History of Preston Docks *Revised*


The long use of the River Ribble as a means of trade and transport is illustrated by the remains of the Bronze Age canoe and artifacts, excavated by the Dock construction in the 1880’s and on display in Preston’s Harris Museum.  In the twelfth century, a “Portmote” or court met at regular intervals to give judgement on matters relating to the operation of the Harbour: in the seventeenth century, the silting of the River was causing problems of navigation to larger vessels. However, it was to be the rapid expans ion of the cotton industry that provided the impetus for the development of the Port, with the organised movement of raw material and manufactured goods in bulk being essential to the new industrial age.

The First Ribble Navigation Company (1806-1838) was primarily concerned with the reclamation of estuary land by the straightening and fixing of the meandering River within the training walls.

The Second Ribble Navigation Company (1838-1853) continued this work, and by 1880 some 1100 acres of land had been reclaimed: during this period the new quays, later called the Victoria Quays, were established at the bottom of Marsh Lane, and the extent of the Port legally defined by the Customs and Excise.

The Third Ribble Navigation Company (1853-1883) continued the improvement of the River channel to keep pace with the development in the size of ships.  The company realised the requirement for heavy investment as early as 1861 with the proposal for a Dock basin, and following lengthy negotiations, the Ribble Navigation and Preston Dock Act of 1883 passed the undertaking to the Preston Corporation, and authorised the construction of the present Dock. This Act also authorised the diversion of the River approximately from the modern Penwortham by-pass bridge west towards Penwortham Marsh, to create an area for the Dock Basin astride the former river channel toward Water Lane. Construction work began in 1884, with the foundation stone of the Dock Basin laid in July 1885: the construction period was protracted, with the need to return to the House of Lords on occasions to increase the borrowing powers of the Corporation to meet the ambitious plans prepared by the Engineer, Edward Garlick.  During the construction period all shipping was handled at the “Diversion Quay” built at the east end of the new river channel.

The Official Opening of the dock was carried out on Saturday 25th June 1892 by Prince Albert, Duke of Edinburgh and the second son of Queen Victoria, with appropriate ceremony. The Basin, at 3000 feet long by 600 feet wide was the largest single dock in Europe, a tribute to the Victorian age and enterprise.  The first ship, the SS Lady Louise, under charter to the grocers, E.H. Booth & Co. Ltd. discharged its cargo of port later on the same day. At the time of opening the Dock had few facilities, but gradually these were developed to include a variety of warehouses, the Hydraulic Power House and a hospital.  The railway link to the main line was soon completed.  Early development of trade concentrated on foreign markets with considerable success, 4 vessels only being unloaded in 1892, rising to 170 in 1900. The Dock handled a wide variety of general cargoes – timber, bananas, china clay, wheat, cattle, coal and cotton products being prominent in the returns.  The facilities on the quays were developed to match the rising trade, but the difficult maintenance of a clear channel down the Ribble to the sea remained a constraint, limiting the size of vessels and requiring constant dredging.  There was also a demand for leisure traffic, with several paddle steamers offering day trips to Blackpool, North Wales and the Isle of Man. Cargoes continued to diversify with the establishment of the oil storage tanks at the west end of the Dock in 1914: the First World War saw the manufacture and export of munitions, but generated a decline in trade which never fully recovered in the inter-War period.

After the Second World War the Dock pioneered the roll-on, roll-off ferry service for road lorries with regular sailing’s to Larne in Northern Ireland.  At first surplus tank-landing craft were used, but in 1957 a purpose-build vessel “Bardic Ferry” took over the service with three return sailing’s a week. The expansion of this trade and the return of general traffic created an improvement in the accounts: the period 1960-1972 was the busiest in the Dock’s history. However, the Dockers Strikes of 1969 and 1970 deterred much of the Ports foreign traffic and a change in shipping types to an emphasis on size and speed clearly affected general trade. The continued dredging of the River could not keep pace with these developments and absorbed much of the profits in 1975-76 for example, 45% of income was used to keep the channel clear. The combination of such rising costs and the decline in trade effectively closed the Port on the grounds of economic viability: the last vessel, appropriately a dredger “Hoveringham V”, left the Dock on 22nd October 1981.

The Port was formally closed by the Preston Dock Closure Act of 31st October 1981, creating a large scale development site of 383 acres close to the Town Centre.




A report to the then Preston Borough Council in September 1979 advised that there was no prospect for operating the Port at a profit; it was resolved that the Port should be closed and the area redeveloped. The Port formally closed on 31st October 1981.

The Central Lancashire Development Corporation carried out a preliminary study into the potential of the land.  Their study “Preston Dock Redevelopment – Summary Reports” (1980) proposed a mixed redevelopment strategy in broad terms, and identified the principle constraints to the project – pollution of water and land, old landfill sites, inadequacy of flood defences, exposure and lack of infrastructure.  The resulting high costs of clearance and reclamation necessitated a partnership approach between the Local Authority and private enterprise, backed by central government funds in terms of Derelict Land Grants. The process thus began with Council inviting bids from consortia of design and development consultants to produce detailed proposals for the redevelopment. Due to the complexity of the problem, this course of action was protracted and it was not until 1985 that the chosen plan, by Holder Mathias (Architects) and Balfour Beatty developments, was accepted by the Council. The general principle of the development strategy was that the clearance, reclamation and infrastructure works would proceed immediately (with the assistance of Derelict Land Grant funding), to open up the former Docklands and attract investment from the private sector in terms of individual site redevelopment.  As part of their agreement Balfour Beatty retained the development rights on the prime waterfront area north and east of the dock basin, in return for the funding of road infrastructure projects. Certain major elements of infrastructure were required regardless of the detail of the chosen Development Plan.  The railway system serving the Docks ran along the north side of the basin, effectively disrupting valuable development sites: a new line was therefore constructed along the bank of the Ribble, on the edge of the development. The alignment required a swing bridge crossing to the entrance channel, which was combined with the roadway to minimise costs and land-take, after which the new route joined up with the existing sidings serving Lancashire Tar and Petrofina (who still relied on rail transport for raw materials).


Further sidings were constructed to cater for a projected expansion of traffic, together with a new Engine Shed and Workshops for the storage of equipment and engines; these railway works were completed in four contracts between 1982 and 1987. A new Control Building, sited adjacent to the Swing Bridge was completed in 1985; the building is the operations centre for the Dock Railway and the lock gate/entrance system, and contains offices of the Docklands Manager, replacing the former Dock Office on Watery Lane. Almost as if to emphasise the dangers of construction in such a low-lying area the Dock estate was flooded in 1977 by a combination of high river levels and westerly winds blowing a high tide in to the estuary. To protect the development from further occurrences flood banks were built along the river edge to a level of 8m AOD.  At the river entrance a pair of former lock gates, removed from the swing bridge area were repositioned outside the lock gates at a higher level, to be closed against the river flood as a storm gate to continue the protection across the channel.  This work was completed in two stages between 1982 and 1985, and involved the refurbishment of all the gates and the installation of a new operating system.


During this time redundant buildings and machinery were demolished gradually removing the Port functions and leaving the area open for redevelopment. Four buildings were retained for re-use, – Shed No.3 on the south side (redeveloped for residential use as “Victoria Mansions”), the Customs House on the Dock Road, the office of Transport Ferry Service at Pedders Way and the original Pump House building adjacent to the Tidal Basin: the last two were subsequently demolished to make way for more modern office developments. To suit the new image the area was renamed “Riversway” in 1985; the name arising from the fact that most of the development occupies the former course of the River prior to diversion to create the Dock in 1884.

A further essential element of work in this early phase of reclamation was the removal of land contaminated by former industrial use. The most cost-effective solution was to create a purpose-made disposal area, licensed by the Waste Disposal Authority, sited on the riverbank  west of the main development. The contaminated soils are sealed in clay lined cells, with the site scheduled for future development as playing fields or parkland. Development of the infrastructure works continued 1985-1992 with the construction of the new road system and services to open up the development sites: this was generally done working from east to west, allowing the eastern sites to be developed first along with the Morrisons Superstore on the north side of the Dock Basin.  The last major infrastructure project was the Chain Caul Way Contract, completed in 1992 and opening up the industrial zone in the west.


Whilst development of land steadily continued, development of water activity was restricted to the construction of the Marina pontoons to allow the mooring of pleasure boats. Further development of the marina is the responsibility of Preston Marine Services, which operates independently of the City Council. A Marina Building was constructed in 1989 opposite the Dock Control Building. General use of the dock basin, however, is restricted by the lack of investment in a Water Sports Centre, this being an expensive item to construct in view of the high dock walls and the consequent difficulty of providing appropriate launching facilities: there is also a degree of concern over the quality of the dock water.

From October 1982 the former Isle of Man passenger vessel “Manxman” was moored at the East End of the Dock and developed as a floating nightclub and restaurant. When the lease on the berth expired in 1990 the vessel was towed down to Liverpool in November of that year. Various trawlers, tug “Whisky Warrior” and the Scottish “Puffer” VIC 80 which is undergoing refurbishment, are berthed in the half tide basin adjacent to the boatyard.

An early study in 1986 by Sir William Halcrow & Partners has considered the feasibility of construction a weir across the Ribble to raise water levels for amenity and recreation purposes.  The chos en site was just upstream of the Bullnose, with the possibility of a connecting waterway into the Tidal Basins. The high cost (7.4m) and the limited financial returns made the project un-viable and the idea was shelved. One further partnership with the private sector began in 1989 when the Council organized a limited competition for the architect/developer teams to construct the residential areas on the south side of the Dock. The competition was won by the team of Brock Carmichael Associated, local architects, with the firm Lovell Urban Renewal and Salford Quays. Construction of the distinctive housing began in 1990, but after completion of the first phase the project was shelved due to the general recession in the housing market. The work was finally completed in 1995 by a subsidiary company, Lovell Housing, working to a much modified version of the original concept to suit the relevant market. Conversion of the former Shed No. 3 into Victoria Mansions was carried out by a Preston Company Tustin Developments, who also constructed the houses and flats immediately adjacent. Residential development recommenced in 1997 with Wainhomes constructing 72 houses at the land south of the half tide basin and Newfield Jones building flats and houses on the last piece of land on the south side of the main dock basin east of Victoria Mansions..


During the course of the redevelopment the Dock Railway, which had been in continuous operation since 1846, continued to receive up to nine trains a week, delivering petrol to Petrofina on Chain Caul Road, and tar to Lancashire Tar Distillers on Chain Caul Way. However, in 1992 the traffic to Petrofina ceased and the storage tanks were demolished, leaving three trains per week to serve Lancashire Tar Distillers. This traffic ceased in 1995 when the company switched to road transport as part of a reorganisation, which also saw the construction of new offices and facilities to improve the image of the last remaining Port of Preston industry. Attempts to attract rail-based industries to vacant sites have not met with success. However, interest in using the line for leisure which had been shown by the Steamport Railway Society, formerly based in Southport, has culminated in a major land purchase and re-location of the Railway Society to Riversway. Renamed the Ribble Steam Railway the Society have buildt a new rail-connected museum, running shed, and repair shop on land off Chain Caul Road. Passengers are able to ride on Steam or Diesel powered trains on a 1½ mile long stretch of track.  The industrial Heritage Railway opened to the public in September 2007.


In the period since the Port Closure in 1981 the Riversway development has progressed steadily during varying national economic conditions. The pleasant waterside environment, ease of access and parking have been major factors in attracting new firms and seeing re-location of established local business. Well over 2000 jobs have been created. This success story means that most sites are now occupied. Riversway with its varying modern waterfront architecture is now established as a distinctive quarter of Preston. During the 1992 Guild celebrations, Riversway played a major role. From 1995 – 1999 Riversway has hosted its own annual Maritime Festival bringing thousands of visitors to the area, in turn raising the profile and public awareness of the development. Further development opportunities remain, particularly to the west of Riversway, where the area known as “Riversway West” lies on land owed partly by the Borough Council and by the Government Agency, English Partnerships. Work started on this section of the development in 1997 with the demolition of a former wartime fuel storage facility. Following the demolition, construction of the Riversway Motor Park, a complex of five motor trade showrooms was commenced in 1998 by Marcus Worthington & Co.

The development scheme included for a walkway around the dock basin with links to a footpath running along the riverbank which itself is part of both the Round Preston Walk and the longer Lancashire Coastal Footpath. Both the walkway and riverside paths are suitable for wheelchair access. The provision of seating at various locations and the facilities available for both light and alcoholic refreshment around the Dock, help to provide a pleasant area from which non-water users may view those undertaking the various water based activities. The provision of restaurant facilities at a number of outlets together with the siting of a multi-screen cinema adjacent to the dock attracts many customers who use the Dockside Walk during their visits. The Dockside Walkway is fully railed at its junction with the Dock Wall in accordance with R.O.S.P.A. recommendation with lifebouys being stationed at 100m intervals along the walkway. Nautical features linking with the Docks Maritime History are placed at strategic locations adjacent to the walkway and at other locations within the estate. The former port’s ‘Nelson’ safe water landfall buoys previously moored where the Ribble Estuary met the Irish Sea off St. Annes provide the centrepiece of large features at the Portway and Pedders Way entrances to the estate. In their current locations they mark the original course of the river Ribble prior to its diversion to allow for the construction of the Docks.


An off road motor sport park, which has comprehensive training facilities, vehicle hire, cafeteria, bike sales, changing rooms, showers etc. has also been established on the Riversway West site and is located at the end of Wallend Road which is off Nelson Way. Other uses of a recreational nature are envisaged for the area known as Riversway Park with the possibility of a future extension of the Ribble Steam Railway through the area of Savick Brook. The extreme west of the site abuts the low-lying area of Lea Marsh. This is bounded by a watercourse known as Savick Brook, whic h joins the River Ribble to the south of the site. An exciting new development, the Millennium Ribble Link, a new canal joining the River Ribble with the Lancaster Canal using the course of Savick Brook was started in 2002. This enables the Lancaster Canal to be accessed from the main countrywide canal system, via the rivers Douglas and Ribble, for the first time since it was built in the 1790’s. The corridor created by the development will be of benefit to Wild Life enthusiasts, walkers, anglers, boaters and the local tourist industry.  The footpath accessing this development passes through the “Riversway West” site. The potential remains for further commercial development and recreational use on the Riversway West site.

The closure in 1981 of the Port of Preston gave the then Borough Council the opportunity to redevelop the 450 acre estate. The development strategy included provision for the leisure use of the 45 acres of water forming the Albert Edward Dock.  From 1982 until 1990 the former Isle of Man passenger vessel “Manxman” was moored at the east end of the Dock and developed as a night-club/restaurant. In 1982 a small rally of inland waterway craft took place which led in 1985 to the start of annual rallies of up to 100 craft in support of the campaign to have the Ribble Link, a new length of canal from the River Ribble to the Lancaster Canal, constructed. 1983 saw an “Aquaganza” event staged in and around the Dock in order to promote the possibilities for development. By 1987 a Marina Operator had been appointed and with the provision of buoy moorings the use of the Dock as a Marina commenced. In 1988/89 the construction of the Marina building and installation of pontoon berths for 75 craft protected by a wave attenuator took place. Boat yard facilities and a chandlery were provided by the Marina Operator in 1989. Additional pontoon berths were installed in 1991 (26) and 1992 (24) the latter to ensure adequate berthing for craft expected to visit during the 1992 Preston Guild Celebrations. The success of the festival type activities which took place at the Aquaganza and the 1992 Guild celebrations led in 1995 to the start of an annual series of Maritime Festivals. The water in the Dock is maintained to a level within a 2 metre range by staff of Preston City Council, who operate the lock gates and swing bridge, to permit the passage of craft to and from the Marina and river.  Topping up water is obtained from the River Ribble on spring tides. The water is of a quality not currently deemed suitable for water contact sports, due to the presence of Blue Green Algae. However within the restrictions that this creates, many varied activities have taken place.  In addition to visits by large sailing ships, historic vessels and craft of the Ocean Youth Club the following have utilised the Dock waters. During the 1992 Guild Celebrations the theatre ship M. V. Fitzcaraldo and its company performed. Keel boat racing by International Olympic Soling Class Yachts. The match racing style of this event provides spectacular viewing for non-participants. Annual regattas for pulling boats staged by the Sea Cadet Corps. Royal Yachting Association sponsored “Try a boat” weekends. Royal National Lifeboat Institution boat naming ceremonies. Firework displays from floating platforms. Minor fishing competitions.  (Fishing also takes place in the River and the Dock entrance) Sailing of radio controlled model ships and yachts, Displays by historic diving group, Displays of distress and rescue at sea, Craft of the marina also utilise the open area of dock water for both general sailing and engine trial purposes.

The dock basin is also home to a variety of bird wildlife with ducks, cootes and cormorants in residence.  Swans and various gulls spend time on the dock and herons may be seen feeding in the adjacent river. Fish inhabiting the dock include eels and flounder. Freshwater species such as Roach, Chub and Bream have been caught, as have Sea Trout and Salmon. If and when improvements are made to the water quality the development allows for the provision of a Water Activities Centre which is anticipated could house a sailing school together with facilities for canoeing, rowing and similar activities.



Industrial Railways


Ever since mankind settled in one place there has been a need to move large objects such as stone or wood for building, or later to move commodities, for example coal, or ironstone, in bulk, sometimes over long distances. Naturally the wheel, the horse drawn cart, and the boat, played an important part in transportation across land, and via rivers and waterways.

It is known from old manuscripts and prints from the 16th century that in Germany metal miners used crude wagons pulled by men or horses to bring ore to the surface, and when coal began to become exploited for its mineral value, then improved methods of transport became essential for this bulky commodity. Wooden tramways were known in Elizabethan times; simple wagons based on carts ran on crude timber rails. Increasing demand lead to further experiment, and in 1804 Trevithick’s locomotive ran on cast iron rails on the industrial tram road at Penydarran in South Wales. In 1813 Hedley’s “Puffing Billy” was in use at a colliery at Wylam in Northumberland. As he watched these engines at work George Stephenson was inspired to develop the locomotive to move increasing loads over longer distances reliably. Others pioneered steam, George Stephenson made it work; with his son Robert he laid the foundations of practical rail transport.

By displacing horse-drawn transport and the canal the industrial railway was the parent of the freight and passenger carrying trains we know today.



During the 19th century the pace of development of industry, commerce, mechanisation, and exports increased rapidly. The aim of Victorian entrepreneurs was to move goods at a profit; main line railways were built by private companies, and during that century the railways of Britain replaced the canals and developed into a interconnected network of main lines joining towns and cities, and branch lines connecting the sidings of factories and works to the main network. The notion of passenger transport was secondary to the profit of moving goods to market. Britain became “the workshop of the world.” At the end of the 19th century when Britain’s railways were at their greatest extent it is said that nowhere in the whole of the mainland of the British Isles was more than 18 miles from a railway line.

Ribble Steam Railway has a locomotive collection based on the industrial locos which worked in the sidings of factories, warehouses, and docks, usually away from the public eye.  The locos on display in the museum and those in steam were developed to work as economically and as efficiently as possible, just as their more distinguished passenger brethren were built for speed and style. Many of the locos had very long working lives, for example those made by Barclays of Kilmarnock and Hunslet at Leeds. Thousands were made both for the home and overseas markets. Many can still be steamed and perform useful work nearly 100 years after they were made, although most of the mechanical working parts will have been renewed or replaced over time.



The development of industrial railways generally followed that of the main lines. Larger, heavier, more economical locos appeared, together with many adapted by the makers for specific purposes or locations. The first flame-free fireless design for industrial use was produced by Borsig of Berlin in 1901 and quickly copied. Electric locos appeared in the early years of the 20th century, and the first practical diesel shunters in the 1930s.

Some industrial complexes were very large. For example the railway at the Beckton Gas Works in east London, which supplied gas to the Greater London area, had 70 miles of tracks in 360 acres, its own signalling system, 34 locos, and 1000 privately owned wagons to cope with the enormous input of coal to produce town gas. Closer to home the Manchester Ship Canal Co had an extensive network to service and maintain the canal; in Preston the Preston Dock Co had 28 miles of tracks and up to 8 locomotives in operation.


Unseen and uncelebrated industrial locomotives spent unglamorous years trundling up and down pushing or pulling wagons, making up outgoing, or dividing down incoming trains, or just standing about waiting to be told about the next job. They were usually quite well maintained, mostly by the driver and fireman; their crews often took great pride in their appearance, although the occasional neglected loco that was allowed to run down was, and is, a sorry spectacle. A 1989 survey revealed 11 steam locos still at work in private industry; 7 Barclays – one fireless, 1 Hunslet, 1 Peckett, and 2 by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns. The fireless Barclay was built in 1917. A tribute to good design and sound workmanship; we hear more than 100 examples of locos from this famous Scottish maker are in preservation today. Engine makers were proud of their locos and often attached handsome works plates to the cab sides to proclaim their origin.


Just as important as the locos that moved them were the goods wagons and vans that earned the revenue to keep industry in business. The first crude wagons were modelled on horse-drawn carts; these were replaced over time by higher capacity wagons when steam loco power replaced the horse. For many years the industrial scene was dominated by the 4 wheeled wagon, built of timber on a timber or steel frame and with a carrying capacity of 10-12 tons. As demand increased wagons became larger and heavier to carry greater loads and specialised wagons were developed for specific purposes, for example the bottom discharge hopper wagons which can be seen on our sidings. Plain grease lubricated axle bearings gave way to oil-filled boxes, and to roller bearings in the most sophisticated wagons. Simple hand applied brakes on each individual wagon became compulsory after 1887, but, incredibly, continuous train brakes applied from the loco were not generally adopted until after 1948 – hence the guard’s brake van.

Produced for Visitors To The Museum, Ribble Steam Railway.

Prototype Deltic at RSR

The prototype Deltic arrived at RSR on 9th August 2012.
She has kindly been loaned by the NRM and will remain at the railway for the 2013 season.
The most adventurous of the early UK diesel prototypes was Deltic, designed and built by English Electric (Dick Kerr) and loaned to BR for operational testing. At the time of its design, the EE company had considerable hopes in the export field, hence the fitting of a large nose headlight, but alas this was not to be. The prime mover incorporated was two D. Napier & Son ‘Deltic’ D18-25 opposed piston engines, each developing 1,650hp.
Click to enlarge
The bodyshell, incorporating the two ‘Deltic’ engines was constructed by EE at the Dick Kerr Works in Preston in early 1955, being ready for testing in October. During construction some deliberation was made over a number or name for the machine; these ranged from DP1 (Diesel Prototype 1) to Enterprise. However, when the loco emerged it carried the name given to its prime mover, Deltic. After acceptance tests Deltic was allocated to Liverpool Edge Hill depot, from where it commenced work on December 13, 1955 on Euston services. After a short time, engine problems befell the loco, which was returned to EE for attention.
During mid-1956 the loco was temporarily reallocated to Carlisle Durran shed from where trials with BR test vehicles were conducted over the arduous Settle route. By Autumn the loco was returned to Liverpool, again working on Euston services such as the “Merseyside Express” or the “Shamrock”. From early 1959 Deltic was transferred to Hornsey on the ER, from where ER (GN) trials were undertaken, although not totally successfully. On one occasion the locomotive hit the platform edge at Manors near Newcastle, and on another it lost its cab footsteps at Darlington. By March 1959 high speed performance tests were carried out on the ECML, which involved operations at up to 105mph with a BR dynamometer car. Until June 1959 Deltic had always operated south of the border, but late in the month five days of testing were carried out in the Edinburgh area and over the Waverley route.
By July 1959 most testing was complete and Deltic was diagrammed for general ECML work alongside the East Coast racehorses—the A4 Pacifics. In March 1961 a serious engine failure befell Deltic and it was returned to English Electric’s Vulcan Foundry and stored pending a decision on its future. A proposal was made in September 1961 to modify Deltic for operation in Canada in an attempt to attract overseas sales but the idea was not pursued. Under BR operating the locomotive had covered over 450,000 miles.
Deltic remained at Vulcan Foundry until 1963, when a decision was made to restore its bodywork and present the loco, non-operational, to the Science Museum in London, where it arrived on April 28, 1963 on the back of a road low loader. The loco remained in the Science Museum until a re-design required it to be found another home. In October 1993 Deltic was lifted from its bogies, removed from the Science Museum hall and taken by road to the National Railway Museum, York, where it was put on display.
For its entire working life on BR, the loco was painted in a distinctive powder blue livery with aluminium mouldings with yellow ‘whisker’ markings on the ends.
The Deltic name comes from the triangular cylinder arrangement of the diesel engine which was developed from a Napier marine engine.

“DELTIC suffered a severe oil leak on November 24, 1960 and was dispatched back to the Vulcan Foundry, Newton-le-willows, where it stayed until it was officially withdrawn in March 1961, by which time the production locomotives were only just emerging.

These links to other pages on the Napier Chronicles web site give more information regarding:

DELTIC, prototype

other Deltic locomotives



The powerful and impressive BR DP1 Deltic evokes the UK’s glorious railway heritage. The amalgamation of engine manufacturer, Napier & Sons, and locomotive builder English Electric in 1942 opened up the potential to use the powerful Napier Deltic diesel engine in mainline locomotives. In the mid-1950s, English Electric produced a demonstration locomotive, officially numbered ‘DP1’, using the Deltic engine, which was to be the forerunner of the well-known ‘Deltic’ class of locomotives. The DP1 had a particular American feel, with its high sides and streamlined styling, made more prominent by its sleek livery, long aluminium beading, high cab windows and large nose headlight, fitted for effect rather than practicality. Two 18 cylinder Deltic engines were fitted, giving 3,300 horsepower (2,500 kW) in total and a top speed of 90mph. The DP1 was demonstrated and tested on the Settle-Carlisle line before entering service as a main line locomotive alongside its sister Class 55 ‘Deltics’, although these lacked DP1’s distinctive look. As a main line locomotive, DP1 had a relatively short working life, being retired in March 1961 after a major engine failure, but easily serving its purpose to demonstrate the Deltic’s power and prowess. Two years later, in 1963, DP1 was donated to the Science Museum in London and is now on display at the Ribble Steam Railway’s Museum in Preston, approximately one mile from where the locomotive was built.

Returning to the English Electric Co’s 3,300hp prototype, it was originally intended to call it Enterprise, but the name was dropped when it was found that Hudswell Clarke of Leeds had a range of locomotives bearing the same name. As a result, the EE Co prototype became known as Deltic, derived from the ‘V’ shape of the engine resembling that of the inverted Greek letter ‘Delta’. Working from Edge Hill shed, the Deltic’s first assignment in revenue-earning service involved running-in turns on overnight freights between Liverpool and London. This was followed with regular trips on the 10.10am up ‘Merseyside Express’ and the 16.15 return ‘Shamrock’ from Euston. Here the prototype waits to depart from Liverpool Lime Street on its inaugural run on 13th December 1955. In wintry conditions Deltic works the return 16.15 Euston-Liverpool ‘Shamrock’ express just north of Stafford.

Unofficially designated DP1 – ‘Diesel Prototype One’ – the English Electric Co 3,300hp Co-Co ‘Deltic’ diesel prototype was sponsored by the company in order to assess their marine Napier-Deltic engine in rail use. The widespread use of alloy in its construction led to a comparatively lightweight high rpm diesel engine which could be mounted on a Co-Co wheelbase. Following a spell of duty on the LMR’s WCML service between Euston and Liverpool, Deltic was transferred to the East Coast Main Line based at Hornsey. The Eastern Region immediately recognised its full potential, for having been denied ECML electrification the operating department was in urgent need of a more powerful diesel to substitute its earlier and less powerful EE Co Type 4 fleet.

Volunteer At RSR

Ribble Steam Railway houses a collection of treasures, including many priceless people. Due to year on year growth, this popular Preston attraction is now looking for people with new skills to join their enthusiastic volunteer team, in time for the 2013 season.

During 2012, the popular family visitor attraction welcomed an extra 4588 people (a 30 % growth on visitor figures for 2011).  To keep pace with this staggering growth, Ribble Steam Railway is looking for more volunteers to help with their café, shop and museum. They are calling out for enthusiastic volunteers, of all ages, to bring their ideas, experience and skills to make their attraction the best it can be. People with the time, energy and the “know how” in catering, retail or customer services, who can spare at least 2 days or 4 half days per month.

“As we grow and expand, planning for our future, we have realised we need new volunteers, with different skills in visitor services, to develop an even more enjoyable visitor experience. People volunteer with us for lots of different reasons- to share their skills, or build new ones, as a route to employment or to make new friends. Whatever your reason, we look forward to meeting you.” Dave Watkins, Chairman Ribble Steam Railway

Volunteers are extremely important to create, and deliver the inspiring “hands on” Ribble Steam experience. Shop volunteers are often the first point of contact at the attraction, offering a warm, friendly welcome. They keep customers happy, selling them their entrance tickets for the museum and trains-rides, and adding that extra sparkle to the shopping experience. Café Volunteers help organise and run the café, keeping “rumbling tummies” at bay, preparing, presenting and serving food to a high standard, while visitors take a break. Museum volunteers meet, greet and guide visitors from the young to the elderly. Again with a warm and friendly disposition they will enjoy sharing interesting, engaging, and fun facts about the museum, people and its history, whilst always showing care and consideration for people, museum and displays.

A working museum, the Ribble Steam Railway volunteering teams create a safe, enjoyable space for all to relax, learn and have fun. All volunteering roles are suitable for young people, needing work experience, or more mature people, who enjoy working with the general public, and particularly with families.

On the waterfront

The Ribble Steam Railway has been based in Preston for a while now and as Chris Mills finds out, there’s a lot to do and see on this fascinating heritage line…

With so many heritage attractions in Britain, it would be easy to overlook the Ribble Steam Railway. After all, it’s only one and a half miles in length, is tucked away on redeveloped land in Preston and runs to nowhere in particular. However, this does it a real disservice as it packs a punch in a very short space.

For starters, it’s got to be the only preserved line that has to cross a fully operational swing bridge, leading to the timetable occasionally being governed by the tide! There is also a large museum housing an impressive collection of industrial locomotives, and a workshop so well equipped it would be the envy of many larger lines. The Ribble Steam Railway is run entirely by volunteers with just a full time curator in its employ and has been open to the public for only a short seven years.

The first line to reach the site of Preston Dock was in 1846 and served Victoria Quay on the River Ribble. In 1882 Preston Corporation acquired the navigation intending to develop Preston into a much larger port. The river was diverted, the old alignment being used to construct the Albert Edward Dock, named after Queen Victoria’s husband, which opened in 1892. The river is tidal only for a few miles beyond Preston, so it would fluctuate greatly in depth and require constant dredging. Tides at Lytham vary from 20 to 30 feet and Preston is some 9 miles upstream so at high tide there is deep water and dredging enabled fairly large ships to reach Preston. People spoke of the ships that appeared to be crossing fields as they passed Freckleton Marsh. At the time of construction, it was the largest single basin dock in the world.

During the construction of Preston Dock, a major archaeological legacy came from deep beneath the surface of the river bed yielding evidence of the wildlife and artefacts that existed pre-history. A ‘head count’ of severed skulls comprised of 30 human skulls, over 100 skulls of red deer; several now extinct wild ox; two pilot whale skulls, a Bronze spear head and two dug-out canoes. This collection has been immortalised in The Harris Museum at Preston. Research findings indicate that this material has probably accumulated since the time of the Bronze Age and the exact reason for its deposition at this point has yet to be ascertained.

In the busiest period immediately after WWII there were 28 miles of railway to serve the one and a half miles of quays. The chief articles imported were wood pulp, timber, petroleum, macadam, grain, china clay and iron whilst coal was easily the largest of the exports. It is noteworthy that many vessels which arrived with cargoes were compelled to leave light as Preston did not become a large exporting centre. Unfortunately the entire 16 miles of the river between the dock and the open sea silted up and the cost of dredging the channel far outweighed the profits made by the dock rates, the dock finally closing in 1979.

Preston dock site was thoroughly redeveloped in the 1980’s and little remains of the once extensive warehousing. The original railway line serving the tar and oil refineries was used for a new road and a new line was built more or less following the river course and crossing the dock entrance on the swing bridge. In 1995 after damage to an overbridge the line closed and all rail traffic ceased.

For four years the line lay dormant but a group of enthusiasts entered into discussions with Preston Borough Council and in 1999 the Ribble Steam Railway saw their first modern built workshop erected on site at Chain Caul Road. This was followed by building a new museum on the derelict site to house a collection of 45 industrial locomotives and rolling stock. Passenger trains started up in September 2005 and perhaps more remarkable was the return of regular commercial rail traffic bringing bitumen into the dock estate. In times of Environmental change the site sees up to three 1,400 ton freight trains a week, loaded with tar, which cross the Pennines from the Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire. The railway shunts the vehicles along the dock system to the Lanfina tar refinery in Chain Caul Road. This facility alone saves thousands of lorry journeys each year.

With its riverside the location, the railway is viewed by many people either just out for a walk or cyclists on the new Guild wheel circuit around the city. Many bird watchers keep a keen eye on both the dock and the river. There is a signed public footpath, Riverside Walk, which allows good views across the river and provides opportunities for bird watching, though the dock basin itself is always worth a look. Habitat is crucial and the dock basin, a tidal river with associated salt marsh and exposed mud are exploited by gulls, terns, waders and wildfowl. Numbers vary throughout the year and with the height and movements of the tide. In winter cormorants and the occasional shag visit the dock basin and the former may also be seen flying along the channel, perching on the markers of the Ribble navigation or standing on the mud with their wings hanging out to dry. Great crested grebes occur from time to time both in the dock basin and on the river. If you scrutinise the larger gulls perched on the pontoons, most will be lesser black-backed greater black-backed, herring and common gull but check for anything different including rarer species that visit the dock occasionally. For example a single ring billed gull which is a scarce visitor from North America made the Trans Atlantic crossing and successfully docked at Preston a few years ago a first winter immature Iceland Gull from the Arctic equally found the dock basin to be a safe haven. This special winter visitor was content to forage for food on or just below the surface of the water and was also supplied with copious amounts of bread by visiting bird watchers from near and afar. Man made islands have been positioned in the dock to provide a secure nesting site for terns which may be seen flying over the basin and river channel from April into the summer.

Many visitors to the Ribble Steam Railway will admit that their love of steam began with journeys by train to the seaside. There was always something magical in boarding a train hauled by a big express locomotive which would whisk you away for a week at your family’s chosen destination. Were those not happy days! Many steam excursions came through Preston on the way to exotic places such as Blackpool, Windermere, Grange-Over-Sands or Morecambe. There really is nothing to compare with a day out by steam train.

The Ribble Steam Railway based on Preston’s Docklands mixes those heady days of steam travel with a look back at England’s Industrial Heritage, when not only passengers travelled by train but all our goods trade was moved by the railways rather than by modern day road traffic. Bananas in particular were a big import through Preston Docks and lines of Banana Boats could be seen off the coast awaiting the right tides on which to enter along the River Ribble to the dock for unloading. The History of the Dock is a permanent exhibition for visitors to the railways museum. No longer Preston’s best kept secret the heritage line has now taken its own part in the landscape and is enjoyed by visitors from far and wide.