In Spring 1989, the rock band Queen shot a video at the Nene Valley Railway HQ at Wansford for their single “Breakthru“ that reached number 7 in the British charts. The video showed them on a steam train (No.3822 from Didcot, repainted) that was given the name ‘Miracle Express’ after the title of their 1989 album The Miracle.
Two 1940s images showing the New Mermaid Inn on the Great North Road at Wansford which was very popular at the time with airmen from the USAAF base at Kings Cliffe.
The original “bauhaus” design of the building would have made it an architectural rarity (one of only five in the country) and undoubtedly a preserved building had it not been for destructive modernisations made to the largest of the curved corner windows by the Little Chef chain in its later life.
It opened in 1932 as “The Wansford Knight” before changing name in 1936 to replace the (Olde) Mermaid Inn which previously sat at the main crossroads in the village. Although Little Chef’s ownership removed the chance of gaining preserved status, the restaurant kept the building alive until 2007 after which the building was vandalised and seemed doomed for imminent extinction.
After being up for sale since 2011, the building was eventually purchased by architects Harris McCormack who aim to turn it into the firm’s new ‘showcase’ headquarters. The essential fabric of the 1932 Bauhaus-inspired building will stay, but with some new exterior flourishes. These will include a glass walkway at the back and new Art Deco style windows replacing the bay ones at the front.
The company recently stated, ‘the plan is to return this iconic building to its former glory, The graffiti will all be gone and hopefully, it won’t be back. We’ve had to overcome quite a lot of problems such as dry rot inside, but now that’s sorted out, in the next few months it should be really transformed. Our intention is that it will really stand out.’
At 1:14am in the morning, Yorkshire based Herbert Ashworth crashed his London bound Bowyer & Jackson (Dewsbury) lorry through the fence adjoining the crossing gates and bumped across the lines before bouncing off a concrete wall and rolling the vehicle onto its side across the tracks.
Despite the dramatic impact, the driver was completely unhurt and scrambled out to be confronted by the oncoming 12:40am Peterborough to Birmingham express goods train. He frantically tried to alert and stop the train but driver Fullen and his crew from Saltley impact were unable to stop in time and the impact threw the lorry across the adjoining line before it exploded into flames.
“When I scrambled out after the crash, I ran up the line to stop the approaching train”, said Ashworth, “I had just got beyond the signal box shouting and waving my arms as the train got up to me. I could see the driver braking his engine but he had no chance to pull up”.
Ashworth later claimed that his brakes had completely failed him and he was left with the choice of hitting one of the roadside houses or crashing the fence between the gates and the station.
Despite damage to both tracks and sleepers from the fire, maintenance gangs from Peterborough had the line back open by 5:30am and the undamaged goods train was able to continue its journey having earlier been backed up short of the signal box to wait it out.
Looking north to the river bridge with the Haycock Hotel on the right hand side.
A lovely shot of the old cottages that still sit alongside Wansford Station today (2013) and still look just as immaculate !