Apsley Railway Station’s 80th Birthday

The 22nd September, 1938 was a very significant date in the histories of Hemel Hempstead, Apsley and John Dickinson’s former mills that once stood so proudly in the Apsley area. This year, 2018, will see the 80th Anniversary of the opening of the station.

However, to understand the historical importance of this seemingly insignificant station, we have to go back over a hundred years to the time when John Dickinson had invented the cylinder mould paper machine and was in great need of a mill in which to house and establish the process.

It was in 1809 that Dickinson purchased, from one George Stafford, the perfect looking premises at The Apsley Mill, adjacent to the River Gade, and less than two years later, in order to further his ambitions, he added Nash Mill, a short distance further along the river. In the fullness of time two further mills followed, Home Park Mill in Kings Langley in 1826, and Croxley Mill in Watford in 1829.

There was a problem that was having a direct effect on the smooth running of the mills. The building of the canal, had greatly reduced the water flow to the mill wheels as it had diverted water away from the mill premises.

George Stafford and others had, previous to the Apsley Mill sale, made approaches to The Grand Junction Canal Company concerning the issue, and this had resulted in the provision of a steam-powered pump in order to restore the flow. However, this proved to be an ineffective measure.

At the time of purchase the transportation systems meant the use of the canal and the Turnpike Road would provide the flow of materials in and out of the mills. However, Dickinson realised that the issue with the water flow would need to be addressed as soon as possible. It was in 1817 that Dickinson obtained an injunction against the canal owners, after which the now famous re-routing of the canal took place, ensuring improved water flow to the mills.

Indeed, so astute was Dickinson that he also successfully tendered to supply much of the construction work involved, thereby ensuring his mills would have wharfs and docking directly along the side of the canal. Following the later purchase of Home Park and Croxley Mills, Dickinson had now ensured that his four mills would all benefit from greatly improved water flow.

Before the Croxley Mill could be fully established, plans were under consideration for a railway connection between London and Birmingham, with several routes put forward. However, it transpired that, although the adopted route ran through the Gade Valley, it effectively by-passed all four of Dickinson’s mills. Intermediate stations soon followed, one of which was at Kings Langley close to the Home Park Mill. Interestingly, Dickinson himself used the station regularly on his visits to London. Indeed the station was actually built on land owned by Dickinson, and later, another part of Dickinson land would be used for the building of The Booksellers Provident Retreat, which opened in September, 1845.

By July 1837, the railway had reached as far as Boxmoor and a station erected as a
temporary northern terminus while the line to Birmingham was completed. Boxmoor
Station continued as a passenger station, and later as a goods reception centre for Hemel Hempstead. The name was changed to Hemel Hempstead some years later.

Some years later, following the death of John Dickinson when his Grandson, Lewis Evans, was running the company it became very obvious that the costs of delivering coal via the canal was becoming more and more expensive, and it was noted that the source of the coal in the Midland pits was dwindling. Therefore, a rail connection was going to be needed as a matter of urgency in order to maintain supplies and deliveries. Home Park Mill was of course using the Kings Langley Station, but Croxley Mill and the mills in Apsley were both sadly lacking.

The Croxley Mill was close to a LNWR branch line, and following negotiation, a link was created in 1898 which would enable freight to arrive at the mill. Indeed a small network of rails was created on-site, which would allow easy movement around the premises, and even into some of the buildings!

There is an interesting anecdote here, it seems that during the preparations for the annual audit, there were found to be more company-owned wagons in the mill than they had on the books. Instructions soon followed, and the ‘extras’ were attached to the next train out of the mill – none of which returned until after the audit had been completed!

The Company had worked endlessly for many years for the provision of a station at Apsley. However, as things turned out they had to settle for the building across the road, designed specifically for the use of passenger traffic. The work had involved the addition of platforms to both the local and express lines. It is thought this would be the only mainline railway station opened for a paper-mill. Although no paper had actually been made there for many years, as it was then a ‘paper conversion’ establishment, with some 7000 employees.

The new station would be a joint venture between LMS and Dickinson’s, and had been provided mainly for the workforce of the Apsley Mill. Indeed the Centenary of ‘The first railway train to publicly convey passengers throughout from London to Birmingham’ was celebrated on the 17th September, 1938.

The official opening of the new Apsley Station took place just five days later, on the 22nd September, 1938. Some 2000 spectators and employees saw a large ‘screen’ made from paper, which had been specially made at the Croxley Mill, stretched across the line. It bore the respective crests of LMS and John Dickinson’s, together with the message ‘Opening of Apsley Station September 22nd 1938’.

A specially arranged train from London arrived at 1.10 pm which was due tear its way through the screen. On board the train were Lord Stamp of Shortlands OCB, CBE, Chairman of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company, fellow directors and officials and Sir Reginald Bonsor, Chairman of John Dickinson & Company.

However, things went slightly awry as the driver stopped short of the screen thinking he was going to do some damage, and had to start off again to achieve the desired effect, and break through the screen!

Later, Sir Reginald made presentations to the engine driver, the guard and fireman from the train. Following this his ticket, number 0000, was clipped by Lord Stamp, using silver-plated clippers specifically provided for the occasion.

Following the Ceremony, the LMSR visitors, together with the other guests, The Mayor of Hemel Hempstead and representatives of the BBC and National and Local Press partook of luncheon in the cafeteria of The Guildhouse, Apsley Mills – enjoying oysters as a starter!

The station itself was then opened for public use on Monday 26th September.

With acknowledgement to articles by Mr Michael Stanyon (The Quarterly No 79), Mr Peter Ward (Chambersbury News) and Mr Roy Wood.

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