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 (L&BR) 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,
1846: The LNWR
From 1846 the L&BR was absorbed into a large new railway company, the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). We know some detail of the operation of Berkhamsted Railway Station at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to one man who is now buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery: George Blincow (1858–1928), who served as stationmaster here for 18 years, from 1903 until his retirement in 1921.
Blincow witnessed the change of Berkhamsted from a small, semi-rural town into a Lonodn commuter town, driven by the railways. The swathes of new housing that appeared in areas such as Kitsbury led to an increase in passenger footfall. The LNWR also operated a horse-drawn coach service from the nearby town of Chesham to Berkhamsted Station, partly in competition with the Metropolitan Railway, whose Chesham station opened in 1889.
In those days, Lord Brownlow (Adelbert Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow) had a special privilege at Berkhamsted Station: his own private entrance and waiting room. As well as welcoming Lord and Lady Brownlow to the station, Blincow would also have met a number of noted people in high society and government who passed through the station en route to Ashridge.
George lived with his family in the stationmaster’s house, the red-brick house which still stands today next to the station, though now denuded of its garden. His wife, Rebecca, bore two children, but only one – Archibald – survived. Despite Archibald’s ambitions to become an architect, his father persuaded him to work for the LNWR as Railway clerk at Berkhamsted Station.
1914-18: The boat trains to war
In 1914-19, the fields to the north of Berkhamsted Castle were turned into an enormous campsite for the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC). Young men camped here trained for war, practising the techniques of trench warfare and artillery, before heading off to fight in the battlefields of World War I. Thousands of young men who were sent off to war passed through Berkhamsted station, where they were put on special trains bound for Southampton docks. There, they would be shipped over to the battlefields of France. Many others would be sent to Ireland, where they were engaged in the attempt to quell the Easter Rising.
The man in charge of this complex and challenging operation was the stationmaster, George Blincow. He had to manage a nightly influx of thousands of troops from the Berkhamsted camp, St. Albans, Luton, and elsewhere. Even the cavalry horses had to be coaxed onto the platforms and onto goods wagons to be transported to the ports. Lord Brownlow gave up his private waiting room to be used as the Quartermaster’s office and stores.
In a later interview, Blincow told the Berkhamsted Gazette:
“As the night proceeded these thousands of men and their equipment were expeditiously sent off by special trains, and from Berkhamsted arrived within a few hours at Southampton docks, en route for France. Ofttimes in the night when Berkhamsted was sleeping, its station was a busy scene with hundreds of men, horses, and guns being entrained “destination unknown” and one such occasion was when a division landed here to be provided with transport for conveyance to a seaport and to Ireland in connection with a little rebellion which had to be tackled during the war.”
When the trainees departed, many townsfolk came to wish them farewell, “not a few of whom (among the young and fair) were observed to dash a tell-tale tear from downcast eye. The Band played selections (“Nancy Dawson” and others) on the platform to keep up our spirits, finishing up with “Auld Lang Syne” as the train steamed away”.
Of the Inns of Court OTC, 12,000 trainee officers passed through Berkhamsted; by the end of WWI, over half were wounded and 2200 were killed in action. Among these trainee officers was George’s own son, Archibald – he went to fight, and was one of the lucky ones who survived the conflict and returned home to continue his life.
George Blincow retired in 1921 and died in 1928 at North Wembley. He lies buried in the upper section of Rectory Lane Cemetery.
1920s: the LMS and tragedy
In the inter-war years, most of Britain’s railway companies were amalgamated into larger companies. Over 120 small railways were merged into four large regional operators, and the LNWR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).
Archibald Blincow left Berkhamsted and moved to moved to North Wembley after WII, but continued to work for the railways. He eventually rose to be General Manager of the LMS Rates Department at Euston. He died in 1941, and was buried in the upper section of Rectory Lane Cemetery, on the opposite side of the ground to his father.
In 1926, the railway arch next to Berkhamsted Station was the scene of a tragedy. Sergeant Arthur Ringsell (1879–1926), a discharged soldier who had served in the Boer War and WWI, committed suicide by slitting his own throat in the grounds of Berkhamsted Castle. He then staggered to railway arch, bleeding profusely, where he was found by friends. He was taken to the West Herts hospital but sadly died aged 47. Many who served in war at this time suffered undiagnosed mental health problems in addition to their physical injuries; Ringsell had been discharged as unfit for service, but aside from a war pension, no proper support was provided to these men who more unseen wounds in silence.
In 1933, the railway line just south of Berkhamsted Station was the scene of another local tragedy. Rear Admiral Arthur Hale Smith-Dorrien (1856-1933) was was found dead by the tracks close to his home at New Lodge on Bank Mill Lane. In his old age, Admiral Smith-Dorrien had gone deaf, and it is thought that he had wandered onto the line and failed to hear an approaching train, which then struck him dead. The Admiral had served in the Navy in several pre-WWI conflicts, including Zululand and the Egyptian War. He was buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery next to his brothers, Henry and Horace.
1948: British Railways and beyond
After another World War had taken its toll on the nation, the railway companies were nationalised and merged into one body, British Railways, in 1948. Berkhamsted Station continued under British Rail operation until the privatisation of the railways in the 1990s. Since then, Berkhamsted Station has been served by an ever-changing succession of railway operators. Unlike the ephemeral railway franchises, the burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery are a lasting testament to the importance of Berkhamsted Railway Station in our town’s history.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Berkhamsted Railway Station
6 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: