which consists of the villages of Crich, Fritchley and Whatstandwell

A Brief History of Whatstandwell Stations

By Glynn Waite

The first Whatstandwell station

The Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Junction Railway opened its only section of line from Ambergate to Rowsley on 4th June 1849. The line was worked from the onset by the Midland Railway, which absorbed the MBM&MJR in 1871.

A station, named Whatstandwell Bridge, which was located just north of the 149 yards long tunnel, first appeared in the timetable for 1st September 1853, although there is evidence to suggest that local landowners William Edward Nightingale and Francis Hurt were able to join and alight from trains at this point prior to the opening.

timetable for 1858

An example of the train service in the early years – January 1858 timetable

Whatstandwell Station – 1880

map of 1880

These are extracts from the 1880 25” to a mile OS maps showing the site of the original Whatstandwell Bridge station. The first covers a wider area; the second is selective view of the actual station area. Note that it was referred to a Whatstandwell, even though the station was officially known as Whatstandwell Bridge.

The cramped nature of the site can be gauged by the fact that the Up (Derby direction) platform was no wider than one of the running lines. The replacement station was sited immediately to the south of the tunnel.

The Bull’s Head Inn later became the Derwent Hotel.


1880 map



Part of the Down (Matlock direction) platform of the original Whatstandwell Bridge station is still visible in this view of Beyer Garratt No.47998 hauling a train of mainly empty wagons on 4th July 1953 – almost 100 years after the station opened. [photo courtesy of E.R. Morten]







Tickets issued from the first station

ticket 1


Ticket 8762 was issued at the original Whatstandwell Bridge station on 12th September 1894 – two months before it was re-sited – and shows that the shortened name was used on tickets at that time.


ticket 2

Ticket 012 was printed for the opening of Didsbury station on 1st January 1880 and shows that the shortened version of Whatstandwell was being used on tickets quite some time before “Bridge” was officially dropped in the timetables.


Dog excess ticketdog excess ticket

An excess ticket for a dog made out at Matlock Bridge station in 1874. Note that even in those days the clerk just used the shortened version of Whatstandwell.






Whatstandwell Goods Yard

goods station 1

Whatstandwell Goods Yard taken about 1910. The original station was sited near to the signal in the upper right.

Goods yard 2

A clearer view of the Goods Yard area without a train in the picture. The Down platform of the original station can be seen near to the tunnel mouth. It is difficult to believe that another platform was squeezed into the space adjacent to the canal retaining wall. The tracks had obviously been re-aligned since the station’s closure.

The station’s location was somewhat cramped and despite an extension of the platforms in 1868, facilities proved to be inadequate as traffic expanded. In 1872 plans were prepared for a new station, but nothing came of this, and the Midland Railway continued to tinker round the edges of the old station for several years.

The second Whatstandwell station

The need for a new passenger station eventually became overwhelming. This was built on a curve at the south end of the tunnel and opened at 12 noon on Sunday 11th November 1894. The new station was also called Whatstandwell Bridge, but was shortened to Whatstandwell on 1st July 1896.

Official station names have always been those that appeared in the timetables. However, the shortened name of Whatstandwell appeared on tickets and other paperwork from at least 1880. Indeed, the Midland Railway notice advising the opening of the new station just referred to it as Whatstandwell.

When the new station opened it had protection signals at the ends of the platforms which were controlled by turnover lever frames situated on the platforms and operated by station staff – a common practice at that time where activity could not be observed from a signal-box. These signals were eventually dispensed with on 7th July 1912.

map of station 1913

A diagram of the line from Ambergate to Cromford in 1913.

map of station 1900

The original station was immediately to the north end of Whatstandwell tunnel.
A Midland Railway 2-chain plan of Whatstandwell station about 1900. The start of the 149 yards long Whatstandwell Tunnel is on the right. The signals on the plan were removed in July 1912. What are not shown on the plan are the bridge linking the station footbridge with the canal towpath, which shortened the distance for many passengers, and was erected in late 1901, and the Station Master’s house. This was built on land marked “27” in 1924, at a cost of around £810.

whatstandwell station photo 1

The new Whatstandwell station looking north. The spot on the signal in the centre background indicates that the photo was taken before 1906. This was a protection signal for the Up (Derby direction) platform. It was removed in July 1912 along with the turnover lever frame from which it was operated. This was situated at the tunnel end of the waiting room on the right. Part of the frame can be seen jutting out beyond the waiting room  wall. The lever frame for the Down platform signals is on the left immediately behind the first lamp post.

Manchester Express

A Manchester-bound express approaches Whatstandwell station in the first decade of the 20th century. The signals in this photograph were removed in July 1912.

Front of station

The outside of Whatstandwell station in Midland Railway days.

Station staff

A couple of the station staff pose against the Down platform turnover levers. The photo was taken before July 1912, when the levers and their associated signals were abolished.











a 3331 train

Photo: E.R. Morten

Class 3F 0-6 — No.3331 enters Whatstandwell station with an Up empty mineral train on an unrecorded date in 1937.

looking south on the station

Whatstandwell station looking south from near the mouth of the short tunnel in early BR days, though still with its LMS station sign.

ticket1 ticket 2

ticket3 ticket 5

Tickets issued from Whatstandwell


Tunnel sign The sign attached to the wall near the mouth of Whatstandwell Tunnel south end.


Ramblers notice

tometable 1938

Timetable for July 1938

In March 1964 notices were posted for the closure of all stations between Derby and Chinley/Buxton, except Matlock. The matter remained in abeyance until the end of 1966, when the Minister of Transport decided that certain stations – including Whatstandwell – should remain open, but only for peak hour services. This arrangement was introduced on 6th March 1967. Following the installation of electric lighting, the station became an unstaffed halt on 1st January 1968.

modern train

Since that time additional services have called at Whatstandwell and now, with seventeen trains a day in each direction, the station has a better service than at any time during its existence.

Photo courtesy of Maureen Griffiths






The Florence Nightingale Connection

The story that Whatstandwell Station was especially built for Florence Nightingale is one of those myths that have sprung up in more recent times, in a similar way to the one (which, unfortunately, appears on websites) that the 6th Duke of Devonshire did not want a railway through Chatsworth Park at any price – when it is recorded as late as February 1857 that he was willing to put £50,000 of his own money into such a scheme. This was not one of the reasons why the railway never went through his estate.

Having said that, Florence's father, William Edward Nightingale was almost certainly instrumental in a station being built at Whatstandwell Bridge. It would appear that a station was promised in that area when the line was first projected, and that Nightingale sold portions of his land for the construction of the railway.

There was a meeting of the Board of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Junction Railway (MBM&MJR) on 10th August 1850 (fourteen months after the opening of the line), the following was recorded in the minutes:

"Mr. Nightingale waited upon the Board to complain of the inconvenience suffered by Mr. Hurt and himself in consequence of not having a station at Whatstandwell Bridge.  Mr. Nightingale was informed of an arrangement by which it was intended that passengers should be allowed to join or leave the trains at Whatstandwell Bridge."

Francis Hurt certainly sold some of his land for the building of the railway. The station at Whatstandwell Bridge first appeared in the timetable for 1st September 1853. This minute indicates that an informal arrangement – perhaps just for Nightingale, Hurt and their families – may have been in place some three years earlier. Platforms were very low at that time, and it would have not caused too much inconvenience for able-bodied people to join and alight from trains at track level or from a small mound of earth. If only the minute taker had been more specific with his notes!

The owning company of the line from Ambergate to Rowsley was the MBM&MJR. It was worked by the Midland Railway, which was one of its main backers. It was not a financial success, and in July 1852 leased its line to the Midland and its other backer – the London & North Western Railway – for nineteen years. By this time, the two companies were rivals, which largely led to a period of stagnation. The Midland was able to acquire the line when the lease ran out in 1871.

The original Whatstandwell Bridge station was located to the north of the 149 yard long tunnel. Its location was somewhat cramped and despite an extension of the platforms, facilities proved to be inadequate as traffic expanded. It was therefore decided to construct a new station at the south end of the tunnel where more space was available, and this was opened at 12 noon on 11th November 1894. This station was also called Whatstandwell Bridge, but was shortened to Whatstandwell on 1st July 1896.

Although the official (timetable) name of both stations was Whatstandwell Bridge until 1896, the shortened version of Whatstandwell appeared on tickets and other paperwork from at least 1880.

The truth would appear to be that William Edward Nightingale was instrumental in getting a station built at Whatstandwell Bridge – but not specifically for Florence.

Whatstandwell Station photo 3

Photo courtesy of a private album

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