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Line History

Line histories researched and written by Martin Smith

Buxton Line
It is hard to believe that this lovely branch line was once the cause of a major upheaval in the contorted world of Victorian railway politics, but that is the case.  However, the story of railways in the Buxton area long predates Queen Victoria, but in those early antecedents the seeds of the Victorian controversy were sewn.

A visitor to the lower Goyt valley in the late 18th century would not have been impressed so much by the natural scenery as by the newly established industries, including coal mining and cotton mills which were beginning to dominate the valley.  Beyond Whaley Bridge however, the landscape would have reasserted its dominance, despite ample evidence of mining and quarrying.  Travellers on foot and on horseback in the Peak District found the scenery not just awe inspiring but quite dangerous and it is worth remembering that some of the roads across the Peak District that are now well know “A” roads were not even in existence at the dawn of the 19th century. 

Railways on the other hand, had already begun to probe into the Peak.  In 1799 there was a line proposed from the Peak Forest Tramway at Barmoor Clough to Dove Holes and then parallel to the present A6 to a terminus near Fairfield church.  Buxton’s first railway proposal was destined never to be constructed, though the necessary powers were obtained.  Whether this early railway would have carried passengers is unclear.  Certainly the Peak Forest Tramway didn’t – at least not officially.
Nothing more was heard of railways until the late 1820’s when, after a spate of trans-Pennine canal proposals, there came a serious scheme for a railway, linking the Peak Forest and Cromford canals.  This scheme, unlike its predecessor, did come to fruition as the Cromford and High Peak Railway, being opened in 1830.  Conceived in the canal age and contemporary with the Macclesfield canal the Cromford and High Peak Railway merely substituted rails for water and rope worked inclines for locks, but in so doing it revolutionised transport across the Peak District and gave Buxton its first railway station at Ladmanlow.  Passenger travel on this early line must have been an interesting experience as the rule was that one had to get out and walk up or down the inclines (there were three between Whaley Bridge and Ladmanlow), a practice which, by all account was more honoured in the breach than the observance, for fairly obvious reasons.  It was also tediously slow, but again, it is worth remembering that the famed Liverpool and Manchester Railway used the same technology for its descent into the Liverpool terminus and had considered using stationary engines and ropes for the entire line until it was demonstrated that the steam locomotive could do the job quicker and better.

By the 1840’s railway promotion was big business and the mid 1840’s saw the great railway mania with lines being promoted all over the place.  Buxton was no exception, with schemes coming at it from all points of the compass.  Most faded into oblivion, but two did not.

The first was put forward by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, who had by this time taken over the Peak Forest canal and the Peak Forest Tramway.  The scheme was for a conversion of the tramway to a proper railway, its extension to Buxton at the southern end and an extension to Hyde (on the MS&L’s main line) at the northern end.  Work commenced on the Hyde to Whaley Bridge line, but the MS&L ran out of cash and the line was never completed beyond New Mills.  Not for nothing was the MS&L known colloquially as the “Money Sunk and Lost” railway.  Nevertheless the MS&L considered themselves the rightful inheritors of Buxton.

The second line was an even more grandiose scheme entitled the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway.  This envisaged a line from Ambergate (on the Midland Railway’s Derby-Leeds main line), through Matlock and Bakewell to Buxton and thence via the Goyt Valley to Whaley Bridge, Disley and Stockport, there to join the Manchester and Birmingham Railway.  The Act was passed and building commenced, but the financial crisis that followed the railway mania stopped the work and in its original form it was never resumed.  In retrospect this was a tragedy for the Peak District in general and Buxton in particular.  The major backers of the MBM&MJ were two other railway companies; the Midland, who wanted a route to Manchester, and the Manchester and Birmingham, who wanted a route to the south that was not in thrall to other companies.  This mutually beneficial prospect was thwarted by the M&B merging with others to form the London and North Western Railway, whose tentacles stretched from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.  The last thing the new LNW wanted was an upstart Midland railway accessing Manchester and they used their joint ownership of the MBM&MJ to keep the Midland at arm’s length. 

So the stage was set for confrontation and one of the centres of this was to be Buxton, where all three companies, MS&L, LNW and Midland regarded the town as theirs, to be given a railway as and when financial conditions improved.  In the meantime, these three companies were drawn together in an unholy alliance to try to deprive another company of traffic.  This company – the London and York, had no interest in Buxton whatsoever, but one of the conditions of the so called Euston Square Confederacy between the MS&L, LNW and Midland was that none of them would promote a line to Buxton without the agreement of the others.  Despite the “confederacy” being wholly illegal, even by the dubious financial standards of early railway promotion, it lasted until being blown apart by a squabble over Buxton.

This began when a nominally independent company, the Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge promoted a line from Edgeley to Whaley Bridge along the southern side of the Goyt valley.  It soon became clear that this was being heavily backed by the LNW.  This prompted the MS&L to reinvigorate its Whaley Bridge project and the Midland to push for an independent line from Rowsley to Buxton.  Despite the LNW saying that it had no designs on Buxton, the next step was its promotion of the SDWB (Buxton Extension) line.

The upshot was that national railway alliances were completely re-jigged, one of the most colourful of 19th century railway managers (the rascally Captain Mark Huish of the LNW) was forced to resign, and the railway map of North West Derbyshire began to look like a tangle of spaghetti.
Buxton was reached by both the LNW and Midland in 1863, but the poor MS&L, ever impecunious, despite being first in the field, never got to Buxton and had to content itself with being given running powers over the Midland’s line from New Mills to the quarries at Peak Forest.

After this stormy beginning, the Buxton line settled down to a comparatively mundane existence, carrying the residents of Buxton to work, shop and play in Manchester, and the citizens of that great city out into the fresh air of the Peak District.  Until the 1960’s there was also a steady procession of trainloads of limestone dragged unwillingly up to Dove Holes and then free-wheeling down through Chapel en le Frith to feed the chemical and construction industries of Manchester and Cheshire.  All these trains have now deserted our line for the Midland route through Great Rocks Dale, so that the Buxton branch is now home only to passenger trains.

In the almost 150 years of service, the Buxton line has known a few moments of glory and headlines. 
The first of these was in 1866 when the then new Midland line collapsed near Bugsworth and the Midland’s trains were diverted over the Buxton branch – poetic justice indeed.  Then, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries there was the opening of the Buxton-Ashbourne line and a brief (and unsuccessful) attempt to create an alternative route from Manchester and Buxton to the south. 

The Buxton branch has also seen its fair share of spectacular incidents, some humorous; like the engine that in 1905 decided to leave Buxton shed on its own and ended up in the turntable well; others tragic; like the loco boiler explosion in 1921 which killed the driver and fireman.  Most spectacular of all was the runaway goods train in 1957.  The brakes on the locomotive failed and the train careered down the line from Dove Holes before crashing into the back of a stationary goods train at Chapel en le Frith station.  The driver of the runaway locomotive and the guard on the goods train at Chapel were both killed.  The driver stayed at his post to the end and the incident is immortalised in the Ballad of John Axon.  The crash is recorded on a memorial plaque at Chapel station.
The line defied the Beeching axe in the 1960’s and continues, largely unsung, a beautiful line, a difficult line, but a lifeline to Buxtonians in severe weather and a line of hope for aspiring visitors to the Peak District.  Enjoy the journey and enjoy your walking.

Glossop Line
The Glossop “branch” has a long and complicated history.  For the most part, from Manchester to Hadfield it is not correct to call it a branch at all, for this was originally a main line across the Pennines.  Indeed, it was one of the first railway lines across the Pennines and the story of the Woodhead railway is one of the great tragedies of railway history.

Like a lot of railway development, the story goes back to an original canal proposal, which never came to fruition.  This was followed by a proposed Sheffield and Manchester Railway scheme in 1830, which would have run via the Hope Valley.  Despite getting parliamentary approval, this line was never built and the company collapsed acrimoniously in a welter of alternative schemes, one of which was for a line from Sheffield via the Don Valley to Penistone and thence via Dunford Bridge, Woodhead and Hadfield to Ashton under Lyne and Manchester.  The line included a lengthy tunnel at Woodhead and this proved to be a stumbling block both financially and practically, holding up completion of the through route until 23rd December 1845. 

By this time, the line from Manchester to Glossop’s first station had been operating for nearly three years, having opened in 24th December 1842.  However, this was not the Glossop station we now know and love.  Glossop 1 was on the west side of Dinting Vale, west of Dinting viaduct.  Broadbottom station had opened on 10/12/1842 and the contract for the Etherow viaduct immediately east of the station was let in early 1842 with construction commencing on 5th March of that year.  The viaduct was opened to traffic on 24th December 1842, a fantastic achievement.  The structure consisted of 3 laminated timber arches on stone piers.  It was 506 feet (154 metres) long and had a maximum height of 136 feet (41.5 metres) above river level.  On completion of this viaduct train services were immediately extended to the new Glossop station.  The contract for Dinting viaduct was let in June 1842.  Like that at Broadbottom, the Dinting viaduct was also constructed with laminated timber arches, but it was a much bigger structure altogether.  Total length was 1452 feet (443 metres) and the maximum height above river level was 125 feet (38 metres).  There were 5 timber arches, each of 125 foot (38 metres) span, plus 11 brick approach arches of 50 foot (15.25 metres) span.  The viaduct was opened on 8th August 1844 at a cost of £35250.  Train services to Hadfield began the same day.  There are pictures of the two viaducts in their original state in Volume 1 of George Dow’s history of the Great Central Railway.

The Duke of Norfolk, who was the principal landowner of the area, paid for the construction of a branch line from Dinting to Glossop and this opened on 9th July 1845, narrowly predating the completion of the main line to Sheffield.  The main line railway company worked it from its inception and in 1846 the Glossop branch passed into their ownership.  The branch commenced just east of Dinting viaduct, some ¾ mile east of the original Glossop station, which was now renamed Dinting.  However, this arrangement didn’t last long, for on 1st February 1847 a new Dinting/Glossop Junction station was opened at the junction proper and Glossop1/Dinting1 closed from the same date.  A pity really given all the recent efforts to get a station at Gamesley, because presumably that is precisely where the original Glossop/Dinting station was!

Only 12 years after the line had opened, the traffic levels and train weights had increased so much that the timber viaducts were deemed inadequate and a contract was let for the replacement of the graceful arches with wrought iron girders.  Incredibly, although the contract was only let in November 1859, the Etherow viaduct was completed before the end of the year and the much bigger Dinting viaduct by early 1860.  There is a picture of the converted Dinting viaduct on page 204 of Dow’s book.
Increasing heavy traffic, especially coal trains, rendered even this work inadequate and between 1918-20 extra brick piers were inserted at both Dinting and Etherow viaducts, giving them the look they retain today.

Operation of the Woodhead line was always problematic given the gradients involved and the constant procession of coal trains and other freight.  The first proposals for electrifying the line were as early as 1913, but the onset of the First World War put paid to that.  In any case the railway company concerned; the Great Central, was by any standards an impecunious concern and could ill afford such expenditure.  In a previous guise it had been known as the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, a company whose nickname was Money Sunk and Lost! The second electrification proposal was in 1926 under the aegis of the London and North Eastern Railway.  They too were not exactly flush with cash and the scheme did not progress until the late 1930’s when again a war intervened and it was left to the newly created British Railways to complete the project.  The entire line, including the spur to Glossop was electrified at 1500 volts DC and opened in June 1954.

In less than 10 years there was talk of closure partly as a result of the now infamous Beeching Report.  After a lengthy battle, the passenger services on the Woodhead route were withdrawn from 5th January 1970, leaving only the Manchester to Glossop/Hadfield passenger service still operating.  The Glossop branch itself had been singled in 1969 and the final closure of the line east of Hadfield came about on 20th July 1981.  The tracks were not taken up east of Hadfield until 1986, but the line from Hadfield to Dinting was singled.

Dinting station had been rebuilt (again) in 1884 along with a curve allowing direct train working from the Manchester direction.  It boasted four platforms at one stage.  Now it has but two and one of them (the former main line), sees little use.  The main station in Glossop was for some time known as Glossop Central, presumably to distinguish it from Dinting, which was also known sometimes as Glossop Junction, though it never had name boards to that effect.  Glossop Central became mere Glossop from May 1974, though oddly the name did survive on some of the station lights.
The last major event was the conversion of the 1500 DC electrics to the national standard 25Kv AC from December 1984. 

There have been numerous attempts to get the line east of Hadfield reopened; none of which have succeeded so far and now of course the route forms part of the Trans-Pennine Trail which is visited by a couple of the following walks.  The Glossop line not only survives, but prospers and with over 700000 passengers per year it is the third busiest station in Derbyshire. 

Hope Valley Line
The Hope Valley line, or the Dore and Chinley line as its promoters called it, came late to the railway map of Derbyshire – and came perilously close to leaving it early as well.   Running as it does, east-west, the valley offers an easy passage through the southern edge of the Pennines, apart from the towering bulk of Cowburn in the west and the gritstone edges in the east.

As early as the 1820’s railway pioneers sought to overcome these obstacles.  The first scheme for a railway through the valley envisaged a line from the canal basin in Sheffield, up the Sheaf valley then over Strawberry Lea and into the valley at Grindleford by means of rope worked inclined planes.  An easy run along the valley would have followed, thence to Upper Booth in Edale where a further series of inclined planes would have taken the line over Cowburn and down to Chapel Milton and the Peak Forest Tramway.  The promoters then envisaged conversion of the Tramway into a proper railway and its extension via Stockport to the terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in Manchester itself.

This was a prophetic scheme in many ways, but at the time, George Stephenson, the scheme’s engineer, was so busily engaged with other projects that he could not devote sufficient time to this one and both the survey and design were poor.  Matters were already at a low ebb with the Parliamentary Committee considering the project, when a more than usually diligent committee member noting that passengers were to be wound down the incline to Chapel Milton in a tunnel, asked what would happen if the rope broke.  The response from Stephenson that there would be “six burly men to sprag the wheels” was not only a serious indictment of the railway safety methods of the day, but it also led to a flurry of alternative proposals for routes between Sheffield and Manchester and to the eventual abandonment of the early Hope Valley scheme.  The villages of the Hope Valley were to wait a further 60 years before they got their railway and Stephenson showed his displeasure with the residents of Sheffield by routing his Derby to Leeds main line via Rotherham, putting Sheffield on a branch line.

Despite the failure of the original Hope Valley scheme, there were numerous other proposals to bring railways through the valley.  In the 1840’s the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction railway sought to come via the Hope Valley en route to Manchester, having been thwarted by opposition to their original route passing Haddon Hall.  The Cavendish interest in Buxton proved stronger however, and the line eventually went via Bakewell.  Some proposals were, by any standards, bizarre, such as those in the 1870’s to build a line from Barmoor Clough, via Sparrowpit and across the face of Mam Tor, and also what would have been England’s longest narrow gauge line, from Sheffield to Buxton.  Later still, the Midland Railway proposed several schemes to link their Sheffield-Chesterfield line to the line through Bakewell, via Grindleford and with a branch to Castleton, but none came to fruition.

In the 1880’s England entered the final railway building mania.  Out of this came the Great Central’s line from Sheffield to London and, as a direct challenge to the GC’s Sheffield-Manchester line via Woodhead, the Midland promoted its own Sheffield-Manchester link via the Hope Valley. By this time, the Midland had only to build the relatively short link between Dore and Chinley to secure its objective, but that link involved two enormous tunnels, Cowburn at the western end and Totley in the east.  Altogether, a quarter of the new line would be in tunnel.  Cowburn, at 2 miles 182 yards (3.39 km) was Britain’s 9th longest, and Totley, at 3 miles 950 yards (5.7 km) the 2nd longest, being beaten only by the Severn tunnel (and discounting the London underground).  Construction began in 1888 and the line was opened throughout in 1894.

For some reason, having built the line, the Midland never seriously exploited the competitive edge it had gained.  Even in 1910, possibly the heyday of the company, there were only five express trains in each direction compared with the GC’s twelve.

Thus the line settled into a fairly mundane existence as the secondary route from Sheffield to Manchester.  The obvious additional link between Grindleford and Bakewell was never built and after a final attempt at a line in the early 1920’s the railway company gave up and ran buses on the route instead.  The proposed branch to Castleton was never built either, but three others were.  One opened in 1927 to serve the Blue Circle Cement works at Hope.  This still survives and provides the Hope Valley line with a valuable source of freight traffic.  The second branch enjoyed two separate existences, first from 1903 to 1914 when it ran from Bamford to Birchinlee to serve the building of the Howden and Derwent reservoirs and secondly from 1935 to 1945 from Bamford to Ladybower for the building of the Ladybower reservoir.  The third branch was also related to the Howden and Derwent reservoir construction and ran from extensive sidings at Grindleford up a steep, rope worked incline to gritstone quarries – shades of Stephenson’s 1820’s scheme. 

In 1938 there were 6 Manchester- Sheffield expresses each way and by 1967 there were only two and they only ran on Saturdays.  It is perhaps not surprising that the Beeching report proposed the closure of the line to passenger services.  Remember that the alternative Sheffield-Manchester route via Woodhead was electrified and boasted 17 expresses each way per weekday, the quickest doing the journey in 54 minutes, inclusive of stops.  Perhaps more surprising is the fact that the closure was approved, but with the proviso that Edale and Hope had to be kept open, ostensibly because Edale was impossible to serve by bus and was of such importance for visitor traffic, principally walkers.  This compromise did not endear itself to British Rail and the end result was the retention of all the Hope Valley local stations, albeit without staff or any significant buildings; the consequential closure of the Woodhead and Millers Dale routes and the diversion of their express services over the Hope Valley line, the former in 1970 and the latter in 1968.

With that, the Hope Valley line became an important cross-Pennine link.  The express services now include links to Manchester Airport, Liverpool, Norwich and Grimsby/Cleethorpes, with the local services operating between Sheffield and Manchester via New Mills.  Freight traffic is buoyant, indeed the presence of freight trains is now making difficult any expansion of the passenger services; a fact made worse by the regrettable decision in the 1970’s to reduce the junction arrangements at Dore and Totley to a single line.  The capacity restraint that this imposes seriously affects the ability to introduce any significant improvement to passenger services.  A comparison between this route and the North Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester reveals the extent of the difference, with the Hope Valley line having a weekday half hourly express frequency and an hourly/2 hourly local service, whereas the North Trans-Pennine route has a 15 minute express service and an hourly or better local service, plus freight.

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