Truth be told, I don’t find travelling down the East Coast Main Line out of London King’s Cross all that interesting. I’m more of a Midland Main Line kind of a person. The landscapes around the East Coast Main Line, at least until you get to somewhere near Durham, are a bit flat and – dare I suggest – anonymous; green deserts of agri-business monocultures.
The stations are quite good though. Darlington, Newcastle, York: they’re up there with some of the best on the network. Doncaster is often overlooked but is a very nice piece of 1930s design, currently being reinvigorated after some years of neglect.
Today’s transport beauty dates from the same period as Doncaster, but you’ll never have the chance to stop and admire it from a train. There are no platforms and the trains don’t stop. Say hello, and then goodbye again very quickly as you fly past at 125mph, to the long-closed Otterington station.
When the London and North Eastern Railway widened its East Coast Main Line from two tracks to four in the 1930s, the existing Otterington station was inconveniently in the way. Otterington station had been there since the 1840s, almost as long as the East Coast Main Line itself. Although the closest villages (hamlets?) it served – Thornton-le-Moor, Newby Wiske and Otterington itself, had never really grown to any size despite the presence of their station, the LNER decided a replacement was needed.
Designed by Robert Alexander Darling of the Architects’ Section of the LNER’s North Eastern Area Engineering Office in York, the new Otterington station opened in 1932 and was an unexpectedly smart affair for what was really just a small wayside station.
Darling’s design featured a station building with a broad ashlar band above the windows, a narrow band underneath, and ashlar pilasters. Although they looked like sandstone, they were apparently ‘artifical stone’ – for us laypeople, essentially a variety of cement/concrete. Charmingly-proportioned windows were fitted between – tall ones towards the middle of the building, where the waiting room and ticket office were located, and small ones towards the ends of the building, lighting toilets and a store room. The rest of the walls were infilled with red bricks. The roof significantly overhung the building, which would have provided a little weather protection to the windows below, and the hips had quirky little gablettes at the top.
The most notable feature was the pair of matching doorcases, made of the artificial stone ashlar again. These huge doorcases projected forward from middle of the building, one on each long side. The one on the platform side had a clock with a very smart inter-war design.
The end result was something very characterful. It was an idiosyncratic mixture of Streamline Moderne with the neo-Georgian/civic Georgian typical of many public buildings of the interwar period, but also had just a touch of Arts and Crafts about it somehow, this last a style unusual on railway buildings.
But that wasn’t the end of Darling’s work. He also designed a matching signal box for Otterington. Located on the platform right next to the station building, it had the expected run of glazing all the way across the trackside elevation and two-thirds of the way down its ends. The signal box and station building were on the ‘up’ (southbound) platform.
Even that wasn’t the end of Darling’s work at Otterington. The final substantial building he designed for the station (there was a small waiting shelter on the down platform) was a weighbridge office for the goods yard, essentially a smaller version of the signal box with less glazing.
Yet within 30 years, the trains no longer stopped at the rebuilt Otterington station. The station closed to passengers in 1958, lingering on for a few more years as a goods station.
Its survival was an accident; most of the other closed stations on the East Coast Main Line have been completely demolished. But Otterington station was retained for storage, although its platforms were cut back on the up side and completely removed on the down side. It lingered on in railway use until the East Coast Main Line was electrified. The trackside doorways were bricked up and the site sold off (probably not to raise money against the electrification scheme, but I suppose it’s the sort of thing the Department of Transport might have told British Rail to do), becoming a domestic residence.
The new owner renovated the building, and it was Grade II listed in 2018. So Otterington station stands to this day, perhaps recalling the times when trains used to stop at its platforms, rather than hurtling past to stations far away.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Historic England listing citation for Otterington station, here
Plenty more photographs on disused-stations.org.uk, here
How to find Otterington station