Leicester Central railway station

Leicester Central railway station

Infobox UK disused station
name = Leicester Central
gridref = SK580050

caption = Leicester Central frontage in 2002
manager = Great Central Railway
owner = London and North Eastern Railway
London Midland Region of British Railways
locale = Frog Island
borough = Leicester
platforms = 6
years = 15 March 1899
events = Opened
years1 = 5 May 1969
events1 = Closed

Leicester Central was a railway station in Leicester. It was situated to the west of the city centre, on Great Central Street which is today just off the inner ring road.



Opened on 15 March 1899, the station was part of the Great Central Railway's London Extension linking Nottingham with Marylebone in London. The railway crossed built-up Leicester on a 190ft wide Staffordshire blue brick viaduct, incorporating a series of fine girder bridges. In a detail typical of the high standards to which the London Extension was built, the abutments of the girder bridges that crossed public roads were lined in white-glazed tiles to increase the level of light under the bridges. In total the viaduct was in excess of a mile and a half in length and it was upon this that Leicester Central station would be constructed. At the time of construction, the station was the largest single building to be erected in Leicester. [http://www.leicestercivicsociety.org.uk/resources/LeicesterCitizenDecember2005.pdf Leicester Civic Society, "Leicester Citizen: The Bowstring Bridge" by Stuart Bailey, (no. 8) December 2005] ]

The viaduct's construction required a large area of land to be acquired by compulsory purchase with the GCR agreeing to re-house at its own expense the inhabitants of around 300 houses which had to be demolished; the area principally affected by the works was the working class Blackfriars district (near modern day Frog Island, where the slums in Sycamore Lane, Charlotte Street and Friars Road were entirely swept from the map, to be replaced by Great Central Street. Around 250 houses were constructed in Newfoundpool to the west of Leicester. [ [http://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/stories/pages.php?enum=LE124&pnum=2&maxp=16 A story from The Last Main Line, "The Railway Cometh!".] ]


The station was comprised within a south-west facing rectangle, bordered on the one side by Blackfriars Street and Jarvis Street, and on the other side by the new Great Central Street. The tracks ran north-east to south-west, crossing the A50 Northgate Street on a "bowstring" girder bridge before splaying out on either side of a large 1,245ft H-shaped island-style platform upon which the station was built. Six running lines flanked either side of the station - the Up lines on one side and the Down lines on the other, with bays at either end to accommodate local workings to Nottingham and Rugby. A parcels office and stabling point for locomotives were also incorporated into the site. [Cite book | author=Healy, J.M.C. | title=Great Central Memories | date=1987 | publisher=Baton Transport | location=London | isbn=0-85936-193-4 | pages=p. 24] The

Under the main section of the platform on the south-side of the station part of a Roman pavement was discovered and encased in a glass panel which could be viewed from above. A local shopkeeper was entrusted with the key to the chamber and would provide access to the public upon request. [ [http://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/stories/pages.php?enum=LE124&pnum=3&maxp=16 A story from The Last Main Line, "A Suitable Location".] ] The main station entrance was on Great Central Street where a large ornate terracota-lined archway crowned by an ornate clocktower led through to the entrance hall and cab waiting area; the station frontage itself had a red brick and terracota facade, to the left of which was the entrance to the parcels office. A second entrance was in Jarvis Street where a subway 20ft below the platforms led through to the main booking hall, a light and airy space topped by a glazed roof. Stairs led up to the platforms, whilst a hydraulic lift was used to transport luggage from the booking hall. [ [http://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/stories/pages.php?enum=LE124&pnum=4&maxp=16 A story from The Last Main Line, "The Grand Fa'ade".] ]



Upon nationalisation of the railways in 1947 the Great Central passed from the control of the London & North Eastern Railway into the newly created Eastern Region of British Railways, and then to the London Midland Region in 1958. The line was regarded by its new operators as somewhat of an unnecessary duplication of existing North-South routes, and began gradually to run down services. [ [http://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/stories/pages.php?enum=LE124&pnum=12&maxp=16 A story from The Last Main Line, "Nationalisation!".] ] The Leicester Central engine shed played host to increasingly old and worn-out locomotives; in 1958 the engine stud was made up of 11 LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0s, 3 LMS Stanier Class 4 2-6-4s, 2 BR Class 5 4-6-0s and 1 0-6-0 diesel shunter. [Healy, J.M.C., op. cit. p. 87.]

The publication of the Beeching Report in 1963 saw the Great Central identified as an unremunerative line earning less than £5,000 per week in revenue and it was proposed to withdraw passenger services from the line as far as Banbury. So began "several years of deliberate neglect and decline and retrenchment" [Cite book | author=Henshaw, David; Lehan, Bill | title=The Great Railway Conspiracy | date=1994 | publisher=Leading Edge Books | location=Hawes, North Yorkshire | isbn=9780948135484 | pages=p. 235] designed to reduce the former busy trunk route into a state whereby closure could be easily achieved. It was announced that as from March 1964 12 stations on the Great Central Main Line (including Leicester Central) would close on Sundays which would allegedly save £250,000; 200 objections were lodged against the proposal and representations were made by local authorities to members of parliament. [The Times, "Sunday Closing of 12 Stations", 3 January 1963, p. 5, Col. D.]

The engine shed closed in 1964, and freight services were withdrawn from the line in June 1965. On 3 September 1966 the line ceased to be a trunk route with the withdrawal of services to Sheffield and Marylebone, leaving Leicester Central operating a sparse DMU local service to Nottingham and Rugby. The line north of Nottingham would be closed and the track lifted, ditto for most of the track between Rugby and Quainton Road. In the last few months before its own closure on 5 May 1969 the station was little but a unstaffed halt. [Cite book | author = Healy, J.M.C. | authorlink= | coauthors= | title=The Great Central Rail Tour | date=1988 | publisher=Unicorn Books | location=Paddock Wood, Kent | isbn=978-1-85241-005-6 | pages= p. 25]


During 1970 Leicester Central's platform buildings, canopies and platforms were demolished and replaced by industrial premises; the signalboxes were removed and the site of the turntable became a car park. The former booking offices were reused as part of a business; the station's clocktower had previously been removed by British Rail. Much of the Great Central's viaduct through Leicester had been demolished by the beginning of the 1980s and the bowstring bridge over Northgate Street was dismantled in 1981. [ [http://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/stories/pages.php?enum=LE124&pnum=14&maxp=16 A story from The Last Main Line, "After the Last Train".] ] The roman pavement was removed from the site in 1976 and is now on display in the Old Jewry Wall museum.

Present day

The station buildings remained largely intact until the 2000s, but are now planned to be restored as part of the regeneration of the waterside area the arches will be made in to shops. The front taxi waiting area is still there and has original lights and glass roof. The booking office with ticket windows is intact and old timetables and signs are still on the wall. There is a sign above the entrance to the parcels office.

Bowstring Bridge

The surviving length of Great Central viaduct from Duns Lane to Glen Parva was purchased by Leicester City Council which converted it into a cycleway known as the Great Central Way. This included the Braunstone Gate Bridge (also known as the "Bowstring Bridge") which spans Duns Lane to Bede Park, straddling Western Boulevard. Leicester City Council had purchased the bridge and the viaduct for a token payment in the 1970s and received a Manpower Services Commission grant to engage craftsmen to supervise young people painting the bridge in green and cream colours. [Leicester Mercury, "Is varsity plan a bridge too far?", 18 January 2008, p. 16.] The bridge, viaduct and land nearby, including the Pump and Tap pub, were later sold to De Montfort University.

In 1997, the cycleway was diverted on to the Boulevard after the demolition of the Kirby & West dairy, and the section of the viaduct north of the site (including the Bowstring Bridge) went unmaintained and became derelict. In 2002, the Secretary of State for the Environment refused an application to list the bridge as a monument to the city's industrial heritage. In 2005, the Council proposed to demolish the bridge to allow De Montfort University to expand its John Sandford sports hall and build a swimming pool in a £6 million development. [Leicester Mercury, "Bridge development plan 'is cultural vandalism'", 5 July 2005, p. 8.] ] The Council claimed that the bridge had to be removed as a report revealed that it could only support its own weight and would not last another year without major repairs. According to the report, the 108-year old bridge was "approaching the end of a normal life span of 120 years" and could have lasted "long into the future if only a pro-active maintenance strategy had been in place. Unfortunately, lack of funding and the demise of this section of the railway are instrumental in the extremely poor condition of the structure components. The bridge, which once carried a railway, can only carry its own weight". The report estimated the costs of restoration at between £250,000 and £270,000.

The bridge had a last-minute reprieve in July 2005 when, just before a meeting at which councillors were about to vote on its demolition, an email was sent to them by Richard Tilden-Smith of the heritage Great Central Railway urged them to postpone a decision until experts could examine the state of the bridge. He indicated that if the bridge were saved, it might still be possible to extend his organisation's operations through Leicester, with funding possibly coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The cabinet agreed to give the bridge more time. [Leicester Mercury, "Reprieved", 13 July 2005, p. 4.] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/leicestershire/4673107.stm BBC News, "Historic bridge decision delayed", 12 July 2005] ] Two weeks later, the heritage railway pulled out of talks with the Council, stating that the restoration works would be too expensive and would not fit in with the Council's timetable for the area. [Leicester Mercury, "Major blow in fight to save landmark bridge", 22 July 2005, p. 11.]

In October 2005, Leicester City Council released an engineer's report indicating that the bridge could only support its weight and would need £775,000 to keep it intact over the next three years. Full restoration would cost £2.5 million according to the report. [Leicester Mercury, "Bridge-rescue dream is fading", 6 October 2005, p. 17.] The Council planned to demolish the bridge by Summer 2006 but had to revise their plans once it was discovered that as the bridge was still classed as a public highway which used to carry the Great Central Way footpath, a formal extinguishing the highway would have to be obtained. This process would take up to a year. [Leicester Mercury, "Blunder gives bridge reprieve", 10 January 2006, p. 13.] By March 2008 the order had still not yet been granted and considerable local opposition against the plans was manifesting itself on the internet with more than 2,500 people joining a campaign on the Facebook website, and a further 1,200 signing a petition on the 10 Downing Street website. [Leicester Mercury, "New hope in battle to save old bridge", 18 March 2008, p. 8.]

The court hearing for the stopping-up order took place at 2.15pm on 4 June 2008 at Leicester Magistrates' Court in Pocklington's Walk. Representatives from the Ramblers Association, The Victorian Society, The Footpath Association, The Civic Society and Leicestershire Industrial History Society were present in Court 5. The Council applied for the order using Section 116 of the Highways Act 1980 to have 410 metres of the bridge closed, thereby avoiding the public enquiry that would have been necessary if Section 118 (also concerned with closure) had been used. [Leicester Mercury, "The battle of the bridge", 4 June 2008, p. 10.] The hearing was adjourned until 17 June when the application will be heard by a district judge and a date will be set for a full hearing of the case. [Leicester Mercury, "Show of solidarity to save pub and bridge", 5 June 2008, p. 2.]



External links

* [http://www.gcrleicester.info/ Great Central Railway through Leicester webpage]

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