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  York Station

The present York Station was opened on 25 June 1877, replacing the original terminus of 1841, which was retained as the North Eastern Railway Head Office (see York Old Station). For at least twenty years the old station, on its restricted site within the medieval city walls, had been regarded as inadequate for the rapidly-growing traffic. The new one was built on a spacious site just outside the walls but, despite being briefly claimed as one of the world's largest, it has since required additional platforms as well as lengthening of the original ones.

The design was conceived by Thomas Elliot Harrison, the NER Engineer in Chief, in collaboration with the company's Architect: Thomas Prosser. Harrison devised the basic layout of the station and no doubt specified the trainshed roof form, leaving Prosser and his department to work out the details and prepare all the drawings. The resulting trainshed is one of the great iron 'cathedrals' of the Railway Age. Harrison did not favour enormous spans, such as the 245 feet of St. Pancras, opened almost a decade earlier. Instead the York roof was subtly modulated, with a main span of 81 feet and flanking ones of 55 feet, together with a further 45 feet span over the bay platforms on the entrance side. The outcome is a building which, although very large, does not upstage the city walls on their rampart opposite the station entrance.


The trainshed draws on Brunel's Paddington and one of the buildings which inspired it: John Dobson's Newcastle Central. The site compelled Harrison to adopt a curving layout and this is echoed in the semi-elliptical wrought-iron arches of the roof. As at Paddington, their web swells out towards the foot and is perforated with small openings. However, the supporting arcades are very much more substantial than Brunel's. Sturdy cast-iron columns are given richly-modelled Corinthian capitals and bear shallow arches built up from riveted wrought-iron plate. Their spandrels are enlivened by cast panels bearing the NER heraldic device.

The roof was originally clad with timber planking and slates, and crowned by a skylight/ventilator comprising a series of ridge-and-furrow bays aligned at right angles to the axis of the shed. The prototype for these was Sir Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace roof. A graceful touch was provided by the end screens, with three curving bands of arched windows framed by slender glazing bars.


In a surviving building, the use of the past tense may seem strange, but the roof has been much simplified since 1942, though retaining the essential structure. In April of that year, incendiary bombing caused almost half the roof cladding to be burned off (the stretch left from the booking hall, looking from the front). The ensuing restoration saw corrugated cladding and a simplified ridge ventilator being installed. Eventually, British Rail replaced the remainder in the course of repairs. The most drastic visual impact came in 1972-3, when the end screens were removed, part of their bracing framework (the nearer set of curving beams in the accompanying 1960's photograph) being retained to carry the present glazing. This is a rough approximation to the original, employing slender aluminium glazing bars but without the arched window heads.


The original layout comprised a main platform for through traffic, with bays at either end for services starting and finishing at York. This was linked by a pair of rather meagre subways to an island platform which Harrison envisaged being used solely for special trains and excursion traffic. This enabled him to design York as essentially a single-sided station, with all the passenger amenities clustered around one concourse. This was an optimistic view, and by the time York opened it was already evident that a second through platform would be in regular use. That meant providing some basic amenities on the other side of the tracks, and little time was lost in extending the middle of the island platform across to the rear wall of the trainshed, where toilets and waiting rooms were then installed.

At the front, the station had three entrances. The main route led through a cab portico into the booking hall, but the office range was flanked by a pair of subsidiary entrances. These gave access to the subway ramps as well as the main platform, and were formed by dispensing with the trainshed wall for a number of roof bays. In place of the wall, the shed roof was borne on pairs of columns linked by cast-iron arches bearing triangular panels which carry some of the thrust of the roof down to the outer colonnade. The effect is not unlike the flying buttress employed with gothic church vaults. The south (left-hand) entrance was destroyed in 1942 and replaced by a 'temporary' parcels office, whose building still stands, currently serving as a cycle depot. The right-hand one remains but is partly obscured by the jaunty wooden tearoom wrapped around it in 1906.

The destroyed southern entrance to York Station, seen shortly after the air-raid. This revealed the basic structure of the double colonnade. The roof was restored afterwards but this entrance was replaced by a parcels office with brick infill panels between steel joists.


A postcard view of the station, taken from the city walls, probably soon after World War I. The ridge and furrow skylights dominate the view of the trainshed.

The small, picturesque building on the left is the waiting shed for tram passengers, which still serves as a bus shelter.

The station offices are dignified but rather dull compared with the trainshed, Prosser being a conservative designer when it came to brick and masonry buildings. That said, it may be no bad thing to have a fairly reticent frontage in such close proximity to the medieval city wall. Inside, a jolly note is struck by the arch-braced hammer-beam roof of the former booking hall.

The offices provide a stately sequence of spaces: portico, booking hall and concourse, the latter formed within one span of the trainshed and screened from the main platform by an original wooden signalbox which, remarkably, survives despite an operational life of little more than thirty years. Its splayed corners provide good sightlines for the bustling throng of passengers. Upstairs, the operating floor is now a cafe, while the lower floor has long housed the station 'bookstall'. The passage from booking hall to concourse is no wider than it need be, so that someone coming into the station for the first time gets a surprise view of the trainshed roof suddenly opening up above them.

In 1877 the station would have handled far more passengers changing trains at York than people starting or finishing their journeys there. That has all changed, with the city becoming a popular destination in its own right. Conversely, very few trains now start or finish in York, so additional through platforms have been provided while a number of the original bays have been abandoned to other uses, such as car parking.


The Royal Station Hotel opened on 10 May 1878, almost a year after the station. From the city walls, we see the east wing, fronting the road. The spine of the hotel stretches away from us, with its main frontage on the right, facing a private garden and with views across the river to the city centre.

It replaced an eponymous hotel at the Old Station, which the NER then adapted as an extension to its Head Office.

The hotel was sold by British Rail in 1983, becoming the Royal York Hotel.


By the time the Royal Station Hotel opened, its original designer, Prosser, had been succeeded by three chief architects, who made modest amendments to the scheme. The contract drawings were ready in 1873 but Prosser retired due to ill health in May 1874. He was succeeded by Benjamin Burleigh, who was required to provide more space for the coffee room (the main public room) by extruding it through the main frontage, facing the hotel garden. Following his death, William Peachey took over, only resign at the start of 1877. He seems to have contributed the modest polychromy and gothic impost bands which liven up the hotel facades. The job was finished by William Bell. The chief internal feature of interest is the main stair, located in the angle of the spine corridors of the main block and the wing leading towards the station. An open stair, rising the full height of the building, it will have been detailed by either Peachey or Bell.


Tearoom Square takes its name from the jaunty wooden tearoom of 1906, which just creeps into this view on the left. On the right is the octagon vestibule leading into the hotel. In between is the one survivor of the trainshed's original end screens, in front of which is an entrance canopy added by William Bell also in about 1906.

At the end nearest the station, and rising two storeys above the original building, is the Klondyke Wing added by Bell in 1897-8. Its main purpose was to provide more function rooms, including those routinely used by NER directors when meeting in York, and it contains some panelled interiors in the Jacobean-Revival style then fashionable. Bell's most interesting contribution, however, is a basement room on the road frontage of the hotel, which for some years was open to the public under the name of 'Tiles Bar.' Its walls are a feast of Burmantofts faience, supplied by the Leeds Fireclay Company in 1895.

York was the headquarters of the NER Hotels Department, and at the bottom of the garden, facing Leeman Road, is the building erected in 1912 as its offices and stores, linked to the hotel basement by a tunnel. This has now become an extension to the hotel.


The increasing number and length of trains led to three phases of modest enlargement of York Station by the NER. First came a degree of platform lengthening, with glazed verandahs being added in 1890 to either end of the main through platform (now No. 3), where it projected outside the trainshed. A decade later, a wooden platform was added behind the trainshed wall to handle traffic to the Royal Agricultural Show, hosted by York in 1900. Given a rather inelegant timber canopy, this third through platform (now No. 9) proved invaluable and lasted until the 1930's, when it received a permanent replacement. Finally, in 1909 the NER re-arranged and resignalled the tracks south of the station to permit further platform lengthening, accompanied by more verandahs in the 1890 manner.

1909 south-end roof, showing the lightness achieved by the use of steel purlins and rafters trussed by slender rods.


The LNER carried out a major improvement by rebuilding the 1900 platform in a permanent manner and building an island platform beyond to serve a further pair of tracks (now Nos. 10 & 11). The new island and the present footbridge (replacing one dating from 1900) were brought partly into use at Easter 1938 but World War II delayed work on the resignalling, so the full scheme was only operational from 1951.

With the abandonment of main-line stopping trains and some branch services, British Rail were able to simplify the track layout in the run-up to main-line electrification, inaugurated in 1991. Several bay platforms were taken out of use and are now used for car and cycle parking.

Platform 9, showing the LNER signalbox and 'streamline' platform offices. It was superseded by a new signalling centre in 1989, and has been converted into an attractive suite of staff training rooms.








© W. Fawcett, 2011