Seventy years after the Hatfield and St Albans Railway carried its last passenger, Hertfordshire rail heritage enthusiasts are staging an exhibition at Hatfield station about the former Great Northern Railway (GNR) branch line.
The Smallford Station and Alban Way Heritage Society have taken over the window display at a vacant shop unit in the station. On show is a selection from the wealth of historical information about the branch line collected by Society members over the past decade.
Using the empty shop was the idea of HART, the Hatfield Association of Rail Travellers, who asked Great Northern – the modern-day train operator that manages Hatfield station – if the Society could install its display. Great Northern’s property team welcomed the suggestion and made the unit available free of charge.
The exhibition is further enriched by 1930s Art Deco-style travel posters designed by students at the Hertfordshire-based Oaklands College of Further Education.
The branch line opened in 1865 to link St Albans with services to London King’s Cross, but passenger numbers dropped when the Midland Main Line opened just three years later, giving the city its first direct route to St Pancras.
Smallford, originally called Springfield, opened in 1866 as the first intermediate station to be built on the branch line. As GNR encouraged local commuting to counter the loss of London passengers, more stations and halts were added. Following over 60 years of varying fortunes delivering workers and raw materials to local industries, the route’s passenger numbers declined from the 1930s onward and the last passenger service ran in 1951. The line stayed open for goods trains until 1968, since when it has become part of the Alban Way footpath and cycleway.
The Heritage Society originally formed in 2013 with the support of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to ‘Bring the History of Smallford Station to Life’. It is currently campaigning to raise funds for a collaborative community project, working with St Albans District Council and Oaklands College, to improve the environment around the station platform and the Alban Way users’ car park beside it.
Station Manager Karen Sherwin said: “We’re delighted to be helping our local community partners raise awareness of the fascinating history of the railway in Hertfordshire and the work of the Heritage Society. Our passengers will enjoy the display and it’s another valuable way for the station to serve the community we’re part of.”
Jeff Lewis, Chair of the Heritage Society, said: “We’re very grateful to Great Northern for this unique opportunity to display some of our exhibition at Hatfield station. Our long-term aspiration is to gain occupancy of Smallford’s original ticket office, a unique Grade 2 Listed Building, and to raise the funds necessary to renovate and restore it and open it to the public as a Community Heritage Centre.”
Mary Lowe of HART said: “HART is very focussed on ideas for improving the station and we were keen to see interim use made of the vacant units – both to provide interest for people passing through the station and to help raise the profile of local groups and facilities. We are working on ideas for further displays.”
Photo credit: Govia Thameslink Railway