In Britain the largest amount of money spent by the public on any one hobby is on Gardening. That must be an enormous amount when you take into account the vast sums spent on restoring old steam engines around the country.
Some people take it one step further and combine their love for gardening with that of the restored steam railway. I can think of many a fine display at the stations on the SVR and if my memory serves me correctly the Railway Preservation Society use to hold a ‘Railways In Bloom’ competition.
In Lancashire alone, many villages compete with each other every year to win the prestigious ‘Best Kept Village’ Award and with this in mind I came across an unusual tale of what to do with a railway engine.
Pilling, on the Fylde coast was entering one such competition and the organiser received a call asking if she would like a large wooden model steam engine. It had previously been covered in flowers for the various parades and processions it had taken part in but needed a total revamp. It was an interesting looking train and on later research it was found to be modelled on the ‘Pilling Pig’
The model had been built by a very talented and creative local carpenter – David Hull, who works from the old Chapel Workshops in Nateby near Garstang. He built it for Nateby Primary School as part of the annual village “In Bloom” parade. At the time Garstang was bidding to re-open the old railway station on the main London-Glasgow line and as it was very much in the news at that stage.
(Photo: Alex Betteney – Industrial Railway & Locomotive Appreciation Society)
The model of the ‘Pilling Pig’ was to find a new home at the Fold House Caravan Park, which is now the fourth largest on the Fylde Coast. For the gardening enthusiast it has an ongoing commitment to regeneration of the surrounding area and has recently set aside five acres of land to establish a true conservation area and sculpture park, exhibiting local artists from the nearby colleges and universities. Fold House is no stranger to conservation, having won Dr David Bellamy Conservation Awards since 1996.
But what of the ‘Pilling Pig’?
Between the central part of the former Lancaster & Preston Junction Railway and the estuary of the River Wyre there stretches almost nine miles of fairly level terrain. In the middle of last century, the heart of this area consisted of wild un-reclaimed moss, although the farming population had begun to make some progress in paring off the upper surface and bringing the soil below into cultivation. In December 1863, the proposed “Garstang & Knot-End Railway” issued its prospectus, announcing the intention to raise £60,000 for a line of 10.5 miles.
The originators of the railway were the landowners and inhabitants of the area who had been put to some expense and inconvenience both in moving their wheat and potatoes to market and in importing materials for land improvement. These same landowners had made known their willingness to sell their land at its agricultural value and to receive the purchase money in shares. The promoters claimed that the line would afford the most direct communication between Fleetwood and Garstang, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Hull and the Newcastle coast, and could eventually become part of a transit railway between the West and East Coasts of England. Such statements, whatever their publicity value almost cost the nascent company its life. Opposition came from the Lancaster Canal and more important, from the London & North Western and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railways, joint owners of the former Preston & Wyre Railway, which served the new town and port of Fleetwood.
The Garstang & Knot-End Railway was authorised on June 30, 1864. It must be admitted that the management of the company was not of the highest order; the negotiations with landowners were conducted slowly and in a piecemeal manner; there was a complete lack of specialised knowledge; and the suggested cost of the line proved to be wide of the mark.
In June of that year, four carriages were ordered from the Metropolitan Carriage Company, but the directors so delayed payment that that firm was obliged to charge interest and shop rent. Eventually the carriages were bought on behalf of the railway by the Garstang Rolling Stock Company, (an association of debenture holders), formed on October 12, 1870 and later dissolved on January 15, 1884.
The engineer also secured a locomotive from Black, Hawthorn & Company, a 0-4-2 saddle-tank named HEBE, but this was not the first to run over the new railway. This honour fell to the L.N.W.R. engine hired to test the line. Once again payment was delayed and the transaction appears to have been financed by a third party for in May 1871, the directors accepted an offer from the British Wagon Company which would have allowed the railway to pay for the locomotive over a period of seven years. Yet in the following month, Walter Mayhew a shareholder and engineer forwarded a cheque for the price of the engine to the Directors and concluded with them “an agreement for hire with option of purchase, of a locomotive railway engine.”
It is said that Mayhew obtained the locomotive from Wigan, but as HEBE was sold directly and delivered from the maker’s Gateshead works he must have been acting on behalf of a Wigan interest which was in fact the true owner.
While the negotiations about the terms for hiring the engine were still going on, the seven miles of line between Garstang & Catterall Junction and Pilling were opened for traffic on December 5, 1870. The two intermediate stations were Garstang Town, the headquarters of the company, and Winmarleigh (later renamed Nateby), although trains also stopped by request at Cogie Hill and Cockerham Cross.
The original timetable, published in November 1870, was arduous to say the least. Designed so that one locomotive could work all the traffic and still make convenient connections at the junction, it asked a lot of a small 0-4-2 saddle-tank. Fifteen hours work out of the twenty-four on a line including gradients of 1 in 73 and 1 in 89, along with a service which made many varying demands on the boiler was not to be taken lightly. It was hardly surprising that this ingenious arrangement did not long survive.
The official opening was carried out on Wednesday December 14, at a celebration dinner in the Royal Oak Hotel in Garstang, it was noted that only considerable sacrifice on the part of one or two of the principal directors had ensured the completion of so much of the undertaking, which had cost not £60,000 but £150,000.
Despite this the railway had been laid out with a view to economy. Sufficient land had been acquired for a “double” track but only a single line was laid. This consisted of what was probably second-hand iron rail weighing 48lb. per yd., and fastened to longitudinal sleepers. No regular stationmasters were at first appointed and the four carriages, two third class and two composites, had a central corridor so that the traffic manager could issue tickets on the train. Trains were mixed and hand and chain shunting were used. This strict economy led to some unusual, if not hazardous operating methods. Initially farm carts and other vehicles from many miles around thronged the station goods yards and the official in charge was hard put to provide wagon space for all his customers.
Gradually, it became a case of survival of the fittest and anyone, who could board a wagon while it was being shunted and still in motion, was deemed to be entitled to the right to load. Inevitably accidents occurred and the tragic death of a Pilling man – Richard Bradshaw – who lost a leg injured in shunting, put an end to this practice.
Equally unusual was the system of unloading wagons at any point along the line. These could be uncoupled from a down train and picked up on the return journey. It was not uncommon to see as many as five wagons placed at the front of the train in this way. Passengers were also allowed to board the train at any convenient point along the line, provided that they hailed the driver in a vigorous fashion.
The most serious problem facing the company arose from the fact that it had limited itself to one locomotive and the line could only be operated as long as this remained in good mechanical repair. In January 1872 the condition of HEBE gave cause for alarm. On the 26th of that month, the Secretary was requested to contact the L.N.W.R. Locomotive Superintendent at Preston, to arrange for a monthly inspection of the engine and also try and obtain a rubber hosepipe, or any other recommended type that could be used to clean out a boiler. The local plumber was even called in. Three replacement tubes for the boiler had been supplied by Black Hawthorn & Company, and the Secretary was asked to visit Fairbairn’s works in Manchester to purchase nine more.
Then it was ominously announced that a meeting was to be called to consider whether or not the line should be closed. A notice was put up at Garstang station on March 5th stating that traffic would be suspended from Monday 11th to Wednesday 13th inclusive, while the engine underwent “thorough repairs.” Only three days after the resumption of service, a young employee was concerned in a fatal accident at Garstang. At the inquest it was recorded that too much blame should not be placed on the railway company, because it was well known that it was in financial difficulties.
Consultations took place as to the possibility of obtaining another engine on hire purchase at a cost of £500 or £600; but all these frantic efforts were of no avail. On Good Friday the use of the engine ceased and to all intents and purposes the Garstang & Knot-End Railway was closed. The Secretary received six months’ notice; the track was fenced off at the junction; and instructions were issued to sell all the spare brass and iron. Occupiers of cottages along the line who were in arrears for rent found themselves faced with the threat of eviction. Soon the company itself got into arrears with the hire purchase payments, and HEBE was taken away.
Not without justification the railway had earned a bad reputation and its opponents found a good deal of satisfaction in the sorrowful state of the line. A report in the Preston Herald in May 1872, typified the attitude. Headed “New Enterprises – Garstang and Knot-End Railway Outdone”, it went on: “It is with a sense of profound emotion that we record the demise or sudden collapse of the Garstang & Knot-End Railway, or what is truly termed among select circles, the Garstang & Knot-End Railway Farce. The enterprise was hailed triumphantly when first commenced, but gradually it sickened and now, in the second year of its existence, it has ignominiously expired, and lies mouldering in the grave. The ‘engine’ has lost its vitality and is to be seen at the Garstang & Catterall Junction covered with a tarpaulin. It has however attached to it a wagon of coals, apparently enjoying the idea that on some future day it will rise from the dead and enjoy a long run of prosperity and do honour to its maker and masters. We walked over the line this week and from end to end we found it entirely deserted. The rails are rusty, the rolling stock fast decaying, the station houses very dilapidated. …The only things we failed to inspect were the finances of the company, which we may surmise very much resemble every other feature of the undertaking.”
Coal tank 0-6-2 no. 780 at Garstang Aug 1924
However this was by no means the end, for occasional use was made of the line with horses. Meanwhile at Garstang, a sympathiser known as “Bob the Barber” met the main line trains every Thursday with his horse and cart. For conveying passengers to and from Garstang market he charged 8 old pennies (about 3pence in today’s coinage), and threw in a shave for the same price.
The company sought to introduce a Bill into Parliament for the sale of the line. This contravened the standing orders of the House of Lords unless a purchaser’s name could be inserted and it was decided to promote the Bill in the name of the debenture holders. Towards the end of 1874, the appointment of a receiver on behalf of the debenture holders was authorised and the railway began to revive. A second engine, a Manning Wardle 0-4-0 saddle-tank, named UNION was purchased, and goods traffic recommenced on February 23rd 1875 with passenger traffic on April 17th 1875.
Evidently past mistakes were not to be repeated. In December of 1875, the company arranged to lease a further locomotive from the debenture holders, some of whom had by then formed themselves into the “Garstang & Knot-End Railway Engine Company”, incorporated on December 9th 1875, and dissolved three months after its final meeting of October 14th 1898. This locomotive, a 0-6-0 saddle-tank named FARMER’S FRIEND, proved to be the salvation of the line. Its piercing whistle said to resemble the noise made by a dying pig, earned it the nickname of the “Pilling Pig”, a title that has since been inherited by the daily freight trains on the branch.
Slowly the financial position began to improve and by the last decade of the nineteenth century the fortunes of the Garstang & Knot-End had undergone something of a transformation.
The accounts for June 1897, covering the previous six months, revealed that 302 first class and 19,715 third class passengers had been carried, yielding revenue of £410. On the freight side, the railway had handled 11,413 tons of merchandise and 7,807 tons of minerals, which brought in £1,150 and £379 respectively, along with £85 from a miscellaneous item listed as parcels, horses, carriages and mails. These accounts were discussed on August 21st 1897, when the chairman cheerfully announced that they had a new engine, although it had not then been put into traffic.
Blackpool engine at Preesall 1926
This was JUBILEE QUEEN, a 0-6-0 saddle-tank, built by Hudswell, Clarke & Company. The directors had approved the hire of a Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 saddle-tank HOPE, the fourth to work over the line for any length of time in January 1885. This engine was never actually bought by the railway but was leased from the Garstang & Knot-End Railway Engine Company and the accounts mentioned above include a sum of £58 paid out for its use. JUBILEE QUEEN came as a replacement for HOPE and another 0-6-0 saddle-tank; NEW CENTURY was obtained from Hudswell Clarke & Company to supersede FARMER’S FRIEND in 1900.
The final addition to the company’s locomotive stock was a Manning Wardle 0-6-0 tank engine named KNOTT END, delivered early in 1908, when it still appeared that the initiative for completing the line lay with the Garstang & Knot-End Company. Despite the improved motive power position, progress was still cautious and a note accompanied the timetable to the effect that the evening train would only run through from Garstang Town to the Pilling junction if the passengers could muster 3 shillings (about 15pence in today’s coinage) in extra fares.
A reorganisation scheme was set on foot to try and free the railway from the Court of Chancery, and in 1898-9 the separate Knott End Railway Company made an attempt to complete the four and a half miles to Knott End, but ran into financial difficulties. In 1908 this company stimulated by the development of the Preesall salt mines under the United Alkali Company, managed to complete the line and bought the Garstang & Knot-End Railway Company out for £50,000. The Knott-End Railway proceeded to complete the section from Pilling to the coastline, opening it to passengers on July 30, 1908. With a determined management, new equipment and increased revenue from coal and salt, the future prosperity of the line seemed assured.
Then the inevitable competition from road transport gradually drew away the traffic so that on March 29th 1930, the L.M.S.R., which had taken over during the summer of 1923, decided to withdraw the passenger service. Further retrenchment followed in 1950 for the track between Pilling and Knott-End was removed after closure. Today the original line and the “Pilling Pig” alone survive, eking out a precarious existence in the best traditions of a fascinating little railway.
We are indebted to Fold House Caravan Park and the Pilling Pig Project for the material used in this fascination story of one of Lancashire’s forgotten railway lines.
Previously featured in Ribble Pilot Issues 12 & 13.