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Walk down memory lane

'The Walker's Railway', the line from Chorley to Cherry Tree near Blackburn, went through the villages of Heapey, Brinscall and Withnell before closing to passengers in 1960. The line is steeped in history and as part of a special Flashback feature, Steve Williams talks about why it is so special.

Back in the 19th century it wasn't the need to service some remote villages that built the line, but the need to transport coal.

The idea for the line was put forward by the mine owners in Wigan, desperate to move coal to the developing cotton mills of East Lancashire.

Back in 1860, the only route was a 21-mile journey via Euxton, Preston and Hoghton and on to Blackburn.

A direct line from Chorley to Blackburn was not only shorter, at just eight-and-a-half miles, but it was estimated that it would reduce coal by one shilling (5p) a tonne, saving the mills in Blackburn more than 20,000 a year.

Eventually owned and operated jointly by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the London North Western Railway, the line cost 530,000 to build and was considerably over budget - taking two years longer to build than planned.

Despite a few civil engineering setbacks, for the line had to go over moorland and accommodate trains up gradients of 1 in 60, it was eventually opened in December 1869.

Nearly 100 years later the final remnants were finally removed with the demolition of the Botany Bay viaduct – the latter to make way for the new M61 motorway.

The four stations on the line at Feniscowles, Withnell, Brinscall and Heapey were built at a total cost of 10,430.

The station at Withnell was closer to Abbey Village than its name implies, as was Heapey which was later to become popular with walkers.

They would board the train at Chorley and then head for White Coppice and the West Pennine Moors, before walking back to the town.

In between Withnell and Heapey was the village of Brinscall, at the highest point of the line some 558 feet above sea level. Up and down the line there were numerous sidings servicing growing industries such as Abbey Village (cotton) mill, Withnell brickworks, Brinscall (calico) printworks and Heapey bleachworks.

Little remains of the large bleachworks, as the site is now covered by a modern housing estate. During World War Two sidings were built next to the newly built ROF ammunition storage facilities near Heapey; carved into the hillside, they were used extensively by the main ROF munitions factory at Euxton.When the dreaded Doctor Beeching started to axe Britain's railways back in the late 1950s and early 60s, Heapey ROF sidings were used to store redundant steam engines.

The sidings were full of engines of all shapes and sizes, as there was not enough space at the nearby Horwich railway works. Today they are overgrown, although you can just see outlines of the tracks behind the rusting fences and fading notices.

The most striking feature on the line was the nine arches of Botany Bay viaduct, taking the railway across a valley and over the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

The viaduct was 48 feet high and each span was 33 feet across. It was demolished on the November 10, 1968, watched by more than 2,000 onlookers; the Chorley Guardian was there to record the event.

The line eventually entered Chorley over bridges at Eaves Lane, Stump Lane and Brunswick Street.

The coal trains, and in later years goods train heading for the chemical works at Widnes, would carry on to Wigan via the Boars Head junction near Standish.

Passenger trains terminating at Chorley would go into a single bay platform on what is now the station approach and short stay car park.

The line was closed to passengers on the January 4, 1960, and to goods trains some six years later on the January 3, 1966. The last length of rails was finally lifted at Feniscowles, near Blackburn on the April 22, 1968, although a length of the line was still in use as a 'long siding' at Chorley in 1982.

Whilst little remains of the line close to Chorley station, the route can still be traced.

Today, a stretch from Brinscall along the track bed to the old Withnell station can still be enjoyed by walkers. What was once "The Walker's Railway" is still that today – minus the trains.

Steve Williams will be talking about the railway on June 25 at Brindle Community Hall starting at 7.30 pm. Admission is 1.50. Visit www.brindlehistoricalsociety.org.uk.

 
 
 

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