Skip to content

High Street History: Railway stations

Updated Tuesday 3rd July 2007

We're getting there... and railway stations show us how the journey was made.

The old entrance to Highbury Underground Creative commons image Icon Fin Fahey under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Railway stations

The coming of the railways in the nineteenth century brought with it great social changes. Many towns flourished and expanded with the construction of railway stations. It wasn’t just grimy heavy industry that benefited, but also leisure, as seaside resorts like Skegness and spa towns like Buxton attracted more visitors.

Stations often reflect the prevailing architectural style of the day. Victorian ones may be very grand, perhaps in neo-gothic style or with art nouveau trimmings. Post-war station buildings may have a much cleaner and more functional look, with much glass and concrete.

There is one type of station that tells a different story, though: the abandoned one. In one particular cull of the rail network from 1963 to 1973, almost 3,000 stations closed. Many were demolished, but you may still see some today that remain almost exactly as they were: providing a frozen snapshot of old travelling habits.

Portsmouth railway station Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Portsmouth

A Victorian neo-gothic frontage dominates Portsmouth station. Train companies (remember, this was long before British Rail) wanted to project an image of grandeur and luxury to their growing numbers of customers. You might notice the ‘nature’ motifs in the ironwork – we might loosely call them art nouveau. These were extremely fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century, and again show the company’s determination to appear stylish.

Leeds City railway station Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University

Leeds

Leeds City Station façade is determinedly modern: the extensive use of glass is typical. The station was made over between 1999 and 2002 to create an airy and clean look. Perhaps this might not look much like history at the moment, but the style is certainly representative of the late twentieth century. What will we think of it in twenty years time?

Highbury tube entrance Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University

Highbury old entrance

Here is the former entrance to Highbury tube’s ticketing hall. The station still exists, but its entrance has moved elsewhere. As commuting patterns have changed and new demands such as better accessibility have arisen, so some underground stations have altered their layouts substantially. Others have closed completely, but their old entrances are still in existence: the most famous examples being Brompton Road and Aldwych.

Alton Station Creative commons image Icon craiglea123 via Flickr under Creative-Commons license

Alton Station

This station was one of the victims of the ‘Beeching axe’ that involved a cull of the railway network in the 1960s. It was opened in 1849 to serve Alton Towers: that hasn’t always been a theme park, but it’s long been a pleasure gardens. In that sense, the station is testament to the nineteenth century growth of a leisure industry. Nowadays, though, it has become a wonderful illustration of heritage and conservation in practice. The Landmark Trust maintains it and pays for its upkeep by allowing visitors to stay in the stationmaster’s house.

Taking it further

You might like Small Data: A list of 21st Century Station openings

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

'The wrong side of the tracks': The impact of the railways on Victorian townscapes Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library article icon

History & The Arts 

'The wrong side of the tracks': The impact of the railways on Victorian townscapes

When we think of the introduction of the railways we might think of it bringing prosperity to the people, but it also brought unsanitary conditions and isolation to those who lived on 'the other side of the tracks'. Explore more...

Article
Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

History & The Arts 

Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century

This free course, Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century, examines the role that Scots played in contributing to the developments in healthcare during the nineteenth century. The radical transformation of medicine in Europe included the admission of women as doctors and the increased numbers of specialised institutions such as asylums. Such developments were also influenced by wider social, economic, political and cultural backgrounds these are also examined.

Free course
10 hrs
Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet

From casualties to commemoration, explore the realities of war with this free booklet.

Article
History battles – How we remember the past Creative commons image Icon By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

History battles – How we remember the past

How we teach history could be changing. Back to the bad old days, or could the 'voices from below' make themselves heard?

Article
Slavery and the North of England Creative commons image Icon Andy-Beal under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Slavery and the North of England

Did the North of England become prosperous on the back of the slave trade? Melinda Elder examines the impact of the trade on the ports of Lancaster, Liverpool and Whitehaven.

Article
Tracing your family history Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Tracing your family history

These days, everyone seems to want to know about the origins of their family. Nick Barratt tells you how to start finding out.

Article
Daresbury SRS: Cool stuff, nice pictures and real science Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Paul Hatherly article icon

History & The Arts 

Daresbury SRS: Cool stuff, nice pictures and real science

Initial results from the synchrotron radiation source show confirm an Egyptian link for the Roman paint.

Article
1 July 1916: the beginning of the Battle of the Somme article icon

History & The Arts 

1 July 1916: the beginning of the Battle of the Somme

On the centenary of the end of The Battle of the Somme, discover why the British consider it the bloodiest battle of the First World War, surpassing the Battle of Verdun, and why the Germans don't hold the same view. 

Article
Genealogy Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

History & The Arts 

Genealogy

Some advice to get you started on tracing your family tree.

Article