A BUSINESSMAN hoping to restore a disused historic Northumberland railway station has told how it went up for sale just days after he had set his heart on owning it.
Lee Head is seeking to return Whittingham Station, near Alnwick, to how it was when last operational 58 years ago, and to make it a home for him and his wife.
The station was part of the old Alnwick to Cornhill steam line and is thought to have opened in 1887. It closed to passengers in 1930 and shut down completely in 1953.
The rails were lifted but the platform remains, alongside the station building – complete with original decorative cast iron canopy framework and ticket office, the former station master’s house, an engine shed and five terraced cottages – the ceiling of one of which is said to have caved in when the Flying Scotsman passed through in the 1940s. The Victorian stone buildings are all listed.
Whittingham station is said to differ from others on the line as it is the only one with a central platform and is also the only one yet to have been redeveloped. The site was put up for sale in 2008.
Mr Head, 46, head of training and development for East Boldon based financial services company Moneygate, last night told how fate led him to buy the site.
He had lived in Morpeth for 15 months before being forced from his home by the flooding of the town in September 2008, and was renting while trying to find a new home.
He and his girlfriend Kerry – now his wife – were visiting her parents at Whittingham and her father, aware of his love of old buildings and architecture, mentioned the old station to him.
Mr Head visited and was so impressed by the site that he carried out a Land Registry search to find the owner with the intention of writing to him to ask if he would consider selling it.
But within days, Mr Head had a phone call from his father-in-law telling them that a for sale sign had gone up at the station – the first time in its history it was going on the market.
He said: “I did not know even know the station was there. It was fate. I thought to myself this place could be absolutely gorgeous if it is done up, I could see it as my house.
“It was not specifically because it was a railway station, it was more because it was a fantastic building. I never thought I would get it, it was a bit of a dream initially.”
Mr Head completed the purchase of the site in 2009 and moved into the station master’s house.
He has now applied to Northumberland County Council for planning permission and listed building consent to turn the station house and engine shed into homes. He is planning to restore the buildings to exactly how they were, retaining the cast iron canopy and ticket office. He is also aiming to make the station building his home and is likely to sell the redeveloped engine shed.
Mr Head said: “It is going to be restored pretty much to what it was like as a station. It will be a combination of historical and Victorian combined with modern contemporary.
“Hopefully we are not far away. I’ve worked hard to get it and now will have to work hard again but it will be worth it.
“It also hopefully is the house we spend the rest of our lives in.”