On Friday 23 December I needed a morning out. There is a wonderful website called “Passenger Services over Unusual Lines” which lists all the unusual passenger train workings across Britain (wow, you said). In the new timetable there is a new morning train north from Corby over line mainly used for freight trains over Harringworth Viaduct and round the Syston North Curve (I can feel your exciting boiling). In addition to this, the first train of the day from Alfreton to Nottingham has a meander through Toton freight yard, so Alex and I were at Alfreton for 0630. It was very dark when we parked at Alfreton, and we only knew we were going through Toton because the sat nav told us we were. South to Leicester on an HST (High Speed Train). We decided to break our journey here as I wanted to walk down to Top Hat Terrace.
I have written about my previous visits to Leicester in various church magazines over the years …
“A few years ago I caught the train to Leicester. At platform level the station is boring, but at road level it is gorgeous – there is a lot of Victorian detail, including carved cherubs acting as railway porters. I was taking photos, and backed into a young lady. When I apologised she enthused “It’s a marvellous station, and have you seen Francis Tanky Smith’s house?” “Pardon?” “Francis Tanky Smith’s house,” she said, “come and see”.
Trying not to remember what my mother told me about walking off with young ladies in Leicester, we walked up the road together. Francis Tanky Smith’s house, also known as Top Hat Terrace, was the home of Leicester’s first private detective, and there are sixteen busts on the house showing him in his different disguises. “So many people walk past without noticing” said my new friend. “You have to look up in Leicester, otherwise it’s all a bit scummy!”
“Look up, otherwise it’s all a bit scummy” links very nicely with Magi looking at the star and being guided to Bethlehem. (We celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany with Choral Communion at St Matthew’s Darley Abbey at 7.30 pm on Friday 6 January 2017 – all welcome).
Top Hat Terrace is just a short walk, turn right as you leave the station, then it is on the other side of the road just a few hundred yards away. It was really too dark to be photoing, but I hope the shots give you an impression. Have a read of this website.
This Terrace was originally known as Victoria Terrace when built in 1864. It was built by Detective Inspector Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith who was the first detective to be appointed after the Leicester Police Force was formed in 1836. Together with a second detective, Tommy Haynes, Tanky was credited with clearing up much of the town’s crime. He was a master of disguise and infiltrated criminal gangs to obtain incriminating evidence. When he retired he set himself up as a private detective – a very successful one. The Terrace was designed by his son James, and is adorned with sixteen stone heads. The police wore top hats until 1872 and all of the 16 heads represent Tanky’s disguises.
London Road station remains worth photoing. The first station (known as Campbell Street) was opened by the Midland Counties Railway in 1840, and this was rebuilt in 1894. The architect was Charles Trubshaw, the architect to the Northern Division of the Midland Railway. He also designed the railway hotels at Bradford Forster Square (where I have stayed) and Manchester, and Sheffield station.
We had another coffee and continued south. Kettering has a nice canopy in place.
Then we went north to Corby. There is only one platform in use here and most trains, including the one we arrived on, come in from London and then go back. The arrival before ours’ goes north into the loop, then comes back, before heading north to Derby – surprisingly with seven of us on board.
There is quite a lot of freight which goes this way, presumably to avoid Leicester. Harringworth Viaduct must be more impressive from below – then on to Manton where we re-joined the Peterborough-Leicester line. There are a lot of proper signal boxes en route, so it needs a drive with the camera – again, I can feel my northernvicar readers struggling to contain their excitement. We went round the Syston curve and then north to East Midlands Parkway. We changed here, headed to Nottingham, and went north again. A very successful morning. I did some work in the afternoon.