Tim Dunn’s The Architecture the Railways Built is back for a second series – and heading straight to the spectacular Wemyss Bay station.
In the first episode, railway historian and presenter Tim visits the architectural gem of Wemyss Bay on the West coast of Scotland. It’s often called the most beautiful station in the UK thanks to its stunning curved glass and iron structure.
Its other standout feature is the beautiful walkway from the railway station down to the ferry terminal, where passengers can travel from the coast of the Firth of Clyde to the nearby islands.
Andy Savage, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust, said: “The feel of the station with those long sweeping curves in both directions and almost the hinge between the two arms with the booking hall … Stirling’s a very close relation [as it was designed by James Miller] but it doesn’t have that same glorious feel to it.”
Watch this video for a preview of episode one:
Tim says in the episode: “That light, it pulls you right up. But what is so striking about the space is the shape, it’s the curves. All the iron work is curved, too, and there are no corners in this building, really and that’s because this building was designed to allow people to go through it quickly and smoothly with no friction. From there, down the ferry, up to the quayside and onto the trains, with no problem whatsoever.”
Gallery: Wemyss Bay station; a plaque is unveiled to mark the station's win at the 2017 National Railway Heritage Awards
Wemyss Bay station is a category A listed building, meaning it’s of national or international historical or architectural importance. The Caledonian Railway, an intercity Scottish railway company, rebuilt the original 1865 station in 1903 to a design by prolific architect James Miller and engineer Donald Mathieson, according to the Railway Heritage Trust.
Miller is perhaps best known for his work on Scotland’s railways, commercial buildings in Glasgow and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
The Railway Heritage Trust, funded by Network Rail, describes Wemyss Bay station as “one of Scotland’s, indeed Britain’s, finest stations,” and “a showpiece of railway operations of the day”.
It said in its 1993 to 1994 annual report: “Its efficiency as an interchange for passengers between trains and Clyde coast steams is more than matched by the charm and elegance of the architecture, which combines a clock tower and buildings, half-timbered and harled with sandstone plinths and dressings, a glazed concourse around the semi-circular ticket office, long curving glazed canopies along the platforms and a glazed roofed ramp down to the pier …”
Gallery: original drawings for the new station at Wemyss Bay, from the Network Rail archive
In 1993 and 1994, a jointly funded project restored the original station to a high standard. Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive led the project, which also included the Railway Heritage Trust, European Regional Development Fund, train operator Scotrail, Historic Scotland and Inverclyde District Council.
It involved repairing and retiling or re-slating the roofs, replacing roof glazing, repairing walls and stonework and installing new lighting.
The Railway Heritage Trust has enabled further restoration at Wemyss Bay since, including the station's toilets. Network Rail also carried out a £5m renovation of the station between 2014 and 2016, which was named best entry at the 2017 National Railway Heritage Awards.
The programme restored the station’s canopies and glazed roof, repainted and improved the station buildings and repaired the seawall.
Perhaps most noticeable was the restoration of the station’s historic colour scheme. Wemyss Bay had previously been painted green and purple, and there was no continuous colour scheme from the ferry terminal side to the railway station side, according to Andy.
Andy said: “In general terms, my view is the right colour of the station is of the current train operating company but there are some stations that are just so glorious it’s right getting the colours right of an earlier time.”
He added: “Fortunately, we repainted Gleneagles [railway station] in the correct Caledonian Railway colours. We got the exact colours … We persuaded Transport Scotland that this did not need to be a standard Scotrail blue and silver station; it should be the Caledonian Railway colours …
“What we’ve ended up with is the station in the historically correct colours right the way from when you get out of the railway carriage until you get onto the boat.”
A glorious station
Andy said: “It’s glorious. It’s a big station, it’s unusual in that it’s only got one architectural style to it because they knocked the whole thing down and built a whole new station quite late. It’s not a bit of Victorian, a bit of classic and a bit of art deco. It’s one man’s work. It’s an amazing looking station with those curves and the circle in the middle of it with the booking office.
“You’d come from Glasgow off that train … you got down another curve to go over the water. It does the job it set out to do and it just looks wonderful. I’d probably say it’s fun.”