Professor Paul Salveson is a historian and writer and lives in Bolton. He is visiting professor in ‘Worktown Studies’ at the University of Bolton and author of several books on Lancashire history

You’d have to be of a certain age to remember Bolton’s ‘other’ railway, which ran from Great Moor Street station, now part of Morrison’s car park.

It was the terminus for two lines – the Leigh and Kenyon Junction line, via Chequerbent, and the route to Manchester via Walkden and Little Hulton.

The Leigh line opened as early as 1828 and pre-dates even the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Bolton and Leigh Railway was the first ‘public’ railway in Lancashire and is of huge historical importance, engineered by George Stephenson and projected as early as 1824.

The original line ran through Daubhill assisted by rope haulage powered by a stationary steam engine owing to the steepness of the gradient.

The line opened from Pendlebury Fold (near Hulton Park) to Bolton on August 1, 1828. The first depot was at Lecturer’s Closes, near Bridgeman Street. The Bolton Chronicle reported the grand opening in enthusiastic terms. The first train was hauled by Lancashire Witch built at Stephenson’s works in Newcastle: “Six wagons were attached to the engine, completely filled with gentlemen; also a coach of beautiful structure, which is intended at some future period to convey passengers on the railway. A number of gentlemen were also on the roof. Next followed seven other wagons containing ladies and gentlemen, and the Bolton Old Band.”

GOODS TRAIN: Another view of the Chequerbent Incline with the site of Pretoria pit to the left

GOODS TRAIN: Another view of the Chequerbent Incline with the site of Pretoria pit to the left

The day’s events concluded with a celebratory gathering at the Commercial Inn, with George and son Robert Stephenson as guests of honour.

The line was originally intended to haul goods traffic, primarily coal. Within a few weeks the price of coal in the Bolton area was reduced by 2s per ton. The area around Pendlebury Fold had several coal mines, owned by the Hulton family who had promoted the railway. These included Pretoria Pit, which exploded in December 1910 with the loss of 344 lives.

Another locomotive was acquired – the Sans Pareil built by Timothy Hackworth for the famous Rainhill Trails on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

It is the earliest example of railway preservation, with the Bolton engineer John Hick (son of the engineer Benjamin Hick) rescuing it from the scrapyard in the 1860s and restoring it. The historic locomotive is now preserved as part of the National Railway Museum’s collection.

John Hick was part of the important engineering form of Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell which owned the Union Foundry on Blackhorse Street.

The Bolton and Leigh’s third acquisition was The Union, built by the firm in 1830. At least two other locomotives were built locally for the Bolton and Leigh at Crook and Deans Foundry in Little Bolton.

John Hick subsequently established the Soho Foundry on the south side of Crook Street which became Hick, Hargreaves and Co. In its early years the firm built locomotives for many of the major railways.

By a stroke of luck some of the early drawings were rescued from the tip and are now in the safe keeping of Bolton Museum and Archives.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened on September 15, 1830 and a link to Bolton was provided from Kenyon Junction, near Newton-le-Willows, soon after. The first passenger train ran on June 13, 1831, from Bolton (Great Moor Street) to the Liverpool and Manchester’s Crown Street terminus, hauled by The Union.

. Probably the last passenger train – a BR ‘Officers’ Special’ April 1967 at Fletcher St Junction

. Probably the last passenger train – a BR ‘Officers’ Special’ April 1967 at Fletcher St Junction

The life of the Bolton and Leigh Railway company was short. It merged with other companies including the Liverpool and Manchester in 1845 and a year later became part of the mighty London and North Western Railway, with its headquarters at Euston and main workshops at Crewe.

The first passenger station in Bolton was provided at Great Moor Street, though a railway crossed Great Moor Street and served the foundry on Blackhorse Street, operating in effect as a street tramway for freight.

A later addition was a railway goods warehouse on Deansgate, close to where the Hen and Chickens pub now stands. This fascinating railway closed in 1930.

RUIN: Great Moor Street Station, Bolton, shortly before demolition, 1966

RUIN: Great Moor Street Station, Bolton, shortly before demolition, 1966

The original passenger station was severely damaged in a spectacular crash on January 30, 1868. A goods train hauled by the locomotive Redstart ran out of control down the gradient, smashed through the level crossing on Crook Street and ended up in the middle of Great Moor Street. Amazingly, there was only one fatality.

Following the mayhem, a temporary station was provided and plans for a new station, which would be reached by a bridge over Crook Street instead of the level crossing, took shape.

The new station opened on September 28. 1874, with four platforms and a terminal building ‘built in the Italian style’ according to local press reports.

Great Moor Street was soon to host direct trains from Manchester. The London and North Western Railway opened its ‘Little Hulton Extension Railway’ on April 1, 1875, connecting with the Wigan, Leigh and Manchester line at Roe Green, between Walkden and Worsley.

The last part of the jigsaw was the 1885 diversion of the original Bolton and Leigh route via a less heavily-graded line around Daubhill which avoided the St Helens Road crossing, and an easier route through Chequerbent.

Great Moor Street Station, 1966, just before demolition

Great Moor Street Station, 1966, just before demolition

New stations were provided at Rumworth and Daubhill, at the junction of St Helens Road and Morris Green Lane, and at Chequerbent. The original crossing house at Chequerbent on the A6 remains, with a small plaque.

Even with the new route, the line was ferociously graded. The most challenging section was between Atherton (Bag Lane) and Chequerbent where the gradient was 1 in 30. However, mining subsidence resulted in a ‘dip’ which made the gradient more like 1 in 18, the steepest gradient on any main-line railway in the UK.

Nearly every train required a ‘banker’ to push the train to the top but even then trains often ‘stuck’.

There is a touching story about the horrendous Pretoria Pit disaster of 1910. Many of the miners’ widows lived on Brancker Street, Chequerbent, which faced the line. Sometimes trains would deliberately slow down and cobs of coal would be thrown onto the trackside by the loco crews to help the widows and their children.

The growing importance of the LNWR’s operations in Bolton required a new locomotive depot, which was opened in 1875 at Plodder Lane, overlooking the Fishpools Workhouse, later Townley’s Hospital and these days The Royal Bolton Hospital.

Generations of Boltonians, the writer included, were born within earshot of steam locomotives simmering at the depot. It had a small allocation of tank engines to power the local passenger services with some heaver freight locos.

Another spectacular ‘runaway’ took place in 1918 and is commemorated by a mural on the Sweet Green Tavern.

The accident report said the train ran away on the steep gradient from Hulton’s Sidings and “ran through the yard on the metals, forced its way through the boundary wall, crossed the public road diagonally and completely wrecked two small dwelling-houses. The guard jumped from the brake-van; the driver and fireman remained on the footplate. None of the men suffered more than minor injuries. Eight persons living in the houses were injured, though fortunately not seriously.”

Great Moor Street settled into the role of being the smaller cousin to the nearby Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s Trinity Street. It had a basic timetable of trains to Manchester (Exchange) via Little Hulton and Walkden, and to Kenyon Junction and Tyldesley via Atherton.

However, for a while it boasted through carriages to London (Euston) via Stockport. In the inter-war years there was a daily through carriage to North Wales which attached to a Manchester – Llandudno train at Kenyon Junction.

The line had an interesting connection with Bolton School. One of its regular ‘commuters’ from 1940 was Clifford Hardiker Ingram, commonly known as ‘Butch’, the Classics master for many years and an avid railway enthusiast.

He travelled each day from home near Kenyon Junction to Bolton, riding on the footplate and quite often doing the driving!

At Great Moor Street he would jump on his bike, which he kept by arrangement with the station master at Great Moor Street station and would set off with his academic gown flowing in the wind. I wonder if he was an honorary member of ASLE&F, the drivers’ union?

POIGNANT: The last passenger train leaves Great Moor Street Station, Bolton in March 1954. Christopher Mullineaux shakes hands with the driver Mr J Bethel

POIGNANT: The last passenger train leaves Great Moor Street Station, Bolton in March 1954. Christopher Mullineaux shakes hands with the driver Mr J Bethel

The entire network closed on March 29, 1954, with routes to both Manchester and Kenyon Junction losing their passenger service. However, in response to strenuous efforts of the local authorities (Farnworth still had its own corporation as well as Bolton), and Farnworth Trades Union Council, a ‘workmen’s train’ was provided in the morning and back in the evening to take employees to their jobs in the Patricroft engineering factories. That service only survived another six months.

Great Moor Street become a ‘ghost station’, still staffed for handling goods traffic correspondence.

Fred Greenwood, of Great Lever, was one of the last goods inspectors to have a desk at the old station. Despite the station being technically closed, it sprang to life each Bolton Holidays to accommodate specials to North Wales.

Trinity Street couldn’t cope with the demand for extra trains to Blackpool, Southport and a multitude of other destinations and it was relatively straightforward to route North Wales trains from Great Moor Street via Atherton, Kenyon Junction and Warrington.

The last trains ran in July 1958 and I was thrilled, at the tender age of five, to be on one of them, heading off to Prestatyn with the family.

Plodder Lane loco shed closed in October 1954, not long after passenger services had ceased. Many of the drivers and firemen were re-deployed elsewhere within the BR system, with most transferring to the nearby Crescent Road sheds in Great Lever.

Not all of the transferees were greeted with open arms. The old company rivalries between ‘The Lanky’ (Lancashire and Yorkshire) and ‘The Wessy’ (London and North Western) were still strong, more than 30 years after both companies ceased to exist.

But in time, firemen such as Jimmy Jones settled in to being well-liked members of the Crescent Road staff.

The lines to Roe Green and Kenyon Junction remained open for freight, though each gradually lost their traffic in the 1960s and 70s. The original Bolton and Leigh Railway level crossing on St Helen’s Road continued to be used for coal traffic to Sunnyside Mills until the mid-60s and if you look closely you will see some remains of the line.

The last freight traffic was to the aggregates depot at Hulton’s Siding, between Chequerbent and Daubhill.

The railways from Great Moor Street deserve more recognition, especially the Bolton and Leigh. Built by George Stephenson and the first ‘proper’ (i.e. public) railway in Lancashire, parts of the Bolton and Leigh line could be made into a heritage trail with a modest bit of funding. As with our textile history, we are slow to recognise our heritage.

Many thanks to John Robinson and Harry Jack for their assistance with this article. Bert Holland’s ‘Plodder Lane for Farnworth’ gives a detailed account of ‘Bolton’s Other Railway’

Details of Paul’s book Moorlands, Memories and Reflections, featuring aspects of Lancashire’s history including its railways, can be found at www.lancashire A new edition of his biography of Bolton writer Allen Clarke will be out shortly