Why was Appleby Station provided with a passenger footbridge in 1901?

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One might think that this is a simple question with an equally simple (and rather obvious) answer - something along the lines of 'because the railway company wanted passengers to be able to get to the other side safely'. However, the story is much more interesting than that.

Before the arrival of the railways, it seems there was 'an ancient footpath' linking Appleby town centre with the Roman road known as 'High Street'. When the North Eastern Railway (NER) arrived, this footpath provided the most direct walking route between its station and the town centre. However, when the Midland Railway (MR) built its Settle & Carlisle line (S&C), the original alignment of this footpath was blocked. The new walking route involved a deviation down the NER's station road, then up the MR's station drive (or vice-versa). This is not a particularly lengthy deviation (just a few hundred yards), but it would have been incredibly irritating for regular station users, especially in bad weather or when rushing for a train. The irritation would have been increased by the poor state of the roads and footpaths:

"The MAYOR said they would remember that on his election he had promised to use his best efforts for improving the footpath running through the field called 'Lady Guards' to the Railway Stations. He had anticipated that the Midland and North Eastern Railway Companies would help to effect the improvement, and he had written to them for that purpose. The Midland Company had replied that they didn't see their way to assist them, and he had not yet heard from the North Eastern Company; but he had no doubt that both Companies would eventually subscribe something." Penrith Observer, 21 December 1880.

In November 1885, the local government arrangements in the Appleby area were reformed in response to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1883. This had four key implications for our story:

  1. it brought the railway stations within the jurisdiction of the newly formed Appleby Town Council;
  2. the Act required better record-keeping and better financial practices;
  3. as a result of #2, more information was made available in publicly accessible records (including the local newspaper reports used as the basis for this research); and
  4. Appleby Town Council began to involve itself in an increasing number of town improvement schemes (some of which related to the railway station approaches).

On 30 November 1886, the Penrith Observer reported that

"Alderman SANDERSON asked whether any movement had been made in regard to the making of a subway under the Midland Railway at the top of Clifford Street, and on the line of the ancient footpath. Mr. COUSENS said that he had seen Mr. Garrett not long ago on the subject, and that gentleman had pointed out certain improvements which the company might undertake, but said nothing with reference to the subway. - Alderman SANDERSON suggested that the Council should pass a resolution calling on the North-Eastern Railway Company to compel the Midland Company to make the subway. It would be beneficial to the Midland Company themselves, as the present means of getting from one platform to the other, by crossing the line, was dangerous. - Mr. HOGG concurred, and said the company might make a convenient approach to both platforms by means of the subway. - After some further conversation, the subject dropped."

A letter was subsequently sent to the NER and, on 15 March 1887, the Penrith Observer reported that

"A letter was read from the general manager of the North-Eastern railway stating that the directors, having regard to all the circumstances, do not see their way to call upon the Midland Company to incur the expense which the construction of a subway under the railway would involve. - In reply to a question the MAYOR said that the Corporation had no power to compel the Midland Company to make the desired improvement, and, after some conversation on the subject (in the course of which the existing inconveniences, and the dangerous level crossing at the Midland Station were referred to), it was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Alderman WHITEHEAD, seconded by Mr. MC.CONNAL, that a letter be written to the directors of the Midland Railway requesting them to make the desired subway."

On 10 May 1887, the Penrith Observer reported that

"the TOWN CLERK now read a reply from the Company stating that they did not see their way to incur the expense which the work would involve. - In the course of a conversation which followed, the dangers of the present level crossings at the Railway Station were strongly commented upon, and an opinion was expressed to the effect that the Company would probably be able to 'see their way' to secure the stable door after the horse has been stolen."

Appleby Town Council made further appeals to the railway companies over the course of more than a decade[1] and it even communicated with the Railway Commissioners and the Board of Trade. However, none of these interventions brought about the desired response. The turning point seems to have been a Council decision to prepare and submit a public petition (referred to as a 'memorial'), as reported in the Penrith Observer on 20 March 1900:

"The Sanitary and General Purposes Committee resolved that a memorial to the Midland Railway Company be prepared for signature by the public, asking the company to provide a subway connecting the two platforms of their station at Appleby. "The Town Clerk now produced the document, and on the completion of the reading the Mayor congratulated Mr. Hewitson on the way in which it had been drawn up. The petition pointed out that there is only one entrance to and exit from the Midland Station, on the down platform, and continued: There are no other means of reaching the up platform than a level crossing over the lines of railway, which are formed by planks - which in wet weather are greasy and slippery - filling the spaces between the lines of metals. This mode of crossing is a most dangerous one, as it not infrequently happens that both sets of rails are occupied at the same time, or that while a train is standing in the station on the up line, or has just left, and passengers are crossing over to and from such trains, sometimes round by the front of the engine, an express or other non-stopping train passes through the station, or shunting operations are proceeding on the other line. It has long been considered by the public to be an ever present source of danger. Many accidents have been narrowly averted, and many persons have suffered severely from shock to the nervous system consequent upon narrow escape from serious injury. Of this abundant and indisputable proof can be produced. One fatal accident has happened at this crossing, namely to a lad proceeding round the front of an engine on the up line; and though it may be said that he was a trespasser, yet the same thing might just as easily happen to a person having bona fide business at your station. The danger is much increased by the very exposed situation of the station, especially in the times of the high winds which sweep down from the adjacent hills. Moreover, apart from the actual risk to life and limb, it is in times of heavy rain inconvenient and dangerous to health, in the case particularly of ladies and invalids, to have to walk so far along the platforms exposed to the weather. We respectfully submit the forgoing to your Board, and pray that you will remove the existing danger, and merit the gratitude of your customers by the provision of a subway to connect the two platforms."

This seems to have been the first time that a strong and coherent argument was made by the Council in support of its request for a 'safer' crossing - and it seems to have done the trick. On 20 August 1901, the Penrith Observer reported the following:

"BRIDGE AT THE MIDLAND STATION A letter, received by Mr. R.E. Leach, was read from the Midland Railway Company stating that their engineer had been instructed to erect a footbridge at the Appleby station, and that the work would be commenced at once."

In November 1901, a redundant structure from the Midland Railway's station at Mansfield was relocated to Appleby. Unfortunately, it was knocked down again just seven months later as a result of some careless train loading and shunting (but that's another story).


[1] For additional research material relating to this topic, see "Contemporary accounts relating to Appleby Station Footbridge".


The newspaper accounts reproduced above were transcribed by Mark R. Harvey from digital scans of original newspapers made available online via the British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/).

The rest of the text on this page was researched and written by Mark R. Harvey (© Mark R. Harvey, 2022).

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