All aboard for a trip on rail lines of yesteryear

GEORGIAN STYLE: Shincliffe Bank Top Station  Old photographs courtesy of Michael Richardson

GEORGIAN STYLE: Shincliffe Bank Top Station Old photographs courtesy of Michael Richardson

First published in Past Times by

DURHAM City lay at the heart of a railway region, but railways never had the impact they had in more industrial parts of the region.

Nevertheless, railways brought the city closer to the outside world and today the railway sweeps through the city's skyline, where station and viaduct provide an impressive view of the cathedral and castle.

Durham's present station was one of a number serving the city but the first was in Shincliffe Village at the western terminus of a line from Sunderland, constructed by the Sunderland Dock Company in 1831.

Initially, this line terminated at Sherburn House Station, near Sherburn Hospital, with the intention of extending it to Old Elvet.

Unfortunately, landowners raised objections and the line was taken to Shincliffe instead where a station opened on June 28, 1839.

The line approached Shincliffe from the east, crossing the village main street near the Railway Tavern, a 19th century pub that closed in the early 1990s. The station called Shincliffe Town Station stood opposite on the north side of the railway.

The Sunderland and Durham Railway commenced at Sunderland and passed through places like Murton, Hetton and Pittington.

From Shincliffe, a wagonway continued across the river by bridge to Houghall Colliery and passed through a tunnel beneath Houghall wood, to reach a pit near Croxdale.

Although serving passengers, the Sunderland and Durham Railway was essentially a local colliery line. The main line from London did not arrive until the 1840s.

Entrepreneur George Hudson built a line north from York in 1841 and, in the Durham area, this is known today as the Leamside line. It lies east of the city. In Hudson's time, it was the Newcastle and Durham Junction Railway and became part of the North-Eastern Railway in the 1850s.

The present main line, west of the city came at a later date. At Shincliffe Bank Top (High Shincliffe), a station was built on the Leamside line in 1844. It is now a private house alongside the railway but was known as Shincliffe York British Station.

It is halfway between Bowburn and Shincliffe.

In the year this station was built, a Leamside branch line was brought into Durham where the first station in the city proper was built.

The branch left the Leamside line at Belmont Junction and entered Durham along what is now the A690 before terminating at Gilesgate Station.

The station is now a hotel near Gilesgate roundabout.

Shincliffe Bank Top and Gilesgate stations were built by the York architect JT Andrews and are attractive buildings that look Georgian in style.

Gilesgate was the mainline passenger station for Durham in the mid-19th century but was reduced to goods only when two new stations were built.

Durham's present station was first built in 1857 but underwent considerable rebuilding in the 1870s. When this station opened in 1857, the railway there was not yet the main line from London.

It was merely a branch line from Bishop Auckland that approached the city not from the south but from the south-west, following the course of today's Brandon to Bishop Auckland footpath.

It reached the city's outskirts at Relly, near Langley Moor, and from here it follows the course of the present main line. Entering the city, it crosses the viaduct, reaching the station at the top of the hill near Wharton Park.

When Durham's viaduct and station opened in 1857, the engineers were praised for their achievement in spanning the boggy Flass Vale but they did not know their viaduct was destined to be part of the main line from London and would be very satisfied to learn their viaduct is still in use a century and a half later.

From Durham station, the line continued north passing the grounds of a Georgian mansion called Newton Hall.

From here, the line did not follow the course of the present one. It veered east, crossing the Wear by the Brasside-Belmont viaduct to ultimately join the Leamside line that headed north towards Newcastle.

Dating from the 1850s, this viaduct still exists today across the steep river gorge in Kepier Wood.

The railway has gone and the viaduct is not accessible to the public. It was one of two viaducts associated with the Leamside line east of Durham City. Another existed on the line itself, south of Sherburn, where the railway crossed a small stream.

Built in 1844, it was later converted into an embankment.

On the western side of the city, the stretch of the Bishop Auckland line between Relly and Newton Hall became part of the main line from London in the early 1870s with the present continuation north from Newton Hall to Newcastle via Chester-le- Street and Team Valley being completed in 1868.

A southern section from Relly to Tursdale was completed in 1872.

Its completion placed the main line entirely west of Durham and the old Leamside line east of the City declined in importance with the exception of the stretch from Tursdale to York that is still the main line today.

Sadly, the decline of the Leamside line brought the demise of Gilesgate station which was demoted to goods only.

It was not the last passenger station in eastern Durham City. Elvet, first suggested in the 1830s, finally became the home of a station in 1893 when a branch of the Sunderland to Durham Railway was extended across the Wear near Hollow Drift by an iron bridge (now gone) from Old Durham Colliery.

Elvet Station stood behind Old Elvet where the magistrates' court is sited today. Its opening led to the closure of its sister station of Shincliffe Town, but Elvet itself closed to passengers in 1931. It became a goods-only station in 1949.

Until 1953, it transported passengers on Miners' Gala Day. It was demolished in 1963 but Durham's other two stations continued to operate.

Shincliffe Bank Top closed to passengers in 1941 but continued as a goods station until 1963 while Gilesgate Goods station closed in 1966.

Today, schemes to reopen the Leamside line to passengers with a new station at Belmont are often in the news but today Durham is the site of a single station.

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