The first railway line in New South Wales ran between Redfern and Parramatta and was opened with enormous excitement in 1855. With its opening, Australia entered the steam era, and that other great advance of the 19th century, the electric telegraph, soon followed.
Within 30 years, two large railway systems covered most of the settled districts of the colony, based on Sydney and Newcastle. Between them, the Hawkesbury River was an impassable barrier, until in 1881 the government of Sir Henry Parkes announced a bold policy that would double the mileage of railway lines. Included in this plan was the enormously expensive Northern Junction Line, joining the two systems over rugged country and a wide river at a cost of £2,755,000.
Construction of the Strathfield to Hawkesbury River section commenced in 1883, with an anticipated completion date of March 1886. From Parramatta River, the line climbed steeply to the Field of Mars (now Eastwood), then dropped to Devlins Creek where the M2 now runs beneath the railway line, and then climbed even more steeply to what is now Pennant Hills. Settlement in this high country in what had been the Field of Mars Common was sparse, and the surveyors appointed by the government recommended that “from Devlin’s Creek Culvert that northwards to a point outside the common there is a uniform ascending grade of one in 50 or less, making a stopping place impossible without great inconvenience and expense in alteration of levels of the line.”
However, the Minister for Lands, Henry Copeland, had quite a different view. The absence of railway platforms would make suburban subdivision impossible, and the government would therefore be unable to recoup part of the cost of the railway. On 18th June 1886, he noted on the surveyors’ report, “I have arranged for two Platforms. H.C.” A week later, the Metropolitan District Surveyor, John Deering, added another note, confirming the Minister’s directive. “ “Field of Mars” Platform at 14 miles 55 chains. “Beecroft” Platform 16 miles 38 chains.” These were the distances in miles and chains (a measurement of distance based on the length of a surveyor’s chain: 22 yards or just over 20 metres) from the Redfern terminus.
Henry Copeland made sure that the platform he had insisted on would become the centre of a developed suburban area. No land sales were planned immediately, but the surveyors were instructed to mark out 1/4 and 1/2 acre blocks and to lay out streets. Copeland named several of them. He had married Hannah Beecroft in 1863 and after she died in 1879, he married her sister Mary in 1880. Both were born in the Yorkshire village of Malton, near a huge mansion, Castle Howard, where nearly a century later the television epic ‘Brideshead Revisited’ would be filmed. Henry hailed from Hull in the same county. All these names were now given to streets in the Beecroft district. The road closest to the platform was named Copeland Road, but Henry never bought land in the district. However, the surveyors and the bureaucrats of the Lands Dept got the message and the first land sale followed within the year. Three months after Copeland named the new platform after his wives, the railway was completed and the first passenger train ran on Friday 17 September 1886, six months behind the original schedule. It stopped at each of the seven stations or platforms along the line to Hornsby, and local people lined the platform to gape at both the train and the dignitaries on board. The opening ceremony took place at Hornsby, where the Minister for Works, William Lyne, presciently foresaw the time when “a very large suburban population” would come to the outer districts. However that lay far into the future. In 1886, Beecroft platform, then sited south of the Copeland Road crossing, and lacking even a shelter shed, was in the middle of nowhere. Between Beecroft and Epping there was bushland; there would be no Cheltenham for another 12 years.
(From Beecroft and Cheltenham, the shaping of a Sydney community to 1914, published by the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group in 1995.