As I drove past Morpeth Railway Station the other day it was good to see that work is progressing on the revitalisation of its historic building.
The Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) is to be applauded, along with its funding partners, for securing the £2.2million, which over the next few months will give the station a new lease of life.
As a regular user of the station, it has been apparent for a good while that it was in need of improvement to ensure what is one of the stand-out legacies from the Victorian days remains as relevant for modern travellers.
The station was designed for the Newcastle & Berwick Railway Company by Benjamin Green, who was responsible, sometimes with his father John, for designing buildings such as Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and Grey’s Monument. It was opened in 1847 for what would have been the princely sum of £9,500.
Green designed the station in his ‘Scottish Baronial’ style and its characteristic features, including its very tall chimney and splendid portico entrance, made it a landmark building not just in Morpeth, but along the length of the East Coast Main Line between King’s Cross in London and Waverley Station in Edinburgh.
What is so pleasing about the work currently under way is that GMDT and its conservation architect John Curtis have been at pains to ensure the station’s features are preserved whilst bringing it into line with the needs of modern travellers. The feature chimneys will be reinstated to their original height, while the portico will be opened up to make an impressive entrance.
This is not the first time GMDT and John Curtis have been involved in giving an historic Morpeth building a new lease of life. Ten years ago they worked on improvements to the 300-year-old Morpeth Town Hall, which is now a modern civic building the town can be proud of, again preserving its features from when it was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh.
It is the heritage and history of the station that has secured its future. Both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Railway Heritage Trust are significantly supporting the regeneration because of their commitment to bring back into use historic buildings that would otherwise not be able to be commercially redeveloped. This has proved the catalyst for attracting other partners.
It’s good to know that the plans include bringing back into use vacant offices. They will be converted into much-needed accommodation for budding small businesses, and I am confident they will prove popular.
An increasing number of people want to catch a train from the station, not just to commute to Newcastle, but to journey on to the wider rail network. That has to be a good thing if it gets more cars off the road, but the back-up services must be in place to ensure passengers want to keep travelling by rail.
Parking at the station can be difficult because of the limited number of spaces so it is good to learn that planning permission is being sought to convert grassland opposite the entrance into a car park.
A cafeteria has also been included in the plans, as well as public toilets.
What is also going to be important for the future of Morpeth Railway Station is that efforts are made to encourage train operators to ensure more frequent services.
Over the next few years some 3,000 houses are scheduled to be built in and around Morpeth and if more of the people moving into them plan to travel by train, better and more frequent services have to be provided.
That I hope will be addressed, but for the moment I think we can all welcome the fact that Morpeth Railway Station will soon be equipped to provide a better service for travellers whilst at the same time preserving its all-important links with the past.