Heritage Town

Our Early Railways

By Geoffrey Washington

The year 1825 was a very important year in our history for it was then that George Stephenson personally drove his steam engine 'Locomotion' on the line from Darlington to Stockton, hauling 33 wagons and 300 passengers. He went on to pioneer the building of the first serious public railway from Liverpool to Manchester which opened in 1830.

George Stephenson surveyed the route from Manchester to Leeds in the 1830's, but objections from the Rochdale Canal Company and the Rochdale and Halifax Turnpike Trust delayed the proceedings. However the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company formally opened the line in 1841, although problems had arisen with the construction of 2885 yards long Summit tunnel.

The route came down the Calder Valley, but by-passed Halifax which meant that passengers and goods had to start their journey at either Sowerby Bridge or Elland. Geographically, Halifax was difficult to reach, as it is 200 ft. above the Calder Valley. Consequently it was not until 1844 that a single branch line from North Dean to Shaw Syke was opened and for a time this was the terminus for Halifax.

Subsequently the line was extended to the site of the present station although between 1850 and 1855 a temporary wooden platform was used, whilst Shaw Syke became a goods depot. The present station opened in 1855. In 1851 the Halifax Vicarage just across the road from the Parish Church was put up for sale and land was developed for sidings, mainly for handling of coal. A more direct link from Halifax to Sowerby Bridge came in 1852 when the 23 arch viaduct at Copley was completed followed by the station at Copley in 1856.

The entrance to the original 1855 train station was via a carriage drive down to platform level through an entrance to the right of Horton Street which can still be seen. The present arrangement of a bridge as continuation of Horton Street to the station forecourt was completed in 1886. In the meantime, work was going ahead to extend the Halifax branch eastwards and post 1855 the line went through Beacon Hill tunnel to Hipperholme, Lightcliffe and thence via Low Moor to Bradford and Leeds.

Subsequently other branch lines were planned, for example, a line was opened from North Dean to Stainland in 1875 (closed to passenger traffic in 1929 and to all traffic in 1959) and another, from Halifax via North Bridge and Ovenden to Holmfield and Queensbury, and thence a line to Keighley and Bradford was opened in 1879.

The last extension to the local network was the High Level Railway which was opened in 1890. This took off from Holmfield, tunnelled under Ovenden and emerged in the Wheatley valley where there were sidings to Samuel Webster's brewery. The very last passenger train ran on this line in 1953, although there was a special tour arranged by the Stephenson Locomotive Society. The last regular passenger train ran in 1916 and special excursions were organised at holiday times by local firms until the outbreak of war in 1939.

The last goods train ran on this line in 1960. A very ambitious scheme was proposed in 1865 to take a branch line from Sowerby Bridge up the Ryburn Valley and reached Rishworth in 1881 (closed to passenger traffic in 1929) The arrival of this branch line coincided with Sowerby Bridge station moved from the western side of the bridge over the road to its present site.

Alas, as road transport prospered and Dr Beeching's axe fell, all the branch lines disappeared and in present day we are left with a bare skeleton of a service through Halifax. A station which originally had six platforms now only has two, and most of the former railway property has now been acquired for other usage such as Eureka! the Museum for children

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