34 years later... Middleton revisited 4 May 2008 Back Contact Geoff
250 years ago, in 1758, the Middleton Railway in Leeds became the world's first railway to be authorised by Act of Parliament. In 1812, it became the first commercial railway to successfully use steam locomotives - curious things they were, using rack-and-pinion rather than good old friction, with plain wheels running on the plateway rails. The line was relaid to standard gauge in 1881. In 1960, it became the first standard gauge preserved railway, a freight service being provided to local businesses by volunteers. In 1968 I paid my first visit (perhaps not a particularly significant event in the line's history), revisiting a number of times over the next six years. Perhaps it was time for another visit. It's very hard to relate the Leeds of the late 60s / early 70s to the present setup. There was no M1 motorway for a start!. The headquarters of the line were at the end of a short branch - was it Clayton's Yard? The original route towards the centre of Leeds had long been severed at Moor Road, but another branch - Balm Road - connected to the (former Midland) main line. Huge rusting gates stood in place across the main road. The passenger service which began in 1969 ran from this point, up the line towards the former Middleton Broom Colliery, which had closed the previous year. All the land around the railway seemed semi-derelict. We arrived via the M1 - "there will be signs to direct us". There were - and there was smoke too, rising from Moor Road station,
just below the Motorway. No problem! Entrance to the platform is through the wonderful new Engine House, well-stocked with well restored locomotives representing Leeds's historic past. Hudswell Clarke, Manning Wardle, Kitson, Fowler - and of course Hunslet. Not to forget numerous interlopers - Peckett. Hawthorn Leslie, Bagnall et al. There are the inevitable "long term projects" scattered around, and the dismantled parts of "work in progress" - but the Engine House presents a very different picture. My old friend from earlier visits, Henry de Lacy II, is clean and shiny, resplendent in fine maroon livery ("nothing wrong with him that a new boiler wouldn't fix"). A new boiler had fixed the locomotive which was in service today - "Matthew Murray", a lovely little Manning Wardle, no 1601 of 1903 - just the thing for the two 4-wheeled coaches, converted from former Southern Region PMV's (according to the line's web site). The line is not long, little over a mile, so there was no hurry - plenty of time to take in the changes - the narrow bore of the tunnel under the M1, the new South Leeds Stadium, lots of trees and bushes that weren't there 34 years ago - and, at the other end of the line, the option of "bluebell walks". Gosh - hard to imagine that in 1974's desolation! Rain threatened - we rejoined the train. A most enjoyable little outing - well worth an hour or two of anyone's time. Perhaps we won't leave it 34 years next time. Link: Middleton Railway
Geoff’s Rail Diaries Arrival at Middleton Park Rural railway - running round Matthew Murray Portrait of a Manning Riding shotgun - the return journey Back at Moor Road - Balm Road branch and a Wickham Not on display - Bagnall, Kitson and Hunslet await restoration "Picton", Hunslet 2-6-2T ex-Trinidad, awaits restoration Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0DM "Carroll", D631 of 1946 Henry de Lacy II, Hudswell Clarke 1309 of 1917 Inside the Engine House The gates - still there! Middleton departure - time to leave Middleton Park - how it looked in winter '69-'70 Moor Road - how it looked in December 1970