Monday 29 September 2008

The Once and Future Station

For all my bullishness about the wonders of public transport, it does go wrong sometimes.  So it was a couple of weeks ago, when my Crewe bound train was cancelled and I was left with an hour to kill before the next one.

Never one to waste an opportunity, I went for a wander round the city centre.  Liverpool has completely transformed itself in just the short time I have lived here.  It really is remarkable.  When I moved Oop North thirteen years ago, the biggest redevelopment project in the city was Queen Square, with its attendant bus stands and Nando chicken.  Now huge swathes have been transmogrified into shops, restaurants, apartments.  Rope Walks really is an exciting place to wander round, and the new Liverpool One shopping district is amazing.  Even if they did have to demolish the Escape and Quiggins to build it.  I hope the one-two of 2008 hangover and credit crunch unpleasantness don't send Liverpool back down the slope again; it's achieved so much in so little time.

The effects haven't reached everywhere, of course.  Toxteth - despite a great deal of good, ambitious plans - is still the bad side of town.  Unloved, infamous, the huge mansion rows are still punctuated by burnt out shells, like bad teeth, and it's definitely not a place to go wandering unawares.  I was only at the tip of it, the wrong side of Parliament Street - I was in the shadow of the Anglican Cathedral - but it still smelt of neglect and disdain.  

I was here in search of history and future, a sort of Marty McFly type trip.  There's an abandoned station here.  Closed in 1907, St James station was in the perfect place, logistically speaking - it broke up the long gap between Liverpool Central and Brunswick stations.  Unfortunately, there was no-one around to use it, and it was shut to passengers.

Temptingly, it's still there.  Well, sort of.  So in my quest to visit all the stations, I thought I'd pay it a visit.

I should perhaps clarify.  This post may be of more interest to people who like brick walls.  It's a very nice wall, don't get me wrong; but it's not exactly Euston, you know?  This is the view from across Parliament Street.  Behind this wall, there's a cutting, with two platforms still in existence down below.

It's a very high wall, though.  So as I wandered around it, all I got was a good view of some Victorian mortar work.

There is, however, a door:

which gives access to a stairway, which allows you to get down to the unused, unloved platforms.  Even though they haven't seen a passenger since crinoline was in style, the area is sort of kept in use; it's a handy access point for workmen to the tunnels, and, in the event of some emergency, it could theoretically be used as an escape tunnel.

I wandered around a bit further, hoping for a crack or something to let me see down, but it was no good; not a single hole.  Damn those efficient 19th century workmen.  In the end, I threw self respect to the wind, stood on my toes, and poked my hand over the top of the wall as best as I could.  This is the result:

I am choosing to believe that it is a glimpse of the track, with the overgrown platform to one side.  I could be right.  Oh, fine: if you want a full and frank explanation, with decent photos, go here.

There are sort of tentative plans to reopen St James, one day.  The platforms are there, there's plenty of open ground next to the cutting which would enable a station facility, and perhaps a bus interchange, to be built.  There's no expensive tunneling or engineering needed.  The problem is that it's nowhere.  On one side is the huge Cains brewery, which isn't exactly the great employer it once was.  On the other is an abandoned church.  Even the maisonettes over the road have been boarded up ready for demolition.  And even if it were opened - you're not that far from the city centre.  You can walk to Liverpool Central in about ten or fifteen minutes from here, for free.  Why pay to cut that journey time by a few minutes?

I'd love to see it reopened, obviously, but I won't hold my breath.


Robert said...

I got a nice view of the station once, from a train which stopped at the signal adjacent to the abandoned platform. I had plenty of time to examine the architecture too, since we were there for over half an hour while they tried to move the broken-down train which was blocking the line ahead.

Once or twice I've overhead passengers referring to James Street as St James, which frankly just puzzles me.

Scott Willison said...

Ah the upside of defective engines! Better than my trip this morning where I ended up stranded on a train in a field outside Winsford.

Is it ridiculously tragic that I want them to bring back this station so the map can feature St James and James St? (Answer: yes it is).