History of the Railway

In 1846 The Blackburn and Bolton Railway Company were struggling to keep their line open and to make it financially viable. They decided that if they extended their operations to the Ribble Valley this would open up the areas to the industrial centres of Lancashire, and give them the much needed traffic. Work began at once to take the line as far as Clitheroe.

In 1850 it was terminated at Chatburn and completed. From the beginning the project was underfunded and was constantly trying to attract sufficient capital. They were always on a tight budget and looking for ways to keep the cost down.

At Wilpshire a tunnel had to be cut, and it is noted that the stone from the excavation of this work was sold to a Mr Thomas Hilton, who had the contract from Mr. Solomon Longworth to build Judge Walmesley Mill in Billington.

Henry Petre of Dunkenhalgh, who owned 3000 acres in Billington, held up the work as he thought the railway companyís price was extortionate for the land needed for the line in Billington. The price finally agreed was £2,700.

Between Whalley and Wilpshire lies the Billington Embankment. The inoffensive looking structure (opposite Bank Cottages) provided the engineers with their assignment. For sixteen months the weak structure, having to bear the weight of thousands of tons of earth, which was carefully tipped, was carried away time and time again, with the earth avalanching into the fields below. This was finally detained by the building of the great buttress at the beginning of the viaduct.

The railway bridge which crosses Whalley New Road is affectionately known as The Bumping Bridge or The Cephos Bridge, due to it once having the Cephos Powder advert in large letters over the whole of its length.

The Whalley Viaduct is the longest brick viaduct in Lancashire. These magnificent arches are 662 yards long, comprising of 29 arches of 30ft. and 20 arches of 40ft, giving a total of 49 arches. It took three years to complete at a cost of £40,000. Thomas Hilton had the contract for the brick work, and the bricks were made in Whalley from clay taken from Hardle Common, close to the brick kilns which were set in what is now Riddings Lane. The bricks were taken down in wagons by the side of the line and drawn up in wheelbarrows by horses, with a pulley. A man at the top pulled the barrows on as they arrived. The barrow was let down by hooking the wheel.

The arches are 70ft. high above the River Calder and 7,000,000 bricks were used. A raft was used to cross the river, because of quicksand, 20ft. x 2ft. Oak and Larch beams were laid in the foundations and well padded with concrete. However, no bales of cotton were placed beneath the foundations which were specified in the plans. The twelfth and thirteenth arches, counting from Billington side fell down during construction. Johnny Forsythe, Thomas Keefe and Charles Harrison were killed. Later speculation suggested that recent heavy rain, coupled with the fact that the timber supports under the arches, usually left in place for a fortnight, had been removed after one week. The arch not being fully set, fell.

On rebuilding the arches, a young man who was always known as 'Nimrod' and came from Darwen, fell off the arches onto an old man who was mixing cement. One man called Johnny O'Connor was killed.

Just before the completion of the arches a tragic incident was caused by the falling off the arches of a man named Charles Eaton, who was bowling a wheel along the parapet, that is, the ledge at the top of the arches, from the Clitheroe end going towards Billington. He had fetched the wheel from the joiners' shop at the Whalley end of the arches, and whilst bowling it along it tilted over. He made a grab at it and fell over on the Whalley side and was killed.

For many years local people were sceptical of the viaduct and when travelling to Blackburn and beyond, joined the train at Langho station to avoid the arches, and alighted at Langho on their way back.

In 1941 a serious crack was discovered in the arches over the river. The foundation of the column in the river had collapsed and the leg was literally hanging from the top. Only original Oak beams had stood the strain of the hundred years which had supported the towering arch above. A deep sea diver was employed for many months, and plies were drilled 40ft. down into a shelf of rock known as the Pendle Shelf. The column was under pinned and it now rests on the plies. The river bank and the two adjacent columns were supported in the same way. This work took almost three years to complete, nearly as long as it took to build the whole viaduct, but it cost many more thousands than the total cost of £40,000 to build the structure.

On the 14th June 1850 Captain Whynne R.E. after closely scrutinising the line granted its certificate of safety.

On the 20th June 1850 a special train of fifteen brand new coaches, purposely bought from Manchester, were dispatched from Blackburn to Clitheroe to carry specially invited civic dignitaries and others of Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley to a luncheon, given by the contractors to celebrate the completion of the work.

Whalley, June 13th,1850 Messrs. Nowell, Hattersley & Shaw request the honour Of Mr. And Mrs. Cockshott's company on Thursday, June 20th, at 4 o'clock, to celebrate the completion of the line to Clitheroe.
Dancing at 6 o'clock.
An answer is requested.
A train will leave Clitheroe at 1 o'clock, returning at 9 and 11 o'clock, for which this card is a pass.

After lunch at 2pm the whole assembly of 240 guests boarded the train for the opening journey to Chatburn. A 'Gondola' attached behind the engine was full of musicians, who entertained throughout. Great delight was expressed by the passengers of the excellence of the line, and the beauty of the journey through the Ribble Valley.

Before getting the party to rejoin the train after arrival in Chatburn, the driver had to sound many warning recall blasts on his whistle before the train could get under way again. Returning to Whalley, the party was again entertained in a huge marquee erected in a field close to the station. Southworth's Quadrille Band played for dancing, and the Whalley Glee Singers entertained from their extensive repertoire. Twelve men armed with truncheons were at the station in Whalley to prevent the rude spectators rushing on the ground were the marquee stood. There was a massive crowd outside the marquee before the dignitaries arrived.

Saturday 22nd June 1850 was the opening day, and on this day the contractors entertained the work force. 340 of them were catered for in the same marquee used earlier. Throughout the opening journeys, the trains were cheered on their way by amazed onlookers. The manager of Dixon Robinson's Bold Venture Lime Works anxious that the children should have a chance to see the locomotive, sent word to Whalley School that from the safe distance of a field, they should greet the Iron Horse.

Afterwards there were four trains a day in each direction. Manchester could be reached in 1 hour and Liverpool in two hours. The second track from Blackburn to Chatburn was laid in 1872 by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company. On Monday 22nd June 1879 the track reached Gisburn. Exactly one year later on the 1st June 1880 the track reached Hellifield, Thelblink with Yorkshire, and further north was fully established. The total cost had been £300,000.

Soon after the opening of the line, two engines with trucks bound for Clitheroe got off the tracks at the Billington end of the arches, and were dragged along way over the arches, breaking the sleepers and chairs as they ploughed the ground.

Trains stopped in the station at regular intervals. From 6 a.m. when the first paper train arrived with the daily news, two newsagents with their hand carts used to collect the papers for the villages of Whalley and Billington.

From then on trains were half hourly, upto about 10 a.m. and then afterwards at a bit longer intervals.

At about 8.15 a.m. each week day the businessmen of the village could be seen, all wearing a bowler hat, carrying an umbrella and a folded newspaper, walking briskly along Station Road to catch the Manchester train, to their offices on the cotton and stock exchange.

The Chariot Race at 9 a.m. was a spectacle in itself and again at 6.30 p.m. The mad, long gallop of horse and traps and the farm carts, in their dash carrying the morning milking to catch the milk trains that transported the churns to Manchester and Bolton Dairies.

The Station Master lived in the house built under the embankment facing the cricket field. He had a staff of about half a dozen.

The goods shed was kept busy and the porters made twice daily parcel deliveries on a hand cart around the village.

All the goods for Calderstones Hospital in its early days, came by rail and the hospital had its own branch line from the station.

Stonyhurst also accounted for a lot of the traffic through the shed. The college had its own ten ton wagon manned by two men, carrying coal from the wagons in the sidings to Stonyhurst daily. Between the loads of coal, the wagon loaded other requirements needed by the college, which were transferred from the railway wagons. The busiest time of the year for the driver and his mate, was when the pupils returned after holiday breaks. All their trunks, filling several goods wagons had to be taken to the Public School as quickly as possible.

A mention should be made of the cheap holiday excursions to the coast and especially those on a Saturday evening to Blackpool. Starting from Hellifield the train picked up at all stations to Blackburn and then it was none stop to the coast, returning in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The fare was two and six (12.5p) or three and six (17.5p) which included entrance to the Blackpool Tower or The Winter Gardens. These trips were always full, hundreds of young folk enjoyed them, the only trouble was with the odd person who missed the return journey and had to sleep on Blackpool Station and get home sometime on Sunday.

Passenger services between Blackburn and Clitheroe ceased in 1962, but on a wet and windy night in October 1986 a group of people gathered in Clitheroe to express their interest in rail transport. That group was to become known as Ribble Valley Rail (R.V.R).

In the initial stages the group set about the task of revitalising the local railway with great enthusiasm. Clitheroe station was cleaned and tidied up, despite the fact that no regular service stopped there. Over the intervening years R.V.R developed a number of strategies to promote the line and influence the politicians and decision makers. They took part in local events, setting up a mock 'station cafe' not selling stale sandwiches which curled up at the ends!!!! They took every opportunity to badger railway managers and eventually trains where hired and the successful Santa specials started running from Preston to Clitheroe, and also a number of Saturday services between the same stations. These where so successful that Lancashire County Council and Regional Railways decided to introduce a regular Saturday service.

Finally during 1993 it was announced that the line was receive major investment with the re-establishment of stations at Ramsgreave & Wilpshire, Langho, Whalley and the refurbishment of Clitheroe station ready for the re-opening of the line in May 1994. The re-opening was historically a unique event. Services now are daily and run between Clitheroe and Manchester.