| Just 50 years ago on September 1st, 1893 a small goods train chugged along a single track, steamed through the northern fringe of Rushden, and clattered to a halt in Higham Ferrers.
It made first-rate local history as the pioneer train on the branch line from Wellingborough and earned the following paragraph in the Higham Ferrers news:
“The new railway was opened for goods and minerals, etc., at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. The first train arrived at the station containing eight trucks of goods and coal. Various railway officials accompanied the train, the arrival of which was witnessed by a great number of the inhabitants of Higham and others, including the Mayor (Mr. C. Parker).”
A correspondent writes of September 1st, 1893, as a red-letter day for Rushden and Higham Ferrers. There was, he says, nothing spectacular to create excitement or even attract notice, for the contractors’ trains had been passing up and down the line for months.
Gates of Progress
The flag waving, the bands and the civic ceremonies were all being deferred until the line was formally opened for passenger traffic the following Spring. The station buildings were not yet complete.
It would not have been stretching the imagination too far, however, had some observer heard in the chug-chug of the engine, as it hauled its load up the steep bank from the Washbrook-road bridge at Rushden, the magic words “Open Sesame,” or seen in the train’s arrival the opening of gates to new progress.
Members of the present generation can scarcely realise the many facilities and advantages brought to the two towns. Hitherto practically all goods and merchandise, as well as coal and other minerals, had to be conveyed to and from either Irchester Station (Midland) or Irthlingborough Station (L. and N.W.) by road in horse-drawn vehicles.
Days of Growth
The opening of a railway was indeed a stimulant to a fast-growing industrial district which had in its midst an old-established and vitally necessary staple trade. Building materials were needed for new factories and works, public buildings and houses; raw materials for manufacturing purposes had to be brought in from all parts of the United Kingdom and abroad. These could now be placed at the gates, and coal for gas could be taken in rail wagons close up to the retorts.
The first stationmaster at Rushden, adds our correspondent, was Mr. Henry Pitt, ex-stationmaster at Finedon, and at Higham Ferrers Mr. A. E. Roper, late chief goods clerk at Irchester. Of the other members of the original staffs there are now living in the district the foreman, Mr. Jacob Wilkins, of Hayway, Rushden, and three draymen; Mr. George Knight, Washbrook-road, Rushden, Mr. Alf. Neal, Elm-street, Rushden, and Mr. George Harbour, Commercial-street, Higham Ferrers. All have retired.
The first passenger train, which ran just before Whitsuntide 1894 was booked at Higham Ferrers by Mr. J. C. Gregory, who afterwards became stationmaster at Rushden and subsequently retired to Herne Bay. Mr. Gregory is again residing in Rushden for the duration of the war.