If you find our 'virtual stroll' stimulating, why not treat yourself to one of our real guided walks?
A Short History of Chester Railway Station
Right: the newly-opened station in a rural setting at the edge of the city; sheep graze where the Queen Hotel and City Road are today.
The canals and stagecoaches were fairly busy but slower and costlier and not reliable enough so this new form of transport was greatly looked forward to. So, when the Chester to Birkenhead line with its own station was opened on 23rd September 1840 there was great excitement. It was soon followed by the Chester to Crewe line and its own station, opened on 1st October 1840.
These two stations served the local community fairly well but the need to change trains was a great inconvenience for passengers and goods traffic. A joined-up station was preferred so a committee was formed to plan for a joint station run by the Great Western Railway Company and the London and North Western Railway Company. These two companies had taken over the C & B Railway and the C & C Railway because they had the financial power and influence to create an impressive joint station building which would enhance railway transport and create a major junction for both passengers and goods traffic.
On 1st August 1847 the foundation stone was laid for the new station with Thomas Brassey (left) as the railway builder and contractor and the chosen architect was the celebrated London-based Francis Thompson.
As traffic increased during the 1860s and 70s, so did the need to accommodate the greater volume of passengers and freight, and the railway companies decided to extend the station and build two island platforms with two bays and also major buildings which were connected to the original station buildings by an impressive footbridge, which were all completed in 1890.
At its peak, in the Edwardian era 1901-1911, there were over 200 trains calling at the station and a staff of over 100 to cope with the demands of the passengers and goods traffic which also included the Royal Mail letters and parcels businesses.
During the First World War period, Chester station saw vast numbers of troops either going to the training camps in North Wales or travelling to the Western Fronts in either France or Belgium, many of whom, of course, would not be returning..
The inter-war years were still very busy but the rise of road transport was beginning to have an effect with, for example, trams and then later buses on the streets of the city, connecting the station with a direct service to the city centre and suburbs.
The Parliamentary Railways Grouping Act of of 1923 saw the GWR company being formed of the constituent parts of the former widespread companies in their regions, nicknamed 'God's Wonderful Railway' or 'Great Way Round', whilst the LNWR company became part of the London Midland Scottish company formed from the LNWR, also the Midland and the Scottish Railway companies as well as various smaller companies such as the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company and the North Staffordshire Railway Company, all being merged into the LMS- nicknamed 'Let Me Sleep'..
During the Second World War, the railways played a major role in moving troops and ammunition, and Chester station saw great numbers of the traffic movements involved, but there was no direct hit by enemy bombers although a concrete bunker housing signalling equipment was built in case the planes returning from bombing the docks and railways in Liverpool dropped any bombs whilst returning from their sorties.
With nationalisation in 1948, the trains, track and everything connected to the railways were run by British Railways, a government organisation which saw modest improvements to the station and rolling stock. This continued until the Railways Act of 1993 which paved the way for privatisation, firstly North Western Trains, then First North Western and since 2003 Arriva Trains Wales which has the franchise until 2018.
Features of interest at the station include the three straight-through platforms namely Numbers 3, 4 and 7, with four bay platforms, namely numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6. Platform 7 has the third rail DC in situ to enable the MerseyRail electric trains to enter the station for their services to the Wirral and Liverpool.
Other interesting features are the model owls in the eaves of the roof on Platform 4 which are there to frighten the feral nuisance pigeons.
J. B. Joyce, the designers of the Eastgate Clock, continue in business to this day and are now part of the Smith of Derby Group. Founded in 1690, they are arguably the oldest surviving clockmaking company and their clocks grace buildings throughout the world. One of the most famous is the magnificent mechanism and dial at the Shanghai Custom House. Built in 1927, it was the largest clock ever made at the time and became affectionately known as 'Big Ching'.
The recent modernisation of the interior of the station by Arriva Trains Wales has comprised a series of copper-sheet building structures for a new booking office, customer service centre, café express and betting shop as well as providing a Costa coffee shop on the site of the former booking office. It is debateable whether customers / passengers like them or not.. certainly the interior of the station falls far short of its impressive facade!
A final item worthy of mention is the now removed former footbridge from the station platforms spanning the railway lines and reaching over to Hoole Road with its own entrance and exit;. very convenient for people on that side of town, but unfortunately, after a small fire, this wooden footbridge was dismantled and removed in the 1960s.
I know there's lots more to say about the history of Chester Station, but I hope this brief account will whet your appetite for any tours that you may wish to join and for me to lead or organise..
John Whittingham, Chester City Tour Guide and former Rail Staff WHITTINGHAM50@hotmail.com
Above and below: trams at Chester Station c 1909
The pub on the left, then the Albion Hotel, is still going strong and known today as The Town Crier
Chester Station at night 2012 © Steve Howe
More information and pictures coming soon!