Trains Illustrated (May/1959) - The Huddersfield-Penistone Line and its Branches

The following article is reproduced from the May 1959 issue of Trains Illustrated.

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The Huddersfield-Penistone Line and its Branches

The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway made much of the scenic attractions of its route when it inaugurated a London-Bradford service in conjunction with the Great Central Railway towards the end of the last century. One doubts whether hard-headed Yorkshire businessmen found the beauties of the landscape any compensation for the time taken by a journey on the L. & Y.-G.C. service, but no one who has used the route over the isolated L. & Y. branch from Huddersfield to Penistone will contest the claims of its eye-catching views and heavy engineering works to make it one of England's more spectacular railways.

The engineering was in the hands of the Lancashire & Yorkshire's John Hawkshaw, and his achievement in completing the original 15½ miles of track in 4 years 8 months was a creditable one. The branch was born as a competitor for a projected 65-mile-long Leeds, Huddersfield & South Staffordshire Railway and commenced a not uneventful career in 1844 with the title of Huddersfield & Sheffield Junction Railway and as co-partner with the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway. It was granted an Act in 1845 for a 13½-mile line from Springwood to a junction with the Sheffield & Manchester Railway at Penistone and for a 2-mile branch to Holmfirth, and on August 29, 1845, the first sod was lifted by Lord Wharncliffe at Penistone.

In September, 1845, the H. & S.J.R. gave notice of plans for a branch from Denby Dale to a junction with the Midland Railway at Darfield, but the Bill was outvoted at its third reading in 1846 and it was not until 1872 that a branch from Shepley struck out in that direction, coming to a dead end in a field. A scheme was also mooted in late 1845 for a Great Northern & Southern Direct Railway from an end-on junction at Holmfirth through Hathersage, Nether Padley, Froggat, Bakewell and Matlock to Cromford, following thence the river Derwent to the Midland's Ambergate station, and thus giving access via Belper to Derby. J.U. Rastrick[1] was engineer of this proposed line, which progressed no further than paperwork.

In the winter of 1845 there were squabbles amongst the directors, who sat jointly on the boards of the H. & M.R. and H. & S.J.R., and plans for amalgamation of their systems and marriage to the S. & M.R. fell through. Thereupon the Manchester & Leeds Railway, still three miles from Huddersfield after being thrice repulsed from the town because of faulty schemes, seized a chance to gain a foothold. A joint meeting was held with the H. & S.J.R. in the local Guild Hall on June 1, 1846, amicable terms were agreed and Parliamentary sanction for them was gained on July 1, 1846. So, on August 27, 1846, the H. & S.J.R. became part of the newly incorporated Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, the successor of the M. & L.R. The Penistone branch was forever an isolated L. & Y. outpost, as L.N.W.R. metals intervened from Springwood Junction, Huddersfield, to the junction with the L. & Y. main line at Heaton Lodge.

Construction went steadily forward, although a set-back occurred on January 27, 1847, when a violent "Nor'easter" blew down half of a wooden, Lancashire-type viaduct at Denby Dale. Wood had been substituted for stone by Hawkshaw, and although later damaged by fire, this viaduct, when rebuilt, gave 28 years' service before replacement with a stone structure in May, 1880. Disputes with land-owners in the area of Paddock Viaduct, near Huddersfield, seriously delayed work on it in 1849-50 and another hindrance was the need to alter plans to make a 142-yard cutting in the neighbourhood of the junction with the L.N.W.R. at Huddersfield, as the Board of Trade refused to sanction the intended convergence inside Springwood Tunnel. However, trial trips were completed by April 29, 1850, and at last a "Copper-knob" hauled the first train, an excursion to Chatsworth House, on July 1, 1850. Unfortunately the event ended in fiasco, with the overloaded engine panting to a halt in the Thurstonland Tunnel; half the train was left inside and half taken back to Penistone, the engine then returning for the remainder.

Leaving Huddersfield station the Penistone train plunges immediately into a damp tunnel, partly lit to illuminate a shunting neck and connection to a bay in the station, and strikes a gradient of 1 in 96. It diverges at Springwood Junction and is soon running over Paddock Viaduct, built on a 35-chain curve. This consists of 15 stone arches, divided into sets of six and nine by a lattice-girder section, and ends with a skew plate-girder bridge; it bridges a main road and the Huddersfield & Ashton Canal, which is itself crossing the river Colne on an aqueduct. To the right is a fine 4½-mile view along the Colne Valley, but to the left the chimneys of industrial Huddersfield crowd the landscape. Then Paddock cutting precedes the 200-yards-long Yew Green tunnel, immediately beyond which are the platforms of Lockwood station (1½ miles).

A quarter-mile further on the single-line Meltham branch diverges to the right on a check-railed curve and a 1 in 50 grade. Nowadays its traffic is reduced to two daily goods to the David Brown Tractor Plant at its terminus. A picturesque line, with stone-built stations at Netherton and Healey House, it was authorised in 1861, opened to goods traffic on August 3, 1868, and to passengers on July 12, 1889. An intensive service was run until the 1930s, when buses began to capture its traffic. Nevertheless, 11 trains ran each way in 1939 and traffic improved during the late war, but costly repairs were needed and the regular timetable ceased on May 21, 1949, the only passenger service since being a schoolchildren's excursion. Apart from the initial heavy gradient by which the line ascends on a rock shelf, its only engineering works are two short tunnels at Butternab Wood and Netherton. Each station has a goods yard which once handled considerable traffic, but is now used only for storage.

Beyond the junction for the Meltham branch the Penistone line comes to Lockwood Viaduct, which carries the track 122 feet above the River Holme. Miller-Blackie & Shortridge were contractors for the viaduct and John Frazer (of Queensbury fame) the resident engineer; along with John Hawkshaw and William Bain, Director and Inspector, their names are inscribed on a stone plaque on top of the end pier. The first stone was laid on April 20, 1846, and 30,000 cubic yards of rough-dressed stone went into its construction.

A cutting hewn from solid rock (the spoil was used in Lockwood Viaduct) follows and hems in Berry Brow station (2½ miles). The up platform is graced by a stone carving of a Barton Wright 0-4-4 tank, a class which did yeoman service on the line; the now weathered sculpture by a young stonemason replaced a smaller one by his father, which depicted a Bury engine and train of early stock. Clearing the cutting, the Penistone line runs on to an embankment 100 feet above the Penistone road, and from this there are magnificent views to the right before the train enters the 230 yards-long Robin Hood tunnel, soon followed by an 80 yards tunnel and then Honley station (4½ miles). Between here and Brockholes Junction 15 miles of moorland form the horizon to the right, and standing in the middle of it, like a glittering icicle in winter and lit up like a fairy wand at night, is the B.B.C.'s 750 feet high Holme Moss TV aerial; the top of the mast is 2,500 feet above sea level. Brockholes station (5¼ miles) has a setting as picturesque as its name.

Our course so far has been to the south-east, but now we turn east towards Thurstonland bank, with its 1,700 yards-long tunnel. Diverging to the south, ⅛-mile beyond the station, is the Holmfirth branch, opened on the same day as the main line. The main engineering work of this line, which follows a wooded valley, was a timber viaduct that collapsed on December 13, 1865, and was replaced by a stone structure opened on March 11,1867. Leaving the viaduct the branch runs into a cutting enclosing Thongsbridge station (1 mile) and heads towards Holme Moss Moor for the final ¾-mile to its terminus. Its double track carried a good service up to 1939, but now there are only four trains each way daily. Standing on the austere single platform and looking beyond the rear of the station hotel and run-round points that replace a turntable lifted in 1938, one can only wonder how Rastrick hoped to surmount the towering moors ahead in his 1845 proposal for a route through to the Midland.

Leaving Holmfirth Junction, with its triangle of grass-grown sidings, the Penistone line enters Thurstonland Tunnel. Springs broached in its construction supply engine water to Brockholes, but winter freezing has resulted in the death of a fireman who struck his head on an icicle hanging from the tunnel roof. The ruling gradient so far has been 1 in 100, but from this point to Penistone it is 1 in 200. The line now veers slightly south through a wooded cutting before arriving at the staggered platforms of Stocksmoor station (6½ miles) and a further ¾-mile stretch of level track leads to Shepley & Shelley (7¼ miles).

Three-quarters of a mile beyond Shepley & Shelley are the sidings and junction for the single line to Clayton West, which turns northeastward and is double track width for 1½ miles, including the ¼-mile Shelley Woodhouse Tunnel, to the single platform of Skelmanthorpe. Here the road bed narrows to single track width and the branch descends at 1 in 75 to Clayton West, 1¾ miles further on. Following a joint project by the L.N.W.R. and M.R. in 1865 for a line from Huddersfield to Barnsley via Kirkburton, the failure of which resulted in acquisition by the Midland of perpetual running powers from Barnsley to Huddersfield via the G.C.R. and Penistone (though it never exercised them), the L. & Y.R. was secretive about the true intentions of the Clayton West branch, which was opened in September, 1879. Two abortive attempts were later made to extend it to a junction with the L. & Y.R.'s Barnsley-Horbury line at Darton. Parkgate colliery is the branch’s main source of freight revenue today and there are two workings to it by E.R. engines from Penistone.

The Penistone line continues from the branch junction through the 814 yards-long Cumberworth Tunnel and a short cutting past a pipe works to Denby Dale (9½ miles) and the crossing of the Dale itself, on which there are fine views to Cawthome and Barnsley. Three passenger and two goods trains were snowed in here on December 4, 1882, and the "South Yorkshireman" suffered the same fate in February, 1958. For the last four miles to Penistone the line twists and turns southwards through splendid scenery, until the 400 yards-long Wellhouse Hill Tunnel heralds the approach to Penistone.

As the train takes to Penistone Viaduct, there is a view down the Don Valley to Oxspring Viaduct on the G.C. Barnsley line and westwards to Bullhouse, on the main line, with Hartcliffe Tower conspicuous on the skyline. The viaduct, 330 yards in length and built on a 40-chain curve, stands 83 feet above the River Don and has 31 arches. Only two piers are founded in the river and the failure of one of them precipitated L. & Y. 2-4-2 tank No. 661 to death on February 2, 1916, its remains being hauled up in small pieces; the crew escaped injury but a bridge inspector had a narrow escape from falling masonry. A very sharp bend leads from the viaduct into the former L. & Y. platforms (recently altered to allow "C1" loading gauge stock to clear them) of the bleakly-situated Penistone station, which is a cold spot in summer but positively Arctic in winter.

Taking last summer's timetable as representative of the line's busiest period, the key signalbox at Springwood Junction saw 21 passenger trains travelling outward and 21 inward each day; 13 were from and 14 to Penistone, with extras on Saturdays; five were from and four to Clayton West, with three and two additional trains respectively on Saturdays; and three were to and four from Holmfirth, with three more each way on Saturdays. Most of the Penistone branch local services are through to and from Bradford and their staple power is the Class "4" 2-6-4 tank. Including empty stock, light engines and freight, there are 76 branch movements past the box daily. This total compares unfavourably with that of prewar days, when virtually an interval service was run to all points served by the line.

The years 1905-10 were the pre-grouping heyday of competitive services from London to Bradford and Manchester and the peak for the Huddersfield-Penistone line came when through services from Bradford to Sheffield were taken over by the L. & Y. 4-6-0s, whose star turn was the 10 a.m. Bradford-Marylebone. The summer services of 1910 showed through coaches to Southampton and Bournemouth, Bristol and the West Country via Banbury; today only a Bradford-Bournemouth-Poole service survives on summer Saturdays. Up to the collapse of the Penistone viaduct in 1916 there was a through London service of four trains to and from Marylebone, two of them with restaurant cars. Penistone Viaduct was reopened on August 14, 1916, and these services were reinstated with additional through coaches on the 12.15 p.m. down from London and 1.35 p.m. from Bradford, as well as on two Sunday trains. Today there is only the daily Marylebone-Bradford "South Yorkshireman", although extra through coaches are run on summer Saturdays.

L.N.W.R. coaches from Leeds were worked to Sheffield over the Penistone line by the L. & Y.R. and after the 1922 amalgamation L.N.W. engines appeared; 0-6-2 tanks, and 19 in. and "Prince of Wales" 4-6-0s were the types used. Ex-L.N.W. 0-8-0s can still be seen on occasion, although the mainstay of freight haulage nowadays is the "WD" 2-8-0. "Patriot" 4-6-0s took over express services from the L. & Y. 4-6-0s in the 1930s, but they in turn were replaced by "Jubilees" and Class "5" 4-6-0s; the latter, with "B1s", now cover all the heavy jobs, assisted at holiday times by the odd Fowler 2-6-0 and by 2-8-0s on summer week-end excursions. The G.C.R. has also been represented among the motive power and in the past there have been numerous occasions when its Manchester-Sheffield traffic has been diverted via Huddersfield because of repairs to Woodhead Tunnel — or, latterly, construction of the new one. During a week in the mid-1930s a stud of most G.C. types was stabled at Huddersfield for this reason.

In recent months there has been some speculation as to the future of the Huddersfield-Penistone line, ranging from talk of withdrawal of the local services to singling of the track over certain sections. However, it now appears that the local workings are likely to be dieselised with multiple-units later this year, and a three-car Metro-Cammell unit was seen making trial trips between Huddersfield and Penistone on March 6 last.


Notes and References

Trains Illustrated (May/1959) - The Huddersfield-Penistone Line and its Branches

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This page was last modified on 9 April 2019 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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