Saturday, March 07, 2009

Steam, Stations and Stones

Tucked discreetly away in an unnoticed corner of the North Euston Gardens, Fleetwood, stands an unassuming stone that, from a cursory glance, could easily be mistaken for one of those ‘electricity/water conduit close by’ indicators. You know the sort I mean…they’ve usually got a big ‘H’ on them.
Only it isn’t. So I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it really. But not to worry -- put on your spectacles and take a closer look at the aforementioned stone, and you might just be surprised.
Then again, you might not…unless you’re a railway enthusiast (which I’m not, to be honest) or a local historian with nothing better to do (which I probably am). Whatever the case, here’s what the stone looks like for anybody who can’t be bothered wandering down to the North Euston to see it in reality (i.e. anybody with an actual life):

On the off chance that your eyesight’s not particularly good, the blue plaque attached to the front informs us that this was the boundary stone of the Preston and Wyre Railway Company. It commemorates the first train to travel from Preston to Fleetwood, which trundled down the tracks on the 15th of July 1840. (Something well worth commemorating then.)
The stone itself, apparently, was recovered -- although the plaque doesn’t actually tell us from where -- by Fleetwood Civic Society, in March 1987. Now you might be wondering why they would want to recover such an item and erect it in the North Euston Gardens.
To be honest, so are we.
However, we’re come this far, so let’s press on and indulge in a bit of history concerning the PWR. (That’s the Preston and Wyre Railway, in case you hadn’t realised.)
It seems from our diligent researches (i.e. having had a quick scout round the Internet) that, during the Victorian period, Preston was in dire need of a port. (Exactly what was wrong with their own set of docks, I’ve no idea, although no doubt somebody reading this will be only too glad to inform me.) It was proposed, therefore, that a port should be built at the mouth of the Wyre and that it would be called Fleetwood after Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood, who, as I’m sure everybody is aware by now, was the main financial supporter (and instigator) of the project.
Peter Hesketh Fleetwood envisaged this new town as the transfer point between the rail and the steamers to Scotland. Originally he’d toyed with the ideas of calling his new port Wyreton and/or New Liverpool before eventually taking the more egotistical option and naming it simply after himself.
Right, we’ve covered the Victorian history of Fleetwood before somewhere; Frederick Kemp’s refusal to cough up money to Hesketh, the problems with running the lines along Kirk Scar, Hesketh’s eventual bankruptcy…all that stuff. It’s not worth rehashing it just to fill up a bit of space.
So, moving on, (and lifting most of this directly from another website because I couldn’t be bothered copying stuff out by long hand from a library book this morning) the first train travelled from Fleetwood using North Union locos. The railway was also regarded as a gateway to Scotland (which we’ve already implied) because there were no trains crossing Shap until 1847.
But what was the point of the boundary stones themselves?
Well, apparently, they marked out the plots of land acquired by the railway companies along which the lines ran, just in case there was any confusion amongst local farmers as to what constituted arable ground and railway track.
There’s another boundary stone still in situ that we’ve come across recently. See if you can recognise where it is:

Hmm…probably not. We’re not exactly giving away any clues there, are we?
How about a wider shot of the station itself then, as photographed from the footbridge over the line?

Still none the wiser? All right, that’s Layton Station that is, tucked away behind Crossleys’ Bridge on the Poulton to Blackpool line.
“So,” you might be asking yourself (or then again you might not…the latter of which suggestion seems more likely, but we’re going to persist anyway), “Why is there a Preston and Wyre boundary stone on the Poulton to Blackpool line?”
Well, here’s how it happened.
According to ‘The Blackpool Story’ by Brian Turner and Steve Palmer: “One old railway servant recalled with evident relish when a director of the Preston and Wyre, a very eminent personage, had to complete his journey to Blackpool on a wagonette, squashed in the middle of a row of extremely fat and noisy women trippers from Yorkshire. It was perhaps this solitary experience which prompted the P&W board to extend the line to Blackpool.”
Mingling with the grockles. That’d obviously never do for visiting dignitaries.
To continue the history, however, after filing for bankruptcy, in 1842 Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood sold off a lot of his lands in Blackpool, along with the manorial rights, for £495 to Thomas Clifton, who promptly built an extensive new network of roads, running Talbot Road (back in those days known as the New Road) through his own estate. He also reached an agreement with Preston & Wyre Railway Company for a branch line, which was opened on April the 29th 1846.
Not that the Preston and Wyre Railway Company had an awful lot of life left in it.
By 1849 it had been bought out by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, and that was basically the end of that.
Speaking of which, we’ve now come full circle, because our final photograph finds us back in the North Euston Gardens and taking a gander at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company commemoration stone, which, as you can see, is considerably bigger (not to mention uglier) than the Preston and Wyre one:

This stone commemorates the ‘Land and Sea Operations of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company at Fleetwood’, which consisted for the most part (as far as we can tell) of the fact that they built Wyre Dock in 1877.

13 comments:

RVB said...

I'm sorry, Brian. But that station looks like many others in Britain: brick and wet.

Brian Hughes said...

Not sure what you're sorry about, Reuben. It is brick and it was wet when the photograph was taken. I didn't design it, so I'm not offended.

Jayne said...

I'll swap Layton Station for the hideous Hughesdale Station any day.

Were those boundary stones common, with other railway lines I mean?

Andrew said...

Do I take it that the present railway line to Preston, guessing that there is one, I am sure there would be. In fact I know there is. Positive, I think. Mucky sentence. Does the present train follow the old alignment?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Hughesdale Station (you'd expect something classier really with a name like that) reminds me of one of those scale Hornby models from the 1930s.

Andrew,

The Blackpool to Preston (via Poulton) branchline is still exactly how it was when when it was built...well, almost exactly -- they had to chamfer one of the curves near to Poulton station after a massive train crash there back in Victorian times. The Poulton to Fleetwood line however is now just a rusted old heap, although the local steam enthusiasts are trying desperately to get it up and running again. I must admit, I'd like to see it back in business again myself, but I strongly suspect I never will.

RVB said...

Obviously Jayne has never visited Bell station. An uglier station has never been detected (unless you count the secret underground station that Kosky has in her office).

Brian Hughes said...

Bell station? That has a familiar ring to it.

John said...

First off, I honestly don't remember you telling us of the origins of Fleetwood before, but that could be my brain not participating this morning.

Second, I'm glad you mentioned the old rusty rail, because when I was planning on visiting, I think I was considering using that line to save time. I would have ended up on one of those little push/pull trams you see in the old movies, I guess, arriving exhausted somewhere in Preston.

Oh well, interesting post, nonetheless. We too have rail tracks all over the place that do nothing but collect weeds and create bumps in the road. The amazing thing is that, if cleaned oop, they can be used again. There was talk of revitalising the old lines, and I believe that some west of me were indeed put back into service.

So... as long as those strips of steel remain where they is, there is hope that once again the rails can roll!

Maybe once the gas runs out...?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS I am now an official 'follower' of this here blog, as far as google is concerned. :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

"I was considering using that line to save time."

The line to Blackpool's still running, but you'd have to catch a tram from there to Fleetwood. Mind you, it doesn't get much better than a tram ride really.

As for being an official follower of this blog, I'm not even sure what that is. I assume it updates you whenever I post something new...which'd be every Wednesday and Saturday. (See...I could have told you that and you wouldn't have had to to sign anything.)

Jayne said...

Shall you be entering this archaeologists competition?

Brian Hughes said...

No. I'm too busy playing at being an archaeologist round these parts to worry about Maiden Castle, or wherever it is.

Jayne said...

Platform 2 of Bell station is truly ugly, Reuben, but the original platform 1 is pretty enough.
You must agree that General Motors station is rather ordinary?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

That platform at General Motors Station looks a bit high. You'd have to be very careful stepping down from it onto the train. Looks like the ticket office could do with a lick of paint as well.