The coming of the railway to Radcliffe
Until 1851 the River Trent was the main means of transport for heavy goods between Nottingham and Radcliffe, and many people were employed in this capacity. In 1881 only one household; the Upton family, were involved with the river traffic; operating the Ferry across the River. However the railway did attract a number of wealthy businessmen to live in the village and the area near the station saw a building boom in the 1870’s.
The Ambergate Railway Company (later amalgamated with The Great Northern Railway) were given the running powers into the Nottingham Midland Station from Grantham, and this line crossed the river at Radcliffe where it joined the Nottingham to Lincoln line at Colwick. The bridge over the river had 3 brick arches and 1 cast iron arch, a viaduct from the bridge to the wharf was built and completed in June 1848.
To celebrate, a large party on the lawn of Radcliffe Lodge was given by the contractors Messrs Greaves, Smart and Adams to thank the workers. Marquees were erected with long tables covered with food and drink. This was provided by Mr George Starkey and Mr Oliver Beckitt. Unfortunately when dinner was still in progress, one of the heaviest storms in memory occurred. Those seated at the tables were soaked by the rain which deluged the feast. The weather improved and festivities continued– glee singers, toasts to the royal family, the Duke of Wellington, the engineer, Mr Sanday (Earl Manvers’ representative) Mr Butler Parr and all the residents of the village. The day was summed up as ‘ A good dinner, good appetites, a good storm, good run and good humoured countenances.’ In 1881 concern was expressed in the Nottingham Journal regarding the state of the wooden viaduct known as Radcliffe Bridge.
The viaduct was at last rebuilt, work commenced in January 1901 and was completed on 5 September 1910.The viaduct and bridge is now a grade II listed structure.
Some rail workers were killed or injured on the railway, and accidents occurred on the line. One of them involving sheep in 1850; the train to Nottingham ran over a flock of sheep owned by Mr Edward Brewster of Radcliffe whilst passing over the river. 4 sheep were killed and a fifth killed by the returning train. In 1902 a fatal accident at the station was recorded in the Nottingham Guardian. A Mr William B Draper, aged 78, from Walnut Grove tried to get off the train but was dragged some distance down the platform. It emerged that Mr Draper had often complained about the ‘great drop’ at Radcliffe station on arrival from Nottingham. In May 1904 the platforms at Radcliffe station were raised to a level which will enable passengers to safely enter and alight from the trains.
The grand opening of the railway line from Nottingham to Grantham was on Monday 15th July 1850. Newspaper articles described the line’s ‘pleasant course through Radcliffe and Bingham and the high cultivation but flat aspect of the surroundings’. The track was described as ‘one of the smoothest ever built, without the least oscillation or rocking’. The actual station came in for scant praise. One writer commented: ‘The station houses are, with the exception of that at Bingham, small and of rather mean appearance’. Another described the buildings at Radcliffe as ‘neat’ but everywhere was ‘built with due regard to economy’ and ‘all the necessary offices, warehouses, etc are built for use, not ornament’.
When the railway opened in 1850 there were four passenger trains in each direction (Nottingham to Grantham)on Monday to Saturday with two on a Sunday. There were four classes of travel; first class; second class; third class and parliamentary or government . The timetable included a warning to the effect that the Company would not guarantee the arrival of trains at the respective stations at the times stated, but would use their best endeavours to ensure punctuality.
Excursions stopping at Radcliffe became a notable feature of the period and as early as 23rd August 1850 the Nottingham Journal carried an advertisement for an excursion to Belvoir Castle every Tuesday and Thursday leaving Nottingham at 10.20a.m and returning from Bottesford at 7.12 p.m. The fares were 4s.6d for first class and 3s.0d for second, this charge included admission to the castle grounds.
The trains bought visitors to the village attracted by numerous events. On one bank holiday in 1881 as many as 2000 visitors came by train to the village.
Not everyone thought the station was satisfactory as in December 1899 Mr J D Gorse who used to live at The Manor House in the village found conditions far from satisfactory. He wrote a letter of complaint to the Nottingham Daily Guardian:
Sir, I left Radcliffe yesterday (Sunday) evening. There was not a fire in either the ladies or general waiting room. The ‘booking hall’ arranged out of the old good shed, had a stove, and a lot of people around it were smoking. The train was late and spending 20 minutes on the cold and semi-dark platform was not pleasant. A Radcliffe resident said to me ‘there is but little care for passengers at this station at any time; and the trains on Sunday evenings are often very late.’
A few days later a reply appeared in the newspaper saying:
‘The thanks of all passengers on the G.N. Railway using Radcliffe station are due to Mr Gorse for drawing attention to the very wretched accommodation provided by the company. May I also point out that if we were furnished with a few foot warmers during the cold weather, and cleaner carriages it would conduce greatly to our comfort. The state of the first class carriages at times is a disgrace to any company.’
Another frequent complaint was the low level of the platform compared to the height of a carriage entrance. It was partly responsible for the death of 78 year old William Draper, from Walnut Grove in December 1902. After falling asleep, he had been suddenly awakened as the train was pulling out of Radcliffe, and the drop had caused him to fall and be dragged by the train. It was not until May 1904 that the platform level was raised.
There was a spacious goods yard at the station with facilities for handling coal, builders’ materials and cattle along with a small goods shed to deal with the agricultural traffic. The signal box was in the centre of the goods yard opposite mile post 123 from London King’s Cross and it commanded a good view in both directions from the outside curve on which the station was built. The main station buildings were on the Nottingham platform. The small waiting room on the Grantham platform had a large canopy and an ornate valance. All of the buildings were designed by architect T C Hine, whose later work in the Lace Market and The Park came to epitomise Victorian Nottingham. The station consisted of a booking office, two waiting rooms, two public lavatories, a porter’s room and a cycle store on the Nottingham side and a very grand waiting room on the Grantham side. There was a gracefully arched iron footbridge (removed in 1977) which enabled passengers to access both platforms.
A number of stationmasters came and went commencing with James Booth in 1850. Around 1886 a house had been provided for the stationmaster on Shelford Road, but in the 1900s they occupied the last house on the right in Lorne Grove.
It wasn’t until the First World War that the challenge to male dominance in the railway industry occurred and Gladys Breedon of Cropwell Road became a familiar sight as a porter on the station.
A number of coal merchants worked out of the station yard and horses and carts from the big houses fetched their own supplies from there before the Second World War. From the wooden office coal could be ordered and the bills settled. By 1961 this hut was still on site along with the substantial remains of two others.
The railway in the village opened up a building boom in the late 19th century with elegant residences being built within walking distance of the station. Radcliffe’s character began to change from agricultural to suburban as a result. Later on in the 1920/30s, a local resident remembered the businessmen, bowler-hatted and carrying umbrellas walking at a steady but unhurried pace towards the station to catch the 9a.m train. Only when all the businessmen were on board would the stationmaster blow his whistle and drop the green flag to release the train. He also recalled trains of twelve carriages each seating ten passengers and there was often a struggle to find a place to sit. On Wednesday market days the fares were slightly cheaper so the trains were even fuller. Cattle trains would fill the sidings waiting to be sent down the line to the cattle market: It was a full time job for Walter Todd, a porter, to keep them fed and watered.
Letters and parcels from the Post Office would be loaded on the 06.06a.m train to Nottingham Victoria. Newspapers would arrive arrive by early morning and mid-afternoon trains, the newsagents collecting them from the station. Baskets of racing pigeons were despatched on many Fridays to be released from points along other lines to find their way home to Radcliffe lofts.
The goods yard were frequently filled with a variety of vehicles handling a wide range of commodities. Local farmers made extensive use of the facilities offered. Walter Harrison and sons, the firm of provender millers and agricultural merchants off Bingham Road used rail transport for incoming goods. A weighbridge at the station was used to determine the quantities of bulk materials in and out.
By the late 1940s the station buildings were showing their age as there seemed to be little maintenance or modernisation. A prolonged wait on the eastbound platform in winter was not a pleasant experience. However, in 1966 the station was judged the cleanest and tidiest in the Nottingham division of British Rail’s Midland Region.
After Victoria Station was demolished in 1967 trains were diverted to the Midland Station in Nottingham and the Radcliffe goods yard was closed. Most of the buildings were demolished apart from a small brick-built building, heated by a coal fire where tickets could be purchased, however once tickets were available to buy on the train this building disappeared.
In 1974 British Rail wished to delete the words ‘on Trent’ from the station sign. This was met with opposition not only from the Parish Council but also the Residents Association. Local pride demanded the full name should be retained to distinguish the village from all the other Radcliffes in the country. It was apparently BR’s national policy to shorten station names. The council gave up the fight and the signs were changed.
On 11 December 1977 the footbridge over the lines was removed. The station was unmanned for a while and would-be passengers were addressed by a disembodied voice that informed them when the train they were waiting for had been delayed or worse still cancelled. This service was then withdrawn. By 1999 the station had the barest of platform facilities. A fence had been erected to prevent entry into to the area where the old goods yard stood, (an estate of houses now occupy the site) and the entrance to the station was re-sited further up the access road.
Very little was done to the station until in November 2017 a group calling themselves Friends of Radcliffe Station got together to work towards improving the appearance of the station. They weeded the platforms, planted flower beds, cleaned up the signage and created a community herb garden. Not only that they also cleared the roadside down to the station of vegetation and set about sowing wild flowers and planting spring bulbs. The group were given an award from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships and a plaque to commemorate this has been erected on the platform. A permanent mosaic of artwork created by the children from the village junior school was installed on the station. More work is planned by these volunteers and a Trains Working Party has been set up alongside the Parish Council to put pressure on the East Midlands Operating Company for more trains to stop at Radcliffe.