Great Glen Station

by Doc

What is the motivation? Why Great Glen?

Having already made several mock buildings to act as backdrops for video and stills, as described in other articles here, I finally decided, during Covid lockdown that it was about time that I made a true scale replica of a station. It so happens that near to my home, along the Leicester branch of the still active once-Midland Railway line are several very similar buildings that I had long realised utilised the identical patterned windows and decorative brickwork.

Most of the small stations near me no longer function as stops. Some were torn down after they fell into ruin and neglect. Three were converted into homes and while that means they are in good states of repair, they have inevitable been altered, even "tarted up". I have always felt a bit disinclined to prowl around other people's houses taking photographs.

One, however, not far from my home, is very special. It was used as the office for a building supplies company and more recently sold to a firm that designs clothing. The owner is a very agreeable lady who has allowed me access and is interested in my build. While some elements of the building are in poor repair, enough of the victorian original still exists to be studied and copied. I have even been permitted to enter the old waiting room and see how the area was maintained. The fancy exterior of the long low extension to the main building, the Station Master's house hides the fact that the interior was wide open and held together by steel ties, very much as a large greenhouse or a conservatory is.

As luck would have it, the Midland Railway Association (£20 a year subs, worth every bean) has a very generous website library of resources and, blow me down! Here before my very eyes was an architect's scale drawing of the very station, complete with measurements and even internal details. Not that you will ever get to see any internals, but they allow you to see why external features like windows, doors and chimneys had their purpose. The same design was used for Henlow, Cardington, Rushton, Isham and Oakley as well as Southill in Bedfordshire, but it is also obvious when you look at them, that the same architect was also responsible for Kibworth, Desborough, Kettering and Wellingborough and no doubt, many others. The designer was one C.H. Driver and the style is referred to as "Simplified Venetian Gothic". That very reference to my favourite city in the world probably explains why I like this so much. The give away feature is the use of the iconic cast iron windows, couple with the red and black brickwork. It is obvious that in the 1850s, the Midland Railway was flush with money and full of pride. Hoorah!

To accompany the drawings is a very nice description from the London Illustrated News or 23rd May 1857

 "Yellow brick with polychrome brick dressings. Slate roofs. T-plan. NE block of 2 storeys with gable to platform, SE single storeyed block. Within angle on platform side is lower block with 4 coped gablets. Most windows are paired round-headed lights with cast iron casements in geometric design. Passenger entrance to lower block has gabled hood on curved brackets. Entrance to NW elevation is via porch set at an angle, with coped gable. Both doors have 2-centred arched heads. All openings have polychrome brick heads and moulded dripstones. Polychrome dentil cornice to eaves. Pierced wavy-edged bargeboards. Variety of chimney stacks with moulded cornices." Gablets! That's a new one for me. Like it! 

  A world of compromises and choices

It's a funny thing. When you open any can of worms, you discover there are no two worms exactly alike if you look closely. Who would? OK, maybe that stretches a poetic liberty a bit far. What I meant to say is that it was fine to consider copying the features of my local station until I discovered the architect drawings and noticed the differences. Those became even more relevant once I had found pictures of the other stations based on the same plans. Henlow is no more, but Rushton is easily visible from one side and just as near home. I found online images of Cardington, Glen and Rushton, including interesting pictures, inside and out, on a website dedicated to decaying buildings. Below are two images of Cardington, the coloured one of which shows what I take to be a toilet block not quite as first designed. It marries up to the Station Master's house differently, one door is facing us, not on the trackside wall and it has a fancy chimney. One more, older image, shows that the lighting was gas with characteristic Midland Railway bonneted lanterns, whereas these more modern and far less attractive electric lights have replaced those. As well as gas standard lamps on the platform, one was mounted on the near corner of the loo block. Oddly, as far as I am concerned, no lamp is seen over the wide main waiting room entrance arch but maybe enough light would spill out from inside to cover that

The problem was now that I had the added info, I could see how the architects intended Glen to look, guess at how the builders ignored them from time to time and did something else. Later, the ravages of time would add some features and destroy others. Where elegance  had been in the mind's eye, now stood ugliness. Sometimes it went the other way. I rather like to look of the paired buttresses against the door but they were not intended and it is hard to guess when they were added or even why, given their position and lack of evidence  of cracking or shifting of the end wall. We will never know. Oddly, on the opposite, track side wall where there is the same doorway, they built a single buttress only. It dos also look as if the buttresses share the same date and brick stock as the bricked up entrance.

So, though I like those buttresses, they have no place in this building. I've built them so they'll find a use somewhere!

A similar dilemma faces me when I compare the original drawings with the surviving buildings, relating to the stone over-arches ( I think of them as "eyebrows). Our local building sandstone is quite soft but that makes it easy for stonemasons to shape it. I was told that the stone at Weldon has been used to repair every cathedral in Europe. Easy to shape does not equate to durable and, under the onslaught of acid rain mixed with very noxious chemicals from steam coal, those features have not stood the test of time that well.

When I realised that the windows facing the track were different, I assumed that, since they were designed to be exactly like the other side, that they had suffered erosion and had been replaced by a rather crude, not to say common red brick. Only once I had seen pictures of Rushton before renovation did I realise that this variation was deliberate. There is always a tension between architects and builders and I am guessing this was where the battle lines were drawn. Maybe the money ran out?

I am not saying that the appearance isn't pretty; it is. It's just not elegant nor in keeping with the fine lines of the original design. It's where "Temple to the Golden Era of Steam" meets "Fairground". "Roll up, roll up, get yer rides and yer 'ot dawgs 'ere"

So, here's the decision I have to take. Do I copy the building I see today? I think not. I want to reflect the glory days of working Victorian steam. That at least directs me towards using gas lamps. However, is it fair to assume some changes were enforced and where they are unattractive, use a bit of "artist's licence" and take some liberties with reality? Do I keep faith with the vision of the architect or do I follow the imagined coarse hand of the builder, cutting corners to make a few bob more? My instinct goes with the architect, I think.

Along the same lines, I prefer to mount downpipes and gutters as they first would have been, even though time proved that bigger, uglier, less elegantly situated pipes proved more practical. Time has ravaged those too, hardly surprising, since they would have been in cast iron.

Barge boards and finials have also suffered. Just imagine the upkeep required to keep those from rotting away. I have the architect's drawings so I propose to render them as in the original dream. With so many fussy gullies over the three-part waiting room, it is no surprise that this lower section of building took such a toll. At Glen, the roof has been entirely replaced by a modern equivalent, doing away with the end gable and its window totally. I have to make a guess at how the gully adjacent to the Station Master's house was drained with no indication from the drawings nor clear enough images online. The trouble with this side of the building is that it is only visible from the tracks or a muddy field through hedgerows at Glen.

The chimneys look impressive at Glen, until you see the ones at Rushton. I assume that Glen was the same but maybe they were originally only half the size. I can find no image of Glen from its early days. If, as I suspect, the upper halves of Glen's chimneys were removed, it was done very neatly indeed and before one collapsed because if that had happened, you'd expect to see some evidence of that on tiles somewhere.

One big difficulty arises from the low resolution of old photos found, including this one of Rushton. It does show that the chimneys today are original though it is interesting to note that it was found necessary to add very tall deflectors or cowls on pots even well above ridge height. It appears to show evidence of some sort of external floodlight over the waiting room entrance arch which dosen't surprise me. Sadly, the resolution does not allow us to see what it actually looked like.

Note also the red brick decoration above the waiting room windows instead of stone features as designed by the architects and seen on the front of the building.

Plain to see is the addition of the toilet block of which there is not a trace nowadays at Glen. Since the main building at Glen has been partially rendered, there could well have been evidence of that extension once. Indeed, I think if we look closely at the render, we can see a vague shape behind the railings, suggesting that the render has been applied to an uneven surface, compatible with what you end up with when you demolish a part of a building. Besides, there is an obvious stink pipe near the track side corner with no other reason for that to be present, as it also is in the other stations of the same design

The tall window lets onto the landing at the top of the stairs but the smaller window was not in the original plan. The almost central door was an internal door within an angled and fancy-looking porch. I think that porch is still there at Rushton but I would have to make a house call to inspect it as it is closely surrounded by trees and shrubs. Maybe this particular moment, with Covid still uppermost on our minds, isn't ideal to go knocking on doors with long rambling explanations about why a total stranger wants to poke about and photograph the side of ones house?

A decision is made

Having elected not to portray today's rather sad reality, nor slavishly adhere to the waywardness of Joe Builder but to model a building that may never have existed in exactly the chosen format, I find myself free to play. in any case, this building is not going to be seen next to two sets of standard gauge tracks but, incongruously by a single narrow gauge one and 18 inches at that! We are now in Narnia. Accordingly, I shall finish the detailing to please my own eye. Moreover, this station will not even be called "Great Glen" anymore. It can't be Rushton because it's not in stone. From here on, this is "Speechley Magna".

A result but what now?

The building is complete, apart from the toilet block, that is. I have half a mind to use that project as a vehicle to produce a "How to" style video to demonstrate in better detail the techniques and materials I used in the manufacture, in the hope that it inspires others who may take matters even further. The only thing that holds me back is the certainty that nobody has actually read this article in any case!