Living in a station
You cook in the small private waiting room, the main waiting room being reserved for a suitably long table to while away your time in front of a fire, amid remnants of the days of railway glory. A double bedroom has been made in the ticket office, while the rest of you will sleep in the Stationmaster’s house. During our original work on the house, a disused flue was found to have been blocked with porters’ waistcoats; and the plumbing we installed produced at first a strange chuffing sound – doubtless the yearning of this house for the sound and smell of great engines wreathed in steam.
Carefully restored Landmark amid beautiful scenery
The railway has gone; but in its heyday the platforms took 12-coach excursion trains from the Potteries. Its architect was probably H.A. Hunt, an architect-engineer who designed other stations on this line, which opened in 1849. Built by the North Staffordshire Railway (the ‘Knotty’) to a befitting standard for the Earl of Shrewsbury, then owner of Alton Towers, it stands in marvellous surroundings, both beautiful and interesting. Alton Castle, reconstructed by the Pugins, rises out of the trees across the valley of the Churnet. Alton Towers itself, with its famous garden, lies immediately behind.
‘Ideal for walks – just go along the tracks in either direction and see where you end up.’
‘As a Railway Children addict for years, Alton Station did not disappoint.’
From the logbook
A station on the Churnet Valley Line
Alton Station was built in 1849 as part of the Churnet Valley branch line for the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR). The plans for the Churnet Valley Line had been laid in 1845, the first of the years of railway mania, but it was not begun until 1847 by which time improved methods of engineering and construction had been developed, and railway architecture was at its most inventive and attractive.
Unique Italianate style
The stations on the NSR were a particularly fine group, the majority being in a Tudor or Jacobean style, but with the odd appearance of Domestic, Rural and Italianate Styles. The NSR employed a London architect called Henry Arthur Hunt to design these stations for them. For a long time, the station was attributed to A.W. Pugin but Hunt seems the most likely candidate to have designed Alton Station, even though his other stations were Tudor or Jacobean. Conclusive evidence remains elusive and it is strange that Alton is unique among NSR stations in being Italianate in style.
Age of expansion
Alton had a temporary station when the line opened for passengers and freight on 13th July 1849. But in 1850 the main station buildings were ready to receive passengers. Most were day visitors who came in their droves from the pottery towns to visit the famous gardens at Alton Towers. Around 1880, the goods yard and sidings were enlarged and a 30 lever signal box built. In 1882 a separate booking office was added on to the rear of the waiting room and in 1884 £200 was spent on lengthening the platforms and building a special pathway leading from the platform to the road up to the Towers, known as The Avenues.
The branch line in decline
In 1924 Alton Towers itself was sold to a consortium that planned to run it as a full-scale public attraction and business on the line boomed. However, after nationalisation in 1948, the line began to decline and in 1960 passenger services on the line were cut to almost nothing. Four years later, as part of Dr Beeching’s overhaul, it was reduced to single track with total closure following in 1965. The stationmaster lived on in his house for a year or two, but the waiting room soon began to suffer from neglect and vandalism and Staffordshire County Council bought sections of the line with the station buildings in 1969.
Finding a new use
In 1970, having failed to find anyone locally to take on Alton Station, the County Planning Officer approached Landmark, who in 1972 took on the stationmaster’s house and the waiting room block. At the time, funds were only available to make the stationmaster’s house into Landmark accommodation. The house needed little work to make it habitable again. The only major change was to turn the kitchen into a third bedroom and to make a new, and combined, kitchen and dining room with an arch inserted between this and the sitting room, to make both rooms larger and lighter.
The waiting room was simply made sound, repainted in LMS colours and left to complete the picture until funds became available or some other use could be found for it. The station embarked on a new lease of life as an inspiring place to stay and since then thousands of people have enjoyed living in and learning about this remnant from the height of the Railway Age.
In 2008, the time had come for a thorough refurbishment of the accommodation. Landmark was able to make funds available to incorporate the waiting room block into the accommodation, turning the booking office into an additional bedroom, the ladies' waiting room into a new kitchen and the lamp or porters’ room into a shower room. New internal doors were made leading into the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, registered in the floor tiling. Care was also taken to ensure that the external appearance of the waiting room block did not change, even where a door had to be blocked internally. All surviving original features have been retained: Minton tiles on the floor, interior finishes (the "panelling" is in fact plaster - for better wear), the shelving, hatch and ticket barrier associated with the booking office, the brackets for fire buckets and oil lamps outside. The London Midland and Scottish Railway colours, which had survived on the walls, have been repainted. In the stationmaster’s house, the kitchen was turned into a bathroom and the sitting room was made slightly smaller to allow for a corridor between, now that visitors also have the whole waiting room to enjoy.
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