Grimsargh, change here for Whittingham


The first railways were crucial in transforming the social and economic prosperity of the country’s towns and villages, and the Preston & Longridge Railway was no exception. The charm of rural branch lines once epitomised those wonderful days of steam in a forgotten scenario of quaint little trains in a vanishing natural landscape. The tranquil railway scene between Preston and Longridge preserved the rustic essence and magnetism of this unique and historic line, which impacted on the rural villages, it served during the late Victorian and Edwardian era. Preston’s place as a forerunner of national railway growth coincided with the opening of this combined mineral and passenger line on the 1st May 1840. The original Preston terminus of the branch was situated at Deepdale, near to the former coal sidings on Fletcher Road and was completely detached from Preston station and the emerging rail network.
The seven mile long Preston to Longridge branch line was only the second railway to open in the Preston area and was first conceived during 1835 as a means of conveying large blocks of Ashlar stone quarried from the Longridge quarries, which were used to transform the interface of Preston during the Victorian era. Eight years before the age of steam, genuine equine ‘horse-power’ was the means of propulsion up the steeply graded route. The quarries at Longridge were situated about four hundred feet above sea level and the railway company exploited the natural contours of the land by using gravity for part of the return journey.
At first the only intermediate station on the railway served the village of Grimsargh utilising the west side of the Plough Inn as a booking office. A passenger service of sorts ran between Preston and Longridge on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The fare from Preston to the Plough Inn at Grimsargh was 4d and to Longridge was 6d In 1846 a new consortium, the Fleetwood, Preston and West Riding Junction Railway Company, (FPWRJRC) formed an alliance with the PLR Company to rent and operate the railway. In June 1848, it was ‘all change’ to steam traction and, thereafter, plumes of white smoke became a feature of the local landscape. The horses were pensioned off in the wake of this new technology and enjoyed a well-earned retirement in the tranquil fields of their home station at Grimsargh. Celebrations were held at Deepdale to mark the departure of the first steam locomotive to Longridge. Officials of the railway company and a large party of officers from Fulwood Barracks were hauled by the engine, ‘Addison’, along with some 200 invited guests and a band of the 89th Regiment to the Longridge terminus. Various young ladies with their delighted partners tripped it lightly to the astonishment of villagers.
The new company had ambitious plans to promote the commercial viability of the port of Fleetwood with the profitable traffic of a new railway linking Fleetwood with the cities of Leeds and Hull. This would have been accomplished by utilising a section of the PLR between Preston and Grimsargh but following the determined opposition of Lancashire landowners the bill put forward by the FPWRJR was thrown out in the House of Lords. The abandoned project to extend the railway through the Ribble valley was described by Dobson (1877). “This was a huge unfinished embankment. Climbing it we saw for some distance an excavation, with level bottom and sloping sides, continuing to the next dingle there was again the beginning of an embankment, as if to cross over the valley through which runs Clough Brook.
I soon saw that this was a detached and uncompleted portion of that once ambitious project, the Fleetwood, Preston, and West Riding Junction railway. The Act for making this railway was passed in the year 1846. It was to utilise the Preston and Longridge line by branching off that line below Grimsargh, and pass via Hothersall, Dutton, Hurst Green, and Mitton to Whalley and into Yorkshire.”
At Hurst Green – near Clitheroe – a railway cutting of over 200 metres in length survives as a monument to this ill-fated Victorian enterprise. When I visited the site, I experienced a surreal encounter with this little-known, but nonetheless significant, railway landmark. Whilst standing in the cutting, I took time to reflect upon its legacy, for there is something poignant about this place, which brings to mind the challenges, expectations and aspirations of the early Victorian railway speculators at the height of railway mania. Nestling in splendid isolation the cutting is clearly recognisable as a detached section of that once ambitious project.
However, the company opened a one-mile extension to the detached line at Deepdale to link it with the railway network at Preston in 1850 and subsequently three intermediate stations were established at Deepdale, Ribbleton and Grimsargh by 1856.
A new station was built at Grimsargh in 1870, replacing the Plough Inn halt, which now had more time for serious drinkers! Amazingly, the small agricultural hamlet of Grimsargh once sustained two stations on separate lines when it first became a railway junction in 1889. A second private railway station was built on the north side of the level crossing gates to serve the new Whittingham Asylum. The renowned Grimsargh to Whittingham hospital branch line was built to convey coal and provisions for the hospital though it was to rank one of the most fascinating and anachronistic Victorian steam railways in the country. Indeed during its sixty-eight year existence the trains operating on this totally eccentric branch made the veteran steam locomotives on the neighbouring Longridge line look like today’s equivalent of ‘Eurostar.’ The extra freight and passenger traffic for Whittingham boosted returns on the Longridge line, with both lines enjoying their social and economic heyday during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Undoubtedly unique, the Whittingham line claimed to be the only free passenger railway in the world and was to outlive the passenger service on the line by 27 years when the last train ran from Grimsargh to Whittingham at 7.20pm on Saturday, 29th June, 1957.
They say, ‘all good things come to an end’ and this was also to include the Longridge branch line passenger service. The line was scheduled to close on Monday, 2nd June, 1930, but in the absence of a Sunday service the last train from Longridge was at 10p.m. on Saturday, 31st May, 1930. Following the withdrawal of passenger trains freight and parcel traffic continued to operate from both Longridge and Grimsargh LMS Stations. The last freight train ran from Preston to Longridge ran in November, 1967. However, it was the demolition of the landmark Courtauld’s chimneys in 1980 that signalled the end of the last substantial section of the Longridge branch line from Deepdale Junction to Courtauld’s exchange sidings. The very last segment of the branch was a triangular section that ran from Maudland through the Maudland (Miley tunnel) to the Deepdale coal concentration depot and this too finally succumbed when the depot closed during 1994.
My own fondest memory of the Longridge branch was to ride on the footplate of at steam locomotive from Courtaulds to Lostock Hall, on Friday 2nd August 1968, which also marked the last day of full-scale steam freight operations on British Railways and was actually the penultimate day before the official cessation of steam. The train was unceremoniously hauled by an unkempt former Carnforth engine in the form of Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 No 44874 and proved to be the final occasion that a steam locomotive would traverse the old P.L.R. metals. This particular engine had just been transferred to Lostock Hall depot from Carnforth, to be used as motive power on one of the six enthusiasts’ specials operating on the final day of official steam working – Sunday 4th August 1968. It would never return to its home shed.
The grand finale of steam heralded the closure of the last three remaining engine-sheds on the BR network, at Carnforth, Rose Grove and Lostock Hall, and the blanket scrapping of steam locomotives.
Thereafter, Lostock Hall shed became a morgue for rows of condemned locomotives……
David Hindle