Stanbridgeford stationmaster's house March 2008
The branch line from Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable opened on 1st June 1848. This line was built by the London and North Western Railway Company under chief engineer Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson and co-designer and builder of the locomotive Rocket.
The Act of Parliament necessary to allow the purchase of land by the London and Birmingham Railway Company (which merged with several other companies to form the LNWR in 1846) was passed in 1845. The line left the main line to London just south of Leighton Buzzard Station.
Before arriving in Dunstable the railway had stops for Billington, Stanbridge and Houghton Regis. At that date Stanbridgeford Station was actually in the parish of Totternhoe. The site was moved into Stanbridge in the first years of the 21st century. The land was owned by Daniel Brown and the amount needed for the railway line was 2 acres, 1 rood, 6 poles and included both pasture, arable and a brook.
Brown agreed to sell the land for the railway line to London and Birmingham Railway Company in 1846 for £150, the tenant was then Thomas Willis [GA575/1]. In November 1848 there was a dispute between Brown and the company about the state in which they had left a pond so that it leaked its water [GA575/2]. The pond was necessary as it supplied drinking water to Willis' cattle. Brown's wife was still writing to the company on his behalf about the matter in 1851 [GA575/3].
Another dispute involving the railway company blew up in 1889 when the London and North Western Railway district estate agent wrote to the churchwardens of Stanbridge about a piece of land either side of the parish boundary with Totternhoe and close to Stanbridgeford Station which they considered they had acquired in 1847: "I find that your parish authorities are in possession of a small piece of land belonging to this Company at above place. I shall be glad to know if your parish is prepared to pay a small rent fot the same, for if not I must press for possession of the land at once".
The churchwardens replied on 27th: "We have received your letter claiming possession of a small piece of land near Stanbridgeford Station. We beg to say that we decline to pay rent for the same, that he land belongs to this Parish, that the parish has not agreed to sell it, and has never received any consideration in respect of the sale thereof. It has been let to tenants along with other parish land for a number of years of which we possess the lease. We have never heard of this claim before, the Company have never fenced the land, or taken possession of it in any way and we consider the claim of the Company to be preposterous".
The disputed land [P57/6/1]
On 2nd October the agent wrote again: "I am in receipt of your letter of 27th ultimo. The piece of land referred to in my letter of 26th ultimo is the piece which I have marked X X on the rough sketch on the fly leaf hereof [see the image above], the parish boundary runs through it a portion of it being in Totternhoe parish and a portion in Leighton Buzzard parish [actually now Stanbridge]. I shall be glad to hear from you further". The churchwardens wrote back on 4th simply stating: "As regards that said piece we maintain that it is entirely in this parish".
There the issue seem to have rested until 17th June 1911 when the company wrote again: "I understand that a fence to small rectangular plot of land near entrance to Goods Yard at Stanbridgeford Station has been repaired this year and the gate giving access to the land locked up, the work having been done, so i am informed under the direction of the Vicar and Churchwardens. This Company hold [sic] a deed for the land in question and under these circumstances, I shall be glad to know under what arrangement this work has been done". The vicar replied on 3rd July: "I beg to say that the land referred to belongs to the Vicar and Churchwardens and that the repairs were done to their own fence which was erected by their predecessors in office a good many years ago. The Railway Company's fence is on the opposite side (the western side) of the plot referred to" [P57/6/3].
The company, of course, wrote back asking for proof of title. The Vicar replied: "I beg to say that I have been Vicar here for 40 years and that during that time the land has been let by the churchwardens of which letting we have records ... As to your possession of a deed for the land, may I ask if there is a place on the deed? I think the stream has been straightened since there ceased to be a pond [see above] and that the land in question was then acquired by the churchwardens. I may add that the boundary fence of the Railway Company has been in its present position since I have known the place. The company replied: "The land in question is distinctly shewn on the plan drawn on the conveyance to this Company from T. N. Macnamara, dated 28th July 1847".
The vicar wrote again: "I beg to say that the churchwardens state that the above land is their own and that they cannot understand your laying claim to it". The company replied: "This company claim the land by reason of their having purchased it and holding a conveyance for it, than which I know of no better reasons for claiming it. Unless the churchwardens have a better title than this, and I must say, at present they have not quoted one, I shall be obliged if you will let me know definitely whether they presist in their claim, before taking further action in the matter. I cannot reconcile myself to the fact of churchwardens laying claim to land to which they can shew no title".
It was almost exactly a year, October 1912, before the matter went any further: the company wrote: "I have now obtained the conveyance in this case and should like to have some further discussion on the matter. For this purpose I propose to come to Stanbridgeford on Monday morning the 21st instant, by train arriving at 12.35 bringing the deed with me, and will call on you shortly after that time".
The vicar's notes of the meeting are as follows: "Mr. Hatley came here on the above date at 2 o'clock. Mr. David Eames, churchwarden, shortly afterwards joined is. Mr. Hatley produced a deed on which a place was drawn indicating that our land had been conveyed to the Railway Company. The whole piece of land delineated, included the purchase from Macnamara and our land was coloured pink. This place formed the only evidence which Mr. Hatley advanced. We on our side pointed out that the Company had alwats placed their fence on the west side of our land, that we owned it before the Railway was heard of and that Mr. Eames' father and uncle had always so asserted. We further said that the maker of the plan in the deed had made a mistake in including our land, and pointed out that their deed gave no statement as to the owners of the neighbouring lands as is usual. On enquiring from Mr. Hatley if he supposed that the churchwardens had enclosed the land after it was purchased by the company, he said he would not commit himself. Evidently he felt the absurdity of making such a charge". As can often happen the result of this spat cannot be told as no vestry or Parochial Church Council minutes from later than 1908 have yet been deposited with Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service!
Layout of Stanbridgeford Station in 1927 [Z42/6] to see a larger version please click on the image
The plan above shows the layout of the station in 1927. In 1911 the railway property of the Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable line was valued for rating purposes. The notebook [Z720/228] reveals the following about Stanbridgeford Station:
- The station master's house "say 3 up, 3 down";
- The platform measuring 7 feet by 150 feet with the same on the other side of the tracks (Note: width of platform is really 7 feet 4 inches");
- Two wooden buildings measuring 22 feet by 6 feet and 20 feet by 14 feet;
- Sidings measuring 800 feet;
- A weighbridge house with its aforementioned weighbridge;
- A goods yard;
- Joseph R. Labrum's coal office (13 feet by 11 feet) and yard with two turntables for trucks and a cart shed measuring 16 feet by 18 feet;
- The station building ("wood with corrugated iron roof") measuring 20 feet by 8 feet;
- Waiting room measuring 20 feet by 3 feet with a lean-to against it measuring 5 feet by 4 feet 9 inches;
- A urinal without measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 5 feet;
- A cow yard measuring 34 feet by 10 feet ("built on timber");
- Ladies' waiting room "on brick foundations, wood wit hslate roof and pump" measuring 12 feet by 8 feet;
- A wood shed in the yard measuring 8 feet by 10 feet ("store");
- The booking hall and waiting room measuring 23 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches "wood on brick foundation" and an awning measuring 23 feet 6 inches by 6 feet.
The London and North Western Railway was absorbed by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922 and in 1948 all railways were merged into the nationalised British Rail. The Dunstable Line was, not surprisingly, since it only covered eight miles, considered uneconomic and closed on 2nd July 1962 and its tracks gradually removed. The wooden buildings of the station were demolished in late 1968. After the closure of the station and shortly before the demolition the station was usued for filming an episode of the TV series 'The Avengers'. Today the former station master's house survives as a private house.
Fred Cockman, in his book The Railway Age in Bedfordshire gives examples of timetables including one for July 1890 showing that a train leaving Leighton Buzzard took between nine and ten minutes to arrive in Stanbridgeford and then a further six or seven minutes to arrive in Dunstable (reverse times were between five and seven minutes from Dunstable to Stanbridgeford and then another ten minutes to Leighton Buzzard).