Harlington Station 1914 [Z1306/53/6]
Harlington Station was built in the 1860s as part of the extension of the Midland Railway from Bedford to London. A series of court cases during the autumn of 1866 show that a number of Harlington residents had taken advantage of the railway construction work to purloin wood from the site, presumably for use over the winter as firewood. Five individuals appeared at the Woburn Petty Sessions on 14th September charged with stealing wood: Joseph Ashby, Elizabeth Linger and Daniel Cox were acquitted, but James Chance and 18 year old Catherine Bushby were both convicted and sentenced to seven days and three days in gaol respectively. Another man, William Pedder, and an elderly couple, Joseph and Ann Bushby, were sent for trial at the Bedford Quarter Sessions in October.
When these cases were heard Thomas Brown, a foreman employed by Messrs. Brassey and Ballard, the contractors working on the line, said that a small tunnel had been built near Harlington and a particular type of boards had been used in its construction. He had later noticed that these boards and some spraggs – which he explained were used on the railway to stop carriages – had gone missing. On 3rd September he was shown by local policemen PCs Busby and Olden various boards, sleepers and spraggs, some of which had been found hidden in William Pedder’s barn and some in a ditch in his neighbour’s garden. Pedder, who was employed on the railway works as a platelayer, said he had picked the wood up off the line “a long time ago” and admitted taking “some bits” home. These “bits” in fact amounted to a cart load! Similar evidence was given against Joseph and Ann Bushby, whose garden contained two cart loads of wood from the railway hidden under some other wood and straw. PC James Busby asked Ann Bushby where the wood came from, and she said she had picked part of it up on the lane “the same as other people”. Joseph Bushby temporarily disappeared, but gave himself up to the police the next morning and admitted he had “fetched” some of the wood.
William Gibson, a boy who had worked on the small tunnel at Harlington, identified the boards found at both Pedder’s and the Bushbys’ houses as being some which had been brought from Chalton to Harlington at the end of July. Henry Small, a railway contractor from Luton who was in charge of the number 6 contract works from New Mill End, Luton to Flitwick also gave evidence that the boards found were similar to the boards used at the Harlington tunnel. He stated that nobody had the right to take away or sell any of the boards, sleepers or sprags; old sleepers would go for sale at a public auction, and boards of that type would never be sold.
William Pedder was found guilty of stealing the wood and sentenced to 14 days in gaol with hard labour. The Bedfordshire Mercury reported that in his summing up the chairman of the Bench said it was clear this practice of taking small amounts of wood had been going on for some time and that “though the amount against this man was small, yet when sixty or seventy go and do the same thing the loss of the contractors must be large, and therefore it was desirable to stop it”. Joseph Bushby told the court he had put “a few broken spraggs” in the garden, and that he was in receipt of parish allowance (in other words, he was receiving poor relief). Ann Bushby denied saying anything at all to PC Busby, and claimed the policemen had lied in claiming that she did. The Bushbys were also found guilty. The chairman said their case “was different from the last because the prisoners had been found guilty after being cautioned”. He “really should have thought that persons at their time of life would have been a little more careful. They would be sent to prison for seven days with such hard labour as they could do”.
It seems that a little extra firewood was considered by many in the village to be a handy and at least semi-legitimate perquisite from the railway works, and the eight charges brought at the Petty Sessions and Quarter Sessions were intended to make an example of some of the culprits and discourage future pilfering. None of the five individuals who were convicted and gaoled had any previous criminal record.
Harlington railway station was finally opened on 12th July 1868. The trains initially ran from Bedford to Moorgate until St. Pancras station was opened later that year. The original plan had been to run the line through Harlington’s larger neighbouring parish, Toddington, and the station was originally known as “Harlington for Toddington”, later changing its name to just Harlington.
Steam trains were replaced by diesels in the 1960s. In 1968-69 correspondence in the Harlington Parish Council collection (reference PCHarlington32/2) indicates there were rumours at this time that Harlington Station might be closed, but these proved to be unfounded. The line was electrified in 1983 and now runs through London to Brighton. At this time the original station buildings were restored. The station still has the original iron footbridge from 1868.
Heritage Environment Record 1066
Quarter Sessions depositions: QSR1866/4/5/4-5 and 6