The Reshaping of our Railways: 1. Before Beeching

East of the M60 on the effects of its area’s railways before, during and after the publication of The Reshaping of British Railways

Class 101 DMU, Bury Bolton Street
A Metro-Cammell bodied Class 101 DMU. Photographed in 2009, few would have thought 47 years ago that Bury Bolton Street would lose its DMU service to Rawtenstall, let alone its reopening in 1987 (and Rawtenstall railway station’s 1991 reopening) by the East Lancashire Railway.

Today, train travel east of the M60 motorway (in spite of gripes about old rolling stock and ticket prices) is more popular than ever. Along with the Metrolink, our local services and inter-city routes lessen the load on our area’s arterial roads, and of the M60 motorway itself.

Fifty years ago, it was probably hard to imagine a future where tilting trains, Trans-Pennine electrification and frequent local services would be legion. Only fifteen years since Manchester’s last tram, it was hard to imagine the return of this form of traction to Ashton New Road. Instead, we were optimistic about a future shaped by the motor car. The success of the Preston Bypass and the M1 motorway, service areas and its then unlimited speeds heralded a break from rail transport, which some thought was dirty and outdated.

In 1963, British Railways had had made some effort to modernise its rolling stock by means of their 1956 Rail Modernisation Plan. The loan used to fund new diesel and electric traction left the then newly formed British Railways Board (it was part of the British Transport Commission till 1962) in heavy debt. Therefore, it was thought that economies needed to made. This in spite of the fact that since the mid-1950s, some services which moved from steam to diesel traction flourished.

The biggest rises in patronage came where Diesel Multiple Units replaced some workings. With big windows, a forward facing front window and scope for bus style frequencies, they were a hit. Rising passenger numbers were reported on the Leeds – Manchester Victoria – Liverpool Lime Street service, operated by Class 110/111 Calder Valley units. The Trans-Pennine route from Liverpool Lime Street to Hull Paragon received a fillup with the introduction of Class 124 ‘Transpennine units’. They were seen in six car formations and boasted a griddle car.

In spite of some of the positive developments, the railways were haemorrhaging debt, and the overtly pro-road Conservative Government of the day wasn’t best too pleased.

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Pre-Beeching Closures Before Nationalisation

Prior to Beeching, a fair number of our lines were products of the Railway Mania during the 1840s. Within our area, a sizeable number of lines were closed to passenger use prior to 1963.

The first station closure in our area was Ashton Moss’ in 1862 (a year after opening). Today, the site of that station is close to a timber yard and housing estate. The line from Ashton Moss signal box to Denton Junction is still in use for goods trains, diversions and empty rolling stock movements. After a 151 year gap, Ashton Moss will have a rail connection again, this time in the form of Metrolink’s East Manchester Line.

Next to close was Micklehurst’s railway station. Opened in 1885 along with Staley and Millbrook, Friezland and Uppermill stations, it had a short life as a passenger station. They were on the London and North Western Railway’s Micklehurst Loop Line of 1885, built for goods traffic. It closed on the 01 May 1907. Access to platforms were available by means of a ramp from street level, with the brick building at street level. Staley and Milbrook station followed suit on the All Saints’ Day [01 November] of 1909. Uppermill and Friezland stations closed on New Year’s Day, 1917.

All four stations lacked sufficient traffic as all four of them were in rural settings. It was some fifty years before Micklehurst expanded thanks to municipal housing on Winterford Road. Staley and Millbrook could have had potential to serve Heyrod as well as Millbrook, but road access was inadequate. Therefore, the line from Stalybridge to Diggle remained in use as a goods line till 1966. A section between Stalybridge and Millbrook was retained for Hartshead Power Station till 1975.

In addition to today’s lines from Stalybridge to Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations, there was a third line to Denton Junction, avoiding the busy Guide Bridge station. The Stalybridge Junction Railway opened in 1882 with two stations: Dukinfield and Ashton, and Hooley Hill. The latter closed in 1917, only to reopen in 1921 before closing in 1950.

Before nationalisation, the Rochdale to Bacup line lost its passenger services. On the 16 June 1947, Wardleworth, Shawclough and Healey, Broadley, Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth stations closed. Britannia, built to serve a nearby mill, closed on the 02 April 1917 as an economy measure. Shawclough and Healey suffered a similar fate, though reopened in July 1920.

Pre-Beeching Closures After Nationalisation

Weary from the Second World War, Britain’s railways were in a right state. The track was worn out, some stations were dilapidated, and rolling stock was past its best. On the 01 January 1948, the Big Four Companies formed after the 1923 Grouping were nationalised and became ‘British Railways’. Part of the British Transport Commission, the railways became accountable to its passengers and the Treasury. In its first few years, steam still ruled, and the changes were only in name. Economies still had to be made, with the 1950s seeing the closure of some stations.

In 1950, the Stalybridge Junction Railway saw the closure of Hooley Hill and Dukinfield and Ashton railway stations. The latter was accessed at street level from Cooper Street, and its closure may well have been owing to Dukinfield Central being nearby.

Most of our area’s pre-Beeching closures took place between 1955 and 1960. The Delph Donkey branch from Delph to Moorgate closed to passengers on the 02 May 1955. On the line from Greenfield to Oldham (Glodwick Road), Grasscroft, Grotton and Springhead, Lees, and Oldham Glodwick Road stations followed suit. Competition from road transport hastened the demise, particularly Oldham Corporation Transport/North Western Road Car Company’s limited stop bus routes 10, 13 and 14. Lees was also well served by buses to Hollinwood and Oldham town centre.

Road competition also saw to the running down of and eventual closure of the Holcombe Brook line which opened in 1882. Before the Second World War, it was a testbed for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s electrification schemes. In 1912, it experimented with Dick, Kerr and Co.’s 3,5kV d.c. overhead line system. Five years on, it was converted to third rail electrification, in line with the Bury Bolton Street to Manchester Victoria service. After reverting to steam, all of its stations closed to passengers on the 05 May 1952, with the Holcombe Brook – Tottington section closing for good in 1960. The Tottington to Bury line closed in 1963.

In spite of closure to passengers in 1959, the Oldham, Ashton and Guide Bridge Railway faired better than Holcombe Brook’s line in terms of goods. Till its final closure in 1967, it was a route for parcels trains from Oldham Clegg Street parcels depot. The passenger service succumbed to the 9 and 36 bus routes (forming today’s 409 route), which ran parallel between Oldham and Ashton. The 04 May 1959 saw the closure of Oldham Clegg Street, Park Bridge and Ashton (Oldham Road) railway stations. Oldham Clegg Street was a commodious railway station almost as opulent as Oldham Mumps, yet lacked its brethren’s trains. Oldham Central was next door with its tracks continuing to Manchester via Hollinwood or Middleton Junction.

Park Bridge railway station served the iron works as well as the village. Following the station’s closure in 1959, its replacement service was an infrequent weekdays bus to Ashton-under-Lyne. Operated by Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation, it continued till the start of bus deregulation (by then, Greater Manchester Transport’s route number was ‘336’). Nowadays, Park Bridge can only be ventured by car or on foot after alighting at the River Medlock bridge on the 396, 409 and 419 bus routes.

Ashton Oldham Road was probably a lost opportunity, stymied by its tight junction layout. Potentially, it could have been a decent junction for Oldham and Stockport trains as well as Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria trains. Furthermore, there could have been scope for bus/rail interchange facilities (with Ashton Charlestown closing instead), though in 1959, it was a little out of the town to permit such facility.

At the other end of Ashton, Park Parade station too, was another missed opportunity. It was ideal for the main shopping street at the time [Stamford Street], and at one point, boasted an overall roof. The 05 November 1956 saw its closure. Three years on, Dukinfield Central railway station followed suit. Its station was more convenient for workers and too far to be of any use for residents on the then newly expanded housing on Armadale Road, Boyd’s Walk, Barlow Road and Inverness Road, served by SHMD’s 10 and 10A bus routes.

Till The Reshaping of British Railways, the Stockport area faired better, but rationalisation reared its ugly head on the South District Railway’s local services. Heaton Mersey, Withington and Albert Park stations closed in 1961 whilst Didsbury station remained open till 1967. The section between Manchester Central Station and Heaton Mersey was in use by express trains, mainly the Midland Pullman which traversed the Buxton to Matlock line. This followed the closure of the Fallowfield Loop to local services where Wilbraham Road, Fallowfield, Levenshulme South and Hyde Road stations closed on the 07 July 1958. The line remained in use for goods trains and Woodhead Line stock movements from Reddish depot.

Though Stockport saw the closure of two stations after nationalisation (including the 1959 closure of Heaton Norris station), worse was to come after Doctor Richard Beeching’s report.

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Part Two: The Axemen Cometh (1963 – 1970)

In our second part, we shall focus on the railway stations and the lines which closed in our area. This part will detail the closures that followed immediately after the 1963 report. Also detailed will be the lines which were slated for closure yet survived.

S.V., 25 March 2013.

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9 thoughts on “The Reshaping of our Railways: 1. Before Beeching

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  1. Droylsden was once a four-platform junction station with the other line accessing Denton and onwards towards Stockport.. You may possibly feature this in a future episode.

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    1. Hi Richard,

      I doubt as if that is likely to happen; the next nearest option is the 217 bus (218 on return to Stalybridge), alighting at The Sun Inn. They probably closed it as it was too close to Guide Bridge. Supposing there was still a station at Hooley Hill – or even a decent Stockport to Stalybridge service via Guide Bridge – it would be a better alternative to the bus to Stalybridge, or a change of bus in Dukinfield for the 330 to Stockport.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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    1. Hi Ady,

      Thank you for your comments. From midnight tomorrow night, the second part [The Axemen Cameth] will be up. This will focus on the Beeching era closures which affected the area east of the M60 motorway. Suffice to say, this will be neatly timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of The Reshaping of British Railways’ publication.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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  2. I live above the old tunnel on mount pleasent street and was wondering why my flat kept shaking! Haha! Didn’t even know it was right underneath me or Hooley hill station was outside my front door!

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