Cromford Station, Matlock, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 14:43 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013
Mike Smith visits Cromford Station where two historic buildings have been given a new lease of life
Angus Watson, chair of the Cromford Station Steering Committee, justifiably claims that Cromford has one of the most photogenic railway stations in Britain. Although the four structures that make up the station were built at separate times during a 30-year period, they form a unique composition, comprising a chteau-like station masters house set in an elevated position in thick woodland, an upside waiting room with the appearance of a French pavilion, a downside building with a long cast-iron canopy, and an iron footbridge with a gently curving span.
Thanks to recent renovations, the waiting room is now available for let as a romantic holiday hideaway and the downside building has been converted into two well-equipped, rentable office spaces with ample parking and instant access to the rail service to Derby. The story of the construction, survival and transformation of these splendid buildings is a tale of fluctuating fortunes, involving persistent campaigners, enterprising conservationists and inspired architects.
The railway line through Cromford was opened in 1849 by the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway (MBM&MJR). Despite this grand title, the line ran for a mere 11 miles from Ambergate to Rowsley. However, railway historian Glynn Waite regards it as historic. He says, It was a short branch that had to survive on tourist traffic perhaps the first railway in the world to do so.
The founding company did have plans to take the line to all the destinations in their title, but their money ran out and they ended up leasing the track to the Midland Railway, which subsequently extended the line to Derby in one direction and Buxton in the other. A century later, Dr Beeching proposed the closure of all the stations between Derby and Chinley, except Matlock and Buxton. The people of Cromford protested and transport minister Barbara Castle agreed to reprieve their station.
In 1966, the line between Matlock and Buxton was closed and provision at Cromford was restricted to a service between Matlock and Derby. Three years later, the up-line track was completely removed and the waiting room on that side ceased to function. However, the down-line track was left intact, and it still carries a daily shuttle service between Matlock and Derby, with alternate trains stopping at Cromford.
The first station buildings at Cromford were made of wood, but a stone-built house was constructed for the station master in 1855. Even though the station stood on a very short branch line at that time, the house was built in the grand manner of a French chteau. The architectural writer Mark Girouard explains this extravagance by suggesting that building was designed as a kind of railway entrance lodge to Willersley Castle, which had been built for Richard Arkwright in 1788.
Dr Christopher Charlton, the recently-retired director of the Arkwright Society, has an alternative theory. He points out that the chairman of MBM&MJR was Joseph Paxton, who had worked with his son-in-law G H Stokes on the Chteau de Ferrires for Baron Rothschild. The pair had become enamoured by the French chteau style and Stokes decided to use it on the station masters house, which he regarded as an entrance lodge, not to the castle, but to the romantic landscape of the Derbyshire Dales, which greeted passengers as they emerged from the Willersley tunnel.
In 2007, the station masters house and the upside waiting room were acquired by Tim Collis, who had left his post as a civil servant in London and relocated with his partner Ryan Phelps to his native Derbyshire. He quickly discovered that the house required a great deal of work, not least to make it damp-proof, but he decided to tolerate its inadequacies for the time being, because his priority was to convert the old upside waiting room into a holiday let. After securing grants of 20,000, he put 100,000 of his own money into the restoration of this charming building, which dates from 1860 and shares its architect and its French styling with the house. It had been Grade II-listed in 1971, but it was in a sorry state internally.
Tim employed architect Barbara Bowman, who had access to plans prepared some years earlier by Sam Bettany. Reversing Sams proposals for the front of the building, Barbara made the ladies waiting room into a bedroom and converted the ticket office and the general waiting room into a lounge-cum-kitchen. She knocked through the coal bunker and the toilets at the back of the building to create a bathroom, a toilet and a superb wet room, whist preserving remnants of the dividing walls so that the original geography of the building could still be read.
The building now has under-floor heating and insulating plasterboard, as well as a log-burning stove, and noise levels are low, because trains are confined to the downside track and run in daytime only. Tim has restored the diamond-patterned windows, painted the internal walls white, lit the main rooms with chandeliers and also installed a state-of-the-art kitchen range, which hides an original skirting board, now thoughtfully recreated at the foot of an adjacent wall.
Ryan has applied his flair for interior design by using red to create warmth in the bedroom and blue to produce a cooler look in the lounge. Externally, the tall chimney stacks have been reinstated, the roof has been restored in beautiful Westmoreland slate, a clock by Smiths of Derby has been re-installed in the tower and a barbecue and seating area has been created in the garden. The result is a wonderful holiday hideaway, which even has several cultural associations. Writer Alison Uttley caught the train to school at the station; the waiting room was used in the film of D H Lawrences Virgin and the Gypsy and it featured on the cover of the Oasis album Some Might Say.
As luck would have it, moves were also being made to restore the much larger building on the downside platform. Erected in 1874, it too had been saved by being listed, but had been used as an activity centre for almost 30 years by a group of London venture scouts, who had installed a false ceiling, converted all the doors onto the platform into fire doors for emergency use only and boarded up the central door into the booking hall.
In 2001, the newly formed Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Partnership asked the Arkwright Society to come up with a rescue plan for the building. Responding with his usual zeal, Christopher Charlton persuaded Network Rail to abandon their plan to sell the building for residential use and he then commissioned Mansel Architects to work with the society to develop an options appraisal.
The result was a plan to restore the building and convert it into two offices, so that the rental income could be used, not only to cover the borrowing that would be needed to pay for some of the restoration, but also to maintain the building in future years. In the longer term, the society intends to use the building as a portal, where visitors arriving by train will be able to access information, buy tickets for local attractions and board mini-buses to take them to heritage sites in the Derwent Valley.
As well as drawing up plans to convert the ladies waiting room and booking area into an office suite, architects George Jones and Pippa Mansel hatched a brilliant plan to cover the old gentlemens toilet area with a large lantern that would make maximum use of light. As a result, the second office space is housed in a striking glass-topped tower with echoes of signal-box design.
Using expertise gained by the Arkwright Societys in-house team during the renovation of Cromford Mills, building services manager Peter Bowler was able to arrange for the manufacture and installation of replacement windows and the creation of wooden wall-panelling to hide wiring for internet connections. The only interior finishes that were not stripped and restored were decorative ceiling mouldings that had been forgotten above the suspended ceiling.
The original cast-iron canopy over the central doorway on the non-platform side of the building was reinstated after being discovered in a Derby scrap yard by Trevor Griffin, a former resident of the station masters house, but the long canopy on the front of the building had to be left untouched on the insistence of Network Rail. This made the restoration difficult because it was found that the track-side wall had bowed outwards so much that it was actually pushing the canopy away from the eaves.
Although this canopy and the iron footbridge, which was constructed in 1885 and is also the property of Network Rail, have both remained intact, they have not been restored as yet. It is to be hoped that they will be renovated in the near future, so that this wonderful railway station can once again assume the appearance that was so familiar to Alison Uttley when she caught the train here on her way to school in Bakewell.
Details of the holiday let can be found on www.cromfordstationwaitingroom.co.uk (01629 580067). The Arkwright Society can be contacted on 01629 825776 and Glynn Waites history of Cromford Station, is published by Pynot at 11.95, with all proceeds going to the Arkwright Societys Station Project.