Following the opening of the Huddersfield and Sheffield Junction Railway from Huddersfield to Penistone by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company in July 1850, which incorporated a branch line to Holmfirth, discussions began on the possibility of creating further branches. Eventually lines to Meltham and Clayton West were opened in 1869 and 1879 respectively.
As early as 1852, it was reported that a potential route from Brockholes to Meltham Mills via Honley Moor was being actively surveyed. Contemporary newspaper reports from the 1850s also imply that Charles Brook and the firm of Jonas Brook & Bros. may have been considering underwriting the costs of the scheme.
By the summer of 1860, Charles Brook was chairing formal meetings with other Meltham mill owners and manufacturers to discuss the proposition, which was seen as an opportunity to bypass the fees levied on the Lockwood and Meltham Turnpike road. In October 1860, the proposal was "brought before the directors of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company for consideration, by whom it is understood to have been favourably entertained".
According to railway historian Neil Fraser, the railway company considered three potential routes before selecting the final one that broadly followed the existing turnpike road:
The final decision was possibly made on cost grounds, as the first two routes would have involved the building of a new viaduct to span the Holme Valley. However, the route was strongly opposed by Lockwood brewery owner Bentley Shaw whose residence and estate bordered Dungeon Wood. Although the planned route did not cross Shaw's land, he was successful in gaining the following concession from the railway company:
The company shall, before beginning to construct the railway thirdly described, and, at all events, within eighteen months after the passing of this Act, if required so to do by Bentley Shaw, Esquire, his heirs or assigns, construct, at the expense of the company, but on the lands of the said Bentley Shaw, a carriage approach to his house called Woodfield House from such point on the turnpike-road from Huddersfield to Meltham, north-east of his said estate, and in such direction and in such manner, as the said Bentley Shaw, his heirs or assigns, shall prescribe, together with suitable entrance gates...
Plans were deposited at Wakefield County Hall towards the end of November 1860, with the proposed line starting at the northern end of Lockwood Viaduct and rising 215 feet to terminate at Bridge House, Meltham. A total of 23 crossings were identified, including six footbridges and seven streams, along with three tunnels — Butternab Tunnel (256 yards), Netherton Tunnel (333 yards), and a short 30 yard tunnel near Healey House.
Despite continued opposition from Bentley Shaw — which led to Netherton residents resolving to "refrain from drinking any ale, beer, or porter brewed by the firm of Bentley and Shaw, till the train shall run on the said line through our village" — the Bill for the branch line was passed by the Committee of the House of Commons in March 1861. When news reached Meltham by telegraph, it "spread with incredible rapidity from house to house" and the rest of the day was spent in celebrations.
By the summer of 1862, work on clearing the route of trees and vegetation had begun, although it would be nearly two years before construction work began in earnest.
The first sod of the branch line was cut by Charles Brook (jnr) on the afternoon of 4 April 1864 at a location near to Folly Dolly Falls, selected as it marked both the boundary between the townships of Meltham and South Crosland, and was where the railway company intended to make a 700 yard spur line to serve Meltham Mills — the spur line was eventually abandoned as being too expensive to construct, but would have passed through the grounds of Meltham Hall in a "cut and cover" tunnel. Despite a "continual downpouring of rain", the local press reported that "more than a thousand persons" attended the ceremony.
Within a couple of days, navvies were busy working at the location of the sod cutting ceremony and also at Netherton, where they began building the embankment alongside Nether Moor Road which would carry the line into the tunnel under the village. By the end of the month, work on levelling the ground through Dungeon Wood had begun and the first sod of Butternab Tunnel had been cut.
Hepworth's Railway Journal (1865) reported that the total expenditure to the end of 1864 on the branch line was £23,409.
In April 1865, around 200 navvies who were engaged on the construction were "treated to a good substantial tea" at Meltham Mills. The Huddersfield Chronicle reported that, "generally speaking, [navvies] are of a loose, wild, reckless character, and in many instances quite lawless. [Those] engaged on the Meltham line have, however, so far proved a happy exception, they, on the whole, behaving themselves in a quiet, and orderly manner ; so much so, that they have gained the respect of the gentry of the neighbourhood". The entertainments afterwards included a magic lantern show given by J.W. Carlile.
During the 1866 Parliamentary Session, the "Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (Extension of Time, &c.) Bill" was passed. In the original Bill, the completion date for the Meltham Branch Line was to have been 7 June 1866, but the amendment extended the date to 7 June 1869.
The Chronicle reported in September 1866 that track had been laid from Meltham to the southern portal of Netherton Tunnel and that the line's three stations (Meltham, Healey House, and Netherton) were in the process of being built.
By the summer of 1868, work on the line was nearing completion.
The extra costs involved with the prolonged construction of the line led to the railway company deciding against the building of a spur line to Meltham Mills. Instead, after discussions with the Brook family, it was agreed to build an unmanned halt above Spinks Mire Mill with a wooden shelter, accessed from the footpath that ran from Helme to Meltham Mills. Goods were transferred from Meltham Mills to the goods yard near Meltham Station, although this incurred fees to be paid at Harewood Toll House. By 1874, much of the estimate 13,000 tonnes of goods were being taken by an indirect route to avoid the tolls.
Landslips at Dungeon Wood
The most problematic section of the line proved to be from Lockwood Junction through Dungeon Wood, where the unstable layers of shale rock on the hillside led to multiple landslips.
Shortly after the line opened to goods traffic, the deep cutting behind Woodfield House collapsed at the end of September 1868. Keen to ensure it would not occur again, the railway company closed the line and embarked on building the strongest retaining wall on their entire network measuring 150 yards long and 40 feet high, with a thickness of 12 feet at the base and 4 feet at the top.
The construction of the tunnel under the village of Netherton proved problematic due to the discovery of a layer of angled shale rock. Collapses were reported in October 1864, August 1865 and November 1866 (the latter caused by heavy rains). The collapse in August 1865 was severe enough to cause subsidence in the village above, leading to the demolition of the house and outbuildings belonging to Jonathan Lunn.
The railway company were able to resolve the issues caused by the instability of the shale rock layer by redesigning the southern portion of the tunnel with curved walls that helped to redistribute the pressure.
Following the testing of the line by ballast trains, a goods service commenced on 8 August 1868 with the hauling of 17 wagons of coal by two engines. The local press reported that this led to "a reduction in the price of coal by at least 3s. 6d. per ton" in Meltham. However, landslips in October and December led to the temporary closure of the line until 6 February 1869.
The line was inspected by Colonel Yolland of the Board of Trade on 25 May 1869, but permission to run a passenger service was refused pending a number of modifications. A second inspection on 30 June by Yolland proved more satisfactory and the Board of Trade granted permission.
On 5 July 1869, over 5 years since the first sod of earth was cut, the Meltham Branch Line finally opened to passengers. The first train from Huddersfield consisted of eleven carriages, carrying a number of local dignitaries and railway company management, and was met at each station by jubilant flag-waving locals. For the rest of the day, a free service was offered and one of the passengers on the first return journey was a young Meltham boy named Francis W. Creaser who would later be a guest of honour on the final passenger train in 1949.
The Huddersfield Chronicle's coverage of the day's events ended with the following praise:
The line passes through picturesque scenery, the Netherton valley being one of the finest for miles round, and presents a fine opening for the erection of villa residences. Emerging from the Butternab tunnel, a magnificent gorge is opened out on the right hand side, which, for beauty and variety of foliage, can scarcely be equalled in this part of the country. Leaving Netherton station, a fine, extensive panorama is opened to view. The picturesque valley, the beautiful silk mills of Messrs. Charles Brook and Sons, overtopped by the extensive thread works of Messrs. Jonas Brook and Brothers, flanked by the Spink Mires Mills, with the pretty church of St. James and the parsonage in the centre, and the extensive view of pasture, wood, and moorland forms a picture rarely met with, and this will be much enhanced when the Convalescent Home is erected. There is little doubt but that the Meltham line will prove a great attraction for pic-nic parties to Harden Moss, the Isle of Skye, and other places in the locality.
The initial timetable of the service was as follows:
|UP TRAINS||Monday - Saturday||Sunday|
|DOWN TRAINS||Monday - Saturday||Sunday|
By the summer of 1871, the weekday service had been increased to six trains per day.
Woodfield Station in Dungeon Wood was opened to passengers on 1 June 1874, pending an inspection by Colonel Hutchinson of the Board of Trade. The reasons for the railway company building the station remain uncertain, as its location was unlikely to attract much custom. The station's fate was quickly sealed when Hutchinson inspected it on 3 June and discovered that it had been built on an unsafe 1 in 60 gradient — should any rolling stock be allowed to run away, it would gain "sufficient velocity to carry it through the junction and thence to Huddersfield". His report concluded:
Such a contingency must be guarded against [...] by doubling the line at the station and placing a outer siding below the station on the ascending line, or by flattening the gradient at the station [...] Until these requirements have been complied with I cannot recommend the Board of Trade to sanction the use of Woodfield Station.
With the withdrawal of the permission to open the station, it seems the railway company decided it would be cheaper to close the recently-opened station rather than temporarily close the entire branch line to allow the necessary track alterations to be carried out. It is believed that the station and platform were demolished prior to the opening of Beaumont Park in 1883.
On 19 October 1879, a retaining wall at Delves, on the section of the line between the Butternab and Netherton tunnels, collapsed onto the line shortly after the 8:35pm departure from Meltham passed the spot. Workmen spent the night clearing the debris off the line by lamp light and it re-opened late the following morning.
A more serious landslip occurred at around 7pm on 6 March 1895. Meltham District Council had held a meeting that evening and a large number of people were at Meltham Station awaiting the departure of the last train of the evening. When it failed to arrive, a number of passengers — including a reporter from the Huddersfield Chronicle — began walking down the line. By 9pm, they had arrived at Healey House Station where they found the station master in a state of "blissful ignorance [...] but wondering much what had become of the missing train. The group continued along the track and, as they emerged from Butternab Tunnel into Dungeon Wood, they found a landslip had "encumbered the line for some distance". The missing train from Huddersfield had ploughed into the debris and derailed, although fortunately none of the dozen or so passengers were injured. The journalist ended his report on the incident by noting that his fellow passengers on the walk had come up with all sorts of theories as to what sort of disaster had befallen the missing train:
Some would be satisfied with nothing less than a holocaust of the whole of the passengers, and others added the horrors of a fire to the appalling catastrophe which their imagination pictured. The reality fell far short of this.
The following table, reproduced from Workmen's Trains (1900), shows the number of tickets (both daily and weekly) sold to workpeople on the branch line during 1898:
|No. of Tickets Issued||Fares (s. d.)|
|Huddersfield||Netherton||2,229||8||0 3||1 6|
|Huddersfield||Healey House||281||7||0 4||1 9|
|Huddersfield||Meltham||2,243||698||0 5||2 6|
|Lockwood||Netherton||409||2||0 2½||1 3|
|Lockwood||Healey House||186||—||0 3||1 6|
|Lockwood||Meltham||3,074||1,551||0 4||2 0|
|Netherton||Meltham||1,465||2,096||0 2½||1 3|
|Healey House||Meltham||444||45||0 2||1 0|
|Meltham||Huddersfield||8,235||236||0 5||2 6|
|Meltham||Lockwood||10,212||135||0 4||2 0|
|Meltham||Netherton||1,601||51||0 2½||1 3|
|Meltham||Healey House||29||—||0 2||1 0|
|Healey House||Huddersfield||172||33||0 4||1 9|
|Healey House||Lockwood||1,307||—||0 3||1 6|
|Netherton||Huddersfield||7,933||249||0 3||1 6|
By 1934, the weekday service was eleven trains daily and fourteen on Saturday, although the Sunday service had been discontinued.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the firm of David Brown had begun production of tractors at Meltham Mills. During the war, the company also manufactured vital aircraft gears. Whilst other gear factories at Coventry and Derby were repeatedly bombed by the Luftwaffe, the David Brown works at Lockwood and Meltham Mills were never targeted.
Following the end of the war, tractor production resumed and David Brown's soon became the primary user of the branch line. By 1949, passenger numbers had declined with just four weekday trains and five Saturday trains operating on the line. Instead, most people were making use of the cheaper motor buses operated by Huddersfield Corporation — a ticket from Meltham to Huddersfield on the bus reportedly cost 5d compared to 1s 2d on the train.
Meltham Branch Line was closed to passengers on 21 May 1949. The final train, pulled by engine no. 42406, departed Meltham at 7:25pm and was filled to capacity. 90-year old Francis W. Creaser, who had accompanied his parents to watch the sod cutting ceremony in 1864 and who had travelled from Meltham on the first passenger train in 1869, was the guest of honour. According to a newspaper report, locals helped themselves to pieces of coal from the engine's tender as souvenirs.
During the early 1960s, David Brown's approached British Railways to enquire about the possibility of using custom rolling stock that would allow more tractors to be loaded. The request was turned down, apparently with a note that there were concerns about the "deterioration of Butternab and Netherton tunnels". Brown's seemingly took this to mean the likely closure of the line in the near future and instead invested the money on new lorries to transport their tractors.
The branch line was formally closed on 5 April 1965 and the track dismantled in the autumn of the following year.
Sleepers from the trackbed were repurposed and can today be found acting as the fence surrounding the perimeter of the Woodfield Park Sports and Social Club situated between Lockwood and Armitage Bridge.
By the 1980s, it had been hoped that the entire line could be converted into a cycle route. However, sections of land were subsequently used for the building of a supermarket at Meltham and for new residential houses off Butternab Road.
In 2016, Alcuin Homes (Yorkshire) Limited submitted a planning application to build 23 residential properties on the former site of Netherton Station. As part of the application, they proposed the conversion of approximately 0.6 miles of the trackbed from the southern portal of Netherton Tunnel into a Greenway.
From Lockwood to Meltham, the main features of the line were:
The approximate route is shown below: