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Bowling to Laisterdyke. A Bradford railway history.

Further research is currently being undertaken with regard to this line, any updates will be added to the text as and when they are available.



The short but impressively engineered line from Bowling Junction to Laisterdyke, avoiding Bradford Interchange (formerly Exchange) station closed in 1985. It is usually thought of as a quiet, freight-only backwater, which indeed it was at the time of its closure.

However, this was not always the case.


Background and opening


The line was originally authorised by an act of 1846, which permitted the Manchester and Leeds Railway to build a railway from its existing main line at Sowerby Bridge to Leeds, with a branch from Bowling to Bradford. The route from Sowerby Bridge to Bowling and on to Bradford was duly opened in January 1852, but no progress had been made on the supposed main route to Leeds, and indeed later in 1852 the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (as the Manchester and Leeds had become) officially abandoned the Leeds line citing a lack of funds.

 This must have been foreseen by the lines supporters, as in November 1851 they had deposited a bill to build the Bowling to Leeds line themselves.

 The Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway, as the line was called, was nominally independent but was heavily supported by the Great Northern Railway, and was later taken over by them, the line providing a golden opportunity for the GNR to access Bradford, which previously seemed destined to be the preserve of the Midland Railway and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

 The bill for the line was passed in June 1852, and in August 1853 an additional branch was authorised from Laisterdyke to Adolphus Street in Bradford.

 The engineer for the line, John Hawkshaw, encountered no major problems and the lines from Bowling Junction to Leeds and Adolphus Street to Laisterdyke opened for passenger services on 1st August 1854, the trains using running powers over the London and North Western Railway from Holbeck into Leeds Central station and over the Lancashire and Yorkshire from Bowling Junction to Halifax, in return for which the L&Y were allowed running rights over the new line from Bowling Junction to Leeds. Goods services began on 7th August but had to temporarily use the L&Y’s facilities in Bradford (via reversal at Bowling) due to the GN’s own goods facility being unfinished.

 There was one intermediate station on the Bowling Junction to Laisterdyke section at Bowling, adjacent to Wakefield Road. Stations on the Bradford to Leeds section were opened at Bradford Adolphus Street, Laisterdyke, Stanningley, Bramley and Armley Moor.


Services and traffic

At the start the Great Northern Railway provided local services between Leeds Central and Bradford Adolphus Street, whilst the main service on the Bowling to Laisterdyke line was provided by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, who diverted its Manchester to Leeds services over the new route. These trains had previously used running rights over the LNWR’s route from Thornhill to reach Leeds via Dewsbury. The GNR also provided some services on the Bowling route, running between Leeds and Halifax and generally conveying through carriages from King’s Cross. The GN’s services were the only trains to call at Bowling station.

 The number of GN trains on the Bowling route is not known, but it was less than the ten a day each way operated between Adolphus Street and Leeds. The latter service continued to develop, and was diverted to Exchange station by way of a new spur from Hammerton Street to Mill Lane in January 1867, at which point Adolphus Street became a goods depot. By 1910 there were generally two services per hour each way between Bradford Exchange and Leeds.

In contrast the GNR passenger service via Bowling began its decline as early as 1879, when nearly all the through portions from King’s Cross to Halifax were diverted via the newly-opened Queensbury lines. Some non-stop Laisterdyke to Halifax via Bowling trains operated in connection with London to Bradford expresses until 1882, when increased running powers over other lines enabled Halifax portions to run via the Calder Valley.

 A small compensation occurred at some point after the Laisterdyke to Ardsley route opened in 1857, with the introduction of a slightly odd Wakefield to Halifax service calling only at Ardsley, Laisterdyke and Bowling. The date this service was introduced is unknown, as is its withdrawal date, but it had certainly ceased by 31st January 1895.

 On this date Bowling station closed, the number of services calling there being insufficient to justify its retention. Some sources quote that it was replaced by the station at Bowling Junction on the L&Y route, situated between the junction itself and the portal of Bowling tunnel, but this did not open until 1st February 1902. In addition, although the two are fairly close as the crow flies the walk from one to the other is quite lengthy and arduous. Goods facilities at Bowling station remained in use.

 By 1910 the GN were running just one train per day over the Bowling to Laisterdyke line, a Leeds to Halifax service, whilst the L&Y service over the route was broadly hourly, consisting of a mixture of local services to Halifax and Sowerby Bridge and expresses to Manchester and beyond, including a Luncheon Car service to Liverpool and a train to Fleetwood which connected with the Belfast ferry.

 The express services were generally worked as portions, around three coaches leaving Leeds Central behind a tank engine whilst the main part of the train would leave Bradford Exchange behind a larger locomotive. The two portions were joined at either Low Moor or Halifax, the latter being used for the faster services to enable them to omit the Low moor stop. Several times a day the pattern reversed so that the main train left Leeds and the lesser portion Bradford.

 The local services to Halifax and Sowerby Bridge had finished by the 1950’s, but the expresses continued to operate in two portions until 1st January 1962 when an hourly Manchester Victoria- Bradford Exchange- Leeds service began, operated by new “Calder Valley” DMU’s. This service, which generally extended to Harrogate at the Leeds end, put paid to most passenger services over the Laisterdyke to Bowling Junction line, leaving only an early morning passenger/parcels service, occasional excursions and diverted services from other routes.

 The line was used several times in the 1950's and 60's for diversions from the main Doncaster to Leeds line when the latter was closed for engineering work. These diversions followed a torturous route from Hare Park junction, through Wakefield Kirkgate, Thornhill and Heckmondwike to Low Moor, thence through Bowling tunnel to reach Bowling Junction. The large Pacific locomotives used on the express services were banned from the Bowling to Laisterdyke route due to weight restrictions, almost certainly relating to West Bowling viaduct. This meant either that a smaller locomotive (such as a B1) was substituted, or where this was not possible, the train would split at Low Moor with the Pacific then taking the Bradford portion into Exchange station and another locomotive taking the Leeds portion over the Bowling to Laisterdyke line.

 The line closed to passengers in January 1969 but reopened on 31st March and finally closed to passengers again on 9th June 1969, leaving only the dwindling freight traffic. The reason for the passenger service being temporarily reinstated is not known.

 On the freight side there were trips from the Halifax area to the yards at Laisterdyke and to Ardsley (near Wakefield), in addition to several traffic sources along the line itself.

 At Laisterdyke, Planetrees goods depot and Birkshall Gas Works were connected to the Bowling Junction line, the gas works growing to be the largest in Yorkshire. Near to Bowling station a branch diverged to serve Bowling Iron Works. The Iron Works was already in decline by 1905, when a corner of the site which was no longer required was sold to Bradford Corporation for construction of a tram depot and highways/permanent way yard, into which sidings were laid, these diverging from the Iron Works branch adjacent to Newark Street. The depot received sand, ash, cobbles and other construction materials. Near Hall Lane was Ripley Siding which served Bowling Dye Works.

 Bowling Iron Works ceased producing its own Iron in 1906 and continued its decline, it is believed to have closed shortly before the Second World War. The council sidings enjoyed an upsurge in traffic during the late 1940’s when scrap metal arising from the breaking up of redundant tramcars was removed by rail, but they closed shortly afterwards, the site being used to set up a Trolleybus training circuit. Some sidings both at the junction of the Ironworks line and on the line itself in the vicinity of Square Street survived until the 1960's as did the goods facilities at the former Bowling station. Ripley siding had been removed by the late-1950's and Planetrees goods depot closed in 1961 although its sidings were then used to provide extra capacity for traffic to the adjacent gas works.

 Hammerton Street depot in Bradford closed to steam in 1958 to concentrate on DMU and diesel shunter maintenance, following which the number of light engine movements on the Bowling to Laisterdyke line increased, as freight and steam shunting engines moved between Laisterdyke and the depot at Low Moor. Steam disappeared from the Bradford area in 1967, taking Low Moor depot and the light engine movements with it.

 Birkshall gas works ceased production in 1972 when the area was converted to North Sea gas, leaving little remaining traffic on the line.

However things, briefly, were looking up, as we shall see after a brief description of the route.


The route described


From the junction at Laisterdyke, the line turns gradually off to the left. Although it appears to be climbing, it in fact falls at 1 in 100, the illusion being created by the Bradford line falling at a much steeper 1 in 44.

 The Bowling line strides onto an embankment and crosses Birkshall Lane, Mount Street and Birksland Street on a series of handsome stone-built arched bridges. Between Birksland Street and Hammerton Street is a further identical stone bridge. This appears to have been an occupation bridge allowing access between two parts of a corporation yard. Hammerton Street and Bowling Back Lane are then crossed on further stone arched bridges. Hammerton Street was built on the alignment of a tramway which ran from Bowling Iron Works, the bridge would therefore have spanned this tramway when built, whilst the bridge at Bowling Back Lane has received blue brick parapet walls at some time. Following this bridge a signal box controlled the junction for Bowling Iron Works, the line branching off to the left before the main line reached Bowling Station.

 Immediately after this, the line crosses Wakefield Road by a plate-girder bridge and continues on an embankment, crossing Barnard Road on another stone arch, which actually pre-dates the road, having previously been an occupation bridge. Following Barnard Road we reach a rarity in Pennine Yorkshire, a level crossing.

Hall Lane level crossing was controlled from Hall Lane signal box, which also worked the junction to Ripley siding, this diverging on the left. On the right here could be seen Bradford's second model industrial village (the first being Saltaire) at Ripleyville. Built by Henry William Ripley in the 1860's to house mainly workers from the aforementioned dye works, of which Henry was the major partner, the village consisted of around two hundred houses, a school and a church, located in the roughly triangular area between Hall Lane, what is now Bolling Road, the Bowling to Laisterdyke line and the railway from Hammerton Street to Mill Lane, the village has sadly been demolished. The Ripley's also built a block of Almshouses which are now located on New Cross Street, adjacent to Bowling Junction. These were relocated to this site from Spring Mill Street in 1881 by Henry Ripley, being rebuilt and extended as a memorial to Henry's mother and father Edward and Hannah Ripley. The architectural style of the Almshouses is similar to that of the Ripleyville terraces.

 Back on the railway, the line briefly followed a ridge in the hillside before heading onto another embankment and crossing a substantially-built stone bridge over a footpath which linked Ripleyville to the Dye Works . Finally it set out over Ripleyville (aka West Bowling) viaduct, which consisted of stone piers supporting girder spans, then traversed a short cutting before joining the line from Bradford Exchange at Bowling Junction.


On the up….and right back down

Despite the fact that the line had passed its heyday, it received an amount of investment in the late 1960’s.

Firstly, the widening of Wakefield Road into a six-lane highway necessitated an extra span being added to the bridge. The old span had its Bowling-end abutment replaced with a concrete pillar which also was to support one end of the new span. The new span itself was constructed adjacent to the bridge and winched into place on the 30th of July 1967. The Telegraph and Argus newspaper of the following day tells us that the winching operation took two hours, and that the first train, conveying Ballast, passed over the structure six hours later, with full rail traffic resuming on the morning of the 31st. Incredibly road traffic, which was still passing under the old span, was not interrupted.

 Then, in October 1968, Hall Lane level crossing was equipped with electric barriers in place of its manually-controlled gates.

 1969 saw changes made to the layout at Laisterdyke which meant that the former route to Ardsley, now truncated at Dudley Hill, could only be reached from the Bowling Junction line. This meant that the trains of steel and scrap bound for Dudley Hill now ran via Bowling Junction, the monotony of these being broken on a few occasions by no less than the Royal train, which was stabled on the Dudley Hill line a few times during the 1970's.

 A major boost to the line came in 1975 when J. McIntyre Ltd. of Nottingham developed a scrap depot on the site of Planetrees goods depot, served by a new siding and spur which were constructed at a cost of £750,000. As the depot was served from the Bowling Junction line it provided much needed extra traffic.

 However, in 1979 the layout at Laisterdyke was further simplified in order to allow the remaining signal box there to be closed. The connection between the Bowling Junction line and the main line to Bradford was removed, leaving the former serving only McIntyre’s and the Dudley Hill route. In March 1979, Hall Lane signal box lost its full-time signalman, being staffed only when trains were required to pass, and it was closed altogether on 5th August 1979. At this time the track was singled,  the former Laisterdyke-bound line being used for traffic in both directions. The barriers at Hall Lane were operated by the train guard using controls at the crossing itself.

 It is fairly remarkable that the line survived a further six years, given the simplicity of its eventual closure, which was achieved by installing a trailing crossover at Laisterdyke to allow scrap trains to access McIntyre’s yard directly from the main line. The Dudley Hill line had closed in 1981, having seen only sporadic use for some time prior to this, and the Bowling Junction to Laisterdyke line followed it into oblivion in September 1985.

The route of the Luncheon Car Express was no more.


Oblivion and beyond


BR lifted the track from the route in March 1987, although newspaper reports suggest that a short length at the Bowling end may have survived until 1990. The only remains were (and are) a short length of track at Laisterdyke forming a siding and run-round loop for McIntyres scrap yard, and the rails embedded in the road at Hall Lane level crossing.

 Shortly after the rails were lifted, at a date as yet unknown but before 1991, a section of Ripleyville viaduct collapsed necessitating the demolition of the whole structure. It is perhaps remarkable that it stood for this long, as photographs of the viaduct taken in the 1960's appear to show a pronounced droop at the Laisterdyke end of the structure. As mentioned above, the weight restriction applied to the line by the 1950's was almost certainly due to the condition of the viaduct.

 The trackbed was declared surplus by BR in 1989 and Bradford City Council entered into discussions to purchase the route for redevelopment. However BR withdrew the route from the market in 1991, the Telegraph and Argus reporting on September 16th that year that BR were looking into the possibility of reopening the line. BR had stated that there were no firm plans but the route could be of strategic importance.

 Then in July 1992, pressure group Transport 2000 proposed reopening the line for a new Leeds- Manchester express service which would call at a Bradford Parkway station, to be built on the site where Bowling station once stood. The Leeds to Blackpool service would also use the route.

 These plans came to nothing, but in 1995 Bradford Council announced that the route had been safeguarded from development for possible future reopening, a position re-affirmed in 2005. Despite this part of the route near the junction at Bowling has had a car park for an adjacent factory built on it, whilst in late- 2010 an area of trackbed adjacent to Hall Lane level crossing was developed as a yard for a car repair business.

 Had the line survived it would have been useful for the occasional scrap trains which still operate from McIntyre’s and which now depart via Bradford Interchange, where the locomotive runs round, and for the morning empty stock train from Leeds to Hebden Bridge, which also reverses at Bradford. There have also been times when engineering work, signalling failures or fire alarms sounding have closed Bradford Interchange, and again the line would have been useful, but this traffic on its own would not justify the route’s reopening.

 In the meantime then the line slumbers. It is owned by BRB (Residuary) Ltd. (successor to the British Railways Board as owners of disused railways) who inspect its structures once a year and carry out any maintenance needed to keep them safe. They have coded the branch DUH (Dudley Hill).

 On the next page follows a photographic survey of the route today, please follow the link below

Bowling to Laisterdyke. A photographic survey June 2010

For further information about Ripleyville model village, please see Bob Walker's blog on the link below