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The Aberford Railway

A saddleback engine similar to the MW Empress at York Museum

The above picture taken at the National Railway Museum, York is of a similar engine to the MW Empress [MW=Manning Wardle, Leeds based Locomative Engineers] bought for Aberford Railway on 31st March 1897.

The line is well documented by various enthusiasts and a really good book, by the author and historian Graham Hudson, was published in the early 1970's by David & Charles, well worth reading, it can be found on eBay quite often, or second hand booksellers.

The book front cover titled The Aberford Railway, shows an artists impression of the Empress leaving one of the collieries at Garforth, where the line originated. It connected with the Leeds and Selby Railway at Garforth Station and took coal from the pits, "Sisters" and "Isabella", north to the staithes at Aberford for onward road travel to the Wetherby and Tadcaster areas.

Horse Drawn Power

Dolly Cart

From the outset the carriage of coal and passengers was powered by a horse drawn arrangement, perhaps similar to the picture above. The horse would be used on the trip from Garforth to overcome the starting inertia and then step on to the dolly cart. The gradient permitted the free wheeling of the train down to the coal staithes at Aberford. The return journey required the horse to draw the train all the way, some 2¾ miles back to Garforth. I supect it would not have been the thoroughbred shown in the picture above, more likely a Shire Horse.

The railway was conceived by William Wharton and intial surveys were undertaken by Messrs William Harker and William Walker around 1833. The line profiles and details drawn up by these men are still in existence to this day, being at the Leeds City Archives. The line was constructed at the behest of Richard Oliver Gascoigne and is first mentioned in the Leeds and Selby Railway minutes in 1834. At this time Mr Gascoigne was 70 years old, so his enthusiasm for expanding the delivery of coal to the markets to the north was not diminished by age. He died in 1843, thus never seeing the line with steam engines providing the power, the first steam locomotive was the MW Mulciber bought in August 1870.

References to the Railway

The Railway magazine pictured above has references to the Aberford Railway on a number of occasions the first in 1938.

Extract from the magazine No.538 April 1942.

Some of the most difficult railways in Great Britain about which to obtain precise information are those which have been built privately, without Statutory powers, and without having been submitted to Board of Trade or Ministry of Transport inspection. Nevertheless, such railwavs are often of considerable interest, despite the fact that they are seldom of any considerable length. One such line is the old Aberford Railvay, extending from Garforth (on the Leeds & Selby line, about 7 miles out of Leeds) northward to the village of Aberford on the Great North Road.

The Aberford Railway formed the subject of a reply in our "Why and Wherefore" columns for November, 1938 (page 370), when we stated that we understood that the Ministry of Transport had no record of its ever having been officially opened for public traffic, and that it appeared to have been built privately without parliamentary authority. Since then the story of this railway has been mentioned in two interesting communications to the columns of the L.N.E.R. Magazine. From the first (in November, 1941) we reproduce the accompanying sketch map. The text in that issue, which was from the pen of no less earnest a research worker than Mr. C. H. Hewison, contained various further statements, and these were amplified, and in some measure corrected, bv a letter from Mr. R. Tate which was published in the December, 1941, issue of the L.N.E.R. Magazine.

From the additional particulars now available, it appears that the Aberford Railway, about 2¾ miles in length of single track, was owned by the Garforth Colliery, and was constructed about 1845. [Author's note: 1834, see earlier paragraph above.] It served Aberford, Tadcaster, and Wetherby, [Author's note: It only ran to Aberford, ongoing transport was by road.] until the Church Fenton to Wetherby and the Crossgates to Wetherby lines were opened, in 1847 and 1876 respectively. It continued to provide Aberford and the farming country around with coal and transport for agricultural produce until, after the last war [WW1], road competition became so severe that it was decided that the line had outlived its period of usefulness, and the proprietors of the colliery closed and afterwards dismantled the railway, about March, 1924.

From the opening until about 1875 [Author's note: 1870, verified by engine purchase, from Manning Wardle.] the Aberford Railway was operated by horse traction, and a dandy cart was used to work with the passenger vehicle. The contrivance consisted of a low truck attached to the rear of the train. The horse hauled the vehicles on the level sections and up rising gradients and on the downhill sections where the train would run by itself, the horse saved its strength by jumping into the dandy cart and riding in it as far as it would carry him.

Map from The Railway Magazine April 1942

The horse hauled the trains all the way from Aberford to Garforth, but when working in the other direction he only had to give the vehicles a start, and could then ride all the way to the Aberford terminus unless intermediate stops were required.

From about 1875 the proprietor of the colliery began to use his engines to work the trains, and in the period prior to the closing of the line there were two locomotives, named Ignifer and Mulciber. For many years two passenger trains each way ran daily connecting with North Eastern Railway trains at Garforth, and tickets could be bought at Aberford to various N.E.R. stations. The last passenger coach in use was of N.E.R. origin, with one first class and three third class compartments. The running time from Garforth to Aberford was about ten minutes.

Mr. Tate says: "My father was Manager of the Garforth Colliery, owned by Colonel Gascoigne, who resided at Parlington Hall (now more or less in ruins) and I was born at Colliery House near to the old colliery shown on the plan. In my day the passenger service ran on two days each week, namely Tuesdays and Saturdays, the market days in Leeds. There was only one carriags, known as 'The Flyer' and at the Garforth end of the line it began its journey to Aberford from the colliery sidings, passengers emabarking and disembarking at that point.

The line to Aberford was on a falling gradient, and thus 'The Flyer' travelled all the way to that village without any outside assistance. A man employed by the colliery owner was in charge of the carriage, he acted as brakesman and as it passed over the various crossings he rang a bell to warn pedestrians and drivers of vehicles of its approach. On the return, journey one of the two colliery shunting engines hauled 'The Flyer' from Aberford to Garforth colliery sidings."

There is an undated ticket in the York Railway Museum, numbered 866 on one side and bearing the words "Garforth to Aberford first cIass". On the other side is the notice: "The owners of Garforth Colliery who convey passengers on their private line do so for the accommodation of the public and will not be responsible for any injury, loss, damage, or casualty from whatever cause the same may arise."

The railway did not possess any special features, there were practically no earthworks, and there is only one bridge, where a road crosses the line. Although the track has been dismantled, the route can still be traced. In later years the connection with the main line at Garforth was as shown on our map, but one of the maps in Tomlinson's "History of the North Eastern Railway" indicates both east and west curves.

Article from the Railway Magazine April 1942.

The Railway Magazine April 1942

Mr. Tate says: "My father was Manager of the Garforth Colliery, owned by Colonel Gascoigne, who resided at Parlington Hall (now more or less in ruins) and I was born at Colliery House near to the old colliery shown on the plan. In my day the passenger service ran on two days each week, namely Tuesdays and Saturdays, the market days in Leeds. There was only one carriags, known as 'The Flyer' and at the Garforth end of the line it began its journey to Aberford from the colliery sidings, passengers emabarking and disembarking at that point.

The line to Aberford was on a falling gradient, and thus 'The Flyer' travelled all the way to that village without any outside assistance. A man employed by the colliery owner was in charge of the carriage, he acted as brakesman and as it passed over the various crossings he rang a bell to warn pedestrians and drivers of vehicles of its approach. On the return, journey one of the two colliery shunting engines hauled 'The Flyer' from Aberford to Garforth colliery sidings."

There is an undated ticket in the York Railway Museum, numbered 866 on one side and bearing the words "Garforth to Aberford first cIass". On the other side is the notice: "The owners of Garforth Colliery who convey passengers on their private line do so for the accommodation of the public and will not be responsible for any injury, loss, damage, or casualty from whatever cause the same may arise."

The railway did not possess any special features, there were practically no earthworks, and there is only one bridge, where a road crosses the line. Although the track has been dismantled, the route can still be traced. In later years the connection with the main line at Garforth was as shown on our map, but one of the maps in Tornlinson's "History of the North Eastern Railway" indicates both east and west curves.
End of Extract from The Railway Magazine April 1942

Location of Coal Staiths at Aberford

The railway ended here, the coal wagons would discharge their loads down to the depot below, The passengers would alight at the same location, the line forked at the terminus. Whether the passengers alighted on the opposite side of the train away from the coal staiths is not known, presumably they did!

Coal Staiths at Aberford Depot

The coal staiths with the wagons just visible to the top right of the frame.

Travel was a more casual affair, there are a few pictures, like the one below which shows children on the running boards, a most unlikely event today!

MW Empress at Garforth

The Aberford Railway by Richard Marsden

LNER The Aberford Railway Site

The internet is awash with plagerism and I do not wish to add to it, so there is little point in presenting the Aberford railway in full detail when its already been done here!

View the site here

There are additional old pictures of the Railway here

Parlington Hall in the late Nineteenth century. Taken from a photograph provided
by the Garforth Historical Society.