Barwick in the Railway Age - PART I RAILWAYS TO 1850 Back to the Main Historical Society page
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Barwick in the Railway Age

Barwicker No. 25
March 1992

Barwick-in-Elmet's first intimations of the railway age came in September 1834 with the opening of the Leeds and Selby, Yorkshire's first public railway, its tracks passing through the southernmost part of the then parish between Cross Gates and Garforth.

By February 1835 the collieries at both Cross Gates and Garforth were connected to the main line by short branches. At Cross Gates the Leeds & Selby (L&S) went through a deep cutting with the consequence that here the tracks ran some thirty feet lower than the pit bank. This meant that much of the colliery branch had to be in the form of a 300-yard inclined plane stretching as far as the Austhorpe Lane bridge, up which the coal chaldrons were drawn by a stationary steam engine. In later years the North Eastern Railway adopted the Colliery site as a marshalling yard and the shunting engines puffing up the old inclined plane were to be a familiar sight until well after World War 2. The one-time marshalling yard is now the south car park of the Cross Gates Centre.

By the mid 1840's further tracks had been laid from the top of the plane. Curving north-west through the lower end of what is now Marshall Street and crossing Austhorpe Road the line ran north for 500 yards, finally turning east round Manston church to terminate at Sand beds pit in the vicinity of the present Kelmscott Drive. It must have been a branchline of some charm, running as it did through open fields and fenced either side to keep cattle from straying on to the tracks and with a horse as motive power. Today Church Lane follows this old alignment.

At Garforth, sidings from the Leeds & Selby were put in to Mr Oliver Gascoigne's newly sunk Isabella pit and, possibly as early as 1835, a branch line had been extended the full three miles to Aberford where a new coal depot was established on the Great North Road. Although primarily a colliery line this, the Aberford Railway, also inaugurated a passenger service, the Leeds Intelligencer of 25 February 1837 reporting:

The carriage will contain sixteen persons, and is drawn with great ease by an active horse at the rate of ten miles per hour from Aberford, to meet the Selby railway train proceeding to Leeds in the morning. It returns immediately after the arrival of the evening train with increased speed to Aberford.

The Aberford Highflyer or Fly

The reason for the increased speed on the return journey was that it was virtually down-hill all the way, Aberford Depot being some hundred feet lower than the departure point at Garforth thus the railway worked by gravity, the carriage and attendant coal chaldrons freewheeling down to Aberford in the charge of a brakesman, the horse enjoying an easy ride in the dandy cart attached to the rear.

Passengers travelled in a spartan vehicle known variously as the Highflyer or Fly, which gave rise to the name by which the route of this old railway is known today - the Aberford Fly Line. But whether the fly was the original carriage of 1837 is debatable, the only extant photograph suggesting a greater carrying capacity than the sixteen mentioned by the Leeds Intellingencer. The vehicle may date only from the early 1850s, when the passenger service was reopened after a ten-year closure caused by the actions of George Hudson, the Railway King.

The mid-1840s brought the Railway Mania, when it seemed that all the world was either promoting or investing in railways. George Hudson was chairman of the York & North Midland opened in 1840 between York and Altofts on the North Midland Line. The York & North Midland crossed and in 1839 connected with the Leeds Selby at Milford Junction, and thus for a time travellers to York were able to go part of the way over Leeds & Selby metals, but when in 1840 Hudson's company leased the Leeds & Selby he virtually closed it to passengers. York traffic was rerouted on a roundabout route via Altofts. What few trains did remain on the Leeds & Selby were slackly run making it very difficult for the Leeds-bound Aberfordians to make connections. Thus the passenger service was discontinued, the Aberford Railway reverting to being a purely mineral line.

All this may seem of little concern to Barwickers, but they must certainly have begun to take notice when in )lay 1845 the prospectus was published of a new and direct Leeds& York Railway (L&Y) its surveyed line passing well within the parish boundary. The survey showed the line running through Cross Gates where it would bridge beneath Austhorpe Road close to the junction with Station Road. At Manston the rails were to pass within yards of the existing colliery branch (and thus the likelihood of further colliery Sidings in the vicinity) after which the line ran northwards following Grimesdyke to pass out of the parish in a 700 yard tunnel under Skelton's Lane. At Thorner the line would follow Norwood Bottoms, pass to the north-west of Boston Spa, then cross the Wharfe at Flintmill Grange whence there was virtually a straight run through to York. A short branch up the north bank of the Wharfe would connect with Wetherby, which at that time had no railway connection.

Railways completed or projected to 1850

For Hudson, this threat to his growing railway kingdom would have been threat enough but then in August another direct Leeds- York scheme was announced. The Leeds York & Midland Junction (LY&MJ) proposed to cross the Wharfe at Tadcaster, reaching there via Aberford and the valley of Cock Beck. Between Manston and Aberford there was the problem of Parlington Park. This the promoters proposed to tunnel under. But even so the result would have been a covered cutting rather than a tunnel proper, creating an artificial mound three-quarters of a mile long across the deer park, and anticipating objections from the Gascoigne family the Leeds York & Midland Junction hedged their bets by also surveying an alternative loop via Laverack, Ass Bridge and Becca Banks. As it turned out though the fear of the Gascoigne objections was unfounded (the railway would provide a direct outlet to York for Garforth coal and with the 'deer park' route it would be far easier to build the necessary sidings) and the Ass Bridge alternative was dropped soon after the Bill was deposited with Parliament.

Hudson saw the likelihood of one or other of the Leeds-York schemes being approved. Thus his hand was forced and his company too was soon depositing a Bill for the direct line - the York & North Midlands Leeds Extension (Y&NM-LE). Its proposed route was little different from that of the Leeds York & Midland Junction, including a tunnel beneath the deer park, and it was equally welcomed by the Gascoignes.

Evidence respecting the rival schemes was heard by the Select Committee in May 1846. Land agents, millers, farmers, inn keepers and representatives of many another trade were trained down to London from the West Riding to speak for and against the rival lines. Their detailed statements, taken down verbatim, are an invaluable source for the local historian, but here we have space for only a taste:

Farmer George Cooper complained of how the York & North Midland had overcharged him for conveying manure from Leeds to Shippen over the Leeds & Selby. John Clapham, who farmed at Stank House, said that the Leeds & Selby might as well be closed entirely for all the good it was as a passenger line, and of the two lines that would affect him he preferred the Leeds York & Midland Junction. It would do the least damage to his property whilst Hudson's would pass close to his house on a 30 ft embankment. George Scrivener, farmer and tallow chandler of Aberford, felt that the Leeds York & Midland Junction would offer greater facility to the locality, as well as breaking the present York & North Midland monopoly.

So the evidence was heard, but in the end Hudson triumphed again. It was to his company that the Act was granted. So work began on the Leeds Extension, but it proceeded only slowly, and it is clear that with his monopoly assured Hudson saw the line as more of an encumbrance than a future asset. Then in 1649 Hudson - the Robert Maxwell of the railway age - was toppled from power when an enquiry revealed how he had been misapplying various railway companies' funds. All work on new lines was stopped, that for the Leeds Extension never to be resumed. Today the monuments to this tailed enterprise are a cutting at Tadcaster which leads nowhere, the bridge under the Wighill Road and that beautiful viaduct over the Wharfe.

In his "History of the Parish of Barwick-in-Elmet" the Rev F.S. Colman briefly comments on the York scheme, observing that at Tadcaster a railway bridge still in use under some sidings is said to have been part of the projected line'. These 'sidings' were a short branch laid across the viaduct in 1863 to connect the corn mill on the north bank with the Church Fenton - Harrogate Line. Colman also refers to Gascoigne dealings with George Hudson regarding the railway passing through Parlington Park: 'After much negotiation Mr Oliver Gascoigne consented on the conditions, amongst others, that a tunnel should be made under the park and a new house built for him on a spot he should select.' But here one sees an error for discussions regarding the Leeds Extension could not have taken place earlier than mid-1645 and Mr Oliver Gascoigne died in 1643.

But the Leeds Extension was not Hudson's only try at a railway between York and Leeds. In February 1634 Hudson had been one of a deputation of .four who discussed with the directorate of the Leeds & Selby (then well on towards completion) the possibility of their then proposed York & Leeds Railway joining the Leeds&Selby at Garforth. That line too would have had to go via Parlington Park, and if ever there was a promise of a house then it is connection with that railway not the later one. In the event neither tunnelling nor house building was necessary, the York - Leeds scheme being superseded by the idea of the line from York to Altofts.

In 1850 the Leeds & Selby was re-opened for main-line traffic and the York trains began once more to run via Cross Gates and Milford Junction. Before long passenger traffic was also running again on the Aberford Fly Line. For Barwickers, with the failure of the Leeds & York Railway and in the more sober period of railway development following the Mania years, it may have seemed that the likelihood of their ever enjoying rail facilities closer than Crossgates or Garforth were at an end, but the second half of the century was to bring its own railway schemes.

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