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  Durham Gilesgate Station

Gilesgate station is a remarkable survival: an early passenger terminus preserved with minimal alteration down to 1966 thanks to its adaptation for goods traffic after just a dozen years in its original role. By then its significance had been recognised and taken into account during its subsequent roles as a builders' merchant's depot and a hotel. This diversity of functions is a reminder of the endless possibilities which exist for the re-use of historic buildings when their original function has departed.

A modern view of Gilesgate station following its adaptation as a hotel. This shows the original entrance range, with both the trainshed and the modern extension, housing the hotel bedrooms, out of sight behind it.

The station was built by George Hudson's Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway and opened on 14 April 1844, initially serving trains on the Durham Junction line pending completion of the main line from Darlington to Gateshead, two months later. This left Durham station as the terminus of a 2-mile long branch from Belmont Junction on the main line, and it was served by a shuttle service of passenger trains along this branch, accompanied by a considerable goods traffic. With the opening of the present Durham station on 1 April 1857, Gilesgate was given over entirely to the goods department and fulfilled this role until November 1966, when a new (and short-lived) goods station was opened on the down side of the main line just north of Durham station. This enabled British Rail to abandon the Gilesgate branch line, much of its route being incorporated into a new road although the former station area was safeguarded.

Gilesgate station was designed by Hudson's friend George Townsend Andrews, whose plans were considered in July 1843, when the directors decided to scale down the size of the proposed building, with the contract eventually being let in October. This suggests that Hudson had begun to view the Durham Branch as no more than an interim way of serving the city; indeed he already had ideas for the railways to Bishop Auckland and down the Team Valley to Gateshead. Thus Durham was to receive a dignified but modest station with all the expense and show being reserved for the main-line terminus in Gateshead, a building which has unfortunately now disappeared.

The original layout is shown above, with tracks entering the station on the left and continuing a short distance beyond the trainshed to buffer stops off to the right; there were probably also cross tracks served by wagon turntables, so that one could manoeuvre wagons and carriages between lines. Built of the excellent local sandstone, the trainshed housed the passenger line and two carriage sidings and was given a Euston-trussed roof returned across the ends to create a hipped outline as at Andrews' York station, opened in January 1841. Because of the restricted site, the goods shed, with its three cart docks, was built onto the rear of the station; this was roofed with heavy timber trusses in contrast to the delicate-looking ironwork of the passenger shed.

The station frontage pioneered a design which Andrews would go on to use (with variations) two years later at Filey and Driffield. The main office range, with its formal arched entrance, is flanked by arcaded wings which originally screened toilets and yards. The treatment is simple and dignified. The two-storey block on the right was given an oversailing roof with a modillioned timber eaves cornice, but the latter was unfortunately removed in the course of roof repairs and replaced by a wooden fascia board which creates a very mean effect. Reinstatement of the original should be a priority in any future development of the building. That block originally housed refreshment rooms on the ground floor but was converted to a dwelling after the passengers left.

The interior of Gilesgate in the Spring of 1966, its last year in goods service. The cast-iron arcade frames the main entrance through the station offices onto a goods platform which is considerably higher than the original passenger platform would have been.


Above, we see the north end of the station, also in 1966, with the big doorways into the former passenger shed whose roof has glass laylights along the ridge rather than the raised skylight/ventilators which Andrews employed in his later stations. This, and the relatively low height of the roof, suggest that locomotives were never intended to work into the building. Instead, passenger trains would have been propelled inside, as was common practice at termini in the early days. Once given over to goods traffic, it was a rule anyway that steam engines should not enter goods sheds on account of the fire risk and lack of ventilation.

The NER Architect, Thomas Prosser, had the task of adapting Gilesgate as a goods station and did so with minimal interference. To unite the passenger and goods sheds, he took out most of the rear wall of the latter, substituting a cast-iron arcade which matched in all but minor details Andrews' original design. To provide cart access to the former passenger platform, he partially dismantled the screen walls at the front to provide a 10 feet wide access bay at either end of the main office range; the truncated screen walls were then properly finished off with a return of their main cornice. During the recent adaptation as a hotel, walls have been reinstated in these gaps, but the corresponding stretches of cornice have not been remade.

A 1966 view along that portion of Gilesgate station which formed the original goods shed. Timber king-post trusses distinguish it from the iron-framed roof of the former passenger station on the right. The nearer cast-iron arcade is by Prosser; the original is on the right. Note the two different but characteristic styles of goods crane, pivoting between platform and roof.

After 1966, the station enjoyed a new career as a retail store for Archibalds, builders' merchants, with very little alteration to the building other than the insertion of windows into most of the track doorways and a suspended ceiling into the passenger trainshed, concealing the iron trusses but leaving the arcades on view. Adaptation as a hotel has entailed the construction of a two-storey bedroom block, attached at the north-east corner of the original building but sited so as to minimise the visual intrusion on it.






© W. Fawcett, 2011