Freedom Pass Project – Update

I’ve had a bit of a break from pursuing my transport goals but, on Monday I was able to get out for one of the more local options. It was a short trip up to Hadley Wood from New Southgate , so I took a bus across to the station and then caught the first northbound Welwyn Garden City service to Hadley Wood.

Hadley Wood is on the borders of the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield. Much of Hadley Wood’s history belongs to Barnet though – it was on Hadley Common that the Battle of Barnet was fought during the Wars of the Roses. It was a decisive battle that saw the death of the Kingmaker, Richard Neville – the Earl of Warwick, and a victory for the Yorkists and Edward IV.

If you walk east down the hill from Hadley Highstone – the obelisk commemorating the battle – and through what is now known as Hadley Woods, you will come eventually to a railway line – the Great Northern mainline from King’s Cross. I was brought here for picnics quite often as a child and watched the trains passing with my Father from behind the low fence that existed back then. It was there that I watched steam hauled express trains and saw my first ever diesel – an English Electric type 1. The seeds of a life-long interest were sown here. But, we’re not in Hadley Woods on this trip although my train passed through them as I headed north and I saw the glade where we used to picnic through the train window. Instead we passed through a tunnel before entering the station named Hadley Wood a little further north.

Hadley wood is quite a unique station – there aren’t very many stations outside of an urban landscape that have tunnels at each end. The Great Northern Railway built the line in the 1850’s. The tunnels were a necessity to overcome the ridges of rocks and clay laid down by the glaciers of the last ice age (I live on one of these a little further south!) while keeping the track as flat as possible. In fact there are three tunnels in close proximity, Hadley Wood South, Hadley Wood North and Potters Bar. So lets take a short walk north from Hadley Wood Station and look at the lie of the land beyond Hadley Wood North Tunnel…

700108 seen from Waggon Road, Hadley Wood

…In this shot, I’m standing on top of the ridge through which Hadley Wood North Tunnel is bored and just on the left hand edge of the image you can see the portal of Potters Bar Tunnel. Around here there is a mix of suburban dwellings, brought about by the railway, and farmland. We’re right on the border of the London Boroughs of Barnet and Enfield too – the road I’m on even changes name from Wagon Road to Waggon Road at the borough boundary! In the shot above, the train is in Enfield but once it passes through that tunnel it will be in Hertfordshire. And when I was born, Barnet was in Hertfordshire.

Hadley Wood Station wasn’t a passenger station at all to start with – it was a goods station called Beech Hill Park and opened in 1884. However, the passenger station opened the following year on 1st May 1885. For much of its life there were just the two platforms and the old buildings of the GNR and subsequently the LNER. In 1959 the station was completely rebuilt by British Railways, of which more in a minute, but the current ticket office post dates even that rebuild and was probably constructed in 1976 when the railway was electrified…

Hadley Wood Station_01

…There is some local pride displayed on the bridge abutment and within the station itself in the form of plaques telling the history of the trains that worked the line and also about local engineering hero Sir Nigel Gresley…

Sir Nigel Gresley plaque, Hadley Wood Station

Popping down onto the station, we find 4 platforms but, except for emergencies, the centre platforms are out of use…

Hadley Wood Station_02

Looking north from the London bound platforms, we can see the portals of Hadley Wood North Tunnels…

700137 at Hadley Wood

…Something will strike you as odd – the tunnels don’t look alike. When the line opened in the 1850’s, the 4 track route north became just 2 tracks south of Hadley Wood and through the tunnels to Potters Bar, saving the costs of making second bores through the hills in the area. The Great Northern Railway and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway, were always strapped for cash and this two-track bottleneck was lived with throughout their existence. Despite this handicap they ran some of the most prestigious high speed railway services in the UK along this route including The Flying Scotsman – I suspect that the corporate pride instilled in every employee back then was crucial to achieving the high standards of service that the LNER was known for. In 1959 the nationalised British Railways rebuilt the line through Hadley Wood – making a second bore for all three tunnels and rebuilding the station with 4 platforms to relieve the bottleneck. In the photo above, the right hand tunnel is the original, the left hand one is the 1959 addition. By the way, there is another bottleneck further north at Digswell Viaduct near Welwyn, but even BR blanched at the thought of making that 4 track! The Class 700 unit in the photograph is bound for Brighton from Cambridge – I doubt the GNR entrepreneurs actually envisaged such a service when they first started the company!

Looking south and here’s a view with Hadley Wood’s north bound platforms and the BR built South Tunnel in view…

801112 at Hadley Wood

An Azuma unit, 801112, leads sister 801103 through the station on a London King’s Cross to Leeds service.

So, there you go, a little bit of history not too far from where I live. A day out with the trains enjoyed and some good walking in the countryside too 😎 Another Freedom Pass trip planned soon – see you then πŸ‘


  1. I love the photo you took from the top of the hill! You either timed that with precision or you were very lucky! πŸ™‚ But it’s great!

    1. Thanks Debra πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘ Probably a bit of both – I knew where I wanted to catch the train but there’s always that minor delay between thinking now and actually hitting the shutter buttonπŸ˜‚

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