Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Crewe Station


As I commented in another post, Crewe was the Mecca for railway enthusiasts when I was young and I made a number of visits. Writing about an excursion to Blackpool ('Halfex to Blackpool') triggered a flood of memories of Crewe as I remember it in steam days. I started to wonder just how much of the station I knew still survives and decided to make a visit to take some pictures, through the eyes of someone who remembers it from (gulp!) half a century ago. The result is the collection Crewe Station Buildings. Of course, whilst in Crewe, I had to visit Crewe Heritage Centre, so that provided material for more posts, as time permits.

The railways were already Nationalised when I first visited Crewe, but the legacy of the London & North Western Railway was still omnipresent and the 'Nor-Wessie', as some railwaymen called it, became my favourite railway. See also the 'Wikipedia' entry for Crewe.

Brief History

The Grand Junction railway (opened 1837) linked the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (opened 1830) and the London & Birmingham Railway (opened 1838). The Grand Junction line passed through a country area around what is now Crewe, where land was cheap, so the railway determined to site their new locomotive works here. By 1846, the Grand Junction Railway had merged with the Liverpool & Manchester Railway and the London & Birmingham Railway to form the London & North Western Railway, which enjoyed the soubriquet 'The Premier Line' (Wikipedia on L&NWR). Much of the development at Crewe, railway, works and town, was carried out by the L&NWR. In 1861 the station was rebuilt. In addition to becoming an important interchange for passengers, large flows of goods and mineral traffic developed and substantial marshalling yards were required. Two major Running Sheds (motive power depots) supported the operation - Crewe North (for passenger locomotives) and Crewe South (for freight). In addition, the Great Western had a small sub-shed at Gresty Lane. By the 1890s, in addition to about 500 passenger trains a day, Crewe was handling a similar number of freight trains. This justified the construction of an elaborate network of 'Independent' lines, to keep most of the freight traffic away from the station. Further expansion to handle passenger and parcels traffic was carried out on the west side of the station around 1900.

In 1923, the 'Grouping' of railways merged the L&NWR into the London Midland & Scottish Railway (Wikipedia on LM&SR). In 1948, the post-war nationalisation of railways placed the LM&SR in Government ownership. British Railways eventually became British Rail (when the railways lost their way). The disastrous attempt to 'privatise' the railways placed the infrastructure under the control of the abysmal Railtrack to be succeeded by the astonishingly even more abysmal Network Rail.

Suggested architectural development

When the station was rebuilt in 1861, it's believed the four through tracks flanked by the present platforms 5 and 6 (platforms 5 and 4 before the 1985 remodelling) were provided with the buildings which survive today. The frontages of the station buildings on the present platforms 5 and 6 (5 and 4 before 1985) are probably the grandest on the station with elegant windows (including some large bay windows) and carved stonework. Despite the various commercially-inspired ravages apparent in my photographs, I think these buildings still posess appeal.

I suspect that these two platforms became islands at a somewhat later date: platforms 1 and 5 (5 and 6 before 1985) form one island whilst 5 and 11 (5 and 3 before 1985) form the second. Each island was provided with an elaborate overall roof over the middle portion of the platforms where a series of roof trusses were carried over the adjacent platform tracks, supported on brick walls on the 'outside' of the station.

Where the two islands platforms faced one another, a series of cast columns supported the roof trusses. The roof trusses at Crewe were not very high above the platforms, so there was insufficient headroom under the overall roof for the passenger footbridge. The photograph shows how, in the vicinity of the footbridge, the roof is carried at a higher level, as a sort of 'clearstory', to provide sufficient space. Although the roof trusses appear original, the glazing has been altered. The glass, which was in fairly poor condition when I first went to Crewe, has been replaced by plastic roof cladding, but I'm not sure that the translucent area is as large as it was originally. During electrification, the cast columns supporting the roof were externally clad for strength and some of the columns were given a second role as anchor points for the Overhead Line Equipment.

Only the middle portion of the platforms was covered by the main overall roofing, so a variety of additional roofing styles provided protection for the platform extremities. The photograph shows another style of roofing (in this case for the old platform 5 and 6 and the Stoke Bays) using straight, cross-braced roof trusses. This style of truss was used by the L&NWR at a number of locations.

In 1902, a new island platform with substantial railway offices was built. This provided two platform lines and two Through lines on the West of the station to handle Down trains, together with North and South bays. The new facilities were provided with an elaborate overall roof over the middle portion of the platforms where a series of roof trusses were carried over the adjacent platform tracks. On the East side, the roof trusses were supported on the existing brick wall. On the West side, columns supported the roof trusses and the spaces between the columns were filled by glazed screens. These screens could be found at other locations on the L&NWR - one which springs to mind is Colwyn Bay on the North Wales coast.

Crewe Station survived in this form until the 1985 rebuilding when the 1902 additions were abandoned, apart from the office block and the old platform 2, which, renumbered as 12, sees occasional use. The overall roof over this section of the station was removed, and modern canopies provided over the new platform 12. The photograph shows the office block, exposed to view now the overall roof has gone. More pictures.