"Little" North Western Railway

For articles about other railway companies named North Western Railway, see North Western Railway (disambiguation).

“Little” North Western Railway

Heysham Port
Heysham Nuclear
Power Station
Morecambe Harbour
Morecambe Promenade
Northumberland St
Morecambe Branch Line
to Lancaster and Carnforth
Middleton Road
Bridge Halt

Scale Hall

Lancaster Castle
Lancaster and Carlisle Railway
Carlisle Bridge
Lancaster and Carlisle Railway
Greyhound Bridge
Lancaster Green Ayre
Crook o' Lune
River Lune
Furness & Midland Jt Rly
to Carnforth
Low Bentham
Bentham High
Ingleton Branch Line
to Low Gill
Clapham Junction
Settle-Carlisle Line
to Carlisle
Settle Junction
Long Preston
Ribble Valley Line
to Blackburn
Bell Busk
Leeds and Bradford Extension Railway
to Colne │ to Bradford

The North Western Railway (NWR) was an early British railway company in the north-west of England. It was commonly known as the "Little" North Western Railway, to distinguish it from the larger London and North Western Railway (LNWR).

The NWR was first leased, and later taken over, by the Midland Railway (MR). The MR used part of the line for its London to Scotland Settle and Carlisle main line.

The NWR main line, which ran from Skipton in the West Riding of Yorkshire to Morecambe on the Lancashire coast, gave the MR access to the west coast in an area dominated by the rival LNWR.

Part of the line, between Lancaster and Morecambe, was used in the early twentieth century for pioneering overhead electrification.

Two-thirds of the line, in North Yorkshire, is still in use today, mainly for local services. Of the dismantled Lancashire section, two-thirds has been reused as a combined cyclepath and footpath.


The North Western Railway was incorporated on 26 June 1846 to build a railway from Skipton on the Leeds and Bradford Extension Railway to Low Gill on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, to carry Yorkshire-to-Scotland rail traffic.

There would be a branch at Clapham, Yorkshire to Lancaster,[1] to make an end-on connection with an associated company.

Morecambe Harbour and Railway

Morecambe Harbour station (now a café)

The Morecambe Harbour and Railway Company was incorporated on 16 July 1846 to build a harbour on Morecambe Bay, close to the village of Poulton-le-Sands, and 3 miles (5 km) of railway to a new station at Lancaster Green Ayre. The single-track line opened on Whit Monday 12 June 1848.[2]

On 18 December 1849 a short connecting curve opened between Lancaster Green Ayre and Lancaster Castle on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway.[3]

The company amalgamated with the NWR within months of its incorporation, although technically it remained a separate company until absorption by the Midland Railway on 1 June 1871.[4]

The railway and harbour on Morecambe Bay led to the development of a settlement around them which absorbed Poulton-le-Sands, and later Bare and Torrisholme, and which eventually adopted the name of Morecambe.


Map of lines from Clapham to Ingleton and Wennington in 1903 (left of diagram)

What was the original 'main line' opened between Skipton and Ingleton, on 31 July 1849. However, due to economic recession, work on the Ingleton-to-Low Gill section was suspended, so the NWR was forced to concentrate on the branch to Lancaster.

Soon after, the line eastwards along the Lune valley from Lancaster Green Ayre to Wennington opened on 17 November 1849. The line extended further east to Bentham by 2 May 1850 and finally to Clapham where it joined the already completed line from Skipton, a month later on 1 June 1850. A horse bus had been used to bridge the gap between Wennington and Clapham during construction.[3][5]

Upon completion of the Morecambe-to-Skipton line, the Clapham-to-Ingleton section was closed, just ten months after opening, as the prospect of completion of the partly built branch to Low Gill seemed remote.[6]

The whole line was originally single track. By 1850, the Hornby-to-Hellifield section had been doubled, extending to Skipton by 1853. However, Morecambe-to-Lancaster remained single track until 1877, and Lancaster-to-Hornby until 1889. The curve between the two Lancaster stations was never doubled.[3]

From 1 June 1852, the NWR was worked by the Midland Railway (MR).[7] Later, on 1 January 1859, both the NWR and the MH&R were leased to the MR, and on 30 July 1874 the NWR was absorbed by the MR.[1][4]

Connecting Lines

The Ingleton Branch

Main article: Ingleton Branch Line

After considerable manoeuvring between rival companies, in 1857 it was the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, worked by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), that was authorised to take over construction of the abandoned Ingleton-to-Low Gill line. The line opened to passengers on 16 September 1861, but to the LNWR's own station at Ingleton. The Midland and LNWR stations were at opposite ends of a viaduct, and passengers had to walk between them. However, by 1862 the LNWR trains ran through to the Midland station.[8]

The Settle-Carlisle Line

Main article: Settle-Carlisle Line
Bell Busk Station in 1961

Due to continuing friction between the MR and the LNWR over the Ingleton Branch, the MR resolved to build its own line from Settle to Carlisle, which opened to passengers on 1 May 1876.[9] This line formed part of the MR's main line from London St Pancras to Carlisle Citadel and on to Glasgow St Enoch via the Glasgow and South Western Railway. Thus the NWR line between Skipton and Settle Junction gained main line status. Even today, the line is occasionally used for inter-city diversions.

Other connecting lines

The Furness and Midland Joint Railway built a line from Wennington on the NWR to Carnforth, where there was already a junction between the Furness Railway and the LNWR's Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. The line opened to passengers on 6 June 1867.[10]

The Lancaster and Carlisle Railway also built a branch from Hest Bank on its main line to meet the NWR just before Morecambe station, opening on 13 August 1864. However, LNWR passenger trains had their own station, initially at Morecambe Poulton Lane and, from 1886, at Morecambe Euston Road.[11]

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway extended its line through Clitheroe to a junction with the NWR at Hellifield on 1 June 1880.[12]

Extension to Heysham

Railways around Lancaster and Morecambe in 1913

Heysham Harbour was opened by the Midland Railway in 1904, to replace the same company's harbour in Morecambe. A branch line from the NWR line had already opened for contractors on 12 November 1898 but was opened to passengers on 1 September 1904. The new line made a triangular junction with the existing NWR line a very short distance east of the junction with the LNWR line from Hest Bank.[13]


Further information: MR electric units

The line between Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham pioneered the use of overhead cables for electrification. Heysham-to-Morecambe was electrified on 13 April 1908, extending to Lancaster Green Ayre on 1 July and to Lancaster Castle on 14 September. The system used 6.6 kV at 25 Hz, with the electricity provided by a power station at Heysham,[14] supplied via cables suspended from overhead steel archways.[15]

After 11 February 1951, steam trains temporarily took over while the system was upgraded to 6.6 kV at 50 Hz. Full electric service resumed on 17 August 1953. Power was supplied from a new substation at Green Ayre.[16] On a 4,000-foot (1,200 m) section of track, the overhead arches were replaced by experimental cantilever structures, separate for each of the two tracks.[15]


Disused railway bridge at the Crook o' Lune, one of two within 200 m, still used as a cycle path. Designed by Edmund Sharpe[17][18] and a Grade II listed building[19]

The Ingleton Branch closed to passengers on 30 January 1954, but was still used for goods and occasional excursions until closure on 26 July 1966, after which the tracks were lifted.[20]

The Wennington-to-Morecambe section of the line was closed under the Beeching Axe. Passenger traffic ceased on 2 January 1966.[5] However, an alternative Wennington-to-Morecambe connection has been maintained using the former Furness and Midland Joint Railway to Carnforth and thence the former LNWR Morecambe Branch Line, a route still in use today by the Leeds to Morecambe Line.[21]

Goods traffic via the Lune Valley line ceased on 4 June 1967, except for a short single-track spur from the Heysham line towards Lancaster which closed on 31 January 1970, and another single-track spur from Lancaster Castle to a power station which closed on 16 March 1976.[22]

Almost all of the route of the dismantled line between Caton and Morecambe has been preserved as a combined cyclepath and footpath, except for a short section near Lancaster city centre. Here the line's Greyhound Bridge over the River Lune was converted for use as a road bridge.[22]

The Morecambe-to-Heysham branch closed to passengers on 4 October 1975, but reopened on 11 May 1987 for sailings to the Isle of Man.[5] The branch has been single track since Morecambe station was relocated in 1994. The branch now connects only to platform 2.[23]


  1. 1 2 Awdry, p.97
  2. Bairstow, pp.1416
  3. 1 2 3 Bairstow, p.16
  4. 1 2 Awdry, p.95
  5. 1 2 3 Bairstow, p.96
  6. Bairstow, p.23
  7. Bairstow, p.18
  8. Bairstow, p.26
  9. Bairstow, p.28
  10. Bairstow, p.33
  11. Bairstow, p.53
  12. Suggitt, p.152
  13. Bairstow, p.57
  14. Bairstow, p.59
  15. 1 2 Railway Magazine, p.797
  16. Bairstow, pp.5961
  17. Price, James (1998), Sharpe, Paley and Austin: A Lancaster Architectural Practice 1836–1942, Lancaster: Centre for North-West Regional Studies, p. 69, ISBN 1-86220-054-8
  18. Hartwell, Clare; Pevsner, Nikolaus (2009) [1969], The Buildings of England. Lancashire: North, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 319, ISBN 978-0-300-12667-9
  19. Historic England. "Eastern Railway Bridge over the River Lune at Crook of Lune (181875)". Images of England. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
  20. Bairstow, pp.2230
  21. Bairstow, pp.6568
  22. 1 2 Bairstow, p.71
  23. Bairstow, p.61


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