Waterford in the early 20th century was a city graced with its fair share of Victorian and Georgian architecture. The loss of much of this heritage can be seen throughout Waterford – in particular with the demolition and replacement of many architectural gems. Some have been replaced with buildings of equal importance and interest, while others have become a source of discomfort within the city. All such former structures, are now only remembered through photographs and literature.
Waterford North Station was one such building. During the late 19th Century, rail travel entered its Golden Age. The railways brought a huge new wave of Victorian travelers and traders to the country; suddenly the possibility of quickly getting from one place to another was extremely accessible and affordable. Much of the British Empire was eventually connected by train, which in turn brought the invention of a new architectural typology - the railway station.
Built in 1864, Waterford North Station was a handsome Victorian red brick structure, with stylish wrought iron canopy, adorning the north bank of the river Suir. As part of the Great Southern and Western Railway, it connected Waterford to the country’s capital, and later the New Ross Line (1904) and the Rosslare Line (1906) were added. Subsequently these were the last main lines built in Ireland.
Location-wise, the station was ideal; offering an impressive vista of the riverside to tourists and locals as they stepped off their train. It’s an experience that remains somewhat unchanged for passengers today, as Plunkett Station as it is now known, sits upon the site of the original station. The ornate Victorian building was demolished in 1966 by CIE and succeeded by a modern structure of simple horizontal bands in glass and concrete. Though the old North Station was found to be ‘structurally so unsound that its demolition was apparently unavoidable,‘1 its demise has developed a note of controversy, admonishment and regret since its replacement.
Thankfully North Station was not completely lost. A few remnants of the old station have been preserved, including the large signal cabin, dating back to c.1930. Today it stands as the only elevated signal cabin left in Ireland. In addition, one of the wings of the original station complex were maintained and adapted as offices as well as the cast iron platform canopy both dating back to 1908. These small architectural memories serve as a reminder of what once was an exciting period in history. The introduction of the railway was an important innovation and a thrilling experience for Victorians; perhaps this same excitement and nostalgia could yet be restored in the future development of rail travel.
A city may be read as a mosaic of eras that have made it what it is today. The area around North Station continues to change, as more recent moments of destruction and construction shift patterns of access and movement along the boundary of river and road. Elsewhere, attitudes towards conservation have altered and where once culturally valuable aspects of architecture may have been destroyed, they are now treasured. Waterford’s reputation as the oldest city in Ireland is founded on its Viking heritage and the rejuvenation of the Viking Triangle within the city centre has attracted visitors as the railways once did in their heyday. In this vein, it might be hoped that Waterford may continue to celebrate its past, live in the present and look forward to its future.
1 Walton, J. C. (1994) Decies No. 49; Journal of the Old Waterford Society, Spring 1994, pg. 1 Editorial
Photo of Plunkett Station by author.