The Bridges at Meldreth Station

Gladys Clarke remembers her father telling her about the building of the road bridge on Station Hill, Meldreth

An excerpt from an interview with Gladys Clarke carried out by Terry Dash for the History Group on June 26th 2008

Photo:Meldreth Station 1880.  This is the earliest photo we have of Meldreth Station and clearly shows the road bridge in the distance.

Meldreth Station 1880. This is the earliest photo we have of Meldreth Station and clearly shows the road bridge in the distance.

The Railway Magazine, September 1952, page 580

Photo:Meldreth Station ~1905 showing the old footbridge

Meldreth Station ~1905 showing the old footbridge

Brian Clarke

Photo:Plans for the abolition of the 'level crossing' and the construction of a footbridge at Meldreth and Melbourn Station dated 1889

Plans for the abolition of the 'level crossing' and the construction of a footbridge at Meldreth and Melbourn Station dated 1889

Cambridge Record Office

Photo:Down with the old and up with the new.  The construction of the new station footbridge in 1988.

Down with the old and up with the new. The construction of the new station footbridge in 1988.

Meldreth Womens Institute Scrapbook 1988

Photo:Photograph, taken in 2017, showing the railway line, station and land occupied by the old goods yard elevated above the surrounding land.

Photograph, taken in 2017, showing the railway line, station and land occupied by the old goods yard elevated above the surrounding land.

Tim Gane

There are two bridges over the railway at Meldreth, a footbridge at the station and the Station Hill road bridge

By Tim Gane

The Station Hill Road Bridge

The railway came to Meldreth in 1851 but it has been a question since the start of the Meldreth Local History Group as to whether or not the road bridge was built at the same time or added at some time afterwards.

The 'main' road from Royston to Cambridge passed through Melbourn at that time and the road into Meldreth would have been little more than a track.  Why did Meldreth qualify for a bridge while Shepreth and more importantly Foxton only have level crossings?  A fact that remains until this day.

The earliest photograph we have of Meldreth station is dated ~1880 and clearly shows the road bridge (see adjacent photo).

Maps held at the Parliamentary Archives (see below) show that the road bridge was included in the original plans for the railway drawn up in 1847 and we are now reasonably certain that the bridge was built at the same time as the railway came to Meldreth in 1851.

However, countering this, we also have two pieces of verbal evidence that suggest the bridge was built after the railway came to Meldreth.  The first is a recording of an interview with elderly, Meldreth born resident Gladys Clarke made in 2008 when Gladys was 92 (i.e. born 1916):

Click on the play button on the audio sound bar above to hear Gladys Clarke recalling the memory of her father telling her about the building of the bridge.

I’ve never forgot what my father said that years ago there was no station hill and my father remembers it being built.  There used to be a road like Shepreth going straight through and they built that hill. Archie’s father and them, when they were building that hill, they lived in Chiswick End and they had to go to school and up this little pathway towards the railway – a boy got killed there, the boy Jacklin got killed there, that’s when they were building station hill.  Instead of them going the proper way, they couldn’t get up the hill and they had to use this other way and that was built. My dad remembers that, it was just a crossing.

Transcription by Gloria Willers

The second piece of evidence is an entry in the Meldreth Parish Magazine, Drifts, in 1981 and is contained in an article on the memories of elderly Meldreth residents Eric Elbourn and Jack Palmer:

Station Hill, it appears, was built up from soil taken from the cutting further down the line towards Royston.  There is some confusion though as to just when this was done as there was a level crossing in existence for a time.  This is borne out by the story of 'Wuth' Woods.  'Wuth' was a very strong man and someone once bet him that he could pull a ton of coal (on a trolley) all the way from Meldreth Station to Melbourn Cross.  If he could manage it, the ton of coal would be his.  This was no mean gift in those days.  Apparently this was before the railway bridge was built, but sometime after the ford at Sheene Mill had been bridged because legend says that all was on the level until the slope from Sheene up to the Church, where 'Wuth' experienced some difficulty.  However, he managed it and won the ton of coal. (Eric Elbourn and Jack Palmer, Drifts Magazine, No 2, July 1981, page 9).

The Parliamentary Archives

In an attempt to establish exactly when the bridge was built our former Chairman, Angus Bell, paid a visit to the Parliamentary Archives to examine the original documents and maps relating to the construction of the railway through Meldreth.  Sadly we are unable to reproduce any of these documents because of copyright rules, but they do show very clearly that the bridge was on the original plan for the railway.  Two small cottages belonging to Ann Fitch and occupied by Ellis Negus and Sarah Howard were actually on the position of the bridge and would have been demolished as part of the construction process.

The railway line past the station and goods yard (now demolished) runs on an embankment (see photo) and indeed the goods yard itself stands elevated above the surrounding area providing further evidence that the bridge was built at the same time.

What we still do not know is why Meldreth qualified for a bridge rather a raised level crossing.  If you know why then we would love to hear from you.

The Station Footbridge

When the station was built in 1851 there was just a level crossing to cross the railway lines between the platforms and it was not until the fatality of a young lady by the name of Edith Mary Brushett that the level crossing was replaced with a footbridge sometime ~1890.  This Victorian wrought iron footbridge remained until 1988 when it was replaced with the current concrete and steel bridge.  The main line was electrified at the same time so as to replace the polluting diesel engines with the cleaner electric trains.

It is very probable that the level crossing referred to by Gladys Clarke and in the Wuth Woods article (above) was that referred to here across the station and not a level crossing for the road to cross the railway line.

This page was added by Tim Gane on 11/02/2012.
Comments about this page

In the 1988 photo, the new concrete and steel station footbridge was being built in the same position as the old. The footbridge that can be seen in the background was a temporary structure made out of scaffolding and was removed when the new footbridge opened.

By Greg Dash
On 15/02/2012

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