The Clayton West Branch Line was constructed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company (L&YR) and operated between 1879 and the 1980s.
The line terminated at Clayton West, but the company had initially planned to later extend the route through to a junction near to Haigh Station on the Hallam Line (Leeds to Sheffield).
The first sod of the branch line was cut by John Kaye at Skelmanthorpe on Wednesday 27 November 1872.
A supernumerary police constable was appointed for Skelmanthorpe in August 1873 on account of the 150 or so labourers who were employed on constructing the railway. Tensions ran high amongst the villagers who were convinced that the navvies would cause trouble. When this failed to happen, locals began provoking the labourers, leading to the so-called Skelmanthorpe Riots. In a related court case of December 1874, the local magistrates reportedly stated that "the people of Skelmanthorpe seemed to be a lawless lot".
In May 1876, local magistrates granted a licence for the contractors to store up to 2,000lbs. of gunpowder "to be used in the construction of the line".
By April 1879, the contractors began selling off the equipment:
TO RAILWAY CONTRACTORS & OTHERS.
IMPORTANT RAILWAY CONTRACTOR'S PLANT, MACHINERY, HORSES, &c., at SHELLEY WOODHOUSE, SKELMANTHORPE, AND CLAYTON WEST, On Shepley and Clayton West Branch Railway, near Huddersfield.WILBY & DRANSFIELD, favoured with instructions from the Executors of the late John Hall Clarke, who have completed the line, will Sell by Auction, at Shelley Woodhouse, Skelmanthorpe, and Clayton West, on Wednesday, April 23, Thursday, April 24, and Friday, April 25, 1879, the CONTRACTOR'S PLANT, namely, two locomotive engines, two portable engines, mortar and clay mills, semi-dry brick-making machine, 77 three-yard tip wagons, 200 tons of contractor's rails, 50 tons of malleable and cast iron, horses, offices, huts, &c., &c., comprising nearly 1,000 lots.
The branch line was opened to passengers on 1 September 1879, with a train departing from Huddersfield to Clayton West at 8am. However, the Bradford Daily Telegraph reported that only 3 people used the service and that Skelmanthorpe Station was still under construction, so could not be used for passengers. The initial service was five trains on weekdays and none on Sundays.
In 1892, the L&YR announced their intention to submit a Parliamentary Bill to widen and extend the branch line:
A railway [...] commencing in the Township of West Clayton otherwise Clayton West in the Parish of High Hoyland by a junction with the Company's Clayton West Branch Railway at the termination thereof, and terminating in the Township of Darton in the Parish of Darton by a junction with the Company's Barnsley Branch Railway at a point about 300 yards measured along that railway in a north-westerly direction from the centre of the Darton Passenger Station. The said railway will be wholly situate in the Townships and Parishes following or some of them (that is to say): West Clayton otherwise Clayton West, High Hoyland, Kexborough, Darton, Woolley, and Royston, all in the said West Riding.
The powers obtained under the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Act 1893 in relation to the above were allowed to lapse in 1899.
A second attempt to promote the line to Darton was undertaken in 1906 under the terms of the Light Railways Act 1896 which was to be known as the Clayton West & Darton Light Railway. Although the line was approved by the Board of Trade, progress on raising the necessary capitol dragged on. Despite strong support from the Barnsley Chamber of Commerce, the L&YR allowed the scheme to lapse.
Dr. Beeching's The Reshaping of British Railways (1963) recommended the closure of both the Huddersfield to Penistone line and the Clayton West branch. However, the Minister of Transport (Barbara Castle) granted a reprieve to both with only the station at Berry Brow closing.
The Clayton West Branch Line was closed to good services in September 1970 and to passenger services in January 1983.
Construction on a minimum-gauge railway began in 1990, with the first section (Clayton West to Cuckoo's Nest) opening the following year. By 1997, the line had been extended to a western terminus at Shelley Woodhouse.
The approximate route from Clayton West Junction eastwards to Clayton West is shown below: