The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is one of the UK's most famous, original steam railways. It runs 4½ miles south-south-east from the industrial town of Keighley1 through the outskirts of the Pennines to its terminus at Oxenhope. It has a station at historic Haworth, a town famous for its association with the Brontës. The railway shot to fame in 1970 following the release of the classic film The Railway Children, which was filmed on the line.
The railway is well worth a visit; it allows you to step back in time and to enjoy a sample of life as it may have been in days gone by.
History of the Railway
The Worth Valley, served by the River Worth and its tributary North Beck, was a natural location for the opening of several water-powered cotton mills in the 18th Century. Keighley was located on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, ensuring that manufactured goods could reach a market and, through the port of Liverpool, be exported worldwide.
Gradually in the 19th Century the local mills' waterwheels were replaced with more powerful steam-powered wool looms. As these mills needed vast quantities of coal, a privately-financed branch line from Keighley along the valley floor was opened on 15 April, 1867, operated by the Midland Railway. Keighley was still an important transport hub, with the railway reaching Keighley and replacing the canal in 1847.
The railway was used to transport coal to the local industrial sites, as well as passengers. Despite being a comparatively short branch line, the railway carried heavy loads of coal up the steep gradient between Keighley and the line's terminus at Oxenhope.
On 1 January, 1923, the Midland Railway was amalgamated into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway when Britain's railways were merged into only four companies, to make them more efficient. In 1947 the railway became part of the nationalised British Rail. However by the 1950s many of the areas wool mills were closed and demolished. With the line's raison d'être gone, British Railways' axeman Dr Beeching closed the railway in 1962, less than a hundred years after the railway was opened.
Fortunately campaigners refused to take this decision lying down, fund-raised and successfully re-opened the line in 1968. Following the overwhelming success of the 1970 classic film The Railway Children, filmed on the railway, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway has retained both popularity and charm. It is in many ways the perfect branch line, able to enjoy being fully restored along its entire original length to its former glory.
In 1995 The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway Trust was formed with the aim of preserving the railway, and is a registered charity, number 1032933.
The Railway Children
The railway has frequently been used as a film and television location. It was first used for the filming of the 1967 BBC TV series The Railway Children, based on the famous 1905 novel by children's author Edith Nesbit. Three years later came the famous EMI film adaptation. The story is set in the early Edwardian period and follows three children who live near a railway station in the country, following their father's imprisonment for spying. They befriend the station master, as well as passengers they see boarding the train each day. Through their love of the railway, and the friends they have met, they manage to prevent a terrible catastrophe and prove their father's innocence.
The 1970 film was written and directed by established British actor Lionel Jeffries. It starred Jenny Agutter2 and Bernard Cribbins3. Despite being the first film that Lionel Jeffries directed, it has retained its reputation as a classic. In 1999, the British Film Institute listed it in the 100 Greatest British Films of all Time at number 66.
Much of the film was shot at Oakworth Station, which kept its real name in the film. As there were fewer preserved steam railways in Britain at the time than there are now, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway was chosen as it was one of the few steam railways to have a tunnel, which has a prominent role in the story. Following the release of the film, visitor numbers to the railway increased exponentially.
The railway has also appeared in other productions including television series Born and Bred and even Pink Floyd's The Wall. However it is for The Railway Children that the railway is most remembered, with both the 1967 television series and 1970 film having been released for home viewing.
The railway has six superbly restored stations, representing various periods in Britain's Railway Heritage. These range from Oakworth, restored to around 1910 condition, entirely gas-lit and heated by coal fires, through to Keighley which is maintained as it would have looked when it was owned by British Railways.
Keighley is the northern terminus of the Worth Valley Railway. Grade II Listed Keighley Station still is used by national rail, with regular services to London, Leeds, Bradford, Morecambe and Carlisle using platforms 1 and 2, and the Worth Valley Railway using platforms 3 and especially 4.
Many of the features preserved at Keighley Station have been gathered from British Rail stations from all over the north of England. The booking office was originally a tobacco kiosk at Manchester Central Station, the ticket collector's hut was once a telephone box at Wakefield Kirkgate, the signal box came from Shipley, the turntable was from Garsdale, replacing an identical original, although the platform's canopy is original and the watertower is Grade II Listed.
Keighley is the only station on the railway to have electric lights. There is adjacent carparking, although this becomes full early at peak times, a café and souvenir shop.
A mile out of Keighley is Ingrow West4. This is the only station on the line to use oil lamps. The original station building at Ingrow was vandalised beyond repair in the 1960s, and the current station building comes from Foulridge Station.
Ingrow West is home to the Vintage Carriage Trust Museum of Rail Travel and Bahamas Locomotive Society Workshop - see below. There are car and coach parking facilities available at this station. Just outside Ingrow West is the 150-yard-long Ingrow Tunnel.
Damems is the smallest standard-gauge5 station in Britain. Consequently trains only stop here on request, with only one carriage able to use the platform. According to the official guidebook, 'Those who break their journey at Damems will find... the best toilet on the line'.
Damems, like the following three stations, is lit by gas lamps. Apparently the railway is the third biggest user of gas illumination in Great Britain.
Just outside Damems is Damems Junction, a passing loop built in 1971. As a single-track railway, the line was initially unable to cope with passenger demand following the release of the film. This passing loop doubled the number of trains able to use the line and thus enabled twice the number of passengers to be carried.
Grade II Listed Oakworth Station looks much as it did in the Edwardian era, and is perhaps the most famous station on the line. It was at Oakworth that the station scenes of The Railway Children were filmed, with Oakworth's name visible in the film. The station retains gas lanterns to provide external lighting as well as lights for all the station building's rooms.
Just outside Oakworth the line crosses the River Worth and instead follows Bridgehouse Beck. When the railway first opened, the line crossed the river by a wooden trestle viaduct. According to the guidebook, many railway passengers were afraid of being on a train crossing the bridge, fearing it unstable, and instead preferred to walk between Oakworth and Haworth stations rather than risk a collapse. In 1892 the line was improved by the construction of the stone three-arch Mytholmes viaduct as well as the Mytholmes tunnel. This is where the scene in The Railway Children film in which the children waved their red petticoats was filmed.
Haworth, the Brontës' home town, is the principle station of the Worth Valley Railway, and has car parking6, a souvenir shop and a little restaurant available for visitors and picnic area, as well as a Grade II Listed phonebox. The railway's locomotives are based at Haworth, in a warehouse converted out of the former station goods shed, where wool to be transported to Keighley was stored. The Grade II Listed station has a passing loop.
This is a popular station for visitors to disembark, with many making the trek up to the Brontë Parsonage Museum at the top of the steep hill.
Oxenhope is the southern terminus of the railway, 660 feet (200m) above sea level nestling at the bottom of the Pennines next to Leeming Beck. Oxenhope station was restored to its former glory in the 1960s, and has car parking, a gift shop as well as buffet car café which provides tea, coffee and cakes.
Oxenhope Exhibition Centre, located opposite the station, contains many of the line's locomotives undergoing restoration and stores several carriages. It can take up to and even over a decade to fully restore a locomotive, and all of its thousands of working parts, to fully operational order. Many parts also need to be replaced on a regular basis.
The former Oxenhope goods shed is used for carriage restoration and was recently expanded through a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. This can be quite a challenge, as it is not unknown for carriages to arrive at the railway after having been used as chicken huts for several decades. Perhaps the best carriages are the luxurious White Rose Pullman and Jubilee Bar coaches.
Vintage Carriages Trust Museum
The Vintage Carriages Trust's Museum of Rail Travel opened at Ingrow West in 1990. Here half of the trust's collection of historic railway carriages are housed. With examples built between 1876 and 1950, the fine Victorian and Edwardian carriages are the museum's pride and have appeared in films and on television. The Trust also owns two Victorian locomotives, Bellerophon and Lord Mayor, both of which pull the carriages on the adjacent railway for special Vintage Train occasions. Entry to the museum is free for visitors who have bought Rover tickets for the railway, otherwise a charge applies.
Ingrow Loco Museum
The Bahamas Locomotive Society & Ingrow Loco Museum is based in Ingrow West's goods shed, which has been refurbished as a workshop and museum. The society was formed in 1967 to purchase LMS7 Railway 'Jubilee' class 4-6-0 steam locomotive 45596 Bahamas, the pride of the collection, and has expanded since then. Members of the public can see the locomotive restoration work as well as items of railway history.
Like the Vintage Carriages Trust Museum, entry is free for visitors who have bought Rover tickets for the railway, otherwise a small charge applies.
The Railway operates steam trains every weekend throughout the year, including its famous Santa Specials, not to mention a wide variety of other Special Events, for example Vintage Trains using wooden bodied carriages and Cream Teas in Summer. The railway operates RATs, Real Ale Trains featuring locally brewed real ale, Mince Pie Specials after Christmas, Diesel Galas, car and stationary engine rallies, and Days Out with Thomas, Thomas the Tank Engine-themed events for children.
The Brontë Line?
The railway is sometimes nicknamed, and has been advertised under the name 'The Brontë Line' after the world-famous Brontë sisters, novelists Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849). Although none of them were born in Haworth, their father Patrick (1777-1861) became curate in late 1820 after the birth of Anne, so they spent much of their childhood living in the town. Sadly, all the Brontës died young by today's standards, as life expectancy was low in the area around Bradford at the time. None of them were still alive when the railway was built in 1867.
Charlotte wrote The Professor, Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette, Emily only one novel, Wuthering Heights, and Anne is famous for Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Railways do not play a principal part in any of these.
Maintained by volunteers, the railway is owned by a Preservation Society. As it takes hundreds of volunteers to keep up the high standard at which the railway operates, the Railway is keen to attract new volunteers as the task of maintaining and operating the Railway is by no means a small one! New volunteers are always welcome as there are tasks that need to be done at all skill levels, from keeping the toilets clean to the dream job of engine driver. There are many, many ways to get involved, including operating the level crossings, helping out with gardening or painting, manning the signal boxes and restoring the locomotives, before working your way up to locomotive crew (just like in the old days) or working on the stations. However for every visible volunteer in uniform seen on the railway there are five volunteers working in the background who are just as vital to the continued operation of the railway.
For more information, see the railway's website or give them a ring on 01535 645214.
Other Railways in Yorkshire
Of course, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is not the only railway attraction in Yorkshire. How does it compare with the other standard gauge railways in the local area?
Standard Gauge Railways in Yorkshire:
|Railway||Length||No of Engines: Steam / Other||Notes|
|Bradford Industrial Museum||N/A||1/0||Static display only in a former mill|
|Derwent Valley Light Railway||½ mile||2/5||'Blackberry Line', part of Yorkshire Museum of Farming|
|Elsecar Heritage Railway||1 mile||2/3||Part of Elsecar Heritage Centre open-air industrial museum|
|Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway||4½ miles||19/12||Has terminus at Bolton Abbey|
|Keighley & Worth Valley Railway||4½ miles||30/10||See above|
|Middleton Railway||1¼ miles||18/10||The world's oldest railway - founded in 1758, steam-powered since 1812 and the first standard-gauge line in Britain to be run by volunteers in 1960|
|National Railway Museum||¼ mile||79/37||World's largest railway museum|
|North Yorkshire Moors Railway||18 miles||20/12||The second-longest heritage railway in Britain, travels across the North York Moors National Park from Pickering to Whitby, passing Goathland, a village famous for its starring role in Heartbeat. Has the world's first passenger railway tunnel, built 1833-35 by George Stephenson|
|Wensleydale Railway||16 miles8||Visiting engines only||Diesel-powered services bordering the Yorkshire Dales|
Additionally, steam services run on the mainline. For instance, the Scarborough Spa Express steam railway frequently runs from York to Scarborough via Wakefield, Leeds and York (again) during the summer.