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Welwyn Garden City

The Hatfield, Luton & Dunstable Railway
(and on to Leighton Buzzard)

Authors: G. & S. Woodward

Published: 1977 by The Oakwood Press

Format: Paperback 8½" by 5½" with 72 pages





Chapter One - History

Following the opening in 1838 of the London-Birmingham Railway, which passed through Leighton, George and Robert Stephenson proposed a branch line from Leighton to Dunstable and Luton. However, it was not until 1855 that an Act was passed for the construction of a line connecting the L.N.W.R at Dunstable with the G.N.R at Digswell where there would be a triangular junction, and a bridge to carry the line over to the Welwyn-Hertford line which had been approved by an Act in 1854.

. . . . . The section between Luton and Welwyn Junction was opened for both goods and passenger use on the 1st September 1860, under the name of the Hertford, Luton and Dunstable Railway, and at the same time Welwyn Junction Station closed. Trains from Luton used the main line to go on to Hatfield. This arrangement continued until December 1868, when a separate line was opened for the branch, alongside the main line. The points connecting the branch to the main line were removed in January 1869. The first excursion over the new section of line ran to London on the 18th September. The cheapest fare was 2/6d. (12½p) and the dearest 3/6d . . . . .

The chapter continues with much detail about the construction of the line.

Chapter Two - Route

This very interesting chapter describes in detail the route followed by the line from Hatfield right through to Leighton Buzzard Station.

. . . . . Whereas the St. Albans line branched off just north of Hatfield Station, the Luton line continued on under Wrestlers Bridge and ran parallel to the main line to Welwyn Garden City, where the branch was served by the rear half of the main line station's Down slow platform. From here the line turned sharply westwards by the 20½ mile post and under Digswell Road Bridge, known locally as 'The White Bridge' (opened in November 1925 by Sir Henry Maybury). The line then climbed a steep incline up through Brocks Wood, a very picturesque area, with many fine fir and silver birch trees. In spring the scene was even more delightful with flowering primroses. In these woods were three swallow-holes, one of which was directly beside the line and must have created problems for those erecting the railway fence, as at times there was as much as 20 ft. of water. A short way up the incline was a siding, laid in 1920, and latterly used by local coal merchants.

Almost at the top of the incline, which started at 1 in 56 and eased to 1 in 162, the line ran under the Great North Road, and into Ayot Station, which until April 1878 was known as Ayott St. Peter . . . . .

The chapter continues with details of the route, well-illustrated by 9 junction layout plans.

Chapter Three - Signalling

Chapter Four - Timetables and Trains

This chapter describes in detail the services run on the line, and is illustrated by actual timetables from 1864, 1881, 1920, and 1963

Chapter Five - Travellers and Traffic

This chapter gives many interesting anecdotes about the various users of the line, from George Bernard Shaw's trips from Ayot to London, to industrial uses:

. . . . . During the Second World War steel sheets were made at Jack Olding’s works at Hatfield, at which Station they were loaded onto the railway and taken to Vauxhall for war vehicle production. In all 24,900 trucks, 5,640 tanks and 2,448 cars were made for the Ministry of Supply, many of which were transported by rail. A large number of tanks were taken as far as Ayot before going on by road to the Tank Corps at Hatfield House . . . . .

Chapter Six - Accidents and Incidents

Chapter Seven - Staff

Chapter Eight - After Closure

This chapter describes the dismantling of the line after it closed in 1966:

. . . . . Blackbridge Sidings closed on the 24th May 1971 and by the 28th June all track between Blackbridge and Ayot had disappeared, most having been taken up by the authorities, but some by scrap merchants. Ayot Signalbox was burnt down and minor structures demolished. Scrap merchants removed the track between Ayot and Digswell Junction cottages at Welwyn Garden City and the bridge just north of Ayot Station site was removed in July 1971, easing a dangerous bend in the road. Towards the end of that year the cutting was filled in, in readiness for the Al Motorway, then in course of construction, to cross the former railway.

At Welwyn Garden City, earthworks were in progress for a new carriage siding complex as part of preparations for the 'Great Northern' Main Line electrification. The connection to the sidings was made by using the former branch line . . . . .




Apart from the track layouts and timetables, the book is illustrated with 25 black-and-white photographs on glossy paper:


Ticket for the Ladies' Tent at the ceremony of turning the first sod of the Luton, Dunstable & Welwyn Railway
Welwyn Garden City Station on 23 April, 1921 (K. S. Ladbury)
Wheathampstead about 1905
Hatfield loco, sheds and Luton line signals about 1900; 0-4-0T GNR No. 655 (Real photos)
4-4-2T No. 1550 being re-railed at Ayot during the General Strike of 1926 (Welwyn Garden City Library)
The GN station at Luton about 1906 (Author's Collection)
Luton goods station about 1914, showing hat-boxes loaded on drays
Harpenden Station about 1930
Down goods leaving Hatfield in 1937; ex-GN 0-6-2T No. 2676 (Photomatic)
Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard train entering Leighton Buzzard on 11 May 1945; ex-LNW 2-4-2T No. 46601 (H. C. Casserley)
Harpenden East station on 5 Sept. 1959 (H. C. Casserley)
Blows Down Station Dunstable
Class 4 2-6-0, No. 43088 on a football special to Ipswich (S. Summerson)
N.2. No. 69547 bound for Dunstable, passing Luton West, 29 Sept. 1956 (S. Summerson)
N.7 No. 69678 with 1.15 Dunstable to Hatfield at Luton Hoo, 30 August 1958 (J. Spencer Gilks)
N.7 No. 69639 passing Chaul End, 29 September 1956 (S. Summerson)
Two DMUs pass at Luton Bute Street, 1962 (K. Taylor)
Brush type 2 diesel loco arriving at Luton Bute Street from Dunstable in 1962 (K. Taylor)
Up train at Ayot on 20 June 1960 (J. Spencer Gilks)
The last train from Grovebury Sidings on 5 December 1969; type 4 diesel No. D1672 Colossus (Ian Bowley)
Train in Ayot Woods on 20 June 1960 (J. Spencer Gilks)
Stanbridgford in April 1962 (Photomatic)
The 'Banburian' at Bute Street on 22 Sept. 1962; ex-LNW 0-8-0 No. 48930 (K. Taylor)
Last train at Bute Street on 24 April 1965; diesel loco No. D8046 (Luton News)
2-6-2T No. 41222 at Leighton Buzzard on last day (K. Taylor)


Welwyn Garden City Station on 23 April, 1921 (K. S. Ladbury)