The inside story of project to restore abandoned Derbyshire train station - one of the oldest in the world

Rail passengers could be forgiven for missing the old Wingfield station as they thunder through on a train between Derby and Chesterfield.

Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 8:40 pm

The building, abandoned for decades after becoming a victim of the Beeching cuts, passes in the blink of an eye and trains have not stopped there since the 1960s.

But if the blurred view through a train window could be frozen in time it would reveal a unique building of vital historic and architectural importance.

It is believed to be one of the earliest stations built in England – and possibly the world.

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An East Midlands Railway train rushes past on the Midland Main Line between London St Pancras and Sheffield. Trains have not stopped at Wingfield Station since the 1960s.

Close to the village of South Wingfield and between the current Midland Main Line stations of Belper and Chesterfield, the station has links to railway royalty George and Robert Stephenson and dates back to 1840.

Even in its early life, Wingfield Station was recognised as a work of considerable architectural significance, described in Christian Barman's 1950 publication 'An Introduction to Railway Architecture' as 'the most perfect of all station houses'.

After closing in 1967 it was left to rot – but now has a brighter future and forms part of an ambitious restoration project by architectural experts.

Phase One of Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust's project has included work on the roof and to cover it with new slate.

This project has now reached a key moment as Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust (DHBT) looks to secure funding for its next stage and heritage and conservation specialists ASBC continue their work on-site.

Lucy Godfrey, project coordinator for the trust, has explained the work already carried out to restore the station to its former glory.

“Progress started in earnest on the weekend of the October 16-17, 2021, with overnight working taking place to begin to erect the scaffolding on the trackside elevation of the building,” Lucy said.

"This work has to be completed within a specified period of time as Network Rail has to grant the 'possession' of the line to ASBC for a set number of hours during Saturday night and Sunday mornings.

Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust project co-ordinator Lucy Godfrey has explained the architectural importance of Wingfield Station.

"Thanks to excellent team work all went well during the three 'possessions' and the scaffolding was then in place to undertake repairs to the trackside elevations and any work that requires encroachment onto Network Rail land.

"The aim was to fully encapsulate the scaffolding and to create a temporary platform wall fence using as few line closures as possible.

"Each 'possession' comes with a considerable fee as the line has to be closed.”

At five past midnight on October 31, the scaffolding was signed off by Network Rail as being ‘fit for purpose’, leading to uninterrupted trackside working from 12.30am to 6am.

An old fire place in the historic station building which may have kept passengers warm as they waited for their train to Derby or Chesterfield.

Since then, work to make the building watertight has continued to progress well, Lucy says.

"Work to date includes reinstating and repairing the chimneys, work to the roof of the station and the Parcel Shed, internal masonry, a new wall plate in the Station to replace the 'hidden' one exposed before Christmas, and new oak lintels.

"This work is all part of 'phase one' of the project and has primarily been funded via a repair grant for heritage at risk from Historic England and funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

This phase is expected to be completed by the end of May 2022.

DHBT has already submitted an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the next part of its project to turn the station into offices.

Some of the old station's historic fittings remain in place and will be carefully restored by experts.

This will involve the work required to complete the project – including the installation of a new breathable and insulated floor in the station, like for like repairs on the internal walls, internal decoration to match the original, internal joinery and attending to fixtures and fittings.

Lucy said: “If we are successful with this application, the project will recommence in May this year, with building works likely to begin in November 2022 and complete by April 2023.

"However, the DHBT do have to raise £250,000 of match funding and, as a result, have launched a fundraising campaign.

"Those who wish to support the project are being encouraged to become Friends of Wingfield Station for as little as £1.50 per month – the benefits of which include priority access to events and activities relating to Wingfield Station and being the first to be invited to experience the newly restored site.

"There is also a sponsorship programme, which is aimed at organisations and individuals, who are able to donate a little bit more and, as a result, have the name of their business included on one of our information boards or bollards – one for every station from Derby to Leeds so people can sponsor the station of their choice.”

Lucy says it is now ‘essential’ the trust is able to raise the funds required to complete the restoration of the site.

"This will ensure that the considerable investment and support to date is not wasted,” she added.

"Without the completion of the full conversion and renovation project, there is still a real risk of the building quickly degrading again.

"The aim of the project is to convert the Station Building and Parcel Shed to flexible office accommodation to ensure the site has a sustainable future.”

The station is one of a series of railway structures built for the North Midland Railway, which was created and designed by George and Robert Stephenson – two of the most important and influential engineers of the railway era.

Architect Francis Thompson has 22 buildings on the Historic Buildings List. His work on this stretch of the North Midland Railway is widely regarded as his best.

For more information and details on how to support the project, visit https://www.derbyshirehistoricbuildingstrust.org.uk/support

For more pictures of the restoration project, see our online gallery here.