A very peculiar partnership
John Pendlebury outlines the intentions of the Settle-Carlisle Railway Conservation Area Partnership
Part of the detail sheet of a 'type 4'
barge board.
The Settle-Carlisle Railway Conservation Area is a well known example of the adaptability of conservation legislation. Some 76 miles long, and never more than a few hundred yards wide, it claims to be the longest conservation area in Britain (any challengers?). The Settle-Carlisle line has long been fa~ mous for the extreme commercial competition which pushed the Midland Railway Company into the ambitious act of creating their own route to Scotland along the watershed of England, and the picturesque consequences of that decision. The railway is impressive for both passengers enjoying commanding views over the surrounding countryside and for the many who come to marvel at the impos~ ing Victorian engineering, exemplified by the Ribblehead Viaduct.

However, for many years British Rail wanted to close the line, keeping it open in the interim merely as a relief route to the west coast main-line. In the mid-1980s they sought to press ahead with closure. This led to the famous, and ultimately victorious, campaign to keep the railway open. In the wake of this victory it was realised that massive investment in the railway and its corridor was needed, due in part to the long years of neglect by British Rail. This has led, for example, to the formation of the Settle-Carlisle Railway Development Company to promote economic development opportunities along the line, and the Friends of SettleCarlisle (formed initially to fight closure) working to improve passenger comfort along the line, which now again has a reasonable stopping passenger service. Investment was also desperately needed in the fabric of the line, the historic integrity of which was ironically well preserved due to the lack of investment and modernisation which had taken place. English Heritage demonstrated their commitment in 1990 with a grant of £1 million towards the repair of the Ribblehead Viaduct and in 1991 the four local planning authorities along the line (Craven District Council, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Eden District Council and Carlisle City Council) each designated their section of line as a conservation area.

A 'type 3' barge board on Lazonby Station Master's House.
The Settle-Carlisle Railway was constructed relatively late in the story of British railway history. It was built in the 1870s by the Midland Railway Company as a complete corporate package. Though the main goal was to reach Scotland rather than to serve communities along the line, a series of stations, station masters' houses, railway workers' cottages, goods sheds, waiting shelters and so on were constructed. This whole package was included in the conservation area designation. Designed in a 'Derby Gothic' style by John Sanders the Company Architect, the only concession to locality was the building materials chosen at any particular site, leading to standard patterns being executed in red brick, red Cumbrian sandstone, golden freestone, grey limestone and slate. when the conservation area was designated it was with the intention of introducing a Town Scheme. Events moved on and instead a Conservation Area Partnership bid was produced for the first round of CAP schemes in 1995/96 concentrating on the buildings of Settle- Carlisle (rather than the engineering structures), which was successful.
Works of repair and restoration in progress at Petteril Terrace, Carlisle.
The CAP is now in its third year and has supported many worthy projects from the small (the repair of some sash windows in an isolated chapel built for the navvies who constructed the line) to the large (the block repair of 36 cottages in partnership with the Carlisle City Environmental Services Department). However, one of the facets which makes the Settle-Carlisle Railway Conservation Area unique is its standard 'corporate' architecture and I want to spend the rest of this article describing a commission undertaken in response to the particular set of issues this consistency of built form raised.

The basic form of Settle-Carlisle architecture was well known from various studies by railway enthusiasts over the years. So, for example, there are three types of standard station (small, medium and large) reflecting the relative importance of each stop. Another characteristic is the adornment of some buildings with decorative architectural features such as barge-boards and ridge tiles. It was an objective from the time of the conservation area designation to restore these details where appropriate. The decision to take an aesthetic rather than an archaeological approach was based on a judgement about the qualities of the particular conservation area. One of the key elements of character was felt to be the architectural detailing of the buildings constructed with the line and the presence of surviving details meant that their replication could be properly informed and not based on conjecture.

However, there is some variety in these details, albeit from a limited palette. There seemed no obvious pattern to the variations along the line; one theory was that it related to the four building contracts under which the line was constructed. Another issue the Partnership was faced with was the prospect of large numbers of relatively small grants likely to be received by householders. Getting consistent standards of work looked to be a problem as it was felt unlikely that many people would want to commission professionals to produce good quality drawings for, for example, window replacement.

So, with these two issues in mind the Partnership decided to commission the North East Civic Trust to undertake a study, the two prime objectives of which were:

  • research on the architectural features of the line (joinery especially) in order to guide the Partnership in terms of 'what detail should go where',
  • to produce drawings of architectural details from which contractors could work and against which grant offers could be conditioned.
  • To achieve the research phase a
  • number of avenues were pursued: m a search was made for original Midland Railway drawings - this produced very little, a a search through secondary material, particularly old photographs of the line, and, perhaps most important of all, m detailed recording site by site of surviving features. This site work was also used to produce measured drawings.
The Ribblehead Viaduct, the icon of the Settle- Carlisle Railway.
Though the pattern of the original use of details is often clear, frustratingly this is not always the case. This maybe due in part to earlier well meaning restorations by owners along the line, who have used some authentic details but perhaps not those originally authentic to their building!

The results of the work were codified into two types of matrix, one showing survey information, the other recommended details on a site by site basis. Inevitably work of this nature is never completed; for example another old photograph will emerge now and then which shows a different detail from that expected. To accompany these schedules are 20 A3 (to be photocopiable) sheets of details and a series of introductory leaflets to each of the principal building types.

This was a very carefully focused commission for a very particular set of issues raised by a unique conservation area. The completed work has proved invaluable in the implementation of the CAP and also effectively forms part of 'the exit strategy' (a term with which many Conservation Officers are becoming familiar) in that the work will form an important part of the planning strategy for the line when grants are no longer available. There is now talk of extending the work; the Settle-Carlisle Railway Trust is co-ordinating a project to produce an urban design strategy for the station complexes. This work also shows the benefits of working with a body such as the North East Civic Trust whose mission extends beyond the immediate commission. Part of their role is to educate and they have already produced 'Lookout!', a children's guide to the line. They also have a building preservation trust arm and are now involved in discussions over the future of the station buildings at Horton-inRibblesdale and Kirkby Stephen. So do take a trip on the SettleCarlisle line and on your journey marvel not only at the splendid countryside and the Victorian engineering but also at the dignified buildings of the line and the complex partnership of bodies and individuals working to conserve this unique part of our railway heritage!

John Pendlebury is Liaison Officer for the Settle Carlisle Railway Conservation Area Partnership and apart-time lecturer in Conservation at the University of Newcastle.

Context 57 March 1998