May 4, 2014, will mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of Irthlingborough Station to passengers.
Although Station Road, often known as Smith’s Hill to older residents, is a main route into the town many children, and those people who have moved to live in the town, find it difficult to believe Irthlingborough Station ever existed.
It is true the facility was never really an integral part of the town.
Like so many other stations on the line from Northampton to Peterborough, Irthlingborough Station was a good mile’s walk from the centre of the town and when it opened on June 2, 1845, it was even called Higham Ferrers!
Forty years were to pass before the powers that be offered the concession of a name-change to Higham Ferrers & Irthlingborough – but it was not until 1910 that it was designated Irthlingborough Station.
Locals were not impressed and neither, apparently, was the Rector, the Rev Richard Ash Hannaford whose record of the new form of transport passing through his parish simply reads; 1844 – The railroad from Northampton to Peterborough was begun; and it was opened June 2nd 1845.
The fact was, however, that the station wasn’t actually located totally in Irthlingborough.
The building was sited at the point where the parish boundaries of Irthlingborough, Higham Ferrers and Chelveston then met.
The late Arthur George, whose father was formerly station master, always maintained that the boundaries of the three parishes actually met under the family’s sitting room floor.
The station was a hive of activity in late May and early June 1913 when scenery, props and costumes arrived in readiness for the filming of The Battle of Waterloo in the town.
Arthur George recalled seeing the unloading of Napoleon’s magnificent coach.
When it was returned to the station for the return journey it was simply a blackened, shattered chassis and Arthur spent from that day until he saw the recovered remaining fragments of the film in 2002 wondering just what had happened to it.
Although the station was inconveniently situated for regular use by people living in the town itself, local organisations relied heavily on it for their annual excursions.
In September 1903 the adult members of St Peter’s Church Choir had their outing on Thursday of August week, the place selected being Yarmouth.
A special saloon was attached to the Railway Company’s excursion leaving Irthlingborough at 4.55am.
Breakfast was provided on board the train at 6am and luncheon at 8am.
Dinner and tea were provided in Messrs Goode’s Restaurant in a first class manner.
The return journey commenced at 8.10pm with supper being partaken at 10pm.
The train arrived home shortly after midnight, all having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
1904 was not such a successful occasion when the children of the Sunday School were taken to Clacton for their annual treat – at a cost to church funds of 2/2d per child.
When the train was about to depart on the return journey it was discovered two young boys were still enjoying a particularly long steamer trip.
The rector instructed the station master to allow the train to depart on time and to send the boys on later when they arrived at the station!
In the words of the rector, writing in the church magazine: “They were speedily forwarded and arrived back in Irthlingborough early the next day, albeit via Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Ely and Peterborough.”
By 1957 members of the public were being enticed to travel to Skegness for the illuminations.
The posters advertised that a special train would pick up at 4.45pm at Irthlingborough and arrive at Skegness at 7.29pm.
On arrival the excursionists would be given vouchers to the value of five shillings to spend at Butlin’s Holiday Camp.
Arrival back at Irthlingborough was timed for 2.10am – and all for seven shillings and ninepence!
The coming of the railway certainly brought many benefits to Irthlingborough – fresh vegetables from Lincolnshire, fresh milk and fish from the coast; it became so much easier to transport coal that its price fell to one shilling per hundredweight; bricks for house building could readily be brought in from the brickfields surrounding Peterborough while iron ore from Irthlingborough Mines could conveniently be carried to the blast furnaces at Scunthorpe and Ebbw Vale.
At one time 14 employees worked at Irthlingborough Station – today the only evidence of its existence are the remains of part of a platform and loading-dock, a brick gate pillar and the rails across the road where the level crossing once was.
Perhaps before May 2014, the 50th anniversary of its closure, thought should be given to providing a more permanent reminder of its existence.
Photographs courtesy of Irthlingborough Historical Society Photographic Archive.