The original substantial station in Market Street Downpatrick was demolished in 1972 to make way for a supermarket. It had served as a bus station with the Ulster Transport Authority and Ulsterbus from the railway’s closure in 1950 until 1972.
Downpatrick gasworks was located just across the street from the railway station. When it was closed and demolished to make way for a new college, the manager’s house, a listed 19th century building, had to be retained. The Railway came to an arrangement with the local Education and Library Board whereby the building was dismantled, moved across the road to the railway site and a grant was obtained for its reconstruction as the station building. Although it never was a railway station, it looks right as a branch line station and many passengers comment on remembering railway stations like it!
In 1992 the Station was awarded the Ian Allan Heritage Award, First Class, and this was presented to the Railway by the Duke of Gloucester in London. At the end of 1998 a canopy was erected over the platform. This canopy is the re-erection of a canopy which belonged to the Goods Shed at Maghera in Co. Londonderry, which we have also re-erected as a new engine-shed.
The Loop Platform
The Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway is the only preserved railway in the British Isles with a triangle of track – the Downpatrick Loop, a feature that gives us many potential variations in train routes.
The Downpatrick Loop Platform was built at the southern end of the triangle, and is the only surviving BCDR building in Downpatrick and was built at the end Nineteenth Century to solve a operating problem that the BCDR found themselves in after taking over another railway. When the line was being built from Belfast, the intention was that it would go no further than Downpatrick. Ten years later another company, the Downpatrick, Dundrum and Newcastle Railway, extended the line south to the seaside resort of Newcastle.
When this company was taken over by the BCDR, the larger express trains from Belfast would have to stop for long periods at Downpatrick to allow the locomotive to be turned and run-round the train before it could carry on to Newcastle, and again when returning to Belfast. As a result an avoiding line was built about a quarter of a mile out of Downpatrick Station between the two lines. The Loop Platform allowed passengers travelling to Downpatrick to board a branch train without the operational delays and problems of before.
The Victorian canopy at Downpatrick Loop was the only original railway structure to survive at Downpatrick. As the Loop platform has no road access, the canopy survived the demolition squads in the 1950s. When the DCDR project was begun, it was planned to restore the original structure. However it turned out to be in too bad a state of repair to restore, and it was in a dangerous state. Therefore, in 1993, a decison was taken to build a replica, incorporating parts of the original ironwork. This was done with the assistance of a grant from the International Fund for Ireland.
LMS NCC Signal Cabin
This LMS (NCC) cabin was originally located at King’s Bog level crossing on the Belfast-Ballyclare road. When we were looking for a signal cabin for the Downpatrick museum, Northern Ireland Railways offered three for consideration; Bangor, Larne Harbour and King’s Bog.
Bangor, as it was a BCDR cabin was the first choice. However, its location beside a busy main line made it impossible to remove. Nevertheless, the DCDR did recover the signal frame and an ex-signalman, both of which have been installed in the King’s Bog cabin (railway humour!). Larne Harbour was a possibility, but the choice fell on King’s Bog because not only was it easy to access for dismantling – it was also much bigger than Larne Harbour, an important point when considering access for parties of visitors.
Another advantage was that it originally controlled the junction between the NCC main line and the Ballyclare branch, so it has windows on all four sides. This was an advantage when the sidings into the Maghera shed were installed as these run behind the cabin. The building was dismantled by DCDR volunteers and the bulk of the rebuilding was also carried out by our volunteers. As a little touch, the cabin now incorporates some bricks salvaged from the ruins of the original Downpatrick North cabin.
Maghera Goods Transhipment Shed
This Belfast & Northern Counties Railway goods transhipment shed, originally part of Maghera station complex located on the Derry Central Railway, was a listed building owned by the Dept of the Environment. The site at Maghera, Co. Londonderry, was required for redevelopment so the Dept of the Environment came to an arrangement with the DCDR whereby they dismantled and removed the shed to Downpatrick, and the DCDR applied for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to have it rebuilt. It now serves as a locomotive shed.
The shed also had a small three column canopy over the loading bay platform, although there was no direct access from underneath the canopy. It was as a result of enquiring about the acquisition of the canopy for use over the station platform that the complete building is being reconstructed at Downpatrick. The enquiry was met with a “Yes”, but providing we took the rest of the shed as well!
Rolling Stock Overhaul and Rebuilding Workshop
The general proportions of this building are based on those of the Goods Shed at the BCDR station in Newtownards.
The Railway was offered the original shed which was due for demolition to make way for a new college. However, as it was a stone-built structure, it would have been too heavy for the very marshy ground on which it would have had to be built, without the use of substantial and therefore very expensive piling. So with regret the offer had to be turned down.
The building erected is a lightweight structure suitable for the soft ground at Downpatrick.
King Magnus’s Halt
A new halt was built at the site of the burial mound of the Viking King Magnus Barefoot, 1994. Magnus was King of Norway and Man and was slain in battle at this spot in 1103, he and his soldiers are believed to be buried around the trees behind the platform.
A Runestone monument marking the site was erected in March 2003 to mark the 900th anniversary of his death.