The Cheltenham Race Course Station was opened on 12th March 1912. It consisted of two platforms each of 700 ft in length, being 15 ft wide and 3ft high. Later the Down platform was extended to 960 ft at the South end. Toilet Blocks were constructed on both platforms. The waiting room/booking office was situated on the Down side near the road bridge – the only means of crossing from one platform to another.
The footpaths led from each platform and were on a gradient of 1 in 14 with barriers at the entrance to slow down surging crowds and help the ticket collectors . Two official sources show that a wooden signal box was proposed here, situated on the Down side at the South end of the platform, However photographic evidence suggests that a box had always been at the North end on the Up side, This 6 lever box was manned only on race days and in general by Cheltenham district relief signalmen. With the onset of the 1920’s came the start of the prestigious “Blue Riband event”, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It was first run in 1924 and held in March of each year during the 3 day meeting. The GWR soon attracted many people to the event, laying on special passenger traffic running up to 8 trains in 1924 and 10 trains in the 1930’s. The March Festival of 1935 saw the signal box open all week for the first time. This was the first occasion of which the horses were unloaded/loaded here, on the platforms at the Race Course Station. Until then they had been taken through to Bishops Cleeve whence they had been transported by road to the course or ridden by their grooms. During 1936 the box was manned from July through uo September on Saturdays between 11 am and 6 pm to assist with traffic, this becoming the usual arrange ment in succeeding years. Most of the local passenger trains would continue to stop at the station on race days as well as the specials laid on.
Some of the through expresses made additional stops. The GWR also ran specials to here on normal race days.
Race traffic was very important to the GWR . Not only did the Company have Cheltenham to serve but also other famous courses were dotted about its system and later Stratford Racecourse was also given a Station. With the opening of the Cheltenham Race Course Station the GWR soon set up a partern of traffic that was to last to the end of the line – viz six trains arriving via the Cheltenham direction and several from the north. While all this was going on all the other normal services would run but the freight traffic would be held back until the race traffic was out of the way .To accommodate these trains the sidings at certain stations along the route had to be emptied in advance.
Traffic began to decline throughout the 1950’s due to competition from coach companies and more people owning their own cars, and so the station was closed 25th March 1968. The signal box with its sliding window shutters, used to protect the window when not in use, had closed on 9th February 1964. British Rail decided to reopen the station for the meeting of 18th March 1971, and it was used for subsequent meetings. The Queen detrained here on 7th April on her way to Cheltenham. Latterly empty stock was worked through Worcester or Gloucester for servicing although on occasion multiple units were stored at Honeybourne. The 3 day festival meeting on 16/17/18th March 1976 saw the last of these workings, for after the accident at Winchcombe on 25th August 1976 the line was effectively closed. This however did not prevent race specials running, being run via Lans- down Station where the passengers were omnibussed out to the racecourse, a practice that is continued to this day.
With acknowledgement to Audie Baker “A Friend of the Honeybourne Line”
An interesting addendum from Bob Stark:-
I knew Audie in the early days and I have a signed copy of his book from which you drew the reference to HM The Queen detraining at CRC station in 1971 when visiting Cheltenham. Audie did not get his facts right on this incident as I found out several years after he wrote his book – a signed copy of which I bought from Audie at the GWR Steam Gala at Toddington during the weekend of 15th/16th October 1994 when it went on sale. Many years after the publication of Audie’s book I had the pleasure of sitting next to a retired senior Police officer at a Rotary function in Cheltenham who had carried out Royal Protection duties in Gloucestershire during Royal visits. As rumours circulated that the Queen Mother had used Cheltenham Racecourse station when she came to the races at Prestbury Park, I asked him about his knowledge of this Royal use of our station. He advised me that to the best of his knowledge the Queen Mother had never travelled by rail to the races, rather she always travelled by car and I have subsequently seen reports in the local press regarding her travel arrangements by car and that she always stopped at a small store in Prestbury before going into Prestbury Park. However, this officer did tell me that HM The Queen spent a night in the Royal Train parked in Cheltenham Racecourse Station in 1971 prior to going to dispense the Maundy money to pensioners in Tewkesbury Abbey. Details can be found on the Internet, but these do not highlight the fact that many police officers were deployed to ensure that HM was not disturbed that night. This would also account for the removal of the Spear Fencing from the front of the Racecourse Station onto the Evesham Road and its replacement by a hideous gate adorned with weld mesh until we replaced it with recovered spear fencing and a new GWR gate post a few years ago. This gate is now across the access to our track bed onto the embankment close to the signal box. One must assume that ONE would not wish to walk up the platform 1 ramp and that ONE’s car would have taken ONE from Platform 1 up the ramp, onto the Evesham Road and on to Tewkesbury Abbey – I rest my presumption unless anyone has a better set of facts to offer.
The Platform Toilet Blocks
Original GWR Plans for the Ticket Office and platform toilets. –Click here and be patient!