Poppleton was not the first railway nursery in the York area, as a railway nursery started in the 1880s adjacent to the old York North steam shed where the National Railway Museum is now. In 1941 Poppleton's Station goods yard was pressed into service to produce food for railway workers' canteens and the railway owned hotels. Wooden greenhouses, office and even a Yorkshire pit house (a half-submerged greenhouse) were built.
After the war, production switched to shrubs and trees required to stabilise bomb damaged railway embankments. This output was only short-lived and production changed again to produce bedding plants and hanging baskets to beautify stations along the East Coast Main Line. Flowers and plants were also produced for ceremonial occasions, and the nursery was also used for storage of the ceremonial red carpet and associated fencing.
In the 1980s a two-foot guage railway was built on the site. Further details.
As late as the 1990s, British Rail invested considerably in the nursery, replacing generators with mains electricty and installing bottled gas heaters in the greenhouses. Within a few years the old style of bedding plant production was no longer economic, the nursery became seasonally active potting on plug plants and distributing them to railway stations and ceremonial use.
The run up and onset of privatisation saw the nursery having to diversify into non-railway areas and horticultural work was carried out at several power stations and the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. After privatisation of the railways the nursery became an office base for Jarvis, and the greenhouses and sheds fell into disrepair. In 2006 Jarvis left the site and it was abandoned.
However a group of railwayman, led by Paul Salveson, felt strongly that, as the last railway nursery in the country, it should remain active. These initial efforts were unsuccessful but a small number of individuals persisted and after the formation of a board of directors, in 2009 Poppleton Community Railway Nursery was granted a tenancy of the site from Network Rail. Network Rail with contributions from Jarvis built a fence around the perimeter of the site which enabled access for non-railway staff.
The nursery is run by a volunteer group, currently a not-for-profit company.
Having been unoccupied for a few years the site has needed, and still needs a lot of work to get it up and running again.
PCRN has a partnership with the NHS in the York area, which has long found horticultural skills training to be therapeutic to adults recovering from mental health crises. Paul Botting, NHS Technical Instructor, said,
The NHS trust needed additional dedicated space to consolidate on one site and to expand its nursery training operation. Our partnership with PCRN is absolutely ideal.
Other partnerships and community projects will be added from time to time as the complex again becomes fully operational, and volunteers and funding permit.
Mike Bowes Converstion
In 2017 Mike Bowes, who was a tinsmith with the railway, who's father was friendly with Harry Hoyle, the Nursery manager in 1950s and 1960s came to the Nursery for a conversation. That conversation was recorded the text of that conversation can be downloaded below. Mike also had knowledge of the original nursery in the Leeman Road area. Thanks are due to Nick Beilby and to Cynthia Wood for the transcription.