Other Links

  Durham Station

Durham station is situated on a hillside at the north end of the viaduct and displays features from three main building phases. The entrance building on the up (southbound) platform formed the office range of the original station, opened on 1 April 1857. The station was reconstructed during 1871-2 to cope with the demands of main-line traffic, and the extensive down platform verandah and west office range date from then.  In 1966 British Rail completed a new entrance range on the site of a demolished refreshment room, and six years later they replaced the down platform verandah (dating from 1872) with the present steel roof. More recently, the 1966 range, which was looking much the worse for wear, has been demolished, with the booking office being re-sited back in the 1857 building and an enclosed concourse formed under the modern platform roof.

The station today. The portico had turrets at each corner but Prosser replaced these in 1872 with the buttresses seen here, making a more taut design. The left gable's clumsy parcels doorway replaced a window .

Durham station is of particular interest in that it offers contrasting examples of the work of the NER's first architect, Thomas Prosser, early and late in his career. The entrance building, seen above, is one of his first significant designs and has been well restored. It originally fronted a trainshed of 40 feet span housing just a single platform and a pair of running lines, an arrangement favoured by T.E. Harrison.

To cope with its new role as a main-line station from 1872, the site was considerably broadened to accommodate four through lines (centre roads for goods and express trains and two platform roads) and two large platforms, each with a pair of bays set into one end. The north bays were used for local trains to Newcastle and Sunderland, starting and finishing at Durham, while the south bays handled traffic on the Bishop Auckland, Dearness and Lanchester Valley lines, the latter service running via Blackhill (Consett) and the Derwent valley to Newcastle. Passenger facilities were improved by moving the refreshment rooms out of the original building into a two-storey (and basement) block further along the up platform, while the down side was provided with a separate suite of booking office and waiting rooms. The booking hall in the latter building (now refurbished as a waiting room) retains a particularly pleasant, mildly-Gothic roof and fireplace.

The refreshment room block in the early 1960s, by which time it had fallen out of use and would soon be demolished, though the basement would be retained as a podium for the new offices. Increasing parcels traffic had caused the NER to form the parcels bay and office seen here; the original building is just off to the left.


A modern view of the 1872 down-side offices, with the far verandah sheltering the entrance into the former booking hall. The small canopy on the right was added in matching style in 1992 in the course of refurbishment and improvements in access carried out in tandem with the electrification of the main line.

 A striking feature of the 1872 station is the platform roofing, now surviving only on the down side. This comprises fully-glazed ridge and furrow roofing, which extends across the bay platforms and has slated skirts dipping down above the edge of the through platform. The main novelty lies in the trusses which bear the roof valleys. These employ cusped cast-iron panels bearing on a box-section beam supported on cast-iron columns. Originally the lower beam, which serves as a rainwater conductor, was formed from a cast-iron channel with a wrought-iron closure plate on top but these were replaced in 2006 by steel channels. In a remarkable piece of conservation work, Network Rail's engineers provided temporary support for the roof itself, so that these beams could be taken out and replaced without disturbing any other part of the structure.


The right-hand view above shows work underway in May 2006, with part of the bottom beam removed from this truss, revealing a cross-section through the remaining portion. The replacement looks very similar except that it lacks the hollow chamfer seen here on the lower corners.

The restored down-platform verandah is seen on the left with what began life as a bay window to one of the 1872 waiting rooms. The Gothic cusping of the ironwork creates a very handsome effect: a nod to the great cathedral. The columns and their crowning brackets serve, as usual, as rainwater conductors. Prosser was often at his best in the design of roofs such as this, and comparable ironwork is used in the much simpler platform roofs at Selby station, completed in 1873.



The NER's office requirements soon outgrew even the 1872 provision, and we see below some of the picturesque wooden buildings which began to colonise the platforms and which lasted until the nineteen-sixties. Note how every surface is plastered with advertisements.


Clearly some tidying up was called for, and the abandonment of the passenger services to Sunderland and Bishop Auckland in 1964, the Dearness and Lanchester Valley services having gone long before, created an opportunity to rationalise the station. The bay platforms were no longer required nor was a multiplicity of waiting rooms, while the refreshment rooms had already closed. So the latter block was demolished, leaving only its basement, which formed the podium for a new office range of lightweight frame and panel construction. Deigned by Martin Little and Colin Phipps of BR's North Eastern Region Architect's Office, this was completed in 1966. It was one of a number of schemes with which the Region's General Manager (and former Engineer), Arthur Dean, hoped to revitalise the image of the railway. It was not a great success; for a start the system used was not really robust enough for this environment, indeed it seemed a rather 'cheap and temporary' treatment for such a significant location.

The BR office range is glimpsed on the left, sitting on top of the old sandstone basement, in this 2006 view. By then it was 40 years old and about to be replaced. Ahead we see the approach road to the down side entrance threading its way under the station, accompanied by the raised footway which functions as a passenger subway. Since then the stairway has been re-organised and lifts provided to improve access.


The station entrance seen in 2004. The main block housed the booking hall and office with toilets and other facilities in the wing stretching out to the left.


The new offices were designed to fit under the edge of the 1872 up platform roof, but this was replaced six years later to accommodate a remodelling of the platform in order to re-align the tracks for faster running. This view highlights the 'system-built' nature of the 1966 offices. It was a time when BR's Southern Region was engaged in renewing buildings using the CLASP system favoured by their architect, Nigel Wikeley.

An important benefit from moving all the up-side passenger facilities into the new building was that it freed up the original 1857 block for use by the parcels business; this was still a very important part of railway traffic in the nineteen-sixties and the segregation of passengers from parcels and postal business was a cardinal aim in station design. So Prosser's original building survived but the hundredth anniversary of his extension scheme was marked by the demolition of the up-platform roof, to permit track remodelling. Its replacement is sturdy and spacious, albeit far from elegant.

The south end of the up platform, showing the 1872 roof together with a short stretch of glazed end screen in the Gothic manner. The final roof truss is faced with a wooden frame which would also have been glazed at one time.


The doomed up-platform roof, sheltering those strange things, such as weighing machines, which used once to populate our stations.

Below, we see its rather heavy-handed replacement.


By the nineteen-eighties, the merits of Prosser's work at Durham were becoming more widely appreciated and the down platform roof and offices underwent extensive refurbishment during 1992-4, creating a much more attractive environment for passengers and staff. The unfortunate demise of British Rail's Red Star Parcels business created an opportunity to retrieve the 1857 building for passenger use and dispense with the 1966 one. However, Prosser's building on its own would not be large enough and the scheme was deferred pending the necessary funding; meantime work was done to restore the fabric of the building during 2000-01. A catalyst throughout has been the encouragement and grant aid offered by the Railway Heritage Trust.

The work required on the down platform verandah in 2006 necessarily took priority over the remodelling of the up-side facilities, however that has now happened. A stylish glass screen has taken the place of the 1966 block and a sizeable area under the platform roof  has been glazed in to create a small concourse, while the booking office has returned to the Prosser building.. The result is attractive and welcoming, though the siting of the bookstall constricts the layout in an unfortunate way while the introduction of ticket barriers has also been a hindrance to circulation.






© W. Fawcett, 2011