The Bridges at Meldreth Station
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. The documents show very clearly that the bridge was on the original plan for the railway: see our page on the Planned Route of the Railway for details and images. Two small cottages belonging to Ann Fitch and occupied by Ellis Negus and Sarah Howard were actually on the site of the proposed 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.
The Railway Bridge over the River Mel
An article in The Royston Crow describes how, on a Sunday afternoon in 1900, the old pile bridge across the River Mel was demolished by a large team of navvies and a new, steel railway bridge was moved into its place. From start to finish the entire job took a very impressive 4.5 hours. (See photograph above.)