Time Travel: York’s Old Railway Station

Join us as we journey back in time to York’s Old Railway Station. No pushing.

No, not the station from where you catch a train today (although if you’ve ever been in it at 2am after returning from ‘a rager’ in Newcastle, it feels pretty old), but rather the place you’d go to request a new wheelie bin or complain about Council Tax increases. Yep, we’re looking at the railway station that is now home to City of York Council. So grab your luggage, check youR tickets, and join us for a ride to absolutely nowhere!

Many of you might be aware that our current station, with its many platforms and coffee outlets, was not the first. The original station predates even our building of interest today, being a small, wooden structure off Queen Street, built in 1839. It was quickly succeeded by a purpose-built railway terminus station, complete with ticket office, waiting rooms, refreshments, and, later, a hotel. But it wasn’t to last…

Detail from Whittock's Bird's Eye View of York 1858
Detail from Whittock’s Bird’s Eye View of York 1858

Boom

The 1830s and 40s saw a huge boom in rail travel. Thanks to the likes of George Hudson, York was established as a desirable place to visit, both for business, and for the newly created fad of tourism. And so, York was connected to the railways by Hudson’s York and North Midland Railway Company that offered trips to London, via Birmingham. Actually, York was a terminus location, a bit like Scarborough is today. That is why they thought it was a grand idea to build the fancy new station inside the walls with just one way in and out.

Completed in 1841, and designed by George Townsend Andrews, the station featured just two platforms; one for arrivals, and one for departures. Part of the station was to act as a hotel, and Andrews also designed this, sitting at the head of the lines, facing onto Station Rise. It was the first hotel of its kind, kickstarting the trend for Victorian railway stations to have an attached place to stay – see the current station’s efforts in the lovely Principal Hotel. Speaking of Queen Victoria, she actually visited the hotel soon after it was opened in 1853, earning it the name ‘The Royal Station Hotel’.

Obsolete

However, the station was only used for 36 years, and in 1877 the newly built railway station took over all major services to and from the city. The reason for this was the growing popularity of the railways, and the awkward original design of the old station. As York was connected to the wider rail network, and was no longer a terminus destination, trains had to back out of the station to continue on, causing delays and general inconvenience.

But, thanks to its continued use for a further 80 years as a carriage storage space, the old station buildings survived, allowing us to explore them today. So, with the useful 1852 map of York as a guide, let’s take a trip back in time to the old station.

York's Old Railway Station is now home to the City of York Council
York’s Old Railway Station is now home to the City of York Council

All aboard!

Go to the Council’s West Offices today and you’ll be invited to enter opposite Toft Green. Do so, and you’ll be standing inside what was the ticket office in 1852. Enter the building proper (with your purchased time-ticket, obviously) and you’ll be standing on what was the Departure platform. As the current building has largely kept the open-plan design, you can still get a sense of the station’s space.

To your left is a waiting room, post office, and the lost luggage room, but we’re heading to the right… because you’re lucky enough to have purchased a first class ticket. Get you. Just as at Scarborough station today, you have to walk around the end of the line to get to the other platform, and if you did so in York in 1852 you’d pass the 2nd class waiting room and then the parcel room (then, unbeknownst to most travellers, be walking directly above the remains of a Roman bath house – fact), before turning to the left with the grand hotel above you.

On the Arrivals platform you’ll find your First Class waiting room, but also a bar and place to leave your luggage. There you can await your train to London, and chat to other swanky peeps about your investments in India, or something. The great thing is that it’s all still there: the walls, the rooms, the layout of that station.

Obviously, it’s now filled with hardworking City of York Council employees, but at least you can freely wander in there and have a look. Unlike many historic buildings, the Old Station hasn’t been demolished, nor has it been converted into an exclusive hotel or luxury apartments. It’s still ours.

Win.

Missed the magazine this month? Don’t worry – you can read the rest of it here.

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