Friargate Station – All Change

One of Derby’s largely forgotten treasures is on the verge of a renaissance some 50 years after it was abandoned. Under plans lodged for the redevelopment of the Friargate station area the imposing old warehouse will become home to retail outlets while industrial land along the old approaches will be used for new housing.

This brownfield site has been earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years but the completion of Derby’s neighbouring inner ring road (I wrote about this last year) was always a prerequisite for reasons of access. With the ring road complete the plans have been lodged and it is only a matter of time before the transformation begins.

Goods warehouse
Goods warehouse
Out of bounds
Out of bounds

While I am happy to see life breathed back into the area I remain concerned about the manner in which the site is revitalised. Of course it has to make commercial sense but all too often our heritage has been irrevocably lost or besmirched by insensitive redevelopment. With redevelopment imminent I wanted to capture the Friargate goods yard as it is today before the builders move in.

I have been visiting the derelict site for a few years now to poke around the outside of the warehouse and follow the path of the lines past the old platforms up to the top of Friargate bridge.

The end of the line
The end of the line

An area once characterised by the soot and machinery of the railway industry had been almost completely reclaimed by nature in the manner of some forgotten Mayan city.

Urban decay
Urban decay

The crumbling brick and rusting iron of a decaying infrastructure had been subsumed by an urban jungle of saplings, bushes, grass and flowers.

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

Birds, bees and butterflies thrived in numbers here oblivious to the noise and bustle of the city centre close by, yet a world away. You could walk into this undergrowth on a sunny day and lose yourself. The foliage was so dense that it took me a couple of visits to find the platforms.

Platform before clearing
Platform before clearing

I’m using the past tense because on my return last month I discovered that the entire platform area had been cleared of undergrowth in preparation for the next stage of work. The loss of this habitat is a huge shame but inevitable and now the general layout of the site is much clearer.

Platform after clearing
Platform after clearing

On the day I visited a fashion shoot was exploiting a graffiti covered wall of the warehouse and some students were sitting in the sun reading and talking.

Art and nature
Art and nature
Very wild life
Very wild life

My mediocre research into the history of the line has turned up some interesting nuggets of information. The station opened 1878 and was called Derby Station but subsequently renamed as Derby Friargate Station in 1881. The line was built by the Great Northern Railway primarily to enable coal to be moved more cheaply in the face of Midland Railways’ transportation monopoly. It is ironic that construction of the line was carried out with minimal consultation of local Derbeans who saw swathes of land lost as the line was dispassionately carved though the heart of the town. The iconic iron bridge over Friargate built by Handyside & Co of Derby was one of the few decorative concessions to the affluent residents of the Friargate area who were vocal in their opposition to the new line. For all of our reservations now about public consultation on planning laws it seems that the wider public interest holds more weight than it once used to.

Friargate Bridge
Friargate Bridge
Bridge detailing - Derby coat of arms
Bridge detailing – Derby coat of arms

The route of the line has long captured my imagination and this interest has increased since I moved to the nearby Rowditch area in 2002. I vaguely remember the brick bridge that spanned Agard Street prior to it’s demolition in the 1970s and the line continued on past the spot now occupied by Radio Derby and then into a tunnel not far from St Helens House.

It then emerges near the river Derwent where you can still walk across the iron bridge that led to Chester Green and through Breadsall to the east. An excellent map courtesy of Andy Savage (who also has a related blog) illustrates the route and highlights a number of points of interest.

Perhaps more than anything it is the social history of Friargate station that has drawn me in. From another time but in touching distance – the echoes still resonate. The line closed before I was born but there is a living history for people of a certain generation who fondly remember catching the train to Skegness from Friargate station. I have come across individual recollections of the final years of the line but a book called “Memories of Friargate Station” by local author Susan Bourne tops my reading list and ought to provide more substance. Hopefully it is still in print.

Open plan living
Open plan living
Absolutely floorless
Absolutely floorless
Fire damage
Fire damage
Basement on view
Basement on view

The station would have been at the peak of its importance in the late 19th and early 20th century from a strategic point of view and in terms of local employment. I took it upon myself to explore my local cemetery in Uttoxeter New Road on the off-chance of finding some memorial to former workers. I love poking around cemeteries – you can learn a lot from them. Amidst this modest sized plot I predictably found memorials to war casualties, church ministers and successful locals – solicitors and the like – but railway workers were proving elusive. This came as little surprise to me as I presumed they would be low in status and wealth but all the same I expected to find a few small headstones in a corner. Finally I found what I was looking for, and I was amazed when the two memorials in question…

...but not forgotten
…but not forgotten

…turned out to be amongst the tallest on the plot. That in itself raises more questions than it answers, although some subsequent research on John Holloway Sanders and Matthew Kirtley reveals that they were not run of the mill railway employees but Locomotive Superintendent and Company Architect respectively.

If the redevelopment of Friargate Station and it’s surroundings pans out anything like a typical Derby construction project then it will be a long time before anything actually happens but I would implore you to visit the site as soon as possible to appreciate a piece of our industrial heritage before it is completely sanitised by the developers. From a personal perspective the more I learn about the history of this site the more I want to know.

22 thoughts on “Friargate Station – All Change

  1. Great blog. There is always a tension between using and resurrecting old buildings and allowing nature to take its own course.
    Back in August last year I suggested a Parisian solution to the old railway line.
    Judging by Tim’s before and after photos of the platform this isn’t going to happen.
    We need to keep an eye on any developments. Thanks for this glimpse into our heritage, our present and a potential future.

  2. Thanks. Interesting to read about the French approach, which sounds like a success. I only hope that for once a Derby redevelopment project finds the right balance between heritage and re-invention.

  3. A very interesting blog, Tim. I will hopefully make it there this weekend. I didn’t know a lot of what you wrote and I do so enjoy learning. Also, I wasn’t aware we had a pink elephant in Derby. 😉 I’m looking forward to visiting “…the site as soon as possible to appreciate a piece of our industrial heritage before it is completely sanitised by the developers.”

  4. Aw, thanks 🙂

    Photography is hardly my strength but there’s some great subject matter there. Especially at either end of the day when the sun is low.

  5. Great blog Tim, I have always been very interested in this station since travelling from it to Nottingham Victoria and Grantham in the 60’s. I have quite a few old photos, plans and track diagrams (and memories) if anyone is interested.
    As well as the Susan Bourne book, there is also another excellent one called The Friargate Line by local Museum curator Mark Higginson.
    And if you call in at The Railway Bookshop in Macklin Street,
    owner Chris is a wealth of information on the subject.

    1. Thanks for your kind words and advice! It’s funny you mentions Chris’s place – I walk past it quite often and I have never been in. Perhaps next time I will take a look.

      There was talk of a heritage centre being included in the redevelopment. What this means I’m not sure but perhaps it would provide an opportunity for you to share your memories and photos with a wider audience. I guess we will have to see how it all pans out.

  6. I finally managed to go today. Very interesting wildlife! I did spot the pink elephant, so I’m looking forward to receiving my badge. 🙂

  7. I used to play on derby friagate station when I was young,there was steps down to the station booking office on the central platform,which was being used as a garage for car re-sprays and repairs,when the garage closed you could walk through the old booking office and waiting rooms but they were a little dangerous and in poor state back in the early eighties,part of the platform had already collapsed on the east platform,the huge viaduct near race course station was blown up in 1979 I think,I can remember a long pile of bricks that I used to walk over as the rubble was left in situ for some time,we often walked through the tunnel just past mickleover station at macworth which was slightly curved,it has now been earthed and grassed over I think.

  8. Just worthy of a note also the MPD fondly known as slack lane engine shed survived for many years after closure of the line as did the coaling stage.It was incorperated into the adjacent chemical company and was still soon as late as 1990.

  9. Thanks for sharing your memories David. You remind me how long the site has been in a state of limbo and it does seem that any redevelopment has stalled, for now at least. I’ll make a point of popping by soon in the hope that some of the wild planting and wildlife has returned following the major cleansing exercise last year. I wonder what thoughts you have on the next use for the goods yard…

  10. Interesting read Tim, not seen the site myself for over 10 years. Shame that it will be destroyed once the developers get their hooks into it.
    That line has always been of interest, during my brief stint at Wilmorton college I remember wandering along the cutting that runs along the back of the college grounds, also visiting Bredsall station and track bed which I think is still there, platforms included. Not sure if the Bridge top is still next to the seven stars inn anymore, I did not notice last time I was in Derby.

  11. Thanks for your comments – long time no see!

    Much of the undergrowth has returned as the development project has stalled – for now at least. The station platform at Breadsall is still there – along with the foundations that include a separate ladies waiting room! The bridge top it still visible near the Seven Stars where the line runs under a tunnel, as you will know.

    I notice that local residents have this week been pressing the council to maintain the classic iron Handyside bridge over Ashbourne Road. Whatever happens to the station and goods yard at least there’s no way the public would allow the bridge to be removed or abandoned.

  12. The ‘undergrowth’ was cleared, not to facilitate ‘development, but as part of a half-baked scheme to raise Christmas trees on the site – which came to nothing.

    I and many others would like to see any development of the site include both the restoration of the listed railway buildings and the conservation of much of the site’s wildlife, but this will involve imagination and sensitivity to the environment – singularly lacking in our present local leaders.

    Friargate Station is the best site for butterflies in the whole of Derbyshire – a fact often overlooked in any press reports. Have a look at my on-line slide-show on the wildlife of the site at:

  13. Thanks for that Bill – I wasn’t aware of the Christmas tree scheme. I agree with your sentiments regarding sensitive redevelopment and also that it seems unlikely based on past history.

    Also I had no idea that FGS was the best butterfly site in the county, although whenever I’ve been there they have been out in force. Superb photos by the way – thanks for sharing these 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comments on the photos,Tim. I and a colleague are in touch with the insect conservation charity, Buglife about them making representations on the wildlife value of the site. As you say, on past form (typified by the City Council’s wish to put a competitive cycle course on the
      Pride Park bird reserve), a sensitive development of the site seems nothing more than a dream at the moment. A very good blog of yours, by the way!

      1. Thanks for your kind words. It’s good to hear that you are championing the site with Buglife. Perhaps one day society will recognise the value of our natural assets. I visited The High Line in New York 3 years ago where a rusting old elevated railway running through the city was transformed into an aerial garden. It would be wonderful if the land around FGS could be made into a formal inner-city nature reserve protecting the land and opening up the buildings to appropriate redevelopment.

      2. Hello again, tom,

        I forgot to mention that I am in the process of writing an article on the wildlife of the station site for the annual journal of Derby Natural History Society, of which I am editor. I’ll send you a copy when done.

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