A Brief History of Railways In Thrapston
For nearly 100 years Thrapston, in common with Wellingborough, was well served by railways and had two stations: the London and North Western Railway – Thrapston Bridge Street – and the Midland Railways Thrapston Midland. Now, unlike Wellingborough, both its stations are closed and the track completely gone: Wellingborough lost one of its stations, the London and North Western but the Midland Railway station is still fully operational.
The two lines crossed in the fields to the south of Thrapston and the Midland single track line had to climb steeply in order to cross the LNW double track by means of a girder bridge and then cross the River Nene by a viaduct.
The Midland Station still exists and can be seen from the A605 road from Thrapston to Denford – on the left just before the A14 crosses overhead – but is now used as offices. The Bridge Street station vanished years ago and the site has been redeveloped.
In the 19 Century Thrapston was a very busy rural market town, lying at the junction of two busy main roads and also strategically placed to take advantage of the fact that, in the early 19th Century, no less than 15,000 cattle were fattened every year for the London Smithfield Market.
The London & Birmingham railway was completed by the autumn of 1838 and immediately started considering expanding its territory to Northampton (which at present it by-passed by some 5 miles due to the hilly nature of the town) and then down the Nene valley to Peterborough. A coach service for mail had been set up between Blisworth and Northampton as soon as the London Birmingham line opened but this was only seen as an apology for the full service that local residents demanded and within 7 years of Blisworth being opened, by 1845, the Nene Valley branch to Peterborough was opened.
A shareholders meeting was called on 16 January 1843 and a week later a further meeting was held in Thrapston under the Chairmanship of Rev. W S Bagshaw, to read the formal proposals agreed at that shareholders meeting in the form of a document produced by the London & Birmingham. This document stated, amongst other things, that the Company:
“Will erect a station at every turnpike-road which is crossed, and make every train stop there; that at all the parish roads passengers shall have the opportunity of joining or leaving the train; that at the crossing of public roads they will erect lodges and gates, where policeman shall be constantly stationed, day and night; moreover that they will so construct the stations as to afford every facility for the carriage of cattle to the London markets, and the transit of goods from the manufacturing districts, as well as for the carriage of corn; and further that they will convey the passengers at moderate fares, and cattle, corn, and merchandise at a low rate of charge.”
Despite the promises above there was considerable opposition to the new line and several meetings were held, one in Thrapston, to try to “derail” the proposals. However, a great many of the objections were from people with a vested interest in delaying the London & Midland from competing with the London and North Western line building from London to Peterborough and on to the north east of the country, and currently stalled through lack of funds near Bishops Stortford.
The final Royal Assent to the necessary Parliamentary Bill was granted on 4 July 1843 and a celebratory dinner was held at the Angel Hotel, Northampton on 27 July 1843.
Construction of the line began almost immediately and was overseen by no less a personage than Robert Stephenson – who had also carried out the same duties for the London to Birmingham line.
The line was divided into three contract sections and the first two, from Blisworth to Oundle, were given to John Stevenson of Derby: the third from Oundle to Peterborough was given to a man called Progden from Manchester.
The major part of the work, which, in general terms, was not onerous, were the sixteen bridges required to cross and re-cross the River Nene or its tributaries, and the building of a tunnel at Wansford. The line was built as double-track between Blisworth and Northampton, and single track all the way to Peterborough with a passing loop at Thrapston – roughly halfway.
Twelve stations were built from local limestone in an old English or Tudor Style: the names on opening (some changed later) were Northampton; Castle Ashby; Wellingborough; Ditchford; Higham Ferrers; Ringstead; Thrapston; Thorpe; Barnwell; Oundle; Wansford; and Overton.
A terminus at Peterborough had been envisaged on Fair Meadow, where the Bridge Fair had been held for centuries. Objections to this led, eventually, to Eastern Counties Railway – building from Ely to Peterborough in 1844 – agreeing to share their Peterborough terminus with London & Midland in return for “running powers” over the line to Northampton, giving it access to the Midlands and the North.
The Northampton to Blisworth section was officially opened on Tuesday 13 May 1845: the complete track was opened on Monday 2 June 1845 – nine months early. The first train left Peterborough at 7.0am on a fine summer’s day followed by a second train at 10.30am. This crossed with the first train from London at Thrapston, about an hour behind time and also crammed with passengers. On arrival in Peterborough this train was greeted with a brass band and the peeling of bells and, at 4.00, fifty people enjoyed a grand public dinner at the Angel Inn.
On 16 July 1846 the London and North Western Railway was formed by merging the London & Birmingham Railway with a number of other companies and, during the mid 1800’s, the development of iron ore mining in the area, suspended for 200 years by law due to the lack of wood for charcoal, the remaining wood being needed for our navy, was re-juvenated and provided a source of instant revenue for the railways.
Many sidings were built around local mines, and lengths of line laid to connect with these sidings. Whole areas of central Northamptonshire were pitted with quarries and it was to exploit the rich ore beds around Kettering and Thrapston that the Kettering, Thrapston and Huntingdon Railway was built in the 1860’s.
There were many other developments and mergers – far too numerous to mention here – and we must now jump to the end of the story, the decline and closure of railways.
The reasons for this, motor transport being the most striking, are well documented elsewhere – one need only mention the name “Beeching” to send a shiver down the spine of any conscientious railway enthusiast.
The final notice for Thrapston came when an announcement appeared in local newspapers on 12 July 1963 that, from 9 September 1963 the withdrawal of Railway Passenger Service between Northampton castle and Peterborough East and between Northampton Castle and Wellingborough Midland Road and from the following stations:- Northampton Bridge Street: Castle Ashby & Earls Barton: Wellingborough London Road: Irthlingborough: Ringstead and Addington: Thrapston Bridge Street: Thorpe: Barnwell: Oundle. As an alternative, passengers were recommended to the services provided by United Counties Omnibus Co.Ltd.
Thrapston launched a particularly vigorous campaign of protest at a meeting at the Ambulance Hall on 22 August 1963. Thrapston was a long way from national rail links geographically, the nearest being Kettering and the next – nearly twice the distance – Peterborough and Northampton. To further compound the problem Thrapston had lost its other rail link – the Kettering to Huntingdon line – four years earlier. The meeting was well attended, a protest petition signed, and an action committee appointed. But when the committee asked for collection to meet their expenses only £1 18s 3d was raised. Some examples of alternative transport times in comparison with the railway were offered that make interesting reading today:
Thrapston to Wellingborough by rail 27 mins: by bus via Woodford 46 mins: via Raunds 67 mins:
Thrapston to Northampton by rail took 51 mins: by bus via Kettering 85 mins: by bus via Raunds 110mins:
Thrapston to Peterborough by train took 40mins: by bus 65 mins:.
All this, and much more activity besides, was to no avail. The line was formally closed on Monday 4 May 1964.
An excellent History of the Railways in the Melton Mowbray area is available on this link: