The Great Northern Railway Station

From Harpenden direct to London in the 1860s

Harpenden East Station, with the first diesel train to run on the line on passenger service, working the 6.07pm London to Dunstable on 15 June 1959
Geoff Woodward
Harpenden East station, including the Station master's house, from Station Road bridge, 1960s
Les Casey
The footpath from Station Road bridge to Harpenden East station (now Hickling Way)
Gavin Ross, February 2014
210 Station Road - commonly said to be the Station master's House. However it possibly pre-dates the railway, and the Station master lived in station buildings alongside the track.
Gavin Ross, February 2014
1924 OS map
LHS archives

The first railway to come to Harpenden was the Great Northern Line from Hatfield to Dunstable, which opened in 1860, eight years before the Midland line was opened.

In 1923 the Great Northern was merged into the London and North Eastern Railway Company and later, in common with all the other Railway Companies, it became part of British Rail. The line, which had at some time been extended to Leighton Buzzard, was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching programme.

‘Hickling Way’ station

The Great Northern Station* stood where Hickling Way is now. The Station buildings, which included the Station Master’s House, ticket office and waiting room, were on the East side of the lines and there was a small open-fronted shelter on the other side.

The main entrance to the Station was where the entrance to Jarvis House (Mallard Way since 2006) is now and foot passengers could also reach it from the path from Station Road bridge (at the side of Kingdom Hall carpark in Hickling Way), from which they descended steps to the platform, close to where ‘HARPENDEN’ was spelled out on the bank in white stones. After West Way was developed, there was a second entrance from there for foot passengers. To the North of the Station were the sidings and a shunting yard and the large Goods Shed and beyond that was a subway for the footpath across Manland Common from the High Street to Batford (now Thompsons Close, Stewart Road, Manland Way).

Except in the Stations there was only one line and each engine driver had to carry a “staff” to ensure there was only one train on each single section of the line. These staffs were metal tubes about two feet long. The centre of the one used on the section from Ayot to Harpenden was flattened into a diamond shape and the centre of the one used from Harpenden to Luton was flattened into a crescent.

Passengers – and also hats, cucumbers, watercress, horses and manure!

It was a busy station as in addition to the passengers travelling in both directions, many goods were carried, some in vans on the passenger trains and others on goods trains. Local home workers took large boxes of hats to Luton. Tomatoes and cucumbers from Randall’s Nurseries went to London as did large quantities of locally grown watercress in long flat baskets made by Mr Frost from the osiers which he grew locally. Horses, which were walked to the Station from Childwickbury, were entrained here for Newmarket, from where, or some say from London Zoo (see Comment below), manure was brought regularly for Randalls.

* From 1 September 1860 to 29 May 1950 the station was called Harpenden, and from then to 26 April 1965 it was called Harpenden East – to distinguish it from Harpenden Central on the Midland line. GW

This article was first published in Newsletter 38, September 1995

For a much fuller account see: The Hatfield, Luton & Dunstable Railway (and on to Leighton Buzzard),1977,by G and S Woodward. and Branch Line to Dunstable, by Sue and Geoff Woodward, 2008, Middleton Press, with 120 photos.

Comments about this page

  • London Zoo Manure. It’s not ‘some say’ – it’s true. I always fancied one of the consignment labels but with a fine of 40/- for illegal removal at that time, I did not dare take one home. At some times of the year Randall’s Nursery had a wagon-load every morning, and two wagons were delivered to Wheathamhampstead where there were more nurseries. Many a time I had a ride on the engine to put the full wagon in place in the siding and to collect the empty one!

    By Geoff Woodward (16/02/2014)
  • I remember Harpenden East Railway station very well.  I lived in Crossway near the station in the 1950s.  Sometimes late at night you could here a goods train clanking along the track heading North to Luton. A happy memory.

    By Patrick Boyle (20/11/2011)
  • Memories of travelling from Batford in non corridor carriages & steam locos were evoked on looking at this page. As a child visiting granny and aunty this outing was a treasure which I still value beyond wealth. Thank you for this page.

    By Paul Rice (09/06/2011)

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