Trusting in Trusts
The Railway Heritage Trust: conservation and change
Richard Tinker describes the massive job facing the organisation.

Bridgwater Station, Somerset. 1841 for the Bristol & Exeter Railway. Design attributed to Isambard BruneI. Grade II.

The Railway Heritage Trust was established in 1985 by the British Railways Board. Its objectives were first the conservation and restoration of the built railway heritage in its ownership, and secondly the transfer to new own- ers of those historic buildings and structures no longer in operational railway use. The Trust's initial budget was £1 million, a large sum for British Rail to commit solely to its heritage in those straitened times. It is now sponsored by Railtrack pIc and Rail Property Ltd, with a budget of £2.3 million.

Since 1985, the Trust has supported over 600 projects with grants of over £17 million, specifically focused on historic railway buildings and struc- tures. As satisfactory to the Trusts has been the total of over £16.5 million contributed to those projects by other partners. These include local authorities, enterprise companies, national heritage bodies and many tenants, such as train operating companies, national and local retailers and individual traders. The Trust's grants are normally in the range of from 10% to 40% of total project costs.

Since 1985, the number of listed railway buildings and structures in mainland Britain has increased from 681 to 1,310. The number is still growing, as buildings built as recently as 1964 have been listed. Buildings in Conservation Areas have increased from 633 to 1,147. This article deals with buildings and structures in Railtrack and Rail Property Ltd ownership.

The Trust is very pleased to respond to requests for information in this field. Some councils now consult it directly over planning and Listed Building Consent applications, giving the Trust first-hand opportunities to assist in their assessment of projects. Many railway heritage projects would have failed, had not individual officers and staff in planning and conservation departments strongly supported them. The Trust wishes to improve these contacts, for the benefit of councils and the Trust.

Many railway heritage projects are only realised through partnerships. One such project was at Bridgwater Station in Somerset, on the Bristol & Exeter Railway. Diagrams of a station building for Bridgwater survive from Isambard Brunei's sketchbook, suggesting that the core of the station dates from 1841. It was extended by the Great Western Railway in 1882 into its present form: single-storey stuccoed buildings, with metal and glass platform canopies and a covered foot-bridge. The group, unusual in having survived largely complete, is listed Grade II. At one stage, the buildings were threatened with demolition, but this proposal was abandoned.

A partnership was formed by the then Regional Railways, Sedgemoor District Council and the Trust for restoration, funded equally by the parties. The whole station was repaired and restored, and a new ticket office formed in the main building. The Gill Sans letters on the facade date from GWR days and were found abandoned on the roof during the works! It was also discovered that the cast iron balusters of the footbridge staircases were cast by the same firm in Bridgwater that made the cast iron tubes laid between the tracks for Brunei's ill-fated atmospheric propulsion system for the South Devon Railway.

Since completion in 1994, time has not dealt kindly with the restored station. Reductions in staffing levels and the station's remoteness from the town centre have left it vulnerable to vandalism, providing an object lesson in how long-desired investment in a cultural asset can quickly be negated. The Trust has learned from this situation, and it now gives the same priority to projects to bring unoccupied historic premises back into use as to restoration projects.

Grange-over-Sands Station, Cumbria, before restoration. 1865-72 for the Furness Railway. Architect Edmund Paley. Grade II, Conservation Area.

Grange-over-Sands Station in Cumbria, on the Furness Railway main line between Carnforth and Barrow, is listed Grade II and stands in a Conservation Area. It dates from 1865-72, and forms the focal point of the Victorian resort developed by the Furness Railway. The station was in the first stage of Railtrack's Station Regeneration Programme. A wide partnership has supported the repair and restoration of the stone buildings and the fine metal and glass platform canopies, with all their finials and details. The partners, led by Railtrack, included Cumbria County, South Lakeland District and Grange Town Councils, English Heritage (through a Conservation Area Partnership scheme in the town centre), North Western Trains and the Trust. North Western Trains has provided a new ticket office. The Trust has funded a new bookstall, the removal of inappropriate modern alterations, and a number of small internal alterations which will enable all rooms in the main building to be let.

Passenger stations form the majority of projects supported by the Trust and its partners, benefiting both the travelling public and the train operators and tenants occupying them. These stations range in size from small country stations to some of the greatest monuments of 19th and 20th century architecture and engineering.

Railtrack's Station Regeneration Programme, now in its second year, will rectify the maintenance backlog at all 2,492 stations by March 2001. The Trust seeks to enhance these schemes at selected historic stations by offering funding to achieve restoration, not just repair, by the use of original materials and by replacement of missing features of the buildings.

Much of the railways' heritage is less visible, to travellers or indeed to anyone, yet the great bridges, viaducts and tunnels that carry the network through the landscape are often its most striking assets: Robert Stephenson's Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed (illustrated on the cover) or Isambard BruneI's graceful Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash. Most striking of all is the greatest icon of the railway age in Britain: the Forth Bridge.

The Royal Albert Bridge, St Budeaux, Devon/ Saltash, Cornwall. 1859 for the Cornwall Railway. Engineer Isambard BruneI. Grade I.

The Trust has contributed grants to repairs and enhancements on a wide range of historic engineering structures: indeed, it regards such opportu- nities as a privilege. Train services whose speed, weight and frequency were undreamed of in the pioneering 1840s and 1850s still use these fine structures. One example can serve to illustrate many: the Grade II* listed Ouse Valley Viaduct at Balcombe, West Sussex. This beautiful structure of 1841 is being magnificently restored, with grants both from the Trust and from English Heritage. Matching stone is being imported from France, to ensure a close match to the existing balus- trades and pavilions. All the work is carried out without interrupting the intense train services on the electrified London to Brighton main line. It is especially gratifying that the masons working on the viaduct are from Chichester Cathedral's Works organisation, a good example of the railway heritage finally receiving appropriate standards of repair.

Involvement with historic structures keeps the Trust abreast of the issues that arise from the need to keep them in full use. Change is often therefore imperative, if the railway route concerned is to remain fully effective into the next century: the first public railways were the creation of Georgian Britain and will be 200 years old in 2025.

An open exposition of the problem and of the alternatives to resolve it is essential on the part of Railtrack and its consultant engineers and architects. A clear recognition of the unique or distinctive attributes of the structure by planning, heritage and conservation interests is equally necessary. The Trust has participated in sufficient of these projects generally to be confident that, with good will, change and conserva- tion can go forward together.

Ouse Valley Viaduct, Balcombe, West Sussex. 1841 for the London & Brighton Railway. Engineer John Rastrick, architect probably David Mocatta. Grade II*

The great trainsheds, such as those at paddington and Newcastle Central Stations, represent more of a challenge, as the engineering imperative of the route is not present. By current standards, many of the trainshed structures can only support themselves, but are unable to support the traditional decking and glazing of their original design. The Trust believes that preser- vation of the basic structure can usually be combined with a change to sympathetic new cladding and glazing, provided that they reflect the balance and scale of the original design. The Trust has supported examples of change which responded to the structural demands of the roof, and which are satisfactory in the conservation of their overall appearance. One case was the repair of the 1845 Grade II listed trainshed at Scarborough Station, North Yorkshire. Severely damaged in a gale which stripped off much of the slated roof covering, the structure was found on analysis to be dangerously overloaded. A combination of strengthening and replacement of individual members in the roof enabled the slated finish to be replaced and the timber-framed ridge glazing to be restored.

Buildings present harder challenges. Even a small Victorian station was a workplace for perhaps several dozen staff. There were separate toilets, waiting and refreshment rooms for different classes of passenger. Parcels and goods traffic facilities were also provided. The same station in 1998 would have a ticket office open for one or two shifts and staffed by one person, a waiting room on one or both platforms and, occasionally, a small kiosk or shop, occupying barely a quarter of the floors pace. The remainder needs occupation, to help provide a 'concierge' presence, as well as useful rental income to the train operator.

Different occupations will generally mean that the historic premises have to be changed, and the Trust looks to Conservation Officers to re- spond flexibly and imaginatively to proposals to do so. The Trust has the interests of the railway heritage absolutely at heart. It would never seek to impair or damage that heritage, but its commitment to it has obliged it to recognise that beneficial use will demand commensurate change. Historic Scotland makes clear to the Trust that its listing of buildings is designed to give time for harmonious change to be carefully planned, not to prevent change. The Trust supports this approach to achieve a constructive balance between change and conservation.

The Trust was disappointed recently to find that a station tenant's preferred design to alter part of a large listed station never reached the planning committee. The Conservation Officer concerned brought great pressure to bear on the applicant to preserve one particular cross-wall and disused fireplace. This attitude frustrated a wider alteration that the applicant would have preferred and that the Trust supported. The Trust believes that the successful utilisation of this historic building was impaired by a narrow desire to preserve a small part of the existing fabric. Most historic stations have undergone changes throughout their existence, as railway company fortunes ebbed and flowed, as traffic patterns and staffing levels waxed and waned, as new technologies in signalling and electrification systems have been introduced. The Trust feels strongly that change must be expected, not resisted: the art, and the satisfaction, is in its harmonious design.

A final point might be made about colour schemes. 19th century railway companies painted their buildings in utilitarian colours, reflecting paint technology and company livery of the day. A station built by 1850 could well have had more than one livery by 1914. Following the grouping of railways into the 'Big Four' in 1923, different liveries would have been introduced. After nationalisation in 1948, six different Regional liveries were introduced. From the 1960s, more architectural schemes were applied with British Rail's Corporate Identity programme. The railway businesses, InterCity, Network SouthEast and Regional Railways, introduced their schemes in the 1980s. Now, Railtrack uses its livery on the 14 major stations it operates, and the 26 train operating companies are applying their new liveries to the sta- tions they lease.

The Trust holds the impartial view that a colour scheme should both complement the building and legitimately represent the train operator's livery. It believes that there is no one 'correct' historic colour scheme for any particular station, unless meticulous research can establish a specific scheme used at a particular date; the extent and condition of the buildings at that date would also have to be determined. Such cases will be rare. The Trust suggests that the pursuit of supposedly 'authentic' historic colour schemes is ill-informed and unlikely to satisfy the taste of railway companies, their passengers or the public today. As such taste is inherently changeable, and as no painting scheme lasts indefi- nitely, the Trust says that the best answer is a well designed modern colour scheme!

The Railway Heritage Trust publishes an Annual Report each autumn. This report illustrates the projects recently supported by its grants and is circulated widely in railway, heritage and conservation circles. It also supplies an information pack, outlining the basis for grants and how one may apply for them. It looks forward to working constructively with members of the IHBC.

Richard Tinker is Secretary of the Railway Heritage Trust. They can be contacted at Melton House, 65/67 Clarendon Road, Watford, Herts WDI IDP. Tel: 01923 240250, Fax: 01923.
Context 58 June 1998