At last, a Railway Station to be proud of (in 1888)

Susan Payne

Postcard: view of Hertford East Railway Station and Dolphin Hotel, c. 1910 (HALS image DE_X1025_2_39_272)
Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies
Postcard: view of GER Hertford Station platforms and train in station, c. 1906 (HALS DE_X1025_2_39_273)
Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

Hertford East Railway Station

The railway came to Hertford in 1843, but was not welcomed by all. The Northern and Eastern Railway (N&ER) company, constructing a line from London to Cambridge, were encouraged by the mayor and burgesses to add a branch line terminating at Hertford.

However, investigations by the County Magistrates labelled “the proposed Railway Terminus as a positive evil”. Their reasoning was “when it is considered in all systems of Prison discipline how very much must naturally depend on the Prisoners being kept from all noise and disturbance, more especially those in solitary confinement”1. These objections resulted in the station being built approximately 200 yards from the County Goal in Baker Street and an inconvenient distance from the town centre.

First Railway Station, 1843

The station opened on 31st October 1843. It was a simple, single storey, brick building with one platform and a single track, approached from Railway Place, off the Ware Road.

The following decades saw growing competition between railway companies, with new lines and stations in the area, as well as the merging of small, local businesses into powerful, regional conglomerates.

By the mid-19th century, Hertford had a new station called Cowbridge, built at the bottom of Hartham Lane. Spurred into action by this sign of competition, the railway company announced plans for major changes to the old N&ER station. A scheme to move it further into town, to Bull Plain was rejected as too expensive. By 1862 the station was owned by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and plans were issued to move it to the present site on the corner of Mill Lane and Railway Street.

In the same year, W. N. Ashbee became Head of the GER Architects Department. He used a Free Renaissance style in designing the new station. The contract for its construction (costing £6000 14s 9d) was issued in 1886.

Second Railway Station, 1888

To the disappointment of the Hertfordshire Mercury reporter (in an article published on 3rd March), there was no grand opening for the new station. Nevertheless, on Monday 27th February 1888, the first train to leave the station was treated to an explosion of fog signals2 in salute. Over 100 people paid to travel as far as Ware on the 7:12 am train, to be among the first passengers from the new station.

The Mercury report praised the station: it’s front elevation is decidedly handsome; the internal arrangements exceedingly convenient

Reaction to the building was favourable from the beginning. The Mercury report praised the station: it’s “front elevation is decidedly handsome; the internal arrangements exceedingly convenient”. Of note was the “spacious and well-proportioned” booking hall, with 3 ticket windows: one for 1st and 2nd class passengers, another for 3rd class and the last for soldiers and police officers.

There was though, still some criticism for the railway company. A better service of trains was needed; the carriages needed to be more comfortable; and the return fares ought to be cheaper.

So finally, the line from Broxbourne arrived nearer to the centre of Hertford. The first station was turned into a goods depot and continued until the early 1960s when it was finally demolished. Following World War One, the country’s railways were reorganised. Hertford’s GER station became Hertford East on 1st July 1923, the name it has today.


1 Quotes from ‘120 years of Hertford East Station 1888-2008’ by David Dent, 2008. Copy at HALS 942.583 HER

2 Fog signals were detonators clipped to the rails, which fired as the locomotive rolled over them

This page was added on 27/08/2022.

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