A Short History of Walkden Station

This page aims to give a short history of Walkden station. The information has been researched by FOWS members and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. We hope to add more detail as we learn more about the station's history - please email us at webmaster@walkdenstation.org.uk if you spot any errors or can help us with more information or pictures from the station's past.

The black and white photos on this page are used with the very kind permission of Tom Wray and Paul Salveson, from whose personal collections they are taken.

The colour photos from the 1980's are used with the very kind permission of Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

In the beginning ...

L&Y Tiled Route Map Showing Atherton Line. The tiled map of the L&Y network at Victoria station shows the Wigan to Manchester line via Atherton.

The present day Walkden station wasn't the first railway station to serve the town; that honour belonged to the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) station opened in 1875 and located in Brindley Street. The picturesque station was adjacent to Parr Fold Park, and the LNWR trackbed now forms part of the Salford Looplines cycle network.

The LNWR station's name was changed to "Walkden Low Level" after the present station opened with the name "Walkden High Level".

The Walkden station that we see today was opened on July 2nd 1888 by LNWR's rivals the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR). The L&Y built the line from Crows Nest Junction at Hindley through Atherton, Walkden and Swinton, rejoining its network at Pendleton Junction (today's Salford Crescent), to serve the numerous collieries and growing towns along the route.

As the new line also gave the L&Y a Liverpool and Manchester route 4.5 miles shorter than its existing one through Bolton, four tracks were laid (a fast and a slow line in either direction) to allow the running of what we would now call "Transpennine Expresses" from Liverpool through Manchester, Halifax and Bradford to Leeds.

The contract to build the line was awarded to Monk & Newell in January 1885[12]. The route was opened in stages with the first passenger service running between Swinton and Manchester on 13 June 1887. Just over a year later in July 1888 the section from Swinton through Walkden to Atherton was opened, with the final section from Atherton to Crows Nest Junction at Hindley, completing the through route from Wigan to Manchester, finally opening a couple of months later on 1st October 1888.

The Opening Day

The Farnworth Journal report of the Opening of the 'New' Railway Line From Walkden. The Farnworth Journal report of the Opening of the 'New' Railway Line From Walkden.

The station had a decidedly low-key opening on July 2nd 1888 when the first passenger service from Walkden High Level, consisting of six carriages, left at 5.15 am without any spectators or fanfare - probably due to the early hour and drizzling rain. The Farnworth Journal[6] noted that "decorations of any shape in honour of the event were conspicuous by their absence".

Chart of First Day Passenger Destinations from Walkden. Opening day passengers' destinations from Walkden.

The station's first ever passenger was James Healey, a newsagent living on Manchester Road who paid 3.5d for a 3rd class single to Manchester. 21 other passengers also boarded at Walkden for the inaugural departure to Manchester. In total 368 passengers travelled from Walkden on that first day, the majority to Wardley (now Moorside) or Atherton reflecting how people worked closer to their homes in the days before the car.

During the course of the day, many local people visited the station to watch the new trains arriving and departing. The first timetable included 14 daily departures to Manchester and 15 to Atherton. There were also 11 trains a day on Sundays, making a bold contrast with the LNWR who had refused to run Sunday services until then.

The New Station Buildings

The Booking Office in 1972 (by permission of Tom Wray). The boarded up Waiting Room in 1972 (by permission of Tom Wray). Pictures of the Booking Office and boarded-up platform Waiting Room taken by Tom Wray in 1972 before the wood-panelling of the former was lost and the latter was demolished.

Apart from the Waiting Room, Porters Room and Lamp Room that used to grace the platform until the 1970's, the layout and structure of the original station is much the same today as it was on opening day 120 years ago. Then, as now, the platforms were accessed by two flights of stairs with the booking office on the landing at the halfway point.

The L&Y were early adopters of the "island" design where the platform sits between the tracks so there is no need for a footbridge or subway to cross between platforms. All the stations between Swinton and Hindley shared this layout, although Walkden is the only one where the railway lines lie above rather than below their surroundings.

Local newspaper reviews[1] were very favourable to the new station, describing it as "commodious, convenient and well-furnished with the provision of ample waiting rooms". The platform canopy was painted white with blue girders ("a very pretty appearance") and the three large Waiting Rooms were decorated with black and white painted wood, looking "rather old-fashioned" according to one report[2].

Interestingly the stairs, which still render the station inaccessible to disabled or mobility-impaired passengers, were identified as a problem before the station even opened. The Farnworth Journal opined that the 14 steps to the Booking Office and the further 29 up to the platform were a drawback and that the "we are sure the public preference in such a case is for a sloping road or pathway" like the access ramps at the LNWR station. How right they were !

Adjacent to the station on Mullineux Road a large plot of land was secured for use as a Goods Yards. In October 1888 "considerable progress" had been made by the contractors Monk & Newell of Liverpool[3], and the yard was opened later the same year.

The two fast lines - used until 1965 - ran parallel to the slow lines on the south (Worsley) side of the station.

The Through Route To Southport

Old (un-dated) photograph of the bridge outside Walkden station. A photograph from the early days of Walkden station showing the railway bridge adorned with Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway advertising. Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Salford Local History Library.

The final section of track between Atherton and Hindley was opened in August 1888 allowing the first ever through train from Walkden to Southport on August 3rd. The train was in fact an excursion organised by Atherton United Schools but when the Congregationalists of Walkden heard of the arrangement they asked that the train be stopped at Walkden to pick up their choir and friends too. With 20 carriages and 200 passengers the train must have made quite a sight for anyone around at 6.20am to see it depart. The journey to Southport took just over an hour with stops at Atherton and Wigan, and the merrymakers departed Southport at 9.30pm after a very long day out at the seaside.

The Early Years of Operation

To judge by the number of accidents it might appear the public of Walkden had some difficulty getting used to the new railway in their midst. In fact the roll-call of casualties is more likely a reflection of the scant concern for safety in nineteenth century life.

A Manchester-bound express charges through Walkden. An old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway postcard from the collection of Tom Wray. A Manchester-bound express charges through Walkden behind an Aspinall 2-4-2 "Atlantic" engine, shown on an old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway postcard from the collection of Tom Wray.

The line's first fatality

The first fatality came within a fortnight of the line opening when a railway employee, F. Price, was working on an embankment near Walkden and a gust of wind blew him into the path of a train. He died from his injuries in hospital[4].

Don't walk on the railway line ...

Before Christmas the line had claimed its second victim: James Leek, age 26, died of injuries he received when he was knocked down whilst walking along the line near Walkden[5].

A third fatality in the first year of operation

Tragedy struck again on 9 March 1889 when Joseph Hindley, a Point Cleaner and Lampman aged 43, was killed near the station. Hindley was oiling points after the 12.40 service from Atherton arrived and, as the train left, he walked across track some 20-30 yards in front of it. The locomotive struck him and came to a halt some 100yds later. Hindley was knocked down (though not run over) and the subsequent inquest recorded a verdict of Accidental Death with no blame attaching to driver[7].

A couple of years later on 23 February 1891 a carter name Henry Dobbs (41) was killed whilst loading timber from a railway wagon to his "lurry". His horse took fright when its halter and nosebag fell and Mr Dobbs was knocked over by the runaway horse as he tried to stop it. He died almost instantaneously and once again a verdict of Accidental Death was recorded when the inquest was held in the Ellesmere Hotel[7].

The station's first - and only - birth

Happily there were good times as well as bad around the station, such as the time in 1897 when a passenger went into labour and gave birth in the Waiting Room. Thankfully the buildings of 1897 offered more protection and privacy than today's draughty perspex shelter !

The Twentieth Century from 1900 to 1950

A mysterious death ...

The rate of accidents decreased after 1900, although the century started very badly with the mysterious death of William Turner (69), a passenger found lying on the platform with a head injury after the arrival of the last train from Manchester on Boxing Day 1900. Although no-one saw him fall, the inquest concluded that he had stumbled whilst disembarking from the train and sustained the injury that killed him[8].

In March 1905 Walkden's first Station Master, Mr Henry Matthews originally from Newton Heath, moved on to a new post at Sandhills having become a popular and well-known figure in the local community. He was replaced by E. Helliwell of Kirkdale.

Black 5 44893 at Walkden in July 1966 (by kind permission of Paul Salveson). Black 5 44893 at Walkden station, July 1966. Picture by kind permission of Paul Salveson.

A year later in 1906 another employee of the railway since its opening day, Benjamin Jerratt (52), was knocked down and killed whilst "fogging" - signalling at night with a lamp and fog signal to slow trains down on the fast line between Walkden and Moorside whilst track repairs were in progress[9].

Boxing Day Tragedy

Boxing Day 1911 has the sorry distinction of being the day on which the heaviest loss of life was caused in the station history. Two members of a maintenance team were killed by an express train while working on the water troughs between Walkden and Moorside, whilst a third member of their team died from his injuries in the days that followed. A full account of the tragedy can be read on our "Accidents" page.

A large scale derailment

1925 saw the most spectacular accident in the line's history, although there were no injuries when 27 goods wagons derailed during the night of March 18. All four tracks were blocked and two 35-ton cranes worked throughout the folowing day to clear the debris[10].

The particularly sad death of passenger Joseph Halpin aged just 4 occured in August 1930 when he fell from a train 3/4 mile from Walkden. It was believed he had stumbled whilst reaching across the carriage for a paper and accidentally caught the door handle[11].

The 1950's to 1970's - Closure threatened ... and averted

The station entrance in 1972 (by kind permission of Tom Wray). The station entrance photographed by Tom Wray in 1972.

Walkden Low Level was closed on 29th March 1954, and the High Level station also came under threat during the era of mass railway closures in the 1960's. The station survived, but Sunday services and the fast lines - taken out of use on 21st November 1965 - did not.

Paul Salveson's picture of a British Railways "Black 5" with a 6-coach excursion train for Blackpool was taken around July 1966. By this time the fast lines (to the right of the train) had fallen into disuse, and the photograph shows one track already blocked with discarded materials.

FOWS would particularly like to hear from anyone who remembers the fight to save the line in 1967.

Tom Wray's photographs of August 1972 show the station suffering the effects of vandalism and decades of neglect. All the buildings on the platform - Waiting Room, Porters Room and Lamp Room - were boarded up and windows above the entrance were smashed.

The platform Porters Room in 1972 (by kind permission of Tom Wray). The boarded-up platform Porters Room photographed by Tom Wray in 1972

The 1980's and 90's - A face lift then steady decline

The station booking hall in the 1980s (by kind permission of Peter Whatley). The station booking hall showing the wooden panelled Booking Office and an indoor bench for waiting passengers.
© Copyright Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Having survived the closures of Dr Beeching's "rationalisation" program, Walkden received a make-over from GMPTE sometime in the 1980's which sensitively refurbished features of the original Lancashire and Yorkshire buildings.

Peter Whatley's photo (below) from February 1989 shows the station exterior boasting a smart wood and glass door.

Inside (right) the magnificent wooden panelling of the Booking Hall is polished, the brick walls beautifully clean, and even small details like the patterned airholes in the stair risers are visible. At the top of the stairs, a sliding grill which must have been used to secure the station at night can just be seen.

The street entrance in 1989 (by kind permission of Peter Whatley). The street entrance to the station on a sunny afternoon in February 1989.
© Copyright Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
A view on Walkden station platform in February 1989 (by kind permission of Peter Whatley). A Wigan bound train pulls away from Walkden in February 1989.
© Copyright Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Up on the platform a brick building housing passenger toilets can be seen (demolished around a year later) and the overgrown remains of a flower bed occupy the area recently filled with FOWS' steel planters.

The canopy and pillars are painted red and cream - quite possibly the same paint job that lasted (albeit in very poor condition) right up until 2008's repainting.

Walkden Station Today

A platform sign at Walkden in Northern Rail colours.

After GMPTE's makeover in the 1980s, and despite the railway's privatisation and services passing into the hands of First North Western and then Northern Rail, there was little sign of change at Walkden. What changes did take place were generally negative: the platform buildings were removed and replaced with a minimal shelter, and the platform was artificially shortened.

However, thanks to the work of Northern Rail and FOWS things are begining to change for the better at Walkden, and in July 2008 when the station was 120 years old FOWS celebrated the occasion by throwing a birthday party with the help of Northern Rail, ACoRP, and British Transport Police.

With passenger numbers soaring by over 20% in 2008, repainting completed in the same year, plans afoot to re-open the disused section of platform, and flower beds blossoming on both sides of the platform, the future for Walkden looks brighter than at any time for decades.

References

FOWS celebrate Walkden's 120th Anniversary (by kind permission of the Salford Advertiser). FOWS celebrate Walkden's 120th Anniversary. Picture by kind permission of the Salford Advertiser.

[1] Farnworth Journal, 30th June 1888, 8h
[2] Farnworth Journal, 2nd June 1888, 5b
[3] Farnworth Journal, 6th October 1888, 5d
[4] Farnworth Journal, 14th July 1888, 5d
[5] Farnworth Journal, 15th December 1888, 5c
[6] Farnworth Journal, 7th July 1888, 5d
[7] Farnworth Journal, 16th March 1889, 8c
[8] Farnworth Journal, 29th December 1900, 5e
[9] Farnworth Journal, 24th August 1906, 9c
[10] Farnworth Journal, 20th March 1925, 9d
[11] Manchester Guardian, 9th August 1930, p13
[12] Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway: vol. 2, John Marshall, Publisher: David & Charles PLC, ISBN 978-0715349069