In the second part of my incredibly dry series on railway stations in Pontefract, we're going to take a deeper look at what was the largest and busiest of the three railway stations in Pontefract, Pontefract Baghill, its architectural and historical relevance and what connects it to a grand, five-star hotel!
Pontefract Baghill, or Bag Hill is it was, is situated just to the South of the town centre almost at the foot of Bag Hill itself, which as we'll touch upon later, caused a number of construction challenges and extra expense, and opened for passenger traffic on the 1st of July 1879. The line had been opened for freight traffic a number of years earlier and was part of the Swinton and Knottingley Joint Railway which had been amalgamated into the North Eastern Railway as the railway companies rationalised themselves into bigger and bigger entities.
The line now created a complete link between the cities of Sheffield and York, and with the completion of the chord across the impressive viaduct to connect with the Leeds to Goole route at Monkhill Station, the potential for Baghill was huge with connections to all parts of the country.
The station originally had 5 platforms with the up and down lines and bay platforms at either end of the station connected to both up and down lines as well as a quite busy goods yard to the east.
The bay platforms were taken out of use and filled in back in the 1960s when the platform heights were increased to allow a straight step onto the more modern rolling stock and the lighting was converted from gas to electricity!
The station is now a little dilapidated and is a very humble and utilitarian building, but as we'll see, if you look hard enough, there is interest and history everywhere around us.
The North Eastern Railway Company
The North Eastern Railway was created in 1854 and was head-quartered in York, close to their stunning principal railways station and they were leading the way in railway architecture. They were the first railway company in the world to employ dedicated architects who were based in Darlington and Newcastle, to complement their engineering teams who worked on the railway's infrastructure.
George Townsend Andrews was the first noted architect to be associated with the railway company who as well as his impressive railways stations, designed the famous Assembly Rooms in York and his success led them to employ Thomas Prosser as their first official chief architect in 1854.
Under his guidance, this led them to develop a modular approach to design of the everyday buildings and infrastructure which would form the backbone of the network. Huge expensive grandiose stations in large cities were one thing, but efficient and economic building practises and usable structures on the rest of the network became the focus of his priorities.
A huge benefit of this approach introduced a method of modular design which allowed them to create a library of ready-made designs which could be modified easily to suit any requirement or location as the railways rapidly expanded throughout the late 19th century.
By the time Pontefract Baghill opened on that summer's day in 1879, they had the new techniques down to a fine art and as other railways companies scrambled to catch them up, the Great Northern Railways Company would become the biggest and most powerful regional operator in the country.
That's the background out of the way, time for some Pictures!
So the first picture is the station how it still stands to this day. A rather humble and simple structure. You can see the different colours of the brickwork which is due to weathering over the years. The lighter colour was protected by a canopy that ran the full length between the gable ends until about the turn of this century.
The next picture is Moorthorpe station which is on the same line and opened at the same time. As you can see, identical but a little shorter, a perfect illustration of what I mentioned earlier about developing modular building practises.
Photo by loose_grip_99 on Flickr
From the road-side showing the entrance and again, lighter brickwork where a canopy over the entrance once was. Another point to note is the patch or original cobbles and the fact that although there were many chimneys originally, they have long since been removed. I don't know what idiot parked that car there and ruined my photo! Silly @nathen007
An open passageway led from the roadside to platform and is where the entrances to the offices were as long as the ticket office at which even i can remember queuing up for a ticket as a kid going trainspotting to York.
The ticket office window was behind that steel shutter. I loved those brick arches with their oval pillars and stone imposts and keystones. All local sandstone from the quarries that surround Pontefract. I have no idea which muppet painted the brickwork in Maroon.
Pontefract Baghill also had a unique feature. To cross the tracks, it was standard practise to have a simple walkway across the tracks on the North Eastern network but at Baghill, they built a subway. It was always a bit scary, dripping with water and had the usual subway 'odours' as I remember as a kid.
The entrance to the subway. To the left, behind the subway and were the down line bay platforms. In the distance, a road bridge that crossed the railway leading up Baghill which is the hill you can see on the right of the photo.
Under the tracks. It appears they finally managed to get the water leak sorted. The stink of stale urine however, remained!
I mentioned the difficulty building the station. This is due to Pontefract's topography as its built atop a series of hills so as well as the railway needing to be built on an embankment, so the station and approaches were as we can see in the next picture.
This postcard from the early part of the last century shows the embankment that brought the road to the station (Station Lane). To the left of the photo is where the goods yards and livestock pens were situated in front of the old cattle market and where local fairs were held. It's now a car park but even today, every Easter, a travelling funfair pitches up there for a week. In the background, you see the spire of St. Giles church and the roof of the town hall. Notice also on the postcard, it's says 'Bag Hill' as opposed to Baghill. I have no idea when or why the change in name took place.
This is where the upline bay (terminus) platform was. Again, filled in. To the right of this picture on the cattle market side of the tracks is a recently completed housing estate where until recently, a rather impressive goods shed still stood.
New houses crammed in. The goods shed was actually a listed building at one time so how they managed to demolish it is anyone's guess. Again, without being overly sentimental, surely it would have been better to convert and use it rather than demolish it.
This is the only picture I could find of the Goods shed from John Law's Flickr feed Also notice on this picture the railings in front of the building. This harks back to the platform heightening in the 1960s. This created a step up from the original entrance to the platform and so they put in a ramp and the railings, as well as steps up to the new height.
Evolution of a building. Over the years, doorways and windows have been bricked up as the usage changed and to stop vandals smashing them when the building became unmanned. The roof is not original as there were skylights in it but the brickwork is in good shape after almost one hundred and fifty years.
I find it interesting that everything was over engineered. The building is sat on a brick plinth that would mean extra width at the base that is in turn sat on the foundation. I've seen this often with buildings that were brick or wood on a stone plinth but must say, I've never noticed it with an all brick building before. The bricks themselves are simple, strong engineering bricks, again produced locally. The colour of them is typical of the local clays used to produce them.
From the largest and busiest of the Pontefract trinity of railways stations, Baghill is by far the least used.
According to the strategic Rail Authority, in 2002/3, only 36 tickets to and from the station were bought all year. I'm happy to say that this number is now much higher but with still only 10,900 passengers using the station in 2018/9, its future is hardly secure. It still has the dubious record of being the least used station in West Yorkshire. The service frequency is increasing though. There are now four trains a day in each direction between Sheffield and York.
How it looked on a Sunday afternoon in the late 1950s. Windows, doors and chimneys intact! Photograph is by Peter Cookson, all rights respected.
The five-star hotel I mentioned at the beginning is
Photo from booking.com A superb example of late Victorian, early Edwardian architecture in a renaissance style that borrows from both the Georgian and Queen Anne schools.
The North East Railway was growing rapidly towards the end of the nineteenth century and needed a prestigious, new headquarters. The chief architect at the time was William Bell, a man who had served with the railway as an apprentice under the guidance of Thomas Prosser, and from what I can gather, was part of the team that designed the Baghill 'style' of station and it was he, in conjunction with famous architect, Horace Field who designed the York Grand Hotel and Spa, which upon its opening was the headquarters of the Great Northern Railway.