The large, attractive village of South Wingfield no longer relies on mining coal, or producing knitted fabrics for its industries, but has become a quiet dormitory town for the surrounding area. Its one major feature is Wingfield Manor. It was here that Mary Queen of Scots was held captive for several years, all the while and with some justification, complaining bitterly of the smell from the midden directly beneath her bedroom window. It was from here that the abortive Babbington Plot tried to free her, costing its perpetrator his head.
About half a mile outside the village, the Midland Mainline railway crosses the Alfreton road. A few yards beyond the railway bridge, a short length of mud covered cobbles leads to a group of abandoned station buildings where the converted station master’s house is now a dual residence, partly hidden in a wild-wood of self-sown trees. This was South Wingfield’s very own station.
Until 1967, South Wingfield rail travellers could hop on one of the main line trains stopping at the village station and ride in comfort to do their shopping in Chesterfield and beyond, or Derby and all points south as far as London. Despite the station being designated as a Grade II* listed building, it was deemed unnecessary for this rural part of Derbyshire and was closed in 1967. Express trains still thunder down the Amber Valley and roar through what is left of South Wingfield Station, but nowadays anyone from the village wanting to catch a train going north or south, must travel some distance for the privilege.
What was originally called the North Midlands Railway was built by George Stephenson and his son Robert. Funding was initially organised by George Hudson of York, known as the railway king in his short-lived notoriety. During the railway building mania of the mid 1800s, he encouraged investors to put money into his schemes, artificially inflating the value of the railway company shares by paying dividends out of investments rather than profits, a kind of pyramid scheme in its day. When this illegal practice was discovered, Hudson was indicted and sent to prison as a broken and penniless man.
Fortunately the plan to build a railway linking Leeds to London by way of Derby was properly funded. So with Derby at the junction of lines from London, Birmingham and Nottingham, the route of the North Midland (later the Midland) Railway was surveyed by George Stephenson assisted by Joseph Locke. Stephenson proposed building the line by using 72 miles of river valleys between Derby and Leeds. This would result in a route designed to mainly carry coal; using gentle gradient; building viaducts and tunnels only where necessary. Although it had the advantage of allowing heavily laden coal trains to run mostly downhill, his route frequently by-passed many large towns such as Sheffield. Connecting them meant building costly branch lines. This led to disagreement between Stephenson and Locke who saw the economic advantages of connecting as many towns and cities as possible along the route, rather than relying on simply carrying coal. Eventually a compromise was reached, just in time to cater for the growing interest in passenger trains, despite the many inconveniences such as travelling in coal wagons.
The first train to run along what eventually had become the 73½ mile long railway, left Leeds with suitable Victorian pomp and ceremony on the morning of the 7th of May 1840, with a formal lunch at Derby on arrival at 1.30 p.m., returning to Leeds on time at 6.55 p.m.
One part of the ceremonial inaugural run was to formally open Derby Station, then, as now an important junction serving the three lines between London, Birmingham and Leeds. The original Derby Station was designed by the architect Francis Thompson who was commissioned by Robert Stephenson, son of George, to design 24 stations along the Derby to Leeds section of the North Midlands Railway. They were all architectural masterpieces, whether they served a large town or small village. Due to modernising and other schemes in later years, only one survived, it was South Wingfield.
Following gradual deterioration and standing empty since its closure over 50 years ago, despite being classified as a Grade II* Listed Building, South Wingfield became what someone described as a ‘maimed beauty, deserving better’, one of the ten most important buildings at risk in the British Isles.
In November 2019 a saviour came on the scene in the shape of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust (DHBT), in order to take over South Wingfield Station’s ownership, raise funds, restore the station buildings and find commercial and educational uses for them.
With the backing of Historic England, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the local council for Amber Valley, who placed a compulsory purchase order on the semi-ruined building, ownership of the station was transferred to the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. Once over this hurdle, the Trust is beginning to work towards securing full funding for the restoration and adaptation of Wingfield Station. So the trust have begun the massive task of arranging funding for restoring and adapting South Wingfield Station. The plan after removing all the rubbish and invading shrubs and trees, cleaning off graffiti and generally making the building safe and accessible, is to make it available for living history events, telling the story of the station through the recorded memories of those who worked there or travelled from it; arranging bursaries for young people to learn traditional rural craft skills and offering open days for the local community – bringing the station back to life and allowing it to be part of the community once more.
Thanks to National Lottery players, funds from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and others, including the Pilgrim Trust Foundation are already generated for the initial work in generally tidying up the site, undertaking surveys, developing plans, consulting with the local community and developing partnerships.
An initial development grant of £137,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund has been awarded to begin the task of preventing further deterioration of the station, and preparing it for development as a commercial enterprise. At the end of this phase, the trust will be submitting a second funding application with the aim of securing the funds required to bring the Station back to life.
Since starting the project development phase in November 2019, the trust have appointed local architectural practice, James Boon Architects, to oversee the design team. James Boon will be developing initial concept sketches and looking at various options to discuss with the local community and other key stakeholders. A Project Co-ordinator is also in post to support the trust with compiling all the documentation required for the second round application. An Interpretive Designer will shortly join the team and they will be responsible for identifying and delivering creative ways of sharing the heritage of the site with visitors. An Activity Consultant will be identifying partnership opportunities and discussing with individuals and groups what their hopes are for the end use of the building.
The project has already attracted a lot of attention from people wishing to offer volunteer time and there will be a Volunteer Co-ordinator helping to manage this. It is envisaged that volunteers will play an important role in supporting the general maintenance around the site, undertaking research and helping with project admin and event delivery.
The South Wingfield Local History Group are keen to support the project, and will play an important role in helping to gather oral and social history relating to stories, reminiscences and memories of Station users. The group had previously developed a small archive of six stories relating to memories of people using the Station and are keen to also share local knowledge of the rural and industrial life of the Parish.
The project team will be hosting a public launch event on the 24th of March at 7pm at South Wingfield Social Club. Anyone who is interested is welcome to come along and hear more about the story so far and the plans for the future.
Places are free but booking is essential. Tickets can be booked via the trust’s Eventbrite page
Alternatively, please email the Project Co-ordinator, Lucy Godfrey, email@example.com