Huddersfield Station, situated at the top end of St. George's Square, is the railway station for the town.
The first railway line to cross the barrier of the Pennines from Lancashire to Yorkshire was the Manchester & Leeds Railway, which opened in 1841. The company opted to tunnel through the Pennines between Littleborough and Walsden, and the 1½ mile long Summit Tunnel remains one of the oldest railway tunnels in the world to still be in use.
The line then followed the Upper Calder Valley, passing through Todmorden and Hebden Bridge before connecting up with the existing North Midland Railway line to Leeds at Normanton. Major towns and cities such as Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax were bypassed by the line and the residents of Huddersfield were forced to travel to the nearest station at Cooper Bridge to use the line.
Pressure grew for the Manchester & Leeds Railway Company to build a branch line to Huddersfield, with locals hoping that it could then be extended with other rail links, but they company was reluctant and proposed a low-cost line running along the Colne Valley. With this plan, the station would have been situated at the lower end of the town and would likely remain a branch line terminus.
At a fractious meeting to discuss this proposed branch line route, a local remarked, "They have clapped us in a hole and want to keep us there!" The meeting reportedly ended in uproar after the company's general manager famously declared that Huddersfield "was not worth stopping the engine for."
In May 1844, the Manchester & Leeds Railway Company attempted to purchase the Huddersfield Narrow Canal but it was instead sold to the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway & Canal Company, who hoped to build a line from Cooper Bridge through to Stalybridge, following the line of the existing canal. This latter company eventually became part of the London & North Western Railway Company, whilst the Manchester & Leeds became part of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company (L&YR).
The Huddersfield and Sheffield Junction Railway Company (later acquired by the L&YR) was formed to build a line between Penistone and Huddersfield, and intended to join the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway at a junction to the south of Huddersfield. After discussions between the two companies, they agreed to shared ownership of the line from that junction to the intended railway station, and that the railway station should be a joint one.
The outcome of this unusual agreement was the building of a railway station on an unprecedented scale to a design commissioned from York-based architect J.P. Pritchett. The builder was Joseph Kaye. When it was suggested that an inscription be added to the front of the station to name the builder, Kaye reportedly replied "the work itself would be the best record of [my] name".
Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:
On the 26th April 1845 a local company, the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company, was authorised by Act of Parliament to begin work on a railway line, part of which would run along the lower Colne Valley to join the existing line at Heaton Lodge. The first sod was cut at Deighton on the 10th October 1845. Around the same time, work began on the station which was built to the northeast of the Market Place on part of a large field called George Close, subsequently to be developed as St. George's Square.
The foundation stone of the station was laid on the 9th October 1846. The day was declared a public holiday, church bells rang all day and an impressive procession of clergy, police, architects, contractors, engineers, magistrates, freemasons, company officials and shareholders paraded through the town to the Square. Bringing up the rear of the procession was a Right Hon. the Earl Fitzwilliam who was to perform the stone laying ceremony. Thousands of people crowded into the Square to watch the proceedings and celebrations continued throughout the day. Less than a year later work on the line was completed and the first train arrived in Huddersfield on 2nd August 1847.
The station, which was designed in classical style by James Pigott Pritchett of York, was built by Joseph Kaye, a man responsible for several of Huddersfield's fine public buildings. By the time the station was completed, in 1850, the Huddersfield and Manchester Company had become part of the much larger London and North Western Company. In May, 1849, the L. and N.W. reached an agreement with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company for the joint use of Huddersfield Station and for many years the two companies had separate booking offices at the station, the L. and Y. at the west end (unoccupied at present) and the L. and N.W.R. at the eastern end (now the Station Tavern). Still to be seen over these old offices are the nicely restored logos of the two companies, that of the Lancashire and Yorkshire with the appropriate red and white roses and that of the Huddersfield and Manchester (representing the L. & N.W.R.) with its suitable motto, "devant si je puis".
Plans to convert the L. and Y. office into a Victorian type buffet and a rail museum to be called "Head of Steam" are presently awaiting approval from the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Only twenty years after the station was opened, the state of the public accommodation there had become the subject of many complaints. Both the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce attempted to persuade the railway companies to attend to the matter but without success and it was only after Col. Zolland, a Government Inspector, held an inquiry into the matter at the station, on the 3rd February 1870, that things began to improve.
In 1881, at a time when the London and North Western Company was doubling most of its railway lines through Huddersfield, the decision was taken to extend the station by the addition of an island platform and to improve it by providing a subway and a large roof to cover both the old and the new platforms.
For many years, soot encrusted and grimy, Huddersfield Station was little regarded and it was not until it received fulsome praise from the poet John Betjeman in the 1960s that local people woke up to the fact that they had in their midst one of the finest examples of railway architecture in the country. In recent years the building has been cleaned and repaired whilst at the same time much has been done to improve the ambience of its surroundings. Now, at last, the scaffolding has been removed and we are able to see the station once again as its idealistic and confident Victorian builders meant it to be.
Huddersfield Station must be unusual in that it is approached from the east, above the ground, by means of a viaduct and from the west, under the ground, by means of a tunnel. At the time of building, the land to the east of the station was largely empty and consequently there was little difficulty in finding space for the long forty-five arch viaduct. The land to the west, however, was occupied and to make way for the entrance to the Springwood tunnel a great deal of property had to be demolished including a small street off Westgate, called Temple Street, which was the site of one of the town's first theatres, the Royal Circus.
The viaduct was the scene of a potential disaster when, on Saturday, 14th July 1866, shortly after 11 p.m. the express Bangor mail train hurtled into an excursion train from Leeds which, for some reason, had halted just outside the station. Amazingly, although there was a good deal of wreckage there were few serious injuries even among a party of teachers from Buxton Road Chapel who, returning from a day trip to Kirkstall Abbey, occupied the last carriage of the Leeds train.
Accidents in tunnels were fairly common and one occurred in the Springwood tunnel on Thursday, 31st March 1870. A cattle truck containing a valuable cow had been attached to a passenger train due in Huddersfield at 1.29 p.m. The train had passed through the Standedge and Gledholt tunnels without difficulty but in the Springwood, metal rails, put in to strengthen the tunnel roof some twenty years previously, caught the cattle truck and wrenched off the top and the sides. The train was brought to an abrupt stop but, luckily, although the passengers were severely shaken no one was seriously injured — not even the cow.
In our safety conscious times it is difficult to believe the number of accidents that occurred on the railways in mid-Victorian times when, after all, they had been operating for more than a quarter of a century. For example, in the year of the cow, 1870, there were no fewer than ten accidents, mostly collisions and derailments, on lines in or near to Huddersfield and although this was undoubtedly an all time high for a single year there were at least eight others in the four previous years. We will encounter the scenes of one or two of these later.
A calamity of a different kind put the station itself at risk on Wednesday, 3rd April 1867. At 2 a.m. a fire was discovered at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company's warehouse. By 2.30 a.m. all the local fire brigades had arrived at the scene but despite their efforts the building was soon engulfed. By 4 a.m. the roof was alight and half an hour later the wall nearest to John William Street fell. When the fire was at its height the heat was so intense that railway trucks some twenty yards away burst into flames. The wind carried showers of sparks and burning wood into St. George's Square and the streets around, putting other buildings at risk. One shop, Swallow's tobacconist in John William Street, actually caught fire - as also, it was claimed by its owner, did a drying stove some considerable distance away at Seed Hill. The L. & Y. must have either rebuilt quickly or moved into other premises for only sixteen months later on Sunday, 2nd August 1868, their warehouse again caught fire. It was the hottest day of a hot and dry summer and a wagon load of wool had been left directly beneath a plate glass skylight. The fire was discovered at 5.30 p.m. and by 8.00 p.m. despite the best efforts of the fire brigade the entire building had been destroyed.
ST GEORGE'S SQUARE. Railway station. 1846-50. Architect J P Pritchett of York. Sandstone ashlar. Pitched tile roof. two-storey central block with one-storey wings. Central block has eleven bays, articulated by giant Composite pilastrade on high plinth, with full dentilled and modillioned entablature. Central five bays have free-standing pedimented portico, two bays deep, with clock in tympanum. Inside portico, central three bays break forward for one bay. Podium of five steps. Central double doors with six moulded panels. End elevations are three bays deep and take pediments. Wings have nine bays each, fronted by open Composite colonnades, on three-step podia and less high plinths: full entablature. Third bay on north side has doorway with moulded surround and cast iron gates of plain but elegant geometrical design. Terminal blocks of five bays each, breaking forward one bay in front of colonnade, astylar but continuing the entablature of colonnade. Central three bays have free-standing portico, one bay deep, with no pediment but a solid panelled parapet in front and balustrades at sides. Elaborate scrolled consoles flank balustrades and two are placed above parapet flanking armorial badges inscribed "Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company", at north end, and "Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company," at south end. South block is continued south by four more bays of wall with same entablature: first bay has double doors with moulded surround, next three have plain blind panels. Detached block north of north terminal block eleven bays, first three have plain blind panels and full entablature, next five break back and have attic storey, last three also have attic and break back still further, and ground floor of these last eight is masked by a rock-faced stone lean-to. Platform elevation has, from north to south, as follows: one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one door with fanlight, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one door with four moulded panels and fanlight, one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, two sashes with sunk and panelled aprons, one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, two open passageways, one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, two sashes with sunk and panelled aprons, one door with eight moulded panels and fanlight, three pairs of panelled doors in pilastered wooden frames with fanlights and side lights, two sashes with sunk and panelled aprons, two blocked doors with fanlights, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, three sashes with sunk and panelled aprons, one modern door with fanlight, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one door with six moulded panels and apron, one canted wooden bay with pilasters and full entablature, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one door with six moulded panels and fanlight, one sash with sunk and panelled apron, one open passageway and one modern door. All windows are sashes with glazing bars, in plain surrounds on platform side, in moulded surrounds on street side; those to central block have cornices on ground floor, and pediments on first floor. Parcels office has two and Booking Office one fluted cast iron Tuscan columns supporting ceiling. Tiled Art Deco ticket kiosk with bronze mullions and case racks. Platforms are covered by one very wide and one other cast iron trusses with elaborate bosses at intersection of bracing members. Original supports have been replaced or reinforced, except for two on platform 4 which are columns with elaborately moulded bases and colectic capitals. Buffet and Waiting Room between platforms 4 and 8 is a separate match-boarded structure with panelled pilasters, each taking paired brackets and cornice. Steps down to underpass between platforms 4 and 8 have wooden handrails and cast iron balustrade with turned newels, both around stair well and dorm centre of steps. Massive stone paving slabs in underpass, and patent wooden non-slip steps down.
The grandeur of the station is the result of its being built at the joint expense of the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company (absorbed by the LNWR in July 1847) and the Manchester and Leeds Railway. The former built the line, and planned to extend it to Leeds via Dewsbury. The latter, having failed to win this concession, needed running rights to connect their main line at Cooper Bridge with their subsidiary from Springwood Junction to Sheffield. The foundation stone was laid by Josh Fitzwilliam, the Lord Lieutenant, on 9 October 1846, when a public holiday was declared and church bells were rung from dawn till dusk. It was partly opened for the commencement of services in August 1847, but not completed until October 1850. It had only one platform until October 1886, when the roof over the tracks, which had been begun in 1878, but had collapsed in course of construction in August 1885 (killing 4 men), was finally completed. The central part housed elaborate refreshment rooms which functioned until at least 1883.