Berkhamsted Railway Station
Lower Kings Road, Berkhamsted
A railway station may seem like an unlikely place to draw connections with a cemetery, but the London and Birmingham Railway Company was one of the donors who supported the foundation of Rectory Lane Cemetery in 1842.
The construction of the railway through rural Hertfordshire was highly unpopular in the 1830s. Not only did it threaten the business interests of stagecoaches and coaching inns, but the landed gentry were strongly opposed to railway companies driving the “Iron Horse” across their country estates.
A meeting of angry landowners was held at the Kings Arms coaching inn in Berkhamsted to object to the plans to build a new railway between London and Birmingham through Berkhamsted. Much as with the HS2 scheme today, railway construction attracted vociferous opposition. Despite their opposition, the plans received Royal Assent, but the landowners succeeded in having the route of the railway diverted to avoid Gadebridge House and Ashridge. The railway line was built parallel to the Grand Junction Canal and the ruined barbican and moat of Berkhamsted Castle were cleared to make way for the embankment.
During the construction works, Berkhamsted experienced significant upheaval due to an influx of immigrant workers from the Midlands, Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. At night, navvies filled the local pubs and drunken fights broke out nightly on the once-quiet Berkhamsted High Street. It can be seen that many local townsfolk would have resented the railway greatly.
Perhaps in an attempt to soothe bad feelings among locals, the London and Birmingham Railway Company engaged in acts of charity, and in 1842 it donated a generous £40 to the Parish of Great Berkhamsted towards the creation of a new cemetery on Rectory Lane. This early example of corporate sponsorship is recorded in the inscription on the Bridgewater Foundation Stone in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
The building we see today is in fact the second railway station in Berkhamsted. The original opened in 1837 and was located 100m further along Lower Kings Road, closer to the Castle Street Bridge. It was replaced with the present building in 1875, when the railway was widened.