Off the rails

Alnwick Station in the early 1950s

Ken Nesbitt considers the railway history (or not) of Alnwick

Alnwick, Northumberland’s county town, missed out on a rail connection to the South and North (I imagine because of opposition to the idea by local landowners) and had to be content with a short branch line from the Main Line at Alnmouth, a factor which greatly contributed to its lack of use and subsequent closure.

It was little compensation that the station erected in Alnwick was a remarkable structure, built in fine dressed stone to suit its Ducal pretentions in serving the Percys at Alnwick Castle. From the outer end of its platforms it had the air of a mini-King’s Cross (though rather more elegant in my view) despite having only two platforms: one of them had been for the Northumberland central line to Cornhill on the Tweed, where it joined the Tweed Valley line, though by the time of my visit passenger services had long since gone and a goods service was hanging on by the skin of its teeth at one or two trains a week.

After “training” from Norham to Berwick (recounted in Issue 160), I took a bus to Alnwick and dragged my weary feet up to the station to take the branch down to the main line: I had plenty of time for the next train (I think there were about three a day, connecting with the expresses that stopped at Alnmouth) and pottered around the station, reflecting on the quality of architecture that was now seeing so little use. The place seemed deserted, but I eventually found that someone had opened up the ticket office – more in hope than expectation, I thought, so I went over and bought a proper pasteboard ticket (after all, one might have to issue a ticket to the Duke of Northumberland one day and it wouldn’t do to have to write out an authorising, but hardly imposing, slip of paper for a Duke).

The station dozed on, then a distant sound announced the approach of The Connection, coming in from Alnmouth: it had been a good trip – it carried not one, but two passengers, two more than usual, I suspected.

Unlike the minimalist Tweed Valley train, this had three coaches, drawn by an old six-coupled goods engine, of a type then working out their days on local mixed goods trains around the region. Once uncoupled, the loco. moved round to the other end of the train, coupled on then settled down to simmer quietly while waiting for the return journey.

But it was the coaching stock which really drew my attention: a trio of long-obsolete non-corridor vehicles, the central one (First Class only) having a clerestory roof. I’d never travelled in a clerestory-roofed carriage before and possession of only a Second Class ticket wasn’t going to stop me now. Only as I went to step in did I notice that it was a six-wheeler: I had thought that six-wheeled passenger coaches had disappeared from the system decades ago, but now I realised that they had just gone to hide on little lines like this, a thought that was in an odd way reassuring, almost comforting. The rear, now the front, coach was a Guard/Second/Luggage composite; with all these facilities the third coach seemed wholly redundant – perhaps it just came out for the ride.

Five minutes before time the footplate crew returned, followed a minute or so later by the Guard carrying one parcel. That and myself seemed the total trade for the trip.

We left on time – there would have been no excuse for not doing otherwise on such a service – and set off at a heady 20 miles an hour on the 4-mile-or-so run down the Aln Valley to join the main line and run into Alnmouth Station. Alnmouth’s a rural stop by Main Line standards, but by comparison with what we’d just left seemed quite Metropolitan in its bustle.

The Edinburgh – King’s Cross, impressively hauled by an A3 class (one of Flying Scotsman’s sister engines) was on time and efficient as ever, but I kept my gaze on the old six-coupled loco., waiting with its trio, until it was lost out of sight.

And no-one had asked for my ticket.