I’m partial to stations… especially those that have history. The Victorian railways were a magnificent achievement, and changed British society in far-reaching ways.
(600 words; a five minute read)
During the late 1950s, and early 1960s my grandparents in Bolton used to take me for days out to the seaside.
We never got as far as Grange-over-Sands, the lovely town that nestles at the eastern end of the English Lake District’s peninsulas. My father first brought us here in one of our long distance days out sometime in my early teens. By then the ‘swinging sixties’ were in full swing. We had previously been on a two-week (static caravan) holiday to St Ives in Cornwall, and everywhere I subsequently visited was judged against that childhood perfection.
But Grange made an impact. Its natural features were framed by hills that swept down towards the sea, yet seemed held back by the solid combination of long promenade and twin railway tracks – tracks that would take you all the way to Barrow-in-Furness… or even up the entire Cumbrian coast to Carlisle.
The railways station is a classic. The information board states it boldly: The railway created Grange. A century before even the idea of a road linking north-west England with Scotland was dreamt of, Victorian day-trippers would take paddle steamers from bustling Morecambe, across the bay, to arrive in Grange for afternoon tea. They would stroll through the beautiful park before re-boarding their boats to return, filled with delight at their exciting and well-filled Sunday outing.
The railway wasn’t long in developing this potentially lucrative route; linking the coast and the main line to Lancaster, Preston, Liverpool and onwards to London. Grange boomed.
At first, Grange had only a wooden hut to serve as a station on what was then a single track line. The Furness Railway Company took over the line and doubled the tracks, engaging Lancaster architect Edward Paley to design the present station, which opened in 1872. The company also built the adjacent Grange Hotel, designed by the same architect.
John Brogden, a celebrated civil engineer and resident of nearby Holme Island, was commissioned to design the promenade and park that would frame the station, using land that had been a muddy swamp. The result was a centre that attracted both holidaymakers and new residents . Grange’s population exploded, growing from 200 in 1861 to 1700 in 1881.
Grange was considered ‘genteel’ compared with other northern resorts, but eventually followed the same decline after the death of the ‘railway age’. It was saved by the growing popularity of the Lake District as a place to live, not just visit. Ironically, this was made possible by the presence of the M6 motorway only twenty minutes’ drive away. Many people commute from here into the major towns and cities, sixty or more miles south.
The town is now a rare example of a self-sufficient community. A variety of individual shops have survived and prospered. We live a twenty-minute drive away, on the edge of Kendal, but our preference for everyday fresh food shopping is Grange-over-Sands. The promenade and large park at its end also provides our collie with good walks.
©Stephen Tanham, 2021.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.