WITH imposing Tuscan columns facing on to the Great North Road, the entrance to Leeming Bar station looks as if it should be the grand gateway to an important country railway hub.

The eminent architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner says Leeming's pillared portico gives it "an element of unexpected grandeur".

Yet behind the powerful portico is a lowly, single-storey office which could come from any rural outpost anywhere on the railway network.

The Northern Echo: Leeming Bar Station House work on going

The surprising grandeur of the entrance to the station, as it awaited restoration

That may be because the station was being built just as the “Railway King”, George Hudson, was reaching the end of the line.

Nevertheless, this weekend, the station is at the centre of a three-day celebration as it reopens after a Lottery-funded restoration.

The Northern Echo: George Hudson (findmypast.co.uk).

It was built in the 1840s, a time of railwaymania, with Hudson (above), twice lord mayor of York and the MP for Sunderland, the principal inflater of the railway bubble. In 1846, his companies owned a quarter of the railways in England, from Bristol to Newcastle, and that year, he applied to Parliament for permission to build another 32 railways with a staggering £10m of investment – that’s much more than £1bn in today’s values.

This is even more staggering given that the country was in the grips of one of the deepest recessions of the century.

One of those schemes given permission, in June 1846, was from Northallerton to Bedale, but although it was a short line without any expensive obstacles, Hudson didn’t have the resources to throw at it.

Indeed, work only began in February 1847 to deter other railway promoters from trying to criss-cross North Yorkshire with lines from east to west.

The Northern Echo: Leeming Bar station

The station at Leeming Lane (since 1902, known as Leeming Bar)

And once 5½ miles of the line had been built across the flatlands west of Northallerton, work ground to a halt at Leeming Lane – the name of the station until 1902 when it changed to Leeming Bar.

The lane was part of the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh, and the railway went across it near its junction with the Northallerton to Hawes turnpike. This was a strategically sensible place for a station, although the financial case for the railway had been built on it reaching Bedale a couple of miles away and tapping into the farmers’ market.

Hudson’s favourite architect, George Townsend Andrews, another York man, designed the three stations and six level crossing keepers’ cottages on the short line.

The keepers’ cottages are quite ordinary, except Ham Hall, near Scruton, which is extraordinary, although no one has explained why.

The Northern Echo: Ham hall SCRUTON

The Northern Echo: Ham hall Scruton

Before and after: Ham Hall crossing keeper's cottage, designed by GT Andrews, is surprisingly grand

The first station was Ainderby (below), which is actually at Morton-on-Swale. It may be unique because due to the lie of the land, Andrews designed the stationmaster’s house on the ground floor with passengers climbing steps to the second-floor platform which was on the same level as the line. It is now a private house.

The Northern Echo: The Tablet Exchange at Ainderby Station, which ensured only one train at a time was on the single track

The second station is Scruton Lane, a pretty rural affair a short distance south of the village of Scruton. The Wensleydale Railway has rescued it from dereliction and reopened it in 2017.

The Northern Echo: Scruton station

Scruton station in its heyday, above, and derelict in 1987, below

The Northern Echo: Scruton station, 1987.

The Northern Echo: SCRUTON: The station has been brought back to life after being closed over 50 years ago

Scruton station after its restoration

And then the line reached Leeming Lane, where Hudson’s money was running out, so the grand portico was put on it with a more humble ticket office and waiting room behind.

The Northern Echo: Leeming Bar station

Leeming Bar station

“The Leeming station seems a rather odd compromise, as if Hudson had been engaged in some last minute economies,” says Bill Fawcett, the doyen of railway architecture historians in his study of GT Andrews.

The line and the station opened on March 11, 1848, the Darlington & Stockton Times affording it a single sentence: "On Saturday last, the Bedale branch of the York and Newcastle Railway, from Northallerton to the Leeming station, was opened for passengers and merchandize, and trains in connection with those on the main line have begun to run daily upon it."

By opening day, Hudson’s railway bubble was deflating. He was accused of selling shares in his companies to his other companies at greatly inflated prices, of fiddling the passenger and income figures, and paying out large dividends from capital rather than revenue.

In August 1848, he was compelled to repay nearly £400,000 to the banks, and by early 1849, he was being forced to resign from his companies. Because he was an MP, he couldn’t be arrested for debt when the Commons was sitting – when it was in recess, he fled to France and Spain to avoid the long arm of the law.

However, his reputation was in tatters, and when, eventually, he was in the country and not a sitting MP, he was arrested with debts of an estimated £60,000.

Andrews, an honest and talented architect, was tainted by his association with Hudson and he died a broken man, aged 51, in 1855. His most notable station locally is the one at Richmond, but even his engine sheds had something about them – as the one that has recently been converted into apartments in Darlington’s Haughton Road shows.

Without Hudson to finance the railway up Wensleydale, local landowners had to pool their resources. In 1855 they reached Bedale; in 1856, they got to Leyburn, but it wasn’t until 1878 that they reached Hawes – that’s 32 miles of tracks built in 30 years, which is slow going.

The Northern Echo: Station House at Leeming Bar

Agricultural equipment at Leeming Bar station preparing to go to market

There was little at Leeming Lane when the station opened other than a pub, but in 1851, William Mattison started a foundry on land leased from the railway. He made agricultural equipment, from mill machinery to turnip toppers, and his metal mileposts still adorn the North Yorkshire countryside. In 1937, the foundry was taken over by one of the Mattisons’ employees, John H Gill, and it still thrives to this day.

The Northern Echo: Station House at Leeming Bar

Tractors prepare for their rail journey from Leeming Bar station

Another early business was John Mackay Plews’ brewery, which he moved from the centre of Bedale to opposite the station in 1868. Sending beer by rail, the Vale of Mowbray Brewery became one of the biggest in the area. When brewing ceased in 1925, the site was taken over by the Rider brothers who made pork pies there, and now Vale of Mowbray is the biggest pie brand in the country.

In the 1870s, John and Robert Harkness established their rose nursery beside the station so they could send their plants by rail – in the 1890s, Queen Victoria bought her roses from Leeming.

However, in 1901, the brothers realised their roses needed a warmer climate. Neither brother wished to leave Leeming, but a toss of a coin decided that Robert should go and establish a nursery in Hitchin in Hertfordshire which still thrives.

So the station that was plonked in the middle of nowhere when the Railway King’s money ran dry has been responsible for nurturing three major businesses which have employed hundreds of local people over the last 175 years.

The Northern Echo: The newly restored Leeming Bar station house

Wensleydale Railway staff prepare for this weekend's 1920s reopening

In the 1920s, Matthew Newton was stationmaster along with his wife, Elizabeth, and the Wensleydale Railway’s staff will be dressed up in for that period this weekend as they commemorate the reopening after receiving a £368,000 Lottery grant. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, there is a model railway exhibition plus a steam traction engine, plus train trips up to Leyburn or shuttle rides along to Scruton, with refreshments being served at all stations. Monday will be the official reopening the station by a special guest.

To book tickets, visit the Wensleydale Railway website.