Coveted railway heritage award unveiled at Ballater Old Royal Station

A coveted railway heritage award was unveiled at Ballater Old Royal Station last month.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 12:00 am
Provost of Aberdeenshire Cllr Bill Howatson unveils the Southeastern Commercial Restoration Award at Ballater Old Royal Station flanked by Aberdeenshire Council chief executive Jim Savege (left) and Theo Steel from the National Railway Heritage Awards.

The B-listed station – historically used by the Royal Family travelling by train to their home at nearby Balmoral Castle – was destroyed by fire in May 2015 and carefully rebuilt and restored by Aberdeenshire Council before reopening in August 2018.

Back in December 2019, the council received the prestigious South Eastern Commercial Restoration Award from HRH The Princess Royal, but the Coronavirus pandemic delayed a formal unveiling of the commemorative plaque.

Judges who visited the station in the summer of 2019 said the £4.2 million reconstruction of the building was "most praiseworthy" and singled out the council's determination to see the works completed to a high level.

The Southeastern Commercial Restoration Award from the National Railway Heritage Awards at Ballater Old Royal Station.

Gregory Beecroft said: "Although there was an insurance payout, that was not adequate to cover all of the work, so the resolve to restore the building at a time when there are severe constraints on council expenditure was particularly commendable."

Recalling his visit to Ballater, fellow judge Edward McGloin added: "On the day of my visit the station had a vibrant feel and was busy throughout.

"It is great to see that four years on from the devastating fire the station is again at the centre of Ballater and its community.

"Well done to all involved in this very good restoration of this historic station."

Pictured at the unveiling of the award are (from left) Cllr John Lathan, Marr area chair, Cllr Peter Argyle, Provost Bill Howatson, council leader Cllr Andy Kille, Cllr Paul Gibb and Cllr Geva Blackett

The judges singled out the renovation of the Royal waiting room – now used as a private dining room – as a "jewel in the crown" and an "astonishing display of craftsmanship" which could easily have merited its own entry for an award.

Following the devastating blaze which ripped through the building in May 2015, officers quickly committed to the restoration of the structure, working with partners including Historic Environment Scotland and the Royal Household.

Survey work included 3D laser scanning and modelling to capture the exact size and proportions of timber mouldings and fretwork allowing any new timbers to be as accurate as possible and reduce waste.

A key focus of the repair and conservation work was to retain and utilise as much of the original fabric as possible.

The restoration of Ballater Old Royal Station following a devastating blaze in 2015 was described by the awards judging panel as "most praiseworthy".

Provost of Aberdeenshire, Cllr Bill Howatson, who cut the ribbon to officially open the rebuilt station back in 2018, said: “Thanks to the massive efforts of council staff, architects, contractors and a host of partners, the Ballater community and visitors to the town have once again been able to experience this important part of Royal heritage and history in surroundings which are arguably improved on what went before the devastating fire.

"The restoration was very sympathetic and the standard of workmanship exceptionally high which the National Railway Heritage Awards judging panel said merited this prestigious and very much appreciated accolade.”

Paying tribute to all those who had played a part in the restoration project, Aberdeenshire Council’s Marr area manager Janelle Clark said: “This award recognises the massive commitment by the many partners who made the project such a success including our architects Halliday Fraser Munro, with Conservation Architect Georgina Allison, and main contractor Morgan Sindall Construction.

“We take this opportunity once again to thank the community of Ballater for its fantastic support throughout the project and all those individuals and local organisations who helped piece together this historic jigsaw and breathe new life into the station for future generations to enjoy.”

Ballater Old Royal Station was one of three North-East railway projects to receive their plaques, with the restoration of the turntable at Ferryhill in Aberdeen and the South Esk Viaduct refurbishment at Montrose also being recognised.

Ballater's Old Royal Station continues to stand at the heart of this Deeside village more than 40 years after the last passenger train pulled out on February 28, 1966.

Today it serves as the village's Tourist Information Centre complete with a well-stocked shop: and as a museum and exhibition celebrating the station's links with Royalty.

The railway first came to Ballater in 1866, when the Deeside Railway built its station here.

It was in regular use, especially after Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral in 1852, and much was made of the new railway by the area's occasional royal residents and their guests and visitors.

Much of the royalty of nineteenth century Europe passed through Ballater railway station at some point, including the Czar of Russia in 1896.

The original carriage in which Queen Victoria made her journey to Ballater remains at the National Railway Museum in York, and in January 2008 a replica bought to Ballater by road and crane, was built especially for display at the Old Royal Station.