Nickey Line History
Harpenden to Hemel
The Harpenden to Hemel
Hempstead branch line of the Midland Railway Company was opened on 16th July 1877. The line was built to link the straw
plait trade in Hemel Hempstead with the hat makers of Luton but also to provide
a local passenger service, soon linking to the main line services to London from
The line became locally known
as ‘The Nickey Line’. This name has been given various explanations. Due to
the steep gradients the name may have derived from ‘funicular’. Other
explanations include a link with the half-length trousers ‘Knickerbockers’
either because they were worn by the nawies who built the line, or because the
railway was considered half size, being single track. Another theory is that the
name comes from the parish of St. Nicholas in Harpenden.
The Nickey Line had two main
stations in Hemel Hempstead and Redbourn and a number of halts and sidings. In
its early days the line transported both local passengers and commuters
travelling to London. However as road transport increased the number of railway
passengers declined. A Ro-Railer, a hybrid vehicle which used both rail and
road, was used for a brief experimental period in the early 1930’s. The last
passenger train ran on 16th June 1947.
traffic also declined. The straw plaiting trade had long since died out and the
new local industries were served by road transport. The railway had a brief
revival when industrial areas were developed in the north east of Hemel
Hempstead. However few of the new companies used the railway line. In 1968 what
was left of the line was sold to the Hemelite Company, which had been using it
since 1959 to transport ash from power stations to their yards in Cupid Green,
for use in the manufacture of building blocks. By 1979, two years after the
railway’s centenary traffic ceased completely and the line was closed.
The railway land was purchased in the early 1980’s by St Albans District Council and Dacorum Borough Council. The line was opened to the public in 1985 for use as a footpath and cycleway.
Since then, many improvements have been undertaken along the line including surfacing and the construction of steps and access points. Today the Nickey Line provides a hedge-lined peaceful haven for walkers, cyclists and wildlife, managed by Harpenden Town, Redbourn Parish, Dacorum Borough, and St Albans District Councils.
Nicky Line vs. Nickey Line
The name was commonly spelled 'Nicky Line' for many years and has also locally been applied to other ex railway lines turned footpaths. There is however only one genuine 'Nickey Line' and we are encouraging use of the original spelling of the name.
To find out more about the
local area, visit the Harpenden Information Centre in the Town Hall or at Hemel
Hempstead Information Centre in The Marlowes.
Further historical information
on the Nickey Line can be found in local libraries and the Redbourn
Village Museum, next to the Cricketers Public House on Redbourn Common.
The historical information and
the photograph above are based on the excellent book ‘The Harpenden to Hemel
Hempstead Railway - The Nickey Line’ by S. Woodward and G. Woodward (Oakwood
Press). This can be obtained direct from them - Tel: 01582 713524 .
Also see www.nickey-line.com
for more details and historic photographs of the Nickey Line, plus more about
Sue and Geoff Woodwards' book and a DVD, 'The Nickey Line', by George Storrow
which you can also buy.
Send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about this web site. You can also ring us on 01582 622771.