Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Great Railway Stations: Hebden Bridge

It is the great good fortune of this island nation to have the blessing of teams of accountants, consultants and cost cutters whose business is to inflict death by a thousand cuts on all our publicly owned services. Among their many melancholy achievements, they have left us with hundreds of railway stations that have been stripped of all but the most rudimentary facilities. The Parcels Office, Refreshment Room, Booking Office, Waiting Room and toilets have been consigned to history along with the human presence of porters, booking clerks and stationmasters. All that remains in many instances is a platform, a single shelter (open to the elements) and some feeble tungsten lighting. Indigenous aesthetes add their singular tribute to the architectural splendour in the form of acres of monotonous graffiti spread across every accessible surface. Public space is reduced to utter degradation making the case for complete elimination ever more easy to argue.

It seems like a miracle that against all the odds some railway stations have survived in something close to their original condition and one such example is to be found in West Yorkshire at Hebden Bridge. It’s a busy working station serving a small town in the Calder Valley that retains many of the features more usually seen on heritage rail attractions. The vintage platform signage with large cast-iron letters screwed to wooden boards has been studiously maintained in good order and the basic structures and roof canopy show few signs of modernisation. In its present form it was built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1909 and features a mansard roof and staggered platforms connected by a subway. The staff in the booking office have yet to be replaced by machines and the station café is still in business with picnic tables on the platform. There is an air of purpose that suggests to the traveller that the business of transport is taken seriously and they deserve to be treated with respect.

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