MANSFIELD: Television profiling evokes memories of station battle
As one of the East Midlands’ rail pioneers, October 1964 was a sad month for Mansfield as it was struck off the national network.
Following the publishing of the Beeching Report in March 1963, a number of routes that were loss making, or where there was deemed to be ample road provision to cope, were identified as being surplus to requirements.
It left the town as the biggest in Britain without a railway station as the Nottingham-Mansfield-Worksop route was discontinued after 115 years.
Only eight years earlier the Mansfield Central Station - situated on Great Central Road close to the Mansfield Brewery site and built between 1911 and 1916 - had already seen its last passenger train.
The closure of both the town’s stations in quick succession was in stark contrast to the turn of the century zenith when there had been 15 different services covering some 200 miles and linking the communities of the area.
Indeed, in 1819, the horse drawn Mansfield and Pinxton Railway had opened to much ceremony, having become two years earlier the first in the region to be incorporated by an act of parliament.
Along with the pit closures over the next two decades, the station closure was a severe blow to the area and for some it’s hard to believe it will be 50 years ago later this year.
The story was briefly told on Great British Railway Journey’s, featuring former politician Michael Portillo, who interviewed Mansfield mayor Tony Egginton about the town’s 30-plus years of absence from the national railway map.
It was a long drawn out fight to bring back the Mansfield Town station, but one that was ultimately successful.
“I remember the two stations in the town and the Central Station was the one where you caught the train to Skegness,” said Mr Egginton. “It was just a thing they decided on upon the time when rail travel was being restructured, even though a lot of people at the time were against the closure.
“It was a tremendous blow when it happened, without question, but Mansfield 2010, 2020 as it is now, did an extremely good job in lobbying the government to get it re-opened.
“Even getting the line as far as Newstead was a feat in itself and to get it from there to Mansfield was a big cost.”
After originally looking to open a station on Toothill Lane, it was eventually decided to push for the station at the original Mansfield Town site.
Egginton added: “The Mansfield station was a wonderful building which has been a pub and a nightclub and a lot of work went into getting the station restored.
“If we can extend the rail network to HS2 and to Ollerton and Edwinstowe from the Robin Hood line, that would be another possible step forward.”
It had been back in 1982 that some hope had arisen for the pro-rail faction in Mansfield as the district council and the Railway Development Society held initial discussions about the re-opening of what was to become the Robin Hood Line.
However, it was not until 1988 that significant progress was made as two studies commissioned by Nottinghamshire County Council concluded there was a demand for rail services in the area and that the 140-year-old Kirkby Tunnel remained fit for purpose.
With the help of lobbying from Mansfield 2010, things began to gather pace in 1990 as money was secured from European Funding, an act for the link between Newstead and Kirby was acquired by British rail and a year later the go-ahead was given by the local authorities concerned.
The town remained cut off as the first section of the Robin Hood Line was completed between Nottingham and Newstead, but by November 1995, both Mansfield and Mansfield Woodhouse stations, as well as Sutton Parkway (Kirkby came a year later) were in operation.
In 1998, other stations were re-introduced as the line was extended up to Worksop, meaning Shirebrook, Langwith-Whaley Thorns, Creswell and Whitwell were now in use.
Since then, the Robin Hood Line has averaged between 344,000 and 394,000 passengers ever year, and Kath Jephson, who was chairman of the Mansfield 2010 transport group during their campaign, is proud of what was achieved through the unity of private and public sector partnerships.
“Without the public sector bodies listening to us, this would never have happened and Nottinghamshire County Council were particularly helpful during that time,” she said.
“It helped having Mansfield 2010 behind it because we pushed it hard with petitions, letters of support and asking people what they wanted. I think sometimes if you want something you have to go out and get it - and that’s what we did.
“I was learning how the system worked as I went along from a public sector point of view and it can be a long process. I think you have to prove that people want it and that it will be worthwhile.
“It was a question of trying to work out how to speed up that process as best we could and we had some very good, proactive people at that time to help us do it.
“It was fantastic when he finally knew it would happen and a real pat on the back for all the people who put in the hard, sometimes onerous work. The thought of it eventually happening was what, at times, kept us going.”
And there’s been more progress since the turn of the new millennium too. In December 2009, the Robin Hood Line offered Sunday services for the first time and, last March, Mansfield’s new bus station was opened behind the Midland Hotel. A walkway between the two stations was opened with the aim of speeding up the transition from one mode of transport to the other.