Heritage Line Profile: A Lancashire half-century

Mark Smithers reports on the West Lancashire Light Railway, a family-friendly operation which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary after starting from humble beginnings in 1967.

IN 1878, the standard-gauge West Lancashire Railway was opened from Southport to Hesketh Bank, with a through connection to Preston following in 1882. This line remained in use until 1964, when it fell victim to the Beeching cuts, removing Hesketh Bank from the main line map altogether as a consequence.

Six schoolboys from King George V School in Southport, already members of the Narrow Gauge Railway Society, decided at this stage to ensure the survival of a representative collection of 2ft-gauge industrial equipment in the area, on the site of an abandoned clay pit belonging to the Hesketh Bank Brick and Tile Works (also known as ‘Alty’s after its corporate proprietor, Henry Alty Ltd), which had been established following the discovery of clay during the building of the West Lancashire Railway.

Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0WTT Montalban (6641/1913) passes Willow Tree during the 2013 October steam gala. Note the difference in the angle of the cylinders to that on sister Utrilas – see p36. BRIAN DOBBS. INSET: The railway company’s crest.

The new venture began in earnest in September 1967 following the closure of the nearby Burscough Brick and Tile Co Ltd’s narrow gauge railway system and initial efforts on the part of the schoolboys to acquire a Lister petrol locomotive from the site. These proved abortive, but Ruston & Hornsby 13hp
four-wheel diesel locomotive Clwyd (264251/1951) was bought soon afterwards from the same source.

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Fortunately, one of the schoolboys had a family connection with Henry Alty’s Ltd, and Clwyd duly arrived at the Hesketh Bank site on April 6, 1968, by which time 150 yards of track for the new West Lancashire Light Railway had been laid, and construction work had begun on a new brick-built shed for the locomotive.

In 1969, a second Ruston & Hornsby Diesel – Tawd (222074/1943) – was acquired, this time built to the larger 20hp specification. Passenger rolling stock for the embryonic line was obtained in the form of two ‘Silver Belle’ bogie carriages disposed of as redundant by the Southport Pier Railway. By 1970, the track extended to 370 yards, and the railway’s route was taking shape around two sides of an abandoned clay pit, once used as a source of raw material by Henry Alty’s Ltd.

Read more in the March issue of The RM – on sale now!

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