Bath Station

History of the station - from construction to restoration.

Construction

On July 14th 1864, the Midland Railway obtained consent to proposals, first made in May 1846, to construct a ten mile branch to Bath from its main Bristol to Birmingham line at Mangotsfield. The site chosen for the terminal station had changed little from when the Kingsmead area of the city, southwards from Charles Street to the river, was developed in the 1790's. The station was to cover an area of land between the east bank of the River Avon and Seymour Street. The proposals resulted in the demolition of the west side of Seymour Street, comprising a terrace of nine Georgian houses.

The construction of the line from Mangotsfield, including all of the buildings other than at Bath, was let to Messrs. Eckersley &. Bayliss, who had submitted a tender of £104,000 for the works. The Bath terminus was, with the exception of the train shed, designed by J.H. Sanders who, together with engineers Messrs. Allport junior and Wilson, produced the designs for various other railway buildings on the site, including the goods station and the 'Midland Bridge'. A contract for the construction of the station, again excluding the train shed was signed on May 26th 1868; the railway Company accepting the tender of £9,539 submitted by Charles Humphries of Derby. The contract for the erection of the train shed designed by J.S. Crossley was let separately in October 1868 to Messrs. Andrew Handyside & Co of Derby, whose price of £6,086 was the lowest of only two tenders received. By the early summer of 1869 the construction of the line was nearing completion, although at the Bath terminus much of the ironwork to the train shed was yet to be erected, and many works of a more minor nature were yet to be completed. Indeed, the various furnishings to several of the rooms were still to be provided only days before the opening of the line.

The Station is Opened

It has always been claimed that, on the opening of the railway on August the 4th 1869, the station was not ready for use, and until May the 7th 1870, a temporary terminus was used on the other side of the river. However, detailed research has confirmed an article which appeared n the Bath Chronicle on Thursday August the 5th 1869, which indicated that, although the station was far from complete, it was in fact used right from the opening date of the line.

At first, local trains to Bristol terminated at Temple Meads, until the opening of the Midland Railway's own terminus at St. Phillips, Bristol, on May the 2nd 1870. Several local trains continued to use this little known station until it closed on September the 21st 1953, when all trains reverted back to Temple Meads.

Completion of the station and other facilities continued into 1870, including the erection of stables fronting Green Park Mews. The railway company provided its own stud of horses for parcels and goods delivery and collection. In March 1870 it was reported that "the untidy space between the station platforms and the buffers had been filled with earth in which evergreens and flowers have been planted, interspersed with ornamental rockwork".

At the same time the abutments for the Midland Bridge were under construction, required to connect the City with the goods station nearing completion in Sydenham Field on the west side of the river. During April 1870, the station platforms were already being extended to accommodate increased passenger traffic and a siding was laid down on the north side to serve a new carriage dock from which "horses and vehicles could be placed upon the trucks".

Probably, at this time, the Customs House (Bonded Warehouse) was under construction at the west end of the arrival platform. This enabled goods wagons carrying bonded merchandise to be shunted into a secure building allowing the casks of whisky and suchlike to be lowered by crane to cellar level. Vaults extending below the full length of the station platforms provided the storage for the bonded goods, which were transported through the vaults on small wagons running on rails laid in the cellar floor. (The Bonded Warehouse was demolished in 1981).

Arrival of the Somerset & Dorset Railway

July 20, 1874, was probably the most important date in the history of the Midland station, for this was the day when the Somerset & Dorset Railway first used it, thereby linking the Midland with the London & South Western Railway and providing a through standard-gauge route from the north to Bournemouth and via Templecombe, to the West.

The costly extension of the S&D northwards from Evercreech Junction, over the Mendips to join the Midland line at Bath, resulted in financial exhaustion. This left no alternative other than to "sell-out" eventually by way of a 999-year lease with the MR and LSWR, despite the protests of the rival broad-gauge Great Western Railway, which the S&D had first approached about a possible takeover.

In 1877, the main offices of the S&D were transferred from Glastonbury to No.14 Green Park Buildings. In 1902, they were extended into the adjacent No.13. Through traffic between the towns and cities of the Midlands and North of England, and the South Coast, began to flourish, the new joint owners doing all they could to promote their new acquisition. In 1910 the Midland Railway introduced a through express between Manchester and Bournemouth which, in 1927, was given the title of the "Pines Express" and which continued to run, except for a break during the second world war, until the withdrawal of all through trains over the S&D in September 1962.

In 1923, with the grouping of the railways of Britain, the S&D came within the joint ownership of the LMS and Southern Railways and, as such, managed to maintain an independent outlook, including the retention of the now famous Prussian Blue livery. In 1930, however, the joint owners decided to rationalise the S&D, discontinuing the separate management structure of the line. This resulted in the closure of the offices at 13/14 Green Park Buildings and the transfer of those staff, whose jobs survived, to the main station, where several rooms and offices had to be re-arranged to accommodate the newcomers.

Bath Green Park
The entrance to Bath Green Park station.

The War Years

Increased competition from the motor car and bus began to make inroads into local rail traffic before the last war, although through traffic and long-distance travel continued to prosper. The outbreak of war in 1939 resulted in a drastic cut-back in the passenger service as the line assumed a military importance for the movement of freight from the industrial north to the South Coast, and the passage of "ambulance trains" in the opposite direction.

The air raids on Bath in April 1942 destroyed the old S&D offices in Green Park Buildings and left the east side of Seymour Street, opposite the station, gutted. The station itself, however, escaped virtually unharmed except for blast damage to the glazing of the overall roof (most of which was never replaced until the recent restoration of the train shed).

After Nationalisation in 1948

Efforts to recover from the effects of the war were soon to be overtaken by the passing of the Transport Act of 1947, resulting in the nationalisation of the country's railways on January 1948. The Midland station (officially named Green Park" in June 1951) together with the whole of the S&D line, found itself under the Control of the Southern Region of British Railways. (Prior to 1951 the station was often referred to as "Queen Square", but this was not an official title).

The basic weekday passenger services throughout he 1950's and early 1960's consisted of:

  • Local trains to Bristol.
  • Through trains, Bristol-Bath-Bournemouth West, with connections for the Highbridge Branch at Evercreech Junction, and the Southern Region Exeter-Waterloo main line at Templecombe.
  • Local trains to Templecombe. (Connections as for the through trains).
  • An evening "commuter" train to Binegar and return, which departed Bath at 6.05 p.m.
  • The "Pines Express". A through restaurant car express from Liverpool/Manchester to Bournemouth West via Bath. The northbound train left Bath around midday, the southbound around 3pm. (During the summer service this train was supplemented by a train to and from Sheffield).

Holiday traffic over the S&D swelled to an unprecedented volume during the late 1940's and early 1950's. On Summer Saturdays, most freight trains from Bath's two goods yards (the S&D Yard and the Midland Bridge Yard) were cancelled to provide paths, engines and men for upwards of 20 regular "holiday expresses" entering and leaving Green Park, often of necessity reinforced by the running of many extras and relief trains. Four such trains from the north regularly arrived at Green Park in the very early hours of Saturday mornings. The refreshment room staff were awoken from their slumbers to serve the needs of the nocturnal travelers before they departed again on the last leg of their lengthy journey to Poole and Bournemouth.

Because the connection between the S&D and Midland lines at Bath Junction faced towards Green Park, all through trains had to enter the terminus, where reversal took place with a fresh engine put onto the other end of the train. Indeed, if the train was an express heading southwards to Bournemouth over the steeply-graded S&D line, two engines would invariably be required. Passengers who were unfamiliar with the situation were often somewhat bewildered to find themselves, apparently, travelling back the way they had come! It was on these busy summer Saturdays that Bath became a "Mecca" for railway enthusiasts. Many classes of engines, hauling coaches displaying varying regional liveries from distant parts of Britain, could be seen. "Pigeon specials" were also a regular feature of summer Saturdays.

The Run Down & Closure

In February 1958, the regional boundaries of BR were again amended, with the Western Region gaining full control of Green Park and the northern half of the S&D line. Green Park now appeared in the colours of chocolate and cream, indicating the further change of ownership. The Western Region commenced, almost immediately, to re-route considerable traffic to other lines. This policy culminated in the withdrawal of all remaining through trains from September the 10th 1962, leaving only the local service. The last north and southbound "Pines Express" ran over the S&D on Saturday September the 8th 1962, appropriately hauled in both directions by No.92220 "Evening Star", the last steam engine built for British Railways in 1960.

The writing was now on the wall for Green Park. In 1964 the S&D line closed at night for the first time since 1874, and in 1965 notice of closure to all passenger traffic was announced to take effect from January the 3rd 1966. Because of last-minute problems in establishing an alternative bus service, the closure was delayed, much to the annoyance of Western Region management, who had widely publicised January 3 as the day when the steam locomotive was to be finally banished from the whole of their Region. A new date was fixed, and took effect on March the 7th 1966 - time had finally run out for Green Park station.

The station was "listed" in November 1971 as a "Grade 2" building while in July 1972 Bath City Council resolved to purchase the station site. In the intervening years between closure and purchase by the Council, the buildings suffered considerable damage and decay as a result of the combined effects of vandalism and theft of roof lead. Following the purchase, the Council undertook various repairs to protect the stone built structures from further decay. Due to the uncertainty as to their retention, the iron train shed and timber platforms received little attention, other than the removal of the remaining glazing for safety reasons, and periodic detailed structural surveys.

The City Council invited applications for possible future development, and in 1974 selected five of the many schemes submitted for further examination. In April 1976 the Council expressed a preference to use the site for hotel purposes, and in 1977 decided to apply for "listed building consent" to demolish the train shed. The Secretary of State advised that a Public Inquiry should he held before he decided on such an application. The following year the Council resolved to withdraw its application to demolish the train shed.

The various planning applications submitted in respect of the site centered around possible development for use as hotel accommodation, retail (superstore) shopping, a coach station and a magistrate's court, or a combination of such uses. All of the schemes envisaged, to varying degrees, the incorporation and restoration of the existing station buildings. Two Public Inquiries were held in 1979.

On October the 2nd 1979, Bath City Council gave official support to enter into an agreement with the British Railways Board and Sainsbury's which included subject to planning permission, leasing the Green Park site for the erection of a retail store, together with the renovation of the station building.

Preparing for Restoration

The task of restoring the station building and train shed was indeed a daunting one when he initial planning was started. The gray days of November 1979 emphasised the severe state of decay into which the building had gradually deteriorated. Examination of the fabric by the architects and engineers confirmed that a major scheme of reinstatement and repair lay ahead. Under the terms of the agreement between Bath City Council and Sainsbury's all elements of he station and train shed, including materials, had to be reinstated in their original form except where modern materials and methods were more practical and effective.

First a careful survey had to be made. This entailed recording the sizes and configuration of such elements as doors, windows and window shutters, staircases, skirtings, plaster cornice mouldings, wall panelling and ironwork, all of which would have to be reproduced by the builders in due course. Severe wet and dry rot, especially in the roof and platform timbers, meant that much of the survey work entailed a degree of danger. In many situations the scope and degree of repair could only be assessed when the work had been uncovered and it was therefore necessary to include sufficient contingency costs. One example was the structural arched framework of the train shed. Although a general assessment could be made from the ground or by spot checks from hoists, detailed repairs could only be planned and drawn once the contractor provided access to each and every arch and had removed all traces of paint and rust from the ironwork.

Rebuilding

The many years of neglect had caused the main arches to rust badly. In some cases structural damage was such that additional strengthening plates had to be bolted to the main members. Some, such as the lattice purlins between the arches, had to be totally replaced. Along the side arches, in order to comply with modern standards of structural stability as required under the Building Regulations, it was necessary to introduce an unobtrusive and sophisticated method of bracing. This avoided the use of tie rods which would have completely destroyed the magnificence of the 66-foot clear span central arches.

To prepare for painting, the building was cocooned in reinforced polythene sheeting and the rust removed by shot blasting the ironwork from mobile platforms. Chlorinated rubber paint was applied immediately, the final coat in cream and chocolate.

The roof to the train shed and station buildings was stripped and replaced by new trusses, boarding, slating, lead gutters and patent glazing. All timber trusses were restored in the same style as those removed, apart from a more modern approach to the bolted connections of the structural members. Special notice should be taken of the timber structure over the main booking hall. In these days of modern materials and constructional techniques this is a fine example of a past art.

All doors, windows, floors and platforms were replaced. The planks used in the platforms are of the same cross-sectional size as those removed. Plasterwork was stripped and the walls sterilised to eradicate dry rot and create a damp-proof membrane.

One particular item which has been faithfully restored is the spiral staircase adjacent to the booking hall. Although the carcasing of the staircase has been replaced, the handrail is the only piece of existing timber to be re-used in the whole project. The staircase was literally reformed around it.

Like many buildings in Bath, the station's frontages were cleaned by washing water over the face of the stone. The need for considerable repair became evident once the dirt had been removed. The whole of the turned stone balustrade around the top of the front facade was replaced and is now an impressive feature.

There is little new design work within the station apart from the new pedestrian access from Charles Street to the supermarket and the new parking area to the west end of the train shed. It was important to retain some definition of the platforms and the old railway trackbed level, and it is hoped that any future use of the station will take advantage of this factor. All this work, and much else, cost about £l.5m. It was completed within 44 weeks, four weeks earlier than the contract period, reflecting the co-operative spirit that existed between the design and construction teams and illustrating the effects of "job satisfaction".

(taken from 'An outline history of Bath Green Park Station'
© Somerset & Dorset railway Trust)

For general details of the history
of the S&D visit my History page

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Most recent revision Friday August 10, 2007