Histon Railway Station
Extract from a Village Society Exhibition and booklet 16. E.F. Whitehead.
In 1847 the Eastern Counties Railway Company (which merged with G.E.R. in 1862) opened a station at Histon on the Cambridge St. Ives line. It was believed to be a marginal venture. However, the great demand for fruit and vegetables in the industrial north stimulated and sustained the growth of market gardening in this area and by the turn of the century G.E.R., G.N.R and Midlands Railway all used this line. When Chivers built their Jam factory next to the railway line in 1875 it was a priority to construct sidings. By 1901 15,000 tons of freight came and went each year. This was to increase tenfold over the next twenty years.
The Station Master at this time was Mr. Paige, whose daughter Lillian opened a private school in their home `The Limes' opposite the Baptist Church. For thirty three years this school sustained an enlightened approach to education which encouraged music and dance as well as the usual subjects. Her sister Alice was a keen photographer and it is her surviving pictures that give us a glimpse of our Edwardian past.
From 1903 the Parish Council pressed the railway companies to erect a platform cover and a more adequate waiting room "supported by the yearly increase in passengers." The cover built between 1911 and 1914 is maintained today by Histon Parish Council.
Histon Station circa 1911
By 1907 pedestrian and cycle traffic had considerably increased owing to the expansion of the factory. The constant closing of the level crossing gate at peak periods caused waits of up to fifteen minutes to many hundreds of people and it was at this time that a by-pass was first proposed.
Unfortunately, even before 1939, Chivers and others found motor vehicles a more versatile form of delivery. However, our line still had a valuable role to play in post war Britain. It acted as an important diversionary route. The Flying Scotsman, the Aberdonian and the Night Capital Express have all passed this way. It was also used as a trial line for new railway technology such as concrete sleepers, continuous welded rail, multiple aspect signalling (traffic light type) and for experimental rolling stock during the change-over from steam to diesel.
In the 1960s eighty trains a day were timetabled. Histon won the Best Kept Station Award for the third year in 1961 but it was the end of an era. The last working steam train passed in 1963 and as passenger traffic fell, the coal freight from the north ceased with the enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
On the 3rd October 1970, seven years after spending £189,000 on the Bridge Road by-pass, passengers services were closed. The freight service remained open for seasonal deliveries of fruit to Chivers (ended 1983) and because of a long term contract with the Amalgamated Road Stone Corporation of St. Ives for aggregates until 1992.
The campaign to get the line re-opened was begun by the Railway Development Society. In 1979 they organised the first of the popular "specials" with destinations such as Lowestoft and Christmas shopping in Stevenage. These continued until 1990. As of 1994, the County Council proposes that on the privatisation of British Rail they will purchase the land and the surviving track and restore a passenger service. (Sadly, this as yet has not come to pass.E.F.W. 1998.)
Railway Development Society Chairman 1997 : Steve Wilkinson 52, Manor Park, Histon, Cambs. CB4 9JT.