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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire Features »
2005
'Tracking' down the Leek and Manifold railway
Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway
L&MV Light Railway
Deep in the Staffordshire Moorlands is a near-secret piece of railway history.

Leslie Oppitz explains a little more about The Leek and Manifold Railway which ran in the early 20th Century...
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The former trackbed of the Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway (L&MVLR) is today a made-up footpath and, should you wish to cycle its length, then you could well be hiring your bicycle from what was once the North Staffordshire Railway's (NSR) goods shed at Waterhouses.

Click on the red highlighted areas to see original photographs

The nearby passenger station has long since been demolished but the timber goods shed, which came from Fenton station in 1906, was converted to become a shop and cycle-hire point.

Distinctive

Another distinctive reminder of the past is the 164 yard long Swainsley Tunnel to the south of Butterton. Today used by single line motor traffic, it is said this was built at the insistence of Sir Thomas Wardle, a L&MVLR director, so that the view from nearby Swainsley Hall should not be spoilt.

A further tangible reminder of the L&MVLR is at the northern terminus, Hulme End, where the former locomotive shed became part of a council maintenance depot.

The booking office and waiting room also survived although the projecting canopy has gone. Not far away is the Manifold Valley Hotel where many old railway pictures are displayed.

Once called the Light Railway Hotel, it was one of three owned by the North Staffordshire Railway.

Official opening

The 2ft 6in single track railway, nearly nine miles in length, had its official opening on Monday, 27th June 1904.

The opening ceremony was carried out by the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Stafford, after which a train, comprising two carriages and two trucks fitted with temporary seats, took Lord Dartmouth and the invited guests on 'an exceedingly pleasant journey'.

The L&MVLR possessed just two locomotives during its existence. Both 2-6-4Ts, built by Kitson & Co in 1904, they were nos 1 and 2, named E R Calthrop and J B Earle purchased for £1,725 each.

Four tramway-type bogie coaches were used, each with a length of 42 feet. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that 8ft wide coaches were used on a 2ft 6in gauge track and, in order to do this, special agreement had to be given by the Board of Trade.

The coaches had colonial-type end platforms and were fitted with large side windows so that passengers could enjoy the delightful scenery along the valley.

Not a success
Unhappily the L&MVLR was never able to build up any worthwhile freight business and, with almost total reliance on passenger traffic, it could not survive indefinitely and finances suffered.

A proposed extension to Buxton might have saved the day but this was opposed by the NSR as well as local landowners.

The London & North Western Railway (LNWR) were equally disinterested and the scheme which had lingered for many years had to be dropped.

Equally a proposal from the L&MVLR directors that the NSR should purchase the line proved unsuccessful.

Other uses...

For a time during the First World War, the line played an important role with the carriage of large quantities of milk in 17 gallon churns.

After the war the line suffered along with others from coal and railway strikes and the increase in competition from road transport.

In January 1923 both the NSR and the L&MVLR became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) following 'grouping' of railway companies into four main areas. Yet despite seasonal tourist traffic, the LMS had little interest in this comparatively unknown route.

End of the line

With the line losing money, the LMS announced that services would end on Monday, 12th March 1934.

The last train ran on Saturday, 10th March, with few supporters turning up for a final ride. The weather was cold and misty with both Leek and Waterhouses under 3 inches of snow.

Within a few years, the locomotives and coaches had been scrapped and the track lifted.

Ill-fated revival

In the 1970s a plan was put forward to revive a section of the railway but there was much controversy.

Waterhouses Secondary School announced plans to build a 10½ in gauge replica between Grindon and Wetton.

Protesters including ramblers were concerned that the valley was already congested during summer weekends. One protester suggested Blackpool might be a better place for such a scheme!

Despite an opinion poll recording 98% support for the railway from the local people, the Peak Planning Board rejected the plan and the railway was launched instead at Rudyard Lake between
Leek and North Rode.

Preserved for all

The only saving grace was the purchase of the trackbed and bridges by the Staffordshire County Council which spent £6,000 in converting the route into a footpath and bridleway.

At least in such a way, visitors could continue to enjoy the delights of the beautiful Manifold Valley.

What a terrible shame the line did not last until enthusiasts might have acquired the line to provide a preserved railway.

Today it could hardly fail.


About the writer

Leslie Oppitz lives near Welshpool in Powys and is author of many books in his Lost Railways and Lost Tramways series.

Recent publications include 'Lost Railways of Shropshire' and 'Lost Railways of Cheshire'.

The above is an edited version of a chapter from his next book 'Lost Railways of Staffordshire' will be published during 2006.

Books published by Countryside Books of Newbury, Berkshire.
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