03 October 2023

York Railway Station
was ‘one of the
great cathedrals
of the Railway Age’

When York Railway Station was built in 1873-1877, it was the largest station in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We got back to Stony Stratford early this morning after a journey through the dark following our extended weekend in York. In recent months, it seems, this atation has become a very familiar place as a starting point and destination.

York Railway Station is one of the great buildings of Victorian England and the train-shed is regarded as ‘one of the great cathedrals of the Railway Age’. When it was built in 1873-1877, it was said to be the largest station in the world.

York Railway Station was designed by the architect Thomas Prosser and the engineer Thomas Elliot Harrison. This station was opened on 25 June 1877 by the North Eastern Railway Company to replace an earlier station built within the city walls in 1841.

York Railway Station, operated by London North Eastern Railway, is a key junction halfway between London and Edinburgh, and links the Cross Country and the TransPennine Express routes.

The first York railway station opened in 1839 and was a temporary wooden building on Queen Street outside the walls of the city. What is now York old railway station opened within the city walls in 1841. But trains needed to reverse out of the old station to continue their journeys, and this made it necessary to build a new station outside the walls.

York Railway Station at night … it was designed by Thomas Prosser, William Peachey and Thomas Elliot Harrison (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

York Railway Station was designed by the North Eastern Railway architects Thomas Prosser and William Peachey and the engineer Thomas Elliot Harrison and it was built by Lucas Brothers.

Thomas Prosser (1817–1888) was the first company architect of the North Eastern Railway Company. He began his training in the Durham office of Ignatius Bonomi (1787-1870), one of the designers of the Skerne Railway Bridge, one of the oldest railway bridges in the world and the oldest still in use. Later, Prosser did some of the preparatory architectural drawings for Newcastle Central Station, including the station portico.

York Railway Station is one of Prosser’s major works. He retired for health reasons in 1874, and died in Gateshead in 1888.

Prosser worked on the station in York in partnership with the engineer Thomas Elliot Harrison (1808-1888), who gained his engineering experience on the lines his father had helped to establish and in his early career he worked with George Stephenson and Robert Stephenson.

He was the chief engineer of the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway from 1850. He became North Eastern Railway’s first chief engineer at its formation in 1854, and remained in post until he died in 1888. His works include the Skelton viaduct on the Ouse, the Victoria Viaduct and Monkwearmouth railway bridge.

The architect William Peachey (1826-1912) was known for his work for the North Eastern Railway. As well as working on York Railway Station, he designed railway stations in Brotton, Darlington, Etherley, Middlesborough, Saltburn, Sunderland and Tow Law, and Baptist and Wesleyan chapels, including the Baptish church on Priory Street, York.

Colourful wrought iron work on the footbridge includes the White Rose of Yorkshire and the heraldic logo used by North Eastern Railway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

When York Railway Station opened on 25 June 1877, it had 13 platforms and at that time it was the largest train station in the world. New platforms were added in 1909, and the current footbridge was built in 1938, when the station was resignalled.

The station was heavily bombed during World War II. On one occasion, on 29 April 1942, 800 passengers were evacuated from a King’s Cross-Edinburgh train that arrived during a bombing raid. On the same night, two railway workers were killed. The station foreman William Milner died when he returned to his burning office to collect his first aid kit. A plaque in his memory has been erected at the station.

The station was extensively repaired in 1947. The track layout through and around the station was remodelled again in 1988. The station was renovated in 2009.The platforms at York have been renumbered several times, and over time the number of platforms has been reduced from 15 to 11.

All the platforms in York, except 9, 10 and 11, are under the large, curved, glass and iron roof. They are accessed by a long footbridge that also connects to the National Railway Museum, or by lifts and either of two pedestrian tunnels.

The fastest southbound services from York run non-stop to London, completing the 188-mile journey in 1 hour 52 minutes. TransPennine Express provides a number of express services across the north of England to Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Newcastle, Scarborough and Middlesbrough.

Very early this morning, it seemed, all trains to Manchester Piccadilly and serving Manchester Airport, had been cancelled. I was thankful I was not depending on trains to catch a flight, but also wondered how a government whose public transport policy constantly fails to deliver on TransPennine routes such as these can be expected to have a sensible approach to HS2 and continuing it from Birmingham to Mancester and Yorkshire.

New automated ticket gates were planned, but the City of York Council wished to avoid spoiling the historic nature of the station, and the plans were scrapped.

In Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins, the station was one of only 10 to be awarded five stars. The station is now listed Grade II.

York Railway Station is one of only ten train stations to be awarded five stars by Simon Jenkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A new station hotel, the Royal Station Hotel, was designed by William Peachey as an integral part of the new station. It was built by Lucas Brothers, and opened in 1878, a year after the station opened.

As the North Eastern Railway Company’s flagship hotel, it was managed directly by the railway company. It is a five-storey hotel built of yellow Scarborough brick. When it opened, it had elegant banqueting rooms with high-ceilings, and 100 large bedrooms.

Now the Principal York, the hotel recently underwent a refurbishment of the public areas, 164 rooms and suites and corridors and it is a Grade II listed building.

We caught the bus to Milton Keynes very early this morning outside the Principal York. It is curious how, in our comings and in our goings, life sometimes seems to go around in circles. Charlotte’s grandparents spent their honeymoon in the Royal Station Hotel, York, in 1940.

Most of the platforms in York are under the large, curved, glass and iron roof (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (128) 3 October 2023

Saint Michael’s Church, the former ‘English Church’ in Portarlington, Co Laois … built in 1694-1696 and rebuilt in 1830 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII, 1 October 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today recalls the life and ministry of George Bell (1958), Bishop of Chichester, Ecumenist and Peacemaker.

Two of us returned from York overnight after our short weekend break, arriving back in Stony Stratford early this morning. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Church celebrated Saint Michael and All Angels last week (Friday, 29 September). So my reflections each morning during Michaelmas last week and this week are taking this format:

1, A reflection on a church named after Saint Michael or his depiction in Church Art;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Michael’s Church was built to serve the English-speaking families in late 17th century Portarlington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Michael’s Church (‘English Church’), Portarlington, Co Laois:

Saint Michael’s Church, a former Church of Ireland parish church in Portarlington, Co Laois, was once known as the ‘English Church.’ It stands on the east side Market Square, beside the dilapidated former Savoy Cinema, almost hidden behind the former Market House, and diagonally opposite Saint Paul’s, the ‘French Church,’ on the corner of the Square and the town’s main street, French Church Street.

It may seem strange that when Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, built his new town of Portarlington on the banks of the River Barrow in 1666, he provided no parish church for the new town.

A small part of the town was in the parish of Clonehorke, King’s County (Offaly), but it was mainly in the parish of Lea, Queen’s County (Laois). The nearest parish church was then in the neighbouring village of Lea, near Lea Castle and 3 km outside Portarlington.

Portarlington straddles the border between Co Laois and Co Offaly. However, the colony founded by Bennet was an economic and political failure, and he sold off his Irish estates before he died in 1685.

But new life came to Portarlington in the 1690s in the wake of the Williamite Wars. The Portarlington estates were confiscated from Sir Patrick Trant, a Jacobite, and granted to Henri de Massue (1648-1720), Marquis de Ruvigny and Earl of Galway.

Henri de Massue was a Huguenot and a former courtier in Versailles who had fled France as a religious refugee after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He invited other Huguenot refugees to settle on his new estate from 1692.

Lord Galway realised that the parish church in Lea was too far away and that his expanding town needed new places, he set about building not just one but two new churches in Portarlington.

Two churches and two schools were established: one of each for the French-speaking and English-speaking residents. But until the 19th century they remained, officially, chapels of ease to the original parish church 3 km outside Portarlington in the village of Lea.

Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), noted that the two churches built in Portarlington during the reign of William III were dedicated to Saint Michael and Saint Paul. They were endowed with a rent-charge of £40 late on lands in the area.

Saint Michael’s Church was for the English-speaking families and Saint Paul’s Church was to serve the French and Flemish families; in time, they became known as the ‘English Church’ and the ‘French Church.’

The income of the French Church was augmented with an annual grant of £50 voted by Parliament, while the former Board of First Fruits increased the stipend of the minister of the English Church to £100 per annum.

Portarlington is in the Diocese of Kildare and both churches were in the patronage of the Bishop of Kildare.

The English church, on the east side of the Square, was rebuilt in the late Georgian style ca 1830. Seven years later, Samuel Lewis noted in 1837 that the English Church ‘has a handsome spire.’

Technically, the parish church in Lea remained the Church of Ireland parish in the area, even after it was rebuilt ca 1810. In 1869, the French Church became the parish church in Portarlington in place of the English Church.

However, the perpetual curate since 1838, John Worsley, who was also Dean of Kildare, kept the English Church open, and the two churches maintained separate parochial lives until 1887, when the church schools closed and the two churches were amalgamated.

The English Church was then deconsecrated, and the spire was eventually removed in 1924. The former church is now used as community hall.

The former church has a round-headed door opening with replacement timber panelled door, put in place ca 1980, with an over-panel. Inside, the ceiling has a decorative plaster rosette and the chancel has a decorative plaster arch.

The building has coursed rubble limestone walls with an ashlar plinth, quoins, stringcourse and coping. The round-headed windows have limestone sills, limestone voussoirs and replacement metal-framed casement windows that date from ca 1940.

Lea Parish Church, 3 km outside Portarlington, remains open, but is only used from Easter until October, and then with a twice-monthly service.

Saint Michael’s is also the name of the Roman Catholic parish church at the west end of Portarlington, on the Offaly side of the River Barrow.

The ‘English Church’ is now used as a community hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 51-56 (NRSVA):

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.’

Saint Paul’s Church, the ‘French Church’ in Portarlington, Co Laois … built in 1694-1696 and rebuilt in 1851 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Supporting Justice for Women in Zambia.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (3 October 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for the Anglican Church in Zambia and the Zambia Anglican Council.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord, we pray that your grace
may always precede and follow us,
and make us continually to be given to all good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint Paul’s was built to serve the French-speaking and Flemish families of Huguenot refugees in Portarlington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The ‘French Church’ became the parish church in Portarlington in 1869 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)