Woodlesford’s station building had a very distinctive design with a square central block and identical wings. It was built from local stone and by the early 20th century was covered in pebble dash which was painted with whitewash. Over the years it turned grey from the smoke of passing trains.
One striking feature was that the windows show the building at one time had a first floor above the offices and waiting room. At some point the floor was removed and towards the end of the building’s life there were no upstairs rooms.
Most of the station buildings on the North Midland were designed by Francis Thompson, notably the rather ornate designs at Oakenshaw for Wakefield and Cudworth for Barnsley. There were other buildings of a similar basic style to Woodlesford at other stations between Leeds and Derby, for example at Wingfield, so its reasonable to suppose that Woodlesford was also designed by Thompson.
It’s not clear precisely when it was built but it’s certainly shown on an Ordnance Survey map published in 1846, as is the North Midland Railway Hotel, a quarter of a mile away on Aberford Road. An identical building at Cudworth was shown on an 1888 plan as being the station master’s house.
A brick extension with barred windows was added at the rear in 1895. Next to that was a wooden building known to station staff as “the bug hutch”. It had originally been used as a signal cabin but was moved when a larger signal box was erected at the end of the Up platform. In later life the cabin served as a mess room for the staff and the motor lorry drivers from Hunslet Lane goods station.
In the early years the station building doubled as accommodation for staff. One employee who may have lived there was John Blackwell. He was born at Hasland near Chesterfield in Derbyshire in 1811. By June 1841, when the census was taken, he was married with three young children and living at Beighton to the south west of Sheffield. He was employed as a porter which must have been at the North Midland Railway’s station. The 1851 census shows John and his growing family had moved to Derby where he was a pointsman, the original term for signalman. The birth places of some of his younger children also indicates he had worked at other stations on the North Midland line including at Woodlesford in 1848 where his son William was born. John raised the alarm when a cheese warehouse next to Derby station caught fire in 1868. He was still a pointsman there at the age of 60 in 1871.
The 1861 census records the building inhabited by the station master, William Henry Casson, along with his family and two porters with their families, so it must have been quite cramped. William Cottingham was 26, the son of an agricultural labourer from Glapthorn in Northamptonshire. He was paid 17 shillings a week and had to give the railway 2 shillings of that as rent. The other porter, Henry Miller, was a year older and had been born at Stroud in Gloucestershire. His eldest son, Henry James Miller, was born at Woodlesford in 1856 but shortly after the 1861 census the family moved south again to Defford in Worcestershire where Henry had been appointed station master. For some reason he appears to have been demoted to signal porter at Evesham in 1865 but by 1868 was again a station master at Fishponds on the outskirts of Bristol. His eldest son also joined the railway and appears to have been a clerk at Fishponds until his death in 1920.
In 1866 the Woodlesford station master and his family moved into a much bigger house which had been built for them. It still stands today looking down on the station car park. This could also explain the mystery of the upper floor of the station building which may have been removed when the new house was finished.
Unfortunately the station building was demolished by British Rail just over a year after the station became an unmanned halt in January 1970. Apparently they would have had to pay local authority rates on the unused building and like so much of our unique railway heritage it was destroyed to keep the accountants satisfied. The Normanton Area Manager at the time, A. Murray, told the Wakefield Express that it would be replaced by a “bus-type” shelter, which indeed it was. If it had managed to cling on for a few more years perhaps its heritage value would have been recognised and it might today have found an alternative use.