Whatstandwell Station: Photo courtesy of Beryll Calladine
MY RECOLLECTIONS OF WHATSTANDWELL STATION
My earliest memories of this enchanting village station go back more than forty years. My late mother would take my sister and myself to visit my grandma, who lived at School House. We lived at Ambergate, where I now live having recently returned from the Sussex Coast. My early childhood memories recall the lovely sandstone building, and the access road branching off the main A6 . It was possible to glimpse the station building from a passing bus at the Matlock end of the access road. Little did I know that I would be working there some years later.
I first went to work there in 1965 following a bitter disappointment over a signalling job which I had set my heart on. The loss was more than compensated when I started my association with this station and the community it served. I found the folk a joy to work among, many knowing my mother's family, and to have an 'Ashman' working at Whatstandwell was like having Royalty in the area, (or so I was told) I beg to differ, I was only an ordinary work-a-day bloke. The main aspect which stood out in my mind, and still does, was the whole station being lit by oil lamps, even the booking office had three oil lamps inside, one of which is still in my possession. A pressure lamp was used which hung from the ceiling, when it was lit gave out a fair amount of heat as well as a characteristic hiss. Near the door was a lamp with a peripheral reflector which I cannot recall ever being used, it also was a pressure lamp, the unusual feature being that it required a bicycle pump to pressurise it . The resident porter was an elderly resident of Whatstandwell, who, despite his advancing years was very knowledgeable about the working of his station. He ran the station on his own working a split duty every day, having every other Saturday afternoon off. The operating side of the station was supervised by the Traffic Inspector from Wirksworth and the commercial side was supervised by the booking clerk at Ambergate. Every four weeks was the end-of-period work, normally carried out by the booking clerk, but the elderly porter did it all himself. The platform lamps, being oil lamps, had a designated ladder for the job, it had two hooks attached to hang over the supporting arms on the lamps. I can s till see in my mind s eye the ladder propped up against one of the lamps during the daytime in readiness for lighting when dusk fell . Working there was like living in a bygone age, apart from the oil lamps I mentioned earlier, there was an open fire with cardinal-red brickwork surrounds which was polished about twice a week, the office furniture was of polished oak if my memory serves me correctly, the lamp in my possession stood proudly on a desk, being attached by three small screws. The ticket rack (like the ones at Ambergate) was very heavy, they were items all staff treated with utmost respect especially if they were required to be moved , it was easy to sustain serious injury if care was not exercised. A black cylindrical date press endorsed the date on the back of the tickets as a form of validation. Changing the date was a rather fiddling job as the print ribbon got caught in the mechanism, the numbers were old printing dyes, which were kept in a wooden box.
Outside, the buildings consisted of Gents toilet and urinal the latter being a soak-away, the former was an elsan-type camp toilet which required daily emptying. Next to the the toilet was large porters room, which was used as a store, since the only member of staff occupied the Booking Office. Next was the Ladies Room and toilet, which, like the Gents toilet required daily emptying, usually in a dug out hole in the bank near the Derby bound platform. Next was the main Waiting Room cum-Booking Hall which, apart from the actual office was the largest room in the block. Like other Waiting Rooms it had a characteristic echo but, unlike anything I had seen before, it had a lamp bracket over the ticket window. The open fire-place I have never seen in use. During the winter months passengers would come into the office to purchase their tickets and have a warm by the fire. One item I almost forgot was the old iron kettle, which was kept boiling by placing it among the hot embers of the fire, the oil stove took over two hours to boil the kettle, I timed it one morning, hence its disuse. On the road side of the building was an old stable which I think was occupied by the station horse in earlier years, then was the coal store. The access road formed a small car-park with two lamps reigning supreme although I have never known them to be used.
The footbridge which is still in use is one built by Andrew Handysides of Derby, (builders of the graceful Friargate Bridge) this forms part of a footpath from the station to Crich Carr Primary School, and onwards to the National Tramway Museum at Crich. The Derby bound platform is now out of use and the access steps taken away. The buildings were a Gents urinal, Ladies Room and Waiting Room. Like their counterparts on the opposite platform, I have never seen the fireplaces in use. One of the things that stick out in my mind about this platform was the seeping of water out of the supporting bank which leaked from the adjacent Cromford Canal, the Way and Works Department were often called out to patch up the leaks as best they could, hence the green slime on the platform. On the bridge itself is the remains of a lamp bracket, which serves as a reminder of days gone by.
Back on the Matlock bound platform under the bridge supports were two platform trolleys; a four wheeler and a two wheeler, though I have never seen them used, they were in pristine condition with the station name 'WHATSTANDWELL' emblazoned on them, perhaps they were more for decoration than use. Next to them was the old lamp room which was in more use than the toilets. During the winter months the lamps required filling every day, in the summer only one office lamp was required, this was because the train service was generally a peak times service with the last train leaving at 18.l5 hrs to Darley Dale. One of the daily features was the passage of the blue Midland Pullman, going towards London at 08.45, returning at about 20.20 when the station service had finished for the day.
Situated between the car park and the main A6 were a group of trees which served as a screen to hide the station from the view from Alderwasley Hall, so even then some of the gentry had an aversion about railways. Another was the Duke of Rutland, hence Haddon Tunnel between Rowsley and Bakewell, but that is another story. Hidden among the trees on the old Derby bound platform are a number of house-bricks set out to form the station name on the bank, they were whitewashed as often as the platform edges, weather and other circumstances permitting. I cannot say for certain how this tradition started, Ambergate never had them, but Cromford did, near to Willersley Tunnel.
Apart from the passenger station Whatstandwell boasted a signalbox and Goods yard, goods traffic ceased just after I started on the railway in 1962. It was a daily routine to carry paraffin to the signalbox as well as daily traffic notices , this carried on until the box finally closed in favour of High Peak Junction Box nearby. Paraffin was usually delivered as and when required, following a telephone call to the Traffic Inspector at Wirksworth, this also applied when coal and other stores were required.
At the time of writing the platform is low in relation to the track, this goes back to when express trains passed through en-route for Manchester Central the permitted speed then was 55 mph, since it is now a Branch Line service the position has not been rectified, hence the high step on
to the train from the platform and vv. The only other remaining feature from bygone days is the metal fence bordering the access road and a copse. l remember seeing discarded glass chimneys, most in good condition, in that copse near the fence, so I cannot see even now the reasoning behind that. I remember working there one very windy day and using nearly a full box of matches trying to light one very difficult lamp, as fast as I struck the match it blew out in the wind it was just as well I did not use any expletives, I don't do now, I don't see the need for them.
All now seems an eternity ago, but of the two stations I worked on I preferred Whatstandwell to Ambergate, the latter being gas lit was better where illumination was concerned, but the gentle light of what was little more than a candle always enthralled me. I would give my last dollar and my right arm to have those days again, problems and everything, such was the joy to work on the very station Florence Nightingale used. The access road has been blocked at one end and the road-side trees cut down, the ground where the main building stood is now the enlarged Car park, traces of the foundations can still be seen and the Derby end of the access road serves as a private drive to Station House. The stonework from the buildings was moved to the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley to be used for building platforms at Hammersmith) the adjoining copse has lost a lot of its trees
In the retaining wall at the Matlock end of the tunnel is the drinking fountain which is dated in Roman Numerals 1861 (I think), the surrounding brickwork proudly announcing the station of WHATSTANDWELL This is where the original station was located, opposite is the old platform behind the Derwent Hotel. There is no Goods Depot as there never was one in the first place, facilities were at Ambergate and Cromford (High Peak) Depots. It must have been quite a hive of activity in its heyday with various industries making use of the yard such as Dawbarn Yelverton Ltd, and the like. Before I close this down I would like to share a very personal note, not, I hasten to add, to cause embarrassment to anyone in Whatstandwell. During my first period of work in East Sussex I belonged to the Male Voice Praise Movement, at one of our Services I met a fellow member who originated from Manchester. He knew very well this part of Derbyshire and related to "when Dawbarns went up in flames”, his memories not mlne. When he heard I came from Ambergate we spent hours at later Festivals and Services talking of this area
I sincerely hope this write-up will give the reader at least some idea of what it was like to work on such a delightful station, sadly demolished now but very much alive in my memoryWilliam E Glossop 23 June 1994
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