Leeds Nostalgia: Books track history of our railways

The old Leeds Wellington Station, circa 1905.
The old Leeds Wellington Station, circa 1905.
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A triumvate of new books chart the rise and decline (and in some cases, the rise again) of Yorkshire’s railways.

The Lost Railways of Yorkshire’s West Riding series comprises volumes detailing Leeds and other major towns and cities in the county, another on Harrogate and the north and a third onBarnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and the south.

Written by Neil Burgess, they offer a fascinating insight into the way in which our rail network grew and the reasons why it declined or changed, with many stations being run down or closed long before Beeching made his infamous cuts.

In his foreword, Mr Burgess makes the point: “The West Riding was one of the parts of Britain most marked by the Industrial Revolution, starting in the mid to late eighteenth century and continuing until well after the Second World War.”

After the Napoleonic wars, factories and other industries began sprining up in virtually every town across the region and it was reckoned that a quarter of the entire English population lived in Lancashire and Yorkshire, with most of the white rose county’s population residing in West Yorkshire, which itself came to epitomise and celebrate everything which was associated with the phrase ‘up north’.

In Leeds, there was a progressive expansion of stations and later a consolidation as demand for services grew. The original Leeds & Selby Railway station was located on Marsh Lane and opened in 1834 but it was eclipsed in 1846 when the Midland company opened a more central station off Wellington Street, known as Leeds Wellington. In 1854, a second station owned by the Manchester & Leeds Railway was opened off Wellington Street and was called Leeds Central, which lasted until 1967.

Over the next 15 years, with provision still not adequate, a number of schemes were variously proposed and opposed until, in 1869 the North Eastern & London and North Western jointly opened a third station. It was adjacent to the Midland station and became known as Leeds New and it was of particular importance as it enabled trains from Manchester to run directly into the station and onto the north easter network which gave them easy access to Newcastle, York, Selby and Hull.

The Wellington and New stations were combined in 1938 to create Leeds City, with part of Wellington being turned over to goods-only. Leeds Central continued until 1967.

Rail may have offered people a new sense of freedom but it was constantly in competition with other forms of transport, not least of which were electric street cars - trams - and later cars.

As Mr Burgess points out: “The creation of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority in the 1970s was a step toward an integrated public transport policy for the area and enrusing proper investment. Through the vagaries of the last 40 years, this remains an important initiative and will hopefully secure the future of railways for many years to come. Whether people see trains simply as conveninet way of getting to a destination or traveil on them with an eye on their history and the struggles which created and sustained them, there is still much to see and travel over in the West Riding.”

In nearby Batley, there were several stations, including two in Birstall and one in Carlinghow - remnants of the old track can still be seen if you take a walk through Wilton Park. Prior to their closures in 1917, they offered a generous service of up to 17 return trains a day.

The neighbouring mill town of Dewsbury was, by 1910, served by no less than four railways companies.

Moving back to Leeds, Pudsey was without a station until 1877, when a single track was run out from Stainningley. It did well, justifying a double track and later a loop network connecting to Bradford and even after the Second World War it was running 20 return journeys a day. It was among the stations which fell foul of the Beeching Report, its passenger trains ceasing in June 1964 and good services coming to an end just weeks after.

All three books are make for a insight into this crucial chapter in Britain’s history and are replete with black and white photographs, themselves often revealing more about the bygone age than was perhaps intended, evoking the nostalgia of the time and harking back to what seems now at least to have been a simpler time.

The three books are published by Stenlake Publishing Limited, The Lost Railways of Leeds: The Central Section, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Wakefield is priced £15, while Harrogate and the North and Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and the South are priced £9.

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