It’s 18.5 miles form Southport to Liverpool and 35.5 from Southport to Manchester by the existing rail routes today.
In more leisurely times one could alternatively, travel by the Cheshire lines, 31.5 miles to Liverpool and 49.5 miles to Manchester, but few did.
As a joint operation of the Great Central Railway, the Midland Railway and the Great Northern Railway, the Cheshire Lines provided through coaches from Southport to London, Bournemouth and Lowestoft and offered direct connections with trains to all parts of the three parent railway systems.
The Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) enshrined the joint interests of the three London mainline companies west of Manchester through London and North Western Railway territory. The CLC survived the grouping of companies in 1923 and remained independent until nationalisation in 1948.
Main lines of the CLC were Manchester Central, Chester Northgate and Liverpool Central. The Manchester terminus was shared with the Midland Railway.
The Chester line had branches to Winsford and Helsby. A spur line from Glazebrook connected the Liverpool and Chester lines via Stockport to the great Central at Godley junction near Hyde. Another spur line, from Halewood to Aintree, with a goods branch at Huskisson Dock, was the source of an extension, by a separate but allied company, from Aintree to Southport Lord St opened in 1884.
The Southport and Cheshire Lines Extension Railway (SCLER), which had it’s headquarters in Lord St station, was promoted by a group of local worthies with landowning interests in Birkdale and Ainsdale. The line from Aintree headed across the open fens via nowhere and entered Southport through the coastal dunes at Ainsdale and Birkdale, where directors envisaged the development of a new seaside resort and actually laid out Victoria Park and the Esplanade alongside the approach to the Lord St terminus.
The line was built to mainline standards with a grandiose terminus at Southport Lord St and wayside stations at Birkdale Palace, Seaside (later Ainsdale Beach), Woodville and Ainsdale (later Woodvale), Barton and Halsall (later Mossbridge), Altcar and Hillhouse, Lydiate and Sefton (later Sefton and Maghull).
The line was owned by the SCLER and operated by the CLC with trains of brown coaches hauled by Great Central green engines and sometimes by Midland Red engines.
Services were Southport to Liverpool and Southport to Warrington and Manchester or Stockport.
In 1885, the first full year of operation, Lord St terminus saw 19 departures and 18 arrivals daily Monday to Saturday daily Monday to Saturday and five departures and six arrivals on a Sunday.
Passenger traffic was comparable with a branch line and returns were always disappointingly low. With slower timings than the LYR to both Manchester and Liverpool, never more than four miles from another railway and serving no new settlements, the line served no commuter function and largely subsisted on holiday excursion traffic.
With the advent of electric trains on the LYR and Liverpool tramways, the SCLER made a vain bid for a bigger share of the Southport / Liverpool traffic by operating short workings between Lord St and Walton on the Hill on the Huskisson Dock branch to connect with Liverpool tramcars for a more direct route to and from the city centre. Patrons of the SCLER had to be persevering, patient and peripatetic. Besides excursions to Southport, the Cheshire Lines offered excursion fares on selected regular trains on certain days to numerous destinations on allied railways in Cheshire and Derbyshire. Notable among these was the “excursion” to Chester, on which the intrepid excursionist had to take the CLC train via Hunts Cross to Liverpool Central, walk or take a tram to the pierhead, cross by ferry to Seacombe (tramcar and ferry fares were not included) and travel by the Great Central route from Seacombe to Chester, changing trains at Hawarden Bridge. A journey of over 56 miles, compared to 34.5 miles via Liverpool Exchange and Birkenhead Woodside.
In the trade depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, economies were made by using a CLC Sentinel steam railcar on the all stations between Southport Lord St and Hunts Cross. This vehicle also ran a shuttle service between Lord St and Ainsdale Beach in the heyday of the Ainsdale Lido. Overtures by the impecunious SCLER for a take-over by the CLC had been declined as had a later overture to the LYR, with it’s connection at Aintree with the Liverpool / Ormskirk line.
Nationalisation in 1948 came as a merciful deliverance for the directors of the Southport company, which then ceased. By 1950 traffic had declined to five departures and six arrivals at Southport Lord St on weekdays, and no trains on Sundays.
The line closed in 1952. Lord St terminus became a Ribble bus station and, of the other Cheshire Line terminals, Manchester Central became a car park initially (before G-Mex) and Chester Northgate and Liverpool Central have gone.
The Cheshire Lines though still provides British Rail’s interlink between Manchester and Chester and the Warrington route between Manchester and Liverpool.
The route of the SCLER between Birkdale Palace and Woodvale is now followed by a Coastal Road.
One of the few surviving station staff at Southport Lord St at the time of it’s closure was 75 year old Mr Charles Ratcliffe, of Sefton St, Southport, who had worked at Lord St station since 1917 as a telegraph clerk, a parcels clerk and a booking clerk. When the line closed he moved to Meols Cop Station as a booking clerk for a year and finished his time at Southport Chapel St, retiring in 1962.
Mr Ratcliffe possessed a leather-bound book of Cheshire Lines timetables of 1885, the first full year of operation on the Southport extension. It showed among other things, through Pullman parlour cars from Southport Lord St to London St Pancras in five hours, twice daily Monday to Saturday and once on Sundays.
The use, in that year only, of Huskisson Dock Goods station for passengers as well, with workings between Huskisson and Southport and between Huskisson and Liverpool Central via the suburban belt line.
Lord St Station was handy for the Flower Show when it began in Victoria park in 1924 and the CLC used to run a special train for exhibitors and equestrians with vans full of plants, rocks and horse boxes.
In 1930, a bi-plane on pleasure flights from the beach got caught in the railway telephone wires between Lord St and Birkdale Palace Stations and catapulted on to the railway. It was 1.15 on a Saturday of a bank holiday weekend but the line was cleared in a few hours.
Mr Ratcliffe served in the Royal Engineers from 1942 till 1947 but in the first three years of the war was in the Home Guard along with the stationmaster and two others from Lord St Station. He and some of the other railwaymen had allotments at Birkdale Palace Station and one man collected a huge heap of manure there. During the Merseyside blitz, the stick of bombs that wrecked a nearby home also scored a direct hit on the heap of manure and every man’s allotment received a fair share!
There were steam trains running on the track many years after it officially closed, Many people remember them removing the tracks and a train was used to carry away the rails, signals and points etc. They started the removal at the Lord Street end and continued towards Liverpool, it took months…..
(excepts retrieved from Southport Visiter 1978 and an article by Cedric Greenwood. Thanks also to SouthportGB Online)