15 December 2020 · AGM + Leatherhead Station: The Stationmaster’s House

Presenter: Andy Davies

The business of the Branch AGM went smoothly with the agenda, minutes of the previous AGM, reports and accounts all having been circulated in advance. They were accepted unanimously. Members present were reminded that the committee is seeking an additional volunteer(s) to provide some fresh ideas. The current members of the branch committee, having indicated a willingness to stand again, were unanimously re-elected. There was a short break after the AGM before the meeting continued with Andy Davies’ presentation.

The Stationmaster’s House at Leatherhead is a very pretty Grade II listed building and Andy highlighted the striking feature of the tower as a landmark. The first station was opened in 1859 by the Epsom & Leatherhead Railway Company and was worked jointly with the LBSCR (London, Brighton & South Coast Railway) from August 1859 but was later closed and replaced by two separate stations in March 1867 – one for the LSWR (London & South Western Railway) and the other for the LBSCR. The oldest photograph showed the very first Station House situated about half a mile further north of the present day location, with the photograph apparently dated to 1856, which matches the date of the first Railway Act pertaining to Leatherhead although there is some doubt about the date of the photograph. The original engine shed was demolished in 1874 having served as a church and a school when no longer required for its original purpose. The complicated history of rival railway companies and subsequent amalgamations was detailed with dates and a note of the relevant Acts of Parliament to provide a context and timeline, and maps and photographs showed the line layouts with changes over time; the two later stations, where the tower of the current building can clearly be seen in some of the photographs – helping to set the geographical context and linking it to the present day. The LSWR station closed on 10 July 1927 but the track remained in situ until the 1980s being used for a while as sidings. That site is now occupied by a business park, leaving only the current station. There have been a lot of changes over the years including electrification of the line through Leatherhead in July 1925. One of the images from 1968 showed that the ornate original platform canopies had been replaced with an austere 1960s design, which were themselves replaced later with something more in keeping with a listed station building. Also of interest were a number of photographs of the station interior from 1963 providing quite a contrast with the present day.

The current station is Grade II listed which limits what can be done to the building. Floor plans of both the station and the Stationmaster’s House clearly show the accommodation as it is now, which rooms are used for what purpose, and which part the RCTS now leases for its Archive & Library facility since March 2018. We were given a history of the RCTS Library from its origins in 1935 where it had a cupboard in the Railway Clearing House, moving to Eversholt House at Euston, before moving to Uxbridge in 1979. Health and Safety concerns led to the closure of the Uxbridge facility and the search commenced for bigger and more suitable premises. The Stationmaster’s House was disused and had become semi-derelict but listing meant that suitable plans were required for bringing it back into use. The RCTS had been looking for somewhere more suitable for the Society’s Archive and Library, found out about Leatherhead and became involved in discussions over the Stationmaster’s House. When the change of use for the building was agreed, it included that one room would become a waiting room for the up platform, there would be some alterations to windows and doors to the booking hall, with the remainder specified as the archive and library for the RCTS. The exterior of the building was refurbished first, including complete refurbishment of the roof using the original unusual tiled finish and ridge tiles, and cast iron decoration. Photographs of the interior showed the poor condition before renovation.

Subsequent photographs showed the fully refurbished interior with the library shelving and furniture installed and we were provided with a timeline of taking over the building right up until everything from the four stores at Stockport, Stevenage, Uxbridge and Northampton had arrived. An army of volunteers helped to sort and tidy everything and the facility was officially opened by Paul Atterbury of Antiques Roadshow fame on 6 October 2018. There is an excellent photograph of Society President Canon Brian Arman with former Society Librarian Terry Silcock at the naming of ‘The Silcock Room’ in recognition of all the decades of service that he had given running the facility. Up to date photographs show a very different situation from its original use, through its subsequent dereliction to the present day. Covid-19 has currently closed the facility which has meant that on-going plans have been put on hold but where it is safe to do so, some of the volunteers have continued with cataloguing the vast photographic collections and making regular checks on the building to ensure that all is well. As well as research by RCTS volunteers, the local history society has also been very supportive providing some additional local information to add to the history. A lot of people have put a lot of work into locating the place, negotiations for it to become what it is now, and the army of volunteers who have put in and continue to contribute many hours of effort.

All those watching the presentation were encouraged to let everyone know about Leatherhead, where to find more information, how to find out about visiting and helping. This was an interesting history from the very first relevant railway Act in 1856 right through to the present day, and more information continues to come to light to update the story.

Questions and answers brought some humour as well as raising subjects including publicity, the lease, plans for the future, and the practicalities of parking nearby for those not coming by train.