LOOKING BACK: With Long Sutton and District Civic Society
In our last column we talked about the life stages that buildings go through, resulting, eventually in obsolescence and demolition. Some buildings though seem to be perennial, reinventing themselves as times and tastes change. Old country railway stations for example, abandoned since Mr Beeching’s axe, may have lain derelict for decades, but are often given new life by someone who sees the benefit of conversion into a unique house or business property.
One prominent local example is the former Gedney Railway Station for which planning permission has just been given to a local building company for use as their offices and yard.
The station house was built in 1862 and closed 97 years later in 1959, the result of changing post war economies and better road transportation, predating the Beeching cuts by a few years, though goods traffic held on until the mid 1960s.
It was on the Midland and Great Northern line, affectionately known at the time as the ‘Muddle and Get Nowhere’ line by passengers, which followed a circuitous 180-mile route between Great Yarmouth and Peterborough, calling at many country stations in East Anglia and Lincolnshire in between. In an area of poor roads and dispersed rural communities it was a new lifeline to draw communities together and to transport goods.
The importance of the coming of the railway in the early 1860s cannot be underestimated. It was the making of the food production and distribution industry in the area we know today, allowing produce to get to London and the Midlands within a day or so. Return trains brought coal for industry and domestic hearths, mail and, of course, people, to visit, work in the fields and, later on, for recreation. At its peak the line was carrying 100 trains a day.
An indication of the declining fortunes of the railway comes from the memoirs of Victor William Foss, formerly of Long Sutton, who became a school teacher in Leicester. He writes: “...when I went on holiday to my grandmother’s I always managed to spend a few weeks at Stonegate (a farmhouse in Gedney). I used to travel from Long Sutton Station to Gedney Station by the little train. It used to cost me a penny which was half the fare of an adult for that little journey and I often wondered even then, how they could afford to convey me two miles for the price of a penny. There were usually very few other passengers on the train. I usually got a coach completely to myself.”
Evidently they couldn’t afford it and effectively went bankrupt, leaving all those old stations, signal boxes, gatekeeper’s cottages and sheds to dereliction or maybe years later, as with Gedney, a productive alternative use.