Derbyshire’s Forgotten Railways

Steve Roberts takes a trip down memory lane and explores parts of our county’s historic rail network and discovers a much altered landscape

Derbyshire has seen its fair share of branch line closures over the decades, with railway enthusiast bogeyman Dr Beeching playing his usual role.

Small, quaint communities have lost their station and their connection to the world. Sometimes the whole branch closed: even when a line survived, the intermediate stops disappeared.

Sometimes a station is reborn, with trains once again threading their way through its platforms. In most places though, it’s ghost trains you’ll be listening to – here are a few that have fallen by the wayside.

Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway

What became part of the Midland Railway main line between London and Manchester had various fates.

The Derby-Matlock section still has passenger services, while the next four mile block (Matlock-Rowsley) is now the Peak Rail Heritage Line, while the Rowsley-Buxton now offers recreation in the form of the footpath Nine Mile Monsal.

The first part of this line across the country was opened in 1849, to Rowsley, although the completion of the other sections to Manchester was not finally completed until 1867.

Many old railway lines, such as here at Monsal Head, have been redeveloped for the public
– Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A century later the line beyond Matlock was closed and, with the lifted track beyond Rowsley and the Monsal Trail doing a steady trade of walkers and cyclists, that seemed to be it.

There have been periodic plans to reopen in Buxton, however, so this story may still have some way to go.

The Ashbourne Line

The 33½ mile line from Buxton to Uttoxeter via Ashbourne was built by the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) which already had its station at Buxton opposite Manchester.

The Midland Railway (the line to Derby above) also had its station at Buxton, right next to L&NWR.

Buxton was clearly a bustling place at the time. The first stop from Buxton on the new Ashbourne line was Higher Buxton, which opened in June 1894.

A few stops before Ashbourne was Tissington (1899), a hint if one was needed that we are talking about Tissington Trail here.

Victorian window at Buxton Midland Railway with the London and North Western Railway Company

Victorian window at Buxton Midland Railway with the London and North Western Railway Company
– Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beyond Ashbourne was Clifton (Mayfield) station, which dated from May 1852. All three stations closed in the early 1950s – Higher Buxton first in April 1951, the other two following when the line closed to the passengers in November 1954.

However, freight continued to rumble along the route for another decade or so, and continues to do so on the northern section (from Buxton to Hindlow/Dowlow). The 13-mile Tissington Trail, a cycling and walking route, was one of the first ventures of its kind nationwide.

Cromford and High Peak Railway

The C&HPR was built ostensibly as a freight line, joining the Cromford Canal Quay (High Peak Junction) and the Peak Forest Canal (Whaley Bridge).

Its raison d’être was the transport of goods and minerals through the Peak District of Derbyshire. Opened in 1831, the line will continue until 1967.

Middleton Incline Engine House

Middleton Incline Engine House
– Credit: Gary Wallis

The junction at the Cromford end was with the Midland Railway line (that of Manchester, Matlock, Buxton and Midland Junction Railway).

Heading towards Buxton, the line joined the L&NWR line (the Ashbourne line) before skirting Buxton on its way to Whaley Bridge.

The part of the line between Dowlow (near Buxton) and High Peak Junction became the High Peak Trail.

The route had been marked by a number of inclines worked with rope and the Middleton Incline Engine House (near the Cromford end of the line) is preserved with the old static beam engine which once carried wagons loaded with up and down the Middleton Incline, with its 1-in-8 gradient being demonstrated.

The Steeple Grange Railway, on the other hand, is a narrow gauge railway that uses the track bed of a former C&HPR branch.

High Peak Junction

High Peak Junction
– Credit: Gary Wallis

The Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension

An extension of the Great Northern Railway (GNR), the Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension of the 1870s was the GNR’s attempt to gain a share of the coal traffic in this part of the world with a twin tier line merging on its approach to Derby , continuing on to Egginton Junction where it joins the North Staffordshire Railway.

The line was scrapped in the 1960s, with the Nottingham-Derby passenger service running in 1964 and the Derbyshire extension seeing its last commercial traffic in 1968.

Mickleover Station, just a few stops from Egginton Junction, was closed to passengers as early as October 1939, perhaps as a wartime economy measure, and it will never reopen, although it has retained freight facilities until 1964.

Egginton Junction, meanwhile, was closed in March 1962, but the stretch of line from Egginton, through Mickleover, back to Derby, was retained as a British Railways test track as BR had its center railway engineering in Derby.

It was therefore on this section of line in Derbyshire that the much-maligned Advanced Passenger Train (APT), the “tilting train”, was put to the test.

The Melbourne Line

Built between Derby and Ashby-de-la-Zouch (Leicestershire), the Melbourne Line has an interesting history.

Melbourne station opened as a terminus in September 1868 for the line from Derby Midland station, becoming a through station in 1874 when the line was extended to Ashby.

Melbourne however lost its passenger service in 1930, with the arrival of the military at the start of World War II, the station becoming the Melbourne Military Rail Depot with the line used for training military rail personnel.

The line was only returned to the railway company, the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) in 1945, itself soon supplanted by the BR.

The line continued until 1980, when it was finally closed to freight traffic. The old platform is now used for the Cloud Trail, which combines with the canal paths to provide a traffic-free route between Derby and Worthington.


Killamarsh, which once had no less than three railway stations - now there are none

Killamarsh, which once had no less than three railway stations – now there are none
– Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Killamarsh, a small town of less than 10,000 souls, once had no less than three stations. Today, he has none.

Working west to east there were: the Midland Railway’s Killamarsh West; Great Central Railway’s Killamarsh Central; and Upperthorpe and Killamarsh of the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway.

It just goes to show what could happen in the days when a plethora of railroad companies were all bent on getting their share of the action and sometimes all arriving at the same place.

The Gare de l’Ouest was the first arrival in 1841 but lasted less than two years due to financial difficulties.

A new station opened in 1873 and will close in 1954. Killamarsh Central opened around the turn of the 20th century, in 1892, closing in 1963. The last – and shortest – to open was Upperthorpe and Killamarsh in 1898, which is also became the first to close in 1930.

The fates of the three lost lines have varied, an apparent microcosm of Derbyshire’s ghost train history.

The old LD&ECR route remains derelict as if it was only recently abandoned. The old Midland Railway line through what was West Station is still open to freight traffic, offering the tantalizing prospect of a station reopening in Killamarsh in the future.

The line that once ran through Central is now part of the Trans Pennine Trail, yet another trail, but long distance in this case.

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