185 Years of Railways in York – Frank Paterson TRANSCRIPT

Frank Paterson was General Manager of the Eastern Region of British Rail from 1978 to 1986. During that time he oversaw the implementation of the Selby Diversion and the electrification of the East Coast Main Line. He is now Chair of the Friends of the National Railway Museum.

This document is based on a talk he gave to the York Civic Trust in 2023. The talk was illustrated by a slide show which can be found here.

185 Years of Railways in York

From 1840 railways became a significant part of the economy of York. The associated buildings and facilities which remain are tangible reminders of some of the activities. This introduction will highlight the historic background of the buildings and facilities which are still visible but will also refer to some that have gone and to the people who played a part in creating and developing the foundations of todays railways.

1825 – 1853
The success of the Stockton to Darlington railway in 1825 and the Manchester to Liverpool Railway in 1830 launched a period of Railway Mania with hundreds of entrepreneurs seeking Acts of Parliament to build railways. There was no national network strategy simply a range of largely local groups wanting to use the new technology.
The early history of English railways is dominated by George Hudson who did have a strategic vision. This led between 1837 and 1849 to his investment and controlling interest in 50% of the companies seeking to build railways throughout the country. His York & North Midland Rly Co. in 1839 built the first railway from York to Normanton to connect with the Leeds to Selby railway which had operated since 1835. By changing trains at Normanton , Derby and Birmingham the journey from York to London Euston took 10 hours – one third of the time taken by stage coach. The original York station designed by GT Andrews within the city walls for the Y&NM and the Great North of England Rly was opened in 1841 and provided train services to Northallerton, Darlington and eventually to Edinburgh. In 1845 the station expanded when Y&NM built Scarborough Bridge across the river Ouse and the line to Scarborough. By 1854 seven separate railway companies served York station and the North Eastern Railway Company was formed by amalgamations. They reached an understanding with the Great Northern and a direct line from York to Doncaster was opened In 1871 and it became possible to travel to London Kings Cross via Selby Doncaster and Peterborough in five hours.

1854 – 1923 North Eastern Railway Company
Formed in 1854 by an amalgamation of three companies and eventually, by a series of friendly mergers, the NER became a monopoly provider of rail services in the North of England. The company owned or controlled most of the East Coast coal shipping ports between Blyth and Hull and also a range of high quality hotels throughout the North East. NER Directors were high calibre , influential individuals from principal industries in the regions .The key decisions came from the board sub committees who met monthly in the York offices.
Henry Tennant was appointed General Manager in 1871 and tackled the shortcomings and operational difficulties arising from the restricted station facilities within the city walls . The outcome – new Passenger Station, Freight Depot, Station Hotel , all designed by the NER Architect Thomas Prosser, were built and commissioned between 1878 and 1879. He also established the York Railway Institute.
Sir George Gibb became General Manager in 1891 and initiated a transformation of the way the railways were managed. His monument for posterity – the North Eastern Railway Headquarters Building opened in 1906 when the company employed over 56,000 people and was the fourth largest private sector company in the country .
He was succeeded in 1906 by Sir Alexander Kaye-Butterworth who managed the considerable contributions railways made during the 1914 -1918 war period. The imposing North Eastern War Memorial designed by Sir Edwin Luttyens records the names of the 2236 North Eastern staff who were killed in the war. A tangible acknowledgement of that sacrifice came from a bequest which established The North Eastern Cottage Homes & Benefits Society to provide rented accommodation for railway families. Directors at the final meeting of the NER Board in York in December 1922 agreed to donate an area of land on the banks of the river Ouse once used for the loading of coal from rail to boats. That NER gift to the city is now named Memorial Park!

1923 – 1947 – London & North Eastern Railway Company
From 1st January 1923 Britains railways were owned and managed by four railway companies. Great Western Railway, Southern Railway , London Midland& Scottish and the London & North Eastern Railway. The LNER operated on the east side of the country from London to Aberdeen and Inverness. York retained responsibility for the management of the North East Area from Doncaster to Berwick but the company board was based in London. The highlight of the LNER years was the acceleration of trains such as the Flying Scotsman and Silver Jubilee on the East Coast Main Line culminating in the world speed record for steam of 126mph by Mallard in 1938.
The 1939 war period put a tremendous strain on railways and York Station and engine sheds sustained severe bomb damage during the Badaeker Raid in April 1942.

1948 – 1996 British Railways
On 1st January all transport assets became state owned to be managed by the British Transport Commission. The Railway Executive was created and the management and operation of Britains railways was devolved to six geographic regions. The North Eastern Region York Headquarters covered the lines North of Doncaster to Berwick on Tweed. In 1968 it merged with the Eastern Region and York became responsible for the management of all railway activities on the east side of the UK between London and Scotland. Hudson House within the city walls and Holgate Villa, an office block off Holgate Road, were built to accommodate the staff transferred from the closed offices in London. The most visible impacts on York passengers during that period would be the transition from streamlined steam engines like Mallard to Deltic diesel traction in 1964 and then in 1978 their replacement by the 125mph High Speed Trains . The under two hour journey time made commuting from York to London a realistic possibility. In 1983 a 17 mile stretch of new railway , the Selby diversion ,was built to allow the unrestricted mining of the huge Selby coalfield.

ECML Electrification, completed from London to Edinburgh between 1985 and 1991 was the last big investment by the nationalised railway to benefit York.
The less obvious impact emerged from the Beeching Reshaping Report. During the 8years from 1962 to 1970 the national rail network was reduced from 22,000 to 10, 300miles . At the same time a wide range of changes were initiated nationally to make railways more cost effective.

The major tangible benefit to York from these initiatives has been the release of land historically used for rail activities primarily associated with rail freight. The Layerthorpe redevelopment became possible when the rail activities on the Foss Islands Branch closed in 1984. The Dringhouses private housing estate is largely on land made available by the rationalisation of freight marshalling yards in York. The National Railway Museum was initially located in a redundant locomotive servicing building in York in 1975 because the end of steam had significantly reduced the number of diesel replacements required. The museum then expanded into the redundant freight handling building. The York Central Development Project will be on land originally acquired by the North Eastern Railway Company
Privatised railways.

The Royal Station Hotel was sold in 1984 and has since then had a succession of owners.

In 1989 the York Carriage Works was bought by a Swedish/Swiss consortium Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) who ran it for five years before closure in 1994.

By 1996 all British Rail assets had been sold to over 100 separate privately owned companies. Track and signalling is now owned by Network Rail who have invested in a building at the south end of York Station which will eventually control all train operations between London and Scotland. Several different train operating companies continue to serve York and currently LNER and Northern locate their headquarters staff in York.

In 2008 the NER HQ was sold to create York’s first five star hotel and the original 1841 station
was bought by the City of York for the Council Offices.

Railway Facilities in York ( separate from introduction)

The biggest initial impact of railways on the York environment came from the proliferation of steam locomotives and for over 120 years the facilities were visible over a very wide area. They needed daily maintenance and servicing at a mix of Round House and Straight Engine Sheds allocated originally to the individual railway companies using York. Rationalisation and changing technologies significantly reduced this need and in 1975 one of the remaining sheds became the National Railway Museum.
Coal from the collieries came in 16 ton wagons and originally would be loaded into the tenders of the locomotives by hand. The spectacular demolition of the last mechanical coal loading plant in 1970 removed a railway feature which was a very distinctive part of the York skyline.
Water was pumped from the river Ouse through a building ( now demolished) located on the approach to Scarborough Bridge and circulated to water columns strategically located throughout the area. The original 1839 water tank , a grade 2 listed building, but no longer operational is located in the Queen Street complex.
Originally part of York Locomotive works which closed in 1905 , some of the redundant buildings housed the first York railway museum initiated by the LNER in 1928. The buildings remaining in this area are mainly associated with York Railway Institute
In 1867 the NER established a wagon building and repair works on a 17 acre site with road access from Holgate Road.
Then in 1882 a 45 acre site between Holgate Road and the avoiding line was developed as York Carriage Works . Initially it built new passenger coaches for the East Coast train services between London and Aberdeen operated by the Great Northern/North Eastern/North British railway companies. It expanded and the passenger vehicles for the 1904 Newcastle electrified railway were built in York At its peak the carriage works employed over 3000 people and built passenger rolling stock for several foreign railways. It was privatised in the early 80’s and closed in 1994
The movement of freight by rail was the basis of the NER ability to pay dividends of 8% in 1904. Considerable resources were needed and as road competition increased elements of the railfreight operations became increasingly unprofitable. The decision to withdraw from wagon load operations meant the end of freight marshalling yards.
The safe operation of railways has always been a top priority and railway signalling systems have evolved to minimise the scope for human error. There would have been upwards of 20 signal boxes controlling the operations in the complex York area. The sole remaining signal box structure is now a Costa coffee shop on the footbridge of York station.