Some Memories of Harpenden East Station

From the 1930s to 1965

Norman Payne

Photo:Harpenden East Station

Harpenden East Station

LHS archives

 

 

I recall many sprints to catch a train at Harpenden East station to visit relatives at Welwyn Garden City - passing through scenic woodland - or to go shopping in Luton. Twice I used the line as the alternative route home from London when St Pancras Station was closed.

I had relatives living near Luton Hoo, and aged about four I slipped between the carriage and the platform at Luton Hoo station. This caused some panic but no injuries.

During my school days, Ray and Gerald Aldridge lived in the Harpenden East Station House. We played cricket together on the field between the kissing gates to a path leading to Manland Schools - now Wroxham Way. The other path to the Village from Batford crossed the railway on the level at both platform ends.

At school in July 1948 we heard of a big fire which destroyed the wooden station at Ayot. The Station House occupied by the Bantin family was brick-built and unscathed. Twelve years later I was working with Mr. Bantin at Marylebone Station, London, as a railway property surveyor.

Harpenden East Station had two platforms and was a passing place on the single track branch line between Welwyn Garden City and Dunstable. Mr. Stanley Munt, the signalman, operated the token safety system from his box. He handed the token to the train driver, which permitted him to travel over the next clear section. When the train reached the next signal box the token was handed over, interlocked mechanically, then it was ready for a train travelling in the opposite direction when the track was clear. 

I visited Mr. Munt on many occasions in his signal box, where he used his spare time to deal with church and trades union business. Mr. Munt was also my Sunday School teacher at Batford Methodist Church; was caretaker there, and a grand Christian gentleman.  

During the war I was in the signal box when Mr. Munt at long last received a letter from his son - a P.O.W. of the Japanese.

One Sunday evening, I went to the station with Mum when her best friend said goodbye to her husband, who was returning to his unit. He survived the war and became a busy plumber.

Signal boxes were good spots for collecting engine numbers, though far fewer trains passed through Harpenden East station compared to Harpenden Central, where my father was in the signal box. Often I took dad a Sunday roast lunch (by bicycle!) when he was working ‘unsocial hours’.  

In May 1942 , 8-10 passenger trains each way called at Harpenden East Station,  plus goods trains and occasional ‘specials’ carrying football crowds, Vauxhall cars and new tanks. It is true that manure from the elephant house at London Zoo was unloaded for use in the nearby tomato glasshouses.

The 6pm commuter train from Luton to Harpenden East was popular in the 1950’s, especially in winter time. One particularly pleasant use of the station was to send back a parcel containing my uniform after National Service, in May 1958. 

In August 1976 my father Frederick William Payne, Mr. Munt  and Mr.Flanagan (another ex-railwayman) - all  Batford residents - died within three weeks.

Line closure was in April 1965.

For further reading see: “The Hatfield, Luton and Dunstable Railway” by S. & G. Woodward, published 1994 by The Oakwood Press. Also “Wheathampstead Railway Recollections” by the Wheathampstead Local History Group, 1995.

Photo:Signal box, snow plough and goods train

Signal box, snow plough and goods train

LHS archives 2743

Photo:Tunnel under the line at Batford

Tunnel under the line at Batford

LHS archives 2747

Photo:Map of area around station

Map of area around station

LHS archives

Photo:The site of Norman's accident

The site of Norman's accident

LHS Archives 9019

This page was added by Diana Parrott on 22/07/2013.
Comments about this page

Harpenden East Railway Station was an oasis to me as a young policeman especially during the winter of 1962/1963. The kettle was always on and the staff room was always warm. A good memory of a nice cup of tea and a warm to keep the frost at bay. Thank goodness to the Railway Staff of Harpenden East.

By John Halsey
On 07/08/2013

My father, Edward Wolfe, used Harpenden East for his daily commute to the City via Welwyn Garden City. (Until some time in the 1950s he had to work some Saturday mornings!). We lived further up Station Road. If he was late for the train he would wave as he crossed the road bridge and the driver would wait for him. I spent many happy hours visiting Mr Munt in the signal box.

By George Wolfe
On 11/02/2014

My twin sister and I were often taken by our mother to WGC from Harpenden East, just a short walk down Stacy Rd (Station Rd). The guard would have to put our double pram in the guardsvan.

In the 1970s I tried to negotiate with BR to restore this line, but parts of the land had by then been sold off. If this line were still running, the Lower Luton Rd would be considerably less busy!

By Simon Taylor
On 05/03/2014

More happy memories revived of the line which I used twice a week from Wheathampstead to Bute St. station in Luton. It was also a school days route for five years walking under the bridge to Manland school. Often, the walk home was delayed by a game of football along the strip of grass along side the railway line. Many hours spent there. My brother in law, John Webb, still living at Batford Corner, spent many years as a fireman and train driver on that line, following on to main line trains, completing almost fifty years service on 'British Rail'. Anybody going to the Chinnor railway line will still see John driving that train.

Ed: We would love to have a record of John Webb's reminiscences of the Harpenden East railway.

By Vivian Summers
On 29/07/2014

I remember many trips on the train that Mum, my brother Peter and I used to do, going to Luton Town football games on a Saturday and also shopping in Luton. It was a great service.

By Marj Fuller
On 16/12/2014

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