'Garden' Visit: Poppleton Community Railway Nursery

At the Nursery entrance

NAH and I are great fans of the Heritage Open Days (HOD) held each September, so we were keen to find somewhere suitable whilst staying in Yorkshire. I was surprised to find something which combined our individual interests of gardening and railways, in the shape of Poppleton Community Railway Nursery (PCRN). Perfect :)

Upper Poppleton is a pretty village just outside York on the York to Harrogate railway line. Right by the flower bedecked station is a rich slice of little known railway history. PCRN is the last remaining garden nursery of the six which used to supply flowers and vegetables to stations and other railway properties up and down the land.

Its buildings and around a dozen greenhouses in various states of repair are squeezed into a narrowing slice of land right next to the railway. There's even a pit-house and boiler rooms more reminiscent of Victorian kitchen gardening than the nursery's actual beginnings.

One of the volunteers kindly took us round on a guided tour, which was absolutely fascinating.

Some of the restored buildings

Early history

The nursery started during the Second World War, when the Dig For Victory campaign meant the railway company had to look to its own resources to provide food for its workers' canteens and railway owned hotels. In 1941, the land at Poppleton Station's Goods Yard was pressed into service and so the garden nursery was born.

After the War, and the nationalisation of the railways into British Rail, attention initially turned to the provision of shrubs and trees to stabilise bomb damaged railway embankments. Soon afterwards, production changed to supplying flowers for the tubs and hanging baskets used along the East Coast Main Line. Supplies were often taken to London too. Once a week an entire carriage (emptied of its seats) was parked at the station ready for packing with flowers to be taken down the line to the capital.

During the 1980s a miniature railway was installed which was used to transport materials and plants around the site. It seems this was a whim of the nursery manager at the time!

Remains of the miniature railway beside the real railway

Towards and beyond railway privatisation

British Rail continued to invest in the nursery well into the 1990s. The gas lamps were finally replaced in 1991 and the boilers converted from coal to bottled gas. As well as supplying the railway, diversification was also tried to keep the nursery in profit.

Surprisingly the nursery remained open when British Rail was privatised and the site became the local office for Jarvis, one of the companies who used to maintain our railway infrastructure. The greenhouses gradually fell into disrepair and Jarvis finally abandoned the site in 2006.

By then Poppleton was the only remaining railway nursery and a group of railwaymen were keen to save it. Jarvis were persuaded to provide the secure lineside fencing required and the site was eventually re-opened and leased from Network Rail in 2009 on a rolling 3 year basis.

Just one of the large greenhouses on site


The nursery is run by volunteers as a community based, not for profit venture. Lots of repair work is still needed and where possible this is done by linking with other local groups and initiatives. Horticultural therapy is another key strand in the group's work and the nursery works in partnership with the local NHS.

Plants are grown and supplied to local stations like Poppleton and to some along the Settle to Carlisle line. Regular plant sales are held at the nursery and local hospitals. These form a major source of income. Membership is also available for a mere fiver. I've joined to show my support as we didn't have room in the car to bring any plants home :(

As well as our guided tour, one of the sheds had a slideshow of photographs of the site both during its heyday and absolute dereliction. There was also a little model railway which showed part of the site in operation - the link opens to a pdf of an article and photos about it if you're interested.

Naturally, a great deal of interest was taken by the Britain in Bloom judges when they came round during the summer. They do like a good community project :)

Towards the top of the site looking back towards the entrance

Final thoughts

When we think of 'heritage' it's often of castles, stately homes and other grand or ancient buildings. It's great to see there's room for our more recent history under HOD's sheltering umbrella. Without it - and the hard work of the band of enthusiastic volunteers we met on the day - I'm sure Poppleton Community Railway Nursery could so easily have been lost forever.

This is just the kind of unusual project and place NAH and I like to find :)

Update: An edited version of this post is also on the HOD blog :)


  1. Linda Penny has emailed in via her subscription:

    'great post'

    Linda - thanks. PCRN are thrilled and an edited version is also going up on the HOD website :)

  2. What a great project VP. I have fond memories of neighbouring Nether Poppleton, where one of my brothers got married. It was the first time himself met my family. Hope that these villages have not been affected by the flooding.

  3. Anna - we've been thinking the very same. It's been odd to see York flooded on TV where only a couple of weeks ago we were walking down the very same streets.

    I'd love to be able to volunteer on this project as it ticks so many of the right boxes for me.

    I've also had an email from Paul who showed us round when we were there. He's thrilled with the amount of detail in this post. I say it shows what a great guide he was on the day :)


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