The Manchester “Club” Trains

A Famous Train of the LMS

Such are the modest dimensions of these islands on which we live that most of our biggest cities are within tolerably easy reach of the sea. The result is that very many commercial people took advantage of this accessibility by carrying on their business in their respective cities, but living at the seaside. This is a habit that the railway companies, not unnaturally, liked to encourage, for it meant a considerably longer journey, and therefore a proportionately higher season ticket rate, than if the same people were run merely to and from the city suburbs.

The business Mancunian had a fine stretch of coast from which to choose. His favourite seaside places of residence were Blackpool, with its outlying suburbs of Lytham and St. Anne’s, and Southport. Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno also claim their share of this daily city-coast traffic, and even Morecambe and the lakeside resort of Windermere are not too distant. The whole of this traffic was dealt with at the two adjacent stations of Victoria, once the headquarters of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and of the Western “B” Division of the LMS system, and Exchange, the one-time property of the late London and North Western Railway. Work connected the two terminals directly together, and when finished one of the remarkable features of the joint station was a continuous platform of the enormous length of 2,196 ft. Woe betide the unfortunate seaside resident who arrived at the station at the last minute to find his coast-bound train at the opposite end of this platform from the one he expected!

Of the two stations, Victoria was considerably the larger. Its accommodation was greatly increased early in the present century, when a new terminal portion, with 10 platforms, was added on the south side for the use of the trains to and from the Oldham, Stalybridge and Bury directions. There were then 17 platforms, of which 11 were terminal, and 6 were through from one end of the station to the other. A singular feature of the working was the manner in which trains to and from the east end of Exchange Station pass through the centre of Victoria, between Nos. 11 and 12 platforms, over relief tracks not provided with platforms; the same lines were used by freight trains that require to pass through Victoria.
An ingenious part of the equipment at Victoria was the overhead luggage carrier, which ran right across the station just under the roof. It was electrically worked, and the operator, who had a precarious perch below the carrier, was able, by suitable hoisting tackle, to lower his capacious luggage basket on any platform and, when it had been filled, to lift it and whisk it away to any part of the station required, without delay and with a minimum of effort.
Exchange station was on a much smaller scale and had only five platforms. It was No. 3 at Exchange, coupled with No. 11 at Victoria, that made the 2,196 ft platform, but by means of suitable crossovers it will was able to accommodate two or three trains simultaneously. So the two stations had between them 22 platforms, and when united made one of the largest stations in the country, though from the point of view of compactness the combination could hardly bear comparison with, say, Waterloo terminus in London.
Shortly after four o’clock in the afternoon businessmen would go into Exchange Station, for the departure of the first of the “club” trains.

What was a “club” train?.
A considerable number of years ago certain Blackpool residents formed a kind of travelling club, and requested the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway authorities to
provide them with a saloon coach in which they might travel together in a comfortably “clubbable” fashion. The railway people fell in with the idea, and the “club” saloon was duly included in the formation of the chosen Manchester-bound express in the morning, and a down evening express leaving shortly after 5 p.m.
Since then on all the chief residential expresses between Manchester and Blackpool and Manchester and Southport very fine open corridor coaches had come into use, and the trains were made up thus from end to end. The club members were assured of privacy for their journey. The same idea had been taken up by residents at Llandudno and at Windermere, to both of which popular resorts club saloons were run.

The actual “club” trains were the 4.30 p.m. from Exchange to Llandudno, the 5.5 p.m. from Exchange to Windermere, and the 5.10 p.m. from Victoria to Blackpool; but the 5 p.m. from Victoria to Southport and the 4.55 and 5.2 p.m. from the same station to Blackpool also had sufficient of a “club” character to be included. The collection of coast- bound expresses leaving Victoria in this 15 minutes was indeed remarkable, and still more so was the character of the passengers, as from two-thirds to four-fifths of the coaches provided on each of these trains were first-class.
The first of these expresses to be away was the 4.30 p.m. from Exchange to the North Wales coast. At one time it was timed at a rather higher speed than it became, as only 48 minutes were allowed for the 40 miles between Manchester and Chester and 34 minutes for the 30 miles on to Rhyl, which, with a four-minute halt at Chester, meant 86 minutes from Manchester to Rhyl. Eventually, with no stop at Chester and a one-minute-halt at Prestatyn instead, the same journey needed 90 minutes. In earlier days the departure time was 4.55 p.m, but it became 25 minutes earlier, and an additional express left at 4.40 p.m. for the same direction, making calls at Warrington and Chester.
For the working of the train, which consisted of 10 up-to-date bogie vehicles, amply provided with lavatory accommodation but non-corridor, the engine attached was originally one of the handy North Western “Prince of Wales” type 4-6-0’s. Despite their moderate weight of 66 tons, apart from tender, the “Princes” had shown themselves capable of a great variety of passenger work, even up to and including fast and heavy passenger expresses, and their scope was best illustrated by the nickname “Maid-of-all-Work”. With a load of 300 tons like this, over what was throughout an easy road, the “Prince” experienced no difficulties. Three “Claughtons” had been transferred to Llandudno Junction for the purpose of working the train. At 5.52 p.m. Prestatyn was reached, having covered the 66½ miles from Exchange in 82 minutes. Over the rest of the journey stops were made at Rhyl, Abergele, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno Junction, and by 6.43 p.m. the Llandudno “club” train is at rest in Llandudno, 87¾ miles from Manchester.
Well before this time the Blackpool and Southport “club ” trains had finished their shorter journeys. Of these the 4.55 p.m. was usually the lightest, eight corridor coaches, two of which were destined for Fleetwood, sufficing for the greater part of the year. The engine usually was to be one of the fine Horwich-built four-cylinder 4-6-0’s of “Class 8”, many of which worked on these coast services. For an engine of such power, a train of some 215 tare tons – with passengers not more than 230 tons or so – is but a featherweight, despite the difficult character of the journey. By comparison with the journey just mentioned, this one includes a number of very heavy gradients, as well as severe speed restrictions at various points.
Over the extraordinarily sinuous section of line from Manchester through Salford to the “Windsor Bridge No. 3” Junction at Pendleton speed was gained, in preparation for the stiff climb past the station bearing the singular name of “Irlams-o’-th’-Height”, up to Pendlebury. This was for two miles at 1 in 99, and would bring down the speed to about 30 or 35 m.p.h. After this there followed some sharp undulations, notably a steeply-graded dip on to the troughs at Walkden, and 2 miles of falling grades also to Atherton, at between 1 in 232 and 106; but of these, owing to constant trouble with subsidences caused by colliery workings underneath, the driver was unable to take full advantage. Then came a bad slack for the junction at Dobb’s Brow, where the train left the Liverpool line and turned northward. This first 12 miles occupied 19 minutes.
It then ran over a short spur line that carried it across to the Preston line proper, from which it diverged at Pendleton. It was presumably to ease the congestion of the latter route, which had but two tracks, that the majority of the Blackpool expresses were booked to take the much harder four-track route through Atherton. The Hilton House spur, which was tremendously steep, rising for 1½ miles at between 1 in 51 and 74, and for another three-quarter mile at 1 in 204, avoided Bolton, and brought you back to the Preston line at Blackrod, whence it ran on through Chorley to a junction with the West Coast main line at Euxton, After slackening severely here, to 25 m.p.h, a few more miles of downhill running prepare it for the even worse slowing through Preston, which was passed at 20 m.p.h. in 44 minutes from leaving Victoria, 29¾ miles distant. After the steep pull out of Preston the difficulties of the engine are at an end, as there is little in the way of grades from there on to Blackpool. After eight miles of four-track line, over which a further set of track-troughs, near Salwick, enables the engine to pick up an additional supply of water, it approached Kirkham Junction at high speed.
From here three routes are available to Blackpool, and it is interesting to note that all three were used in succession by the 4.55, 5.02 and 5.10 p.m. trains. Curving to the right, taking the northernmost, to the Talbot Road Station, on the north side of Blackpool. The 5.02 will take the central route, direct to Waterloo Road and from there into the Central Station. This is both the shortest in distance and the most recent in construction, but as it serves Blackpool only, and none of the outlying towns, its use (with the this 5.02 p.m. express) is confined to special and excursion trains. Then comes the 5.10 p.m, which follows the southernmost route into Blackpool, curving round in a great loop to reach Lytham, Ansdell and St. Anne’s on the way to Waterloo Road and Central Station.
For the 14½& miles from Preston to Poulton the 4.55 p.m. express was allowed 17 min, and its first stop, 44¼ miles from Manchester, 61 minutes after starting. Here the two through coaches for Fleetwood are detached from the rear, and with six coaches left it passed on to Bispham, where a brief stop was made, and Talbot Road, arriving at 6.6 p.m. It covered a total distance of 47¼ miles, and the comparative slowness of the running must be put down to the difficulties of the route.
Between the 4.55 and 5.2 Blackpool expresses there comes the 5 p.m. Southport express. This was a considerably heavier train, the winter formation amounting to 11 open corridor coaches, often expanded in summer to 12 or 13. This also was usually a “Class 8” 4-6-0 turn, it was reported that Train Spotters were greatly astonished to see the train go out of Victoria on one day with a Midland 4-4-0 compound in charge. Over such gradients as those between Manchester and Wigan, this 300-ton train was a tremendous load for a compound, and it makes you wonder how the engine fared on Pendlebury bank.
The Southport express followed close on the wheels of the 4.55 to Blackpool, passing Dobb’s Brow Junction five minutes later, at 5.19 p.m; but no reduction of speed was needed here, as the Southport train took the straight line on to Hindley, where it diverged from the Liverpool line to the left to get through Wigan. The passage through Wigan, which was approached by extremely sharp curves, must not be made at more than 30 m.p.h. and, with such a load as this, 27 minutes from Manchester proved to be none too great an allowance for the distance of only 16¼ miles. Rising grades follow to Gathurst, but after that all is plain sailing, and there is a fine straight stretch across the level marches of West Lancashire slightly in favour of the engine, which enables a speed of over 60 an hour to be maintained for some miles, especially if any time has been lost on the congested and difficult earlier stages of the run. St. Luke’s, 32½ miles from Manchester, is reached in 47 minutes, and the main station at Chapel Street, ¾-mile further, at 5.51 p.m.
Following the fortunes of the 5.2 and 5.10 p.m. Blackpool trains. The former had an eight-coach formation of the very latest LMS open corridor stock, and was generally hauled by a 4-4-0 Midland compound. To save clashing with the Southport train, it was taken over the right hand, or “fast” lines from Victoria to Windsor Bridge No. 3 Junction, and from there over the old main line to Preston via Bolton. This was a mile further than the Atherton route, but the gradients are much easier, the average of the rise from Pendleton to Bolton being about 1 in 200. The chief obstacle was the long and severe slowing through Bolton, to 20 m.p.h. The timing is very easy, however, 20 minutes being allowed to clear Bolton, 10¾ miles; 47 minutes to Preston, 30¾ miles; 71 minutes to the stop at Waterloo Road and 76 minutes to Blackpool Central.
The 5.10 p.m. – the real Blackpool “club” train – was another of heavy formation, being generally made up to 10 corridor cars and the club saloon, but expanding to 13 vehicles in the summer season. This is an almost invariable “Class 8” 4-6-0 turn of duty. Following the Southport express to Dobb’s Brow Junction, which was passed at 5.30 p.m, the 5.10 carries on over the very steep Hilton House spur, pursuing the same route as the 4.55 p.m. coast bound train to Blackrod, Chorley, Preston and Kirkham. Preston was passed at 5.57 p.m, Kirkham at 6.9 p.m; and the first stop was made at Lytham, 43½ miles from Victoria, at 6.17 p.m. Like all the Blackpool and Southport trains, this express had been decelerated from its earlier running times. At one period Lytham was reached in the even hour from Manchester, but the much heavier corridor rolling stock then in use, with its more limited seating accommodation in proportion to weight, was doubtless in part responsible. After making stops at Ansdell, St. Anne’s and Waterloo Road, the “club” train rolled into Blackpool Central at 6.40 p.m, exactly 90 minutes after starting, having covered a total distance of 51 miles.
There is one “club” train left to mention – the Windermere express leaving Exchange at 5.5 p.m. This express completed one of four leaving Exchange and Victoria in the 10 minutes between 4.55 and 5.5 p.m, all running to or through Preston and each one getting there by a different route. The 4.55 p.m. out of Victoria went by Atherton, as we have seen, and the 5.2 by Bolton; the 5 p.m. Glasgow express out of Exchange took the longest route – 33 miles – through Eccles,
Tyldesley and Wigan (North Western), where it was combined with the second part of the 1.30 p.m. “ Mid-day Scot” out of Euston; while the 5.5 p.m. to Windermere, in order to get in front of the Glasgow train, took the “Lancashire Union” line from Bickershaw to Standish, over a route which was one of the only two passenger trains in the day to patronise, through Whelley. Another most singular fact is that this last route involves the use of over half-a-mile of London and North Eastern metals, between Strangeways East and Amberswood East junctions. How many travellers of the time knew that it was possible to travel over the LNER on the way from Manchester to Windermere…
The Windermere train provided a very easy locomotive working. It was usually entrusted to a Midland compound, but occasionally to a 4-6-0 “Prince”. Four non-corridor coaches made up the formation, with the “club” saloon on the rear. The route followed was slack-infested and very heavily graded throughout to Preston, the worst pitch being at 1 in 67 up near Whelley. The 32½ miles to Preston required an allowance of 55 minutes, the Windermere train arriving just two minutes after the 5.10 p.m. Blackpool “club” train had passed through. At Preston, through Liverpool coaches were added, and after a halt of five minutes, a level run followrd over the 21 miles to Lancaster, allowed 26 minutes. A brief sight of the sea was obtained at Hest Bank, and then the Windermere “club” train carried on through the important junctions of Carnforth and Oxenholme without stopping, making Kendal, 21¼ miles from Lancaster, half-an-hour later. It was just 2¼ hours after leaving Manchester Exchange that the train puts in an appearance at Windermere, having travelled 83 miles. In the opposite direction it made a faster trip, cutting off the odd quarter, and completing its journey from Windermere to Manchester in two hours.

One point that cannot fail to be noted in connection with the trains whose working is described in this article is the amazing complexity of the London, Midland and Scottish system in Lancashire. We have just seen how four expresses left two adjacent Manchester stations for Preston within 10 minutes of each other, each one following a different course. The 5 p.m. Southport express and the 5 o’clock from Exchange to Glasgow, again, often run for considerable distances in sight of one another on their journey to or through the two neighbouring stations at Wigan. It must be remembered, however, that this complexity arose partly from the fact that two systems once independent had now been amalgamated. As is the case in many other parts of the country, had the grouping of the railways taken place at an earlier date, it is probable that many such routes, built purely for competitive purposes, would never have come into being. The money thus spent could often have been put to far better use in the doubling and improvement of previously existing lines. But these unnecessarily ramified tracks, all of which had to be staffed and maintained, constituted not the least of the problems which our great railways had to face, in their struggle towards more economical working. Possibly the necessity for strict economy in railway working eventually meant some of the alternative routes were closed.


The magazine Railway Wonders of the World, Published by the Amalgamated Press, Railway Wonders of the World appeared in 50 weekly instalments from 1st February 1935 through to 10th January 1936. A vast range of subjects was covered.
The complete work was designed to be bound in two hardback volumes which are still readily available. Others chose to retain the weekly parts with their attractive colour covers. Today the weekly parts are more difficult to obtain but do appear from time to time.

Article re-edited from Railway Wonders of the World.