The completion of a £2.3m restoration of a Northumberland town’s listed railway station will be celebrated on Tuesday with an official opening ceremony.
The Tudor-style Morpeth station was designed for the York, Newcastle and Berwick railway company by architect Benjamin Green.
Benjamin and his father John were responsible for major Newcastle landmarks such as Grey’s Monument and the Theatre Royal.
Before the 18-month restoration operation, the East Coast mainline station building, which opened in 1847, was mostly empty and suffering decline.
Now a café and modern ticket office has been created, with a guard's van-style taxi office in the station forecourt.
An example of the determination of the project partners to restore the building to Green's specifications has been the reinstatement of the 15 tall chimneys which gave the station its distinctive appearance.
For safety reasons they had been considerably reduced in height a number of years ago.
Specialists stone masons Classic Masonry from North Shields undertook the work using sandstone specified by the station project conservation architect John Curtis from Napper Architects.
A total of 81 stones, some weighting nearly half a tonne, were quarried from Otterburn in Northumberland, and dressed ready to be hauled in place 50 feet into the air using a block-and-tackle lifting method.
The opening ceremony will be carried out by Andy Savage, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust, which supports the preservation, upkeep and future sustainability of buildings and structures which form part of Britain’s historic railway network.
The restoration and fundraising for the project over the past seven years was carried out by a partnership team of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Railway Heritage Trust, Northumberland County Council the North East Rural Growth Network, Network Rail and Northern Trains Limited, led by Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT).
Prior to the station’s restoration GMDT’s chief achievement was to project manage the restoration and conservation of the 300-year-old Morpeth Town Hall, designed by Sir John Vanburgh of Blenheim Palace, Castle Howard and Seaton Delaval Hall fame.
Grants at the feasibility and development stages of the project came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Northumberland County Council, the Homes & Communities Association, CORE and the Architectural Heritage Fund..
A full award of £790,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund set the project in motion before the initial funders were joined in the station partnership by Northumberland County Council, the North East Rural Growth Network, and track and train operators Network Rail and Arriva North.
With the funds in place contractors STP Construction were able to move on site in the early months of 2019.
Years of leaking roofs, pigeons gaining access through holes in the roof, damp and rot had taken a severe toll on both the external and internal fabric of the station building. All this damage had to be carefully removed, replaced or repaired wherever possible, to maintain the style of Green’s original design.
As many of the original timber window frames as possible have been repaired or refurbished by hand, while the elegant Victorian portico at the front of the building has also been opened up again.
"What we see today is the successful outcome of a huge amount of work over the past seven years by our Trust and its partners," said GMDT chief executive officer David Lodge.
"It has been a long – and at times difficult road – to get to where we are today but we have persevered in our determination to not only preserve what it a wonderful example of Victorian railway architecture, but to give travellers to and from Morpeth the very best facilities we could provide for them.
"At the same time, we have been enterprising in using empty office space as much-needed accommodation for small businesses in what surely must be a unique location right next to the main East Coast line.
"Morpeth Railway Station has been such an important juncture on the line for nigh on 175 years as a gateway not just into the town but to the wider Northumberland. How it is used today is a far cry from those days long ago when some of the very first passenger trains were pulling into the station.
"But restored to its original Victorian elegance, the station continues to make a decisive statement about how important an amenity it is in Morpeth as well as being a living reminder of a very different era of rail travel.
"Greater Morpeth Development Trust has been at the forefront of giving two such historic buildings in the town a viable and sustainable future and that has been a major achievement for us. However, as a Trust we are not just about safeguarding the town’s heritage because we do so much more as a community organisation to help make Morpeth a better place to live and work.
"The station has been at the heart of life in Morpeth since the middle of the 19th Century and will remain so for many, many years to come. We believe the people of Morpeth will be rightly proud of what we have achieved at Morpeth Railway Station as a partnership team."