The Coming of The Railways

The changes to the village brought about by the Enclosure Act were followed shortly afterwards by another great event in its history. This was the construction, in 1845, of the section of the London (Liverpool Street) - Cambridge Railway which passed through Shelford. The effect on the village was twofold. First was the physical result of cutting a railway and the changes in the village which follow shortly afterwards. Secondly and of far more consequence was the long term effect on the growth of the village which was to last well into the 20th century.

The immediate result of the railway was great. The rising ground on the east and N.E. of the village was physically cut off from it by a curving line of iron rails. The railway entered the parish across the River Cam in the S.E. corner and was driven through a deep cutting under the London Road and across the present Station Road on a level crossing. It then pushed its way through the long narrow curving fields N.E. of High Green, which dated back to the 17th century, and broke through the original boundary of High Green S. E. of Abberley House. Some cottages, on the edge of the Green, were demolished to make way for it and it then swept on across Granham's Road and ran north to Cambridge. At the level crossing in Station Road a small and neat station was erected of standard Eastern Counties Railway design. It consisted of a small rectangular brick building of offices and waiting rooms with a low pitched slate roof and a wooden canopy over the platform. The Station Master's house was built at the rear. All this still remains. Also still standing is the original level crossing keeper's house at Granham's Road. This again is the standard type which is found all along the main line from Newport in Essex to Brandon in Norfolk. It is, or rather was before modern additions, a tiny cruciform, single storey brick house with a low pitched slate roof.

The coming of the railway led to other developments near it as astute people saw how to exploit this new and revolutionary means of transport. One -such person was a Richard Headley, a relative of William Headley whom we have already met. In the 1830s Richard Headley lived in a house next door to William on High Green and owned a few strips of land in the old open fields. On enclosure, in exchange for these strips, he was given about 11 acres of land at the corner of the London Road and Station Road. This was probably of little value and when the railway was built it was cut diagonally across this land, further reducing its agricultural value. But the eastern part of this land now lay adjacent to the station and the railway with easy access to Station Road. As a result in a very short time Richard Headley built the Railway Tavern on one part of the land and a yard, mailings and coal store on another. The latter, now the Shelford Corn and Coal Company's premises, being ideally situated, soon became a flourishing business.

The other two railway lines which came to Great Shelford had far less impact. In 1851 the London (Kings Cross) - Cambridge line was constructed and passed N.W. of the village to join the Liverpool Street line near Granham's Farm. Its main effect was to finally cut the High Green end of the village from the valley to the north. A minor change was that the line as it sliced through the N.W. edge of the old High Green meant the demolition of two cottages which lay in its path. In addition, south again, in the now empty field between the railway and de Freville Farm, was a small inn called The Red Lion. This had no doubt been a good place for a public house in earlier years but the coming of the railway left the inn cut off from its customers. As a result it was pulled down and a new one erected a little nearer the village on the-opposite side of the road. This one was given the more impressive name of the de Freville Arms. The last railway line into Great Shelford, that of the Haverhill -Cambridge branch, which joined the Liverpool Street line just south of Shelford Station, was completed in 1865. It had no effect at all beyond a widening of the cutting near the station and the reconstruction of the London Road bridge. All these changes were the immediate result of the coming of the railway to Great Shelford, but interesting though they are in many ways they are not the most important aspect of the influence of the railway on the village. This was the much more long-term impression that the railway had as a means of easy access to Cambridge. Today with the motor car and regular bus services, Shelford Station is hardly one of British Railway's major assets, but in the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century it was extremely important. Shelford was the first station on the south side of Cambridge, and by train the village was only minutes away from the town even taking into consideration the hopelessly inconvenient site of Cambridge station itself. The older and alternative way to Cambridge by horse would have taken the best part of an hour. Thus the railway brought Great Shelford even closer to Cambridge in terms of travelling time than Trumpington which had no station, and much closer than any of the surrounding villages. So Great Shelford soon became an exceptionally convenient place for middle class people whose work was in Cambridge, but who desired to live in the country. New people moved into the village and built new houses there and it became an extremely desirable residential area. The village expanded considerably in size during the late 19th century and much of this growth can still be seen today.

However this physical expansion was not matched by a great increase in population. In 1851 there were just over 1030 people living in the village and only 1085 by 1901. This contrasts remarkably with the huge jump from 570 in 1801 to the 1851 figure. As we have seen the great early 19th century growth of population was partly housed by splitting up existing dwellings into tenements. After 1851 many lower class people moved away to Cambridge, especially from the 1970s onwards as the agricultural depression reduced the need for farm labourers. The incoming middle class people hardly covered this loss but the number of houses increased markedly. Though the population rose only a little the number of houses in the village rose from 196 in 1851 to 255 in 1901. This is not a particularly large number of houses, only 49, but the houses themselves were on the whole large and imposing. It is to the. story of these buildings that we must now turn.

Page last updated October 29th 2009

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