The Branch Line Society


Derby 'Friargate Line' walk and visit to DCR's Control Room
Tuesday 19th July 2016

Following the guided tour of Derby Roundhouse, many members then made their way to Derby bus station to catch the 'V3' bus to Egginton Junction for an eight mile walk along the former double track Great Northern Railway (GNR) 'Friargate Line' trackbed back to Derby. The bus driver appeared somewhat surprised to have 19 extra passengers all asking for the obscure middle of nowhere 'Birch Tree Farm' bus stop where a couple more joined in. First the site of Egginton Jn was investigated. The former level crossing gatekeeper's house and modern level crossing hut were seen on the North Staffs line. The crossing was observed in action for a passing EMT Crewe to Derby service. The station building, now in private use, was observed behind a fence and some hedges. The joint NSR/GNR Egginton Junction station OP 1878 when the original North Staffs Railway Egginton station closed. The junction station building was in the triangle between the two lines with platforms on all four tracks. It CP 1939 (to Derby Friargate exclusive); excursions called until 1959; CG 1962.

The day was the hottest of the year, making walking conditions less than optimal. However, 21 hardy souls started and completed the 5 miles to Mickleover station. If the organiser had brought 21 medals with him, they would have been deserved but his extra water supply was enjoyed instead! There was much to see, firstly the original Egginton Junction brick bridge carrying Egginton Road over the trackbed. Next the contrasting 1997 built A50 'Tunnel Bridge', allowing walkers and cyclists to continue on the trackbed, although lowered considerably to allow the route to pass under the road. Soon after was Kingfisher Bridge, an original metal bridge over Etwall Brook, before passing under Hilton Road Bridge. It is known as the 'Pink Bridge' and signed as such with, unsurprisingly, bright pink brickwork!

Etwall station site was marked by a sign. The station house was in private hands until 1987, when it was demolished to build new housing including over the former goods yard. Next was the A516 Etwall bypass road bridge. This road was built across the trackbed in 1990, sadly causing the line to be shut as a test track from 9 Jul that year and was lifted by the October. A bridge has since been built under the road, but deviates slightly from the original trackbed.

A leftover signal post near Mickleover.
[John Cameron]

The former gatekeeper's house at Egginton Crossing, now a private residence.
[John Cameron]

Group picture near the start of the walk, the path surface here is typical of that between Egginton Junction and Mickleover.
The trees provided much appreciated shelter from the sun.
[John Cameron]

A much-deserved short break was taken on Heage Lane Bridge. The original metal panels are painted various bright colours. Bottles of water were handed out and swiftly consumed before setting off - some had trains to catch from Derby in the evening. Various items of railway interest were spotted by the eagle eyed on the way including signal posts and ground signals as Mickleover station was reached, (OP 1878; CP 1939; (with excursions until 1959); CG 1964. Originally 'Mickleover for Radbourne' (various 'Radbourne' spellings were used until it became 'Mickleover'). From 1965 to 1990 the station and goods yard was the BR Research test track operation centre. The station building is now a private house in very good condition.

Derby Friargate on 30 Mar 1970; CG 4 Sep 1967; beyond the station (top left) to Stanton Jn (Ilkeston) CA 6 May 1968. The line was retained as a branch from Egginton Jn until 26 Nov 1971 for BR research but was then cut back to Mickleover. The GNR goods warehouse is right.
[Angus McDougall]

A platform survives with some track set in concrete from test track days. Some retired to the appropriately named 'Great Northern' pub for 'R&R', rest and re-hydration. 15 continued to Derby Friargate station. Much of this part of the trackbed (CA 1964) is impassible, but some sections and structures were visible. The 464yd Mickleover tunnel is filled in and no trace can be seen. After that the trackbed runs in Mackworth Cutting. However, so does a stream waterlogging it. The path through Mackworth Park alongside was taken - our local member guide was excellent and had done his homework!

The slip roads of the Kingsway roundabout were built over the trackbed but, the eastern portal of the GNR Kingsway bridge that carried the original road over the railway remains. It is filled in and was viewed from a footpath. After this most of the track formation is lost beneath industrial units until nearing Friargate, except for a small recreation ground behind houses on Cheviot Street. This allowed access to a short stretch of the trackbed leading up to a bridge that carries a now disused road above.

The GNR Grade II listed Derby Friargate warehouse on 14 Jul 1996.
[Angus McDougall]

At last Friargate Station was reached; OP 1878; CP 1964; CG 1967. Built with four through platforms, in practice only the central island was regularly used. The goods yard and warehouse were very extensive. The entire site remains undeveloped since closure despite being so close to Derby City Centre. All platforms survive but are very overgrown with brambles, silver birch, etc. Concrete station sign posts and lampposts were seen, as was the staircase leading up to the central platforms from the station building below. The famous Friargate Bridge is immediately east of the station and was viewed from the platforms. The enormous Grade II listed GNR warehouse also survives, although the victim of fires and now open to the elements. It seems beyond hope for renovation sadly. One participant, who lived in Derby when Friargate was open, had not been back since the day he last caught a train from the station! He was amazed at how much of the station he remembered so well was still there, despite being abandoned for decades (the site is easily accessible by public paths and well worth a visit). The station exterior is extant at street level, from Friar Gate (the street is two words but the station was usually one). This includes the large wooden canopy on the north side, the former main entrance. Friar Gate Bridge was appreciated from the street level. Several then had to depart for trains home.

Derby Friargate bridge, 12 Apr 2015 and the ex-GNR Engineers Office (right).
[Angus McDougall]

However, a small band of eight continued across the road into the building that used to house the GNR Engineers office for the third and final (evening) event of the day. Now divided into multiple offices the building houses several firms, including DCR Rail. Employee and BLS member Steve Chandler kindly showed us the control room for DCR's freight operations. He gave a fascinating insight into how train paths are requested and assigned and the work involved in running trains on today's network. After answering questions thanks were given to Steve and to DCR for allowing the visit and a collection was made, very appropriately, in aid of another occupant of the building - 'The Friends of Friar Gate Bridge', some of whom had joined the walk earlier. The Friends are 'a newly created charitable group whose mission is to achieve a comprehensive restoration of Derby's lovely old railway bridge in its Georgian setting'. See email: tel:01332 344 566.

Thanks to John Cameron (who can see Friargate station from his home) for this excellent half day with the three contrasting fixtures.