Some Memories of Harpenden East Station

From the 1930s to 1965

Harpenden East Station

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.

Signal box, snow plough and goods train – LHS archives 2743

Tunnel under the line at Batford – LHS archives 2747

Map of area around station

The site of Norman’s accident – LHS Archives 9019

Graham Major & Peter Timms playing cricket in the field alongside the railway, near Ox Lane, 1950s. Note the air-raid shelter which served as the wicket

Comments about this page

  • Living in Cross-way, the field (and indeed all the area surrounding Harpenden East Station) was my (and my friends) adventure playground. I would play cricket with a couple of local lads (Peter Timms and Robert Gibson) and often play football with a number of those of us who went to Manland Junior and Senior schools.

    A few of us would often go ‘hunting’ for slow worms, which were prolific on the railway embankments. One summer evening my mate and I were whiling away ‘resting’ on the railway line (head on one rail and legs on the other’, when I looked to my left to see this green glow. Was it something radio-active we thought. I carefully put it in a matchbox I had with me only to discover when we got home it was a  glow worm! The trains at that time of the day were very infrequent and anyway with your head being so close to the rail you hear one coming from a mile away!

    One day, when I was on my own walking across the footpath at the bottom of West Way towards the station a small snake slithered in front of me. It was a smallish grass snake, probably about 10 – 12″ long. I have never seen another, anywhere, since.

    I loved my life in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Harpenden which was at that time a really lovely place to live. Sadly, whilst still pleasant enough I would swap it tomorrow for as it was then. Graham Major (1947- ?).

    Ed: Graham has sent in a picture of him and a friend playing cricket, which we have added to the photos above. Thank you Graham.

    By Graham Major (07/02/2021)
  • I have memories of the line too. Used to travel by coach to Batford school till 1967. So used to look down at Harpenden East on on the Station road bridge. Sadly I was so young I never travelled on the line. I remember sitting on the Station the day after the track was lifted and sobbing my heart out!

    By Stephen Povey (30/10/2017)
  • 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 (15/12/2014)
  • 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 (07/07/2014)
  • 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 (28/02/2014)
  • 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 (30/01/2014)
  • 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 (03/08/2013)

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