Saturday, 5 July 2008

Halfex to Blackpool

In 1957 there were far fewer cars than today and day excursions or half day excursions by rail were a popular way of taking a trip to the seaside.

On Tuesday, 23rd April 1957, I took the'HALFEX', advertised in the above 'flyer', from Wolverhampton to Blackpool North. The train was due to leave Wolverhampton at 11.20 a.m. and get to Blackpool at 2.0 p.m. Five and a half hours were allowed in Blackpool and the return service was due back in Wolverhampton at 10.10 p.m. The price for this trip was fourteen shillings (that's 70p in today's money).

The train arrived with 'Black Five' 44914 piloting 'Jubilee' 45555 ('Quebec') and already well-loaded. It had started from Birmingham New Street at 10.30 a.m. and come via the 'Old Road' stopping at Aston, Perry Barr, Darlaston and Willenhall before the final pick-up at Wolverhampton. I spent the journey in the corridor end at the front of the train, moving from side to side making track diagrams of the route. In those far-off days, doors were provided with drop-lights, so it was possible to lower the window and carefully lean-out for a better view. We went through Stafford on the Down Fast without stopping and rattled over the junctions at Norton Bridge less than three minutes later. We passed Whitmore in just under another 8 minutes. Before going over the water troughs, it was a good idea to make sure windows were closed, to avoid the possible soaking if one of the fireman was a bit slow raising the 'dip' (water scoop) after taking water! Betley Road was passed after 12.5 more minutes and soon we were slowing past the extensive sidings at Basford Hall, in preparation for the notorious reverse curves entering Crewe station.

We were routed on the No. 2 Down Through, past Crewe North Junction and away on the Down Fast. I noticed 'Black 5' 45368, '8F' 48398, 'Black 5' 45149 and 'Super D' 0-8-0 49415 as we made our way through. Crewe Coal Yard, Coppenhall Junction, Winsford then we were on the double-track bottleneck as far as Hartford Junction. I spotted the lines of I.C.I. bogie hoppers in the sidings on the Up Side then, at Acton Bridge, we were back to double track again. At Weaver Junction, the Liverpool Line diverged on a flyover junction. My notes show that the Weaver Junction Down Home was still a L&NWR lower quadrant with a wooden balanced bracket with two tall dolls. Soon we were rushing past Norton Crossing and crossing over the Manchester Ship Canal at Acton Grange Junction. I had a brief view of the 'Old Line' and the extensive sidings around Walton Old Junction.

Through Warrington Bank Quay, past Dallam Branch Sidings and Winwick Quay and past Winwick Junction, where the route to our left is the original Grand Junction line which joins the Liverpool & Manchester at Earlestown. The Vulcan Locomotive Works is visible on our left before we dive under the Liverpool and Manchester route. At Golborne Junction, the lattice-post junction signal beckons us onto the fast line and shortly we pass Bamfurlong Junction where freight lines diverge to serve the extensive marshalling yards. More junctions at Springs Branch and then the modern flat-roofed box at Wigan No. 1, where the Lancashire and Yorkshire Line runs parallel on the right before descending to enter Wigan (Wallgate) station.

Gingerly through Wigan (North Western) station then away up the bank to Boar's Head Junction and Victoria Colliery Sidings. At Standish Junction, where the line from Chorley joined from the right by a fly-under junction, the Down Home was another lower-quadrant survivor, according to my notes. The four tracks were paired by direction past the box, an L.M.S. Standard design set between the Down and Up lines, then the lines were re-aligned to be paired by use. On the Fast Line, we continued through Coppull and Balshaw Lane to the 'flat juction' at Euxton Junction. Euxton Coal Sidings Box followed, then on through Leyland, Bashalls Sidings Box, to Faringdon Junction and then Farington Curve Junction. At Skew Bridge, the four running lines branched into six past Ribble Sidings and soon we were approaching Preston, still glorying in a number of large L&NWR signal boxes and large L.M.S. upper-quadrant signal gantries.

Round the tight curves North of the station by Preston No. 5 box and the locomotive sheds. Here the West Coast main line diverges to the right. We continue on the Slow lines to another L.M.S. Standard box at Maudland Viaduct, where we're switched to the Fast. We're in 'Lanky' territory now, so 'Splitting Distants' (where extra distant arms show the route to be taken ahead) proliferate. Both the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the Midland Railway made widespread use of 'Spltting Distants' but I don't remember them on former L&NWR lines, although I know they were used. Constable Lane, water troughs, Salwick Station then the major station at Kirkham & Wesham. Beyond the station, three routes went forward to Blackpool. The one on the left stayed near the coast South of Blackpool, serving Lytham St. Annes and terminating at Blackpool South. This route survives today (just about) as a 'long siding'. The middle route was the direct route to Blackpool Central. Today, this route, and the station in Blackpool, has completely disappeared. My train took the right-hand route, the double track through Weeton, Singleton Bank and Singleton to Poulton-le-Fylde.

Poulton was quite a major junction then, serving the line to Fleetwood. The double-track through Poulton to Blackpool North survives today, but the Fleetwood line is truncated and, I think, little used. Then, we passed the Lancashire & Yorkshire pattern signalboxes Poulton No. 3 and Poulton No. 4, clear distants all the way. Finally, we pass Carleton Crossing and Layton, slowing as we thread our way over the complex junctions leading to Blackpool North Station.

The original terminal station was built with six platforms but, because of the growth of holiday traffic, another ten platform had been added, arranged on an awkward reverse curve to maximise the length of train which could be accommodated, as shown on the sketch above which I did at the time. Extensive carriage sidings were provided and a Motive Power Depot. Today, the station has been reduced to the original six platforms.

I can't remember how I spent the time in Blackpool but I will certainly have been on the beach, at least one of the piers (Blackpool has three!) and probably taken a tram ride. On the return journey, I continued to make track and signalling notes until Wigan. I imagine I gave up because it was dark, I was exhausted, or both. Fifty years have elapsed since this day out, but I can still remember the tingle of excitement as the train took me to new places and revealed more details of what was (then) an extremely complex and intensively used transport system.

You can find more detailed track and signalling diagrams of the route taken in the excellent series of publications from the Signalling Record Society 'British Railways Layout Plans of the 1950's'.

Wolverhampton to Stafford (excluding Stafford) is included in 'Volume 11: LNW Lines in the West Midlands' (ISBN: 1 873228 13 9).
Stafford to Crewe is included in 'Volume 1: ex-LNWR main line, Euston to Crewe' (ISBN: 1 873228 00 7).
Euxton Junction to Preston is included in 'Volume 6: West Coast Main Line (Euxton Junction to Mossband) and branches' (ISBN: 1 873228 05 8).

For details of what remains of this route in 2005, refer to 'Railway Track Diagrams Book 4: Midlands & North West', Second Edition, published by Trackmaps (ISBN: 0-9549866-0-1). The First Edition of this book was published by Quail in 1988.

[Spellings corrected 7-Feb-2009]