Railway stations an enduring memorial to the Railway Age

The most enduring memorial to the age when rail was the most common means of land transport in New Zealand, is the railway station.

In the 1950s the country had more than 1350 railway stations. In cities and large towns, they were often impressive public buildings. In small towns, they may have been less impressive but still significant because they served as both an economic hub and a link with the outside world. The man most commonly associated with railway stations is Sir George Troup, the London-born architect responsible for many of New Zealand stations, including the grand Dunedin Railway Station. Te Ara, the New Zealand Encyclopedia records that Troup was born on 25 October 1863, the son of Scottish parents. In 1874 he won a place at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen and five years later he took up an apprenticeship with an Edinburgh engineer, surveyor and architect.

He came to New Zealand in 1883 and worked for the Survey Department in Otago before joining New Zealand Railways to work as a draughtsman in the district engineer's office in Dunedin. It was an association with railways that was to last almost 40 years. In April 1888 he moved to Wellington to work at the head office of New Zealand Railways, In 1919 he was appointed officer in charge of the architectural branch.

He put in place a programme for training engineering cadets and was involved in projects associated with the building of the North Island Main Trunk line. He also planned new stations at Oamaru and Wanganui and designed the Dunedin railway station, the building with which he is most often associated and which earned him the nick name, “Gingerbread George” because of its ornate architectural features. He designed the Wellington railway offices, Petone and Lower Hutt railway stations and in 1910 made preliminary sketches for the Wellington railway station, which was eventually designed by William Gray Young.

The New Zealand Encyclopedia says Troup’s station buildings are now regarded as a valuable part of the architectural inheritance. He received third prize in a competition in 1911 for the design of the new Parliament Buildings and in 1907 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

When he retired from the railways in 1925 he became a Wellington City Councillor and later Mayor. As chairman of the Council’s Works Committee, and was responsible for the establishment of a milk treatment station, the airport at Rongotai and a second tunnel through Mt Victoria. But it’s Dunedin Railway Station that Troup is best remembered for. When construction began in 1903, the city was the country’s busiest commercial and industrial centre. As such, it was considered it should have a station that reflected its importance. Troup produced a design that has been described as an “eclectic, revived Flemish renaissance style”. The station is constructed of dark Strath Taieri basalt with lighter Oamaru stone facings, giving it a distinctive light and dark pattern. The roof was tiled in terracotta shingles topped by copper-domed cupolas. A 37-metre clock-tower, visible from much of central Dunedin, dominates the southern end.

Troup was knighted in 1937 and died in Wellingtonin 1941 at the age of 77.

Apart from Dunedin Station, a number of Troup’s designs have survived. Like Petone station near Wellington, many have new lives as cafes, museums, art galleries or tourism centres.

Sources: Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand; Wikpedia.