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Getting the Heritage Right

The monstrously horrible platform building at Cheltenham Racecourse station

The monstrously horrible platform building at Cheltenham Racecourse station

I have been a bit reluctant to enter the debate about the pros and cons of the proposed design for the recreated Broadway station. But now that it has hit the columns of Steam railway magazine this month, I feel I can  contribute to what is emerging as a pretty fierce fight between commercial expediency and heritage values.

In a nutshell, the chairman of the GWSR Board, Alan Bielby, has his preferred and costed design, drawn up by a local builder. In many respects it will reflect the general flavour of the original design but longer and modified to meet modern requirements for more toilets and a cafe.  So far, so good.  However, in other significant respects, it is, for many people on the railway, far too much of a compromise to be acceptable.

For starters there will be fake chimneys that look ok ….but no fireplaces. Then there is talk of under floor heating!  And lastly, there is the canopy. The railway’s new ‘Heritage Group’ has objected very strongly to the design for the canopy because it will, in no way, be any sort of acceptable reproduction of the traditional GWR style such as can be seen at Toddington.

If this seems a bit, well, trivial when, as Alan Bielby says, ‘hardly anyone looks up’, we have to remember that there is some ‘previous’ to all this. Most of us connected with the railway hate with a vengeance the designs of the buildings at Cheltenham Racecourse, the platform 2 shelter at Winchcombe and the signal box at Gotherington. None of these are anything other than modern buildings nodding a head vaguely at GWR design. They were built at a time when the rush was on to extend to Cheltenham and heritage concerns took a back seat.  It is worth mentioning in passing that the ex GWR Exminster box was, I am told, brought to the railway for use and was later scrapped in favour of these modern structures.

Now, though, there is clearly a desire that Broadway should be the railway’s  heritage ‘Jewel in the Crown’ and some thing to br proud of, not merely… er… ok.  Kidderminster station is being widely quoted as the gold standard in modern building to a heritage design with beautiful results and, please note, Alan Bielby:  people do look up at the roof!  In fact they admire it.

Most people I meet want it to look right and feel strongly that the effort should be made to do it right first time as, once botched, it will stay a long time botched.  Some of us want the station to win heritage prizes – that would make us all very proud of the work that has been done and be a fitting tribute to all the heroic hours that have been put into the building so far.  The reproduction signal box is looking very good – we won the battle to get authentic wooden windows (the plan had been for Upvc!!) and it is about as good as it can be but I doubt that anyone wants the nasty option for the station that is being proposed.

So, what can be done with the station building? The Heritage Group has offered an alternative plan after talking to Dave Redfern, the man responsible for that magnificent bit of heritage work at Birmingham Moor Street. Their (our) plan is to build the canopy with the proper section girders and, even better, fabricate them easily in our own workshops. It’s not expensive and and isn’t it worth spending that little bit more time and money making it right for the future?

All we need now is some more democratically inclined Board members who a) consult routinely with all the members, b) ask them what and how they want things, c) listen to our passionately held views about how a GWR heritage railway should look. and d)  try hard to implement those wishes, bearing in mind economic imperatives.   Not much to ask, is it?

Oh yes, and we really do want those real fireplaces in the Waiting Rooms!


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3 Responses to “Getting the Heritage Right”

  1. Seems to me that the chairmanis saying you will do as i say,having chimneys but no fireplaces,whats that all about,we all want it to look like a proper GWR building,if the chairman continues to railroad his wants through,simply vote to replace him

    Posted by Mr.P.Taylor | May 21, 2015, 4:07 pm
  2. Autocratic Chairman get rid of him at the earliest opportunity Remember its your railway and Not a one man show. Vote with you hands if that doesn’t work vote with your feet …You only have to look at round at some of the so called Heritage Railways and its one man affairs to see the road the GWR will be travelling in if its not sorted Best of Luck and keep up the good work Broadway will be spectacular if its done democratically

    Posted by Andrew | May 21, 2015, 4:49 pm
  3. I haven’t seen Steam Railway yet but it sounds so typical of Heritage Railways that end up with the wrong people managing them.

    The Heritage Railway movement started because enthusiasts wanted to bring back what Beeching and Governments had decided was no longer economical. The fact that a fireplace and working chimney stack means a little more work for the volunteer station staff is what it’s all about. If underfloor heating and no atmosphere is the name of the game, then replace your locomotive fire with electricity Mr Bielby and watch your enthusiasts and tourist alike walk away! If you want a cheap theme park then get a job at Drayton Manor Park.

    Posted by Quentin McGuinness | May 21, 2015, 8:42 pm

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