batteries and pilot man and all nine signal boxes and cabins were reinstated. Men were found to operate them on 12-hour shifts until the emergency passed on 2nd August.
Today the southern section of the old Leeds Northern between Leeds and Harrogate is still open, although it now follows a former branch line to York instead of continuing through Ripon to Northallerton. In recent years a feasibility study has been undertaken into the possibility of reopening the line between Harrogate and Northallerton. There has been a large amount of public support for the scheme. The northern section of the Leeds Northern between Northallerton and Stockton also remains open although all intermediate stations have closed with the exception of Yarm (reopened on a new site) and Eaglescliffe.
Click here to see photographs of a journey between Harrogate and Northallerton on 4th March 1967, the last day of public service.
To see other stations on the Leeds Northern Railway click on the station name: Northallerton Low Level, Newby Wiske, Pickhill, Sinderby, Melmerby, Ripon, Wormald Green, Nidd Bridge, Baldersby, Topcliffe & Thirsk Town