History of the Sefton & West Lancs

A fictional history of the Sefton & West Lancashire Light Railway. For the history of the garden railway click here.

In 1846, the Davies & Parkinson Quarries constructed a horse drawn tramway from Aughtonside to Porthmelling. The route taken by the original tramway, is now the section of line referred too as the Bluebell Line. The Sefton & West Lancashire Light Railway Company was formed in 1866, with Davies & Parkinson Quarries and the Earl of Sefton the primary stakeholders of the company. The company took over the original tramway but also extended the line to Sefton village, with the aim of providing a passenger link between Sefton and Porthmelling, along with local goods traffic. A pair of locomotives where purchased from Fletcher, Jennings & Co. and a 5 carriages acquired from Brown, Marshalls and Co. Ltd. The railway officially opened on 1st September 1867 by the Earl of Sefton.

Further locomotives arrived in 1893 and 1895. In 1896, the location of Porthmelling station was moved to its present location, with a deviated route to Aughtonside (what is know referred to as the Strawberry Corner section). Rather than close the original tramway route, the line was looped around to enable trains run out and back from Sefton without having to run round. A further locomotive (No. 6 Rosie) from Hunslet Engine Company arrived in 1899.

With passenger numbers dwindling and the carriages life expired, a decision was taken to withdraw passenger services at the end of the 1935 season. Slate, local coal traffic & seasonal Strawberry trains continued, but trains only ran two or three times a week. By the end of 1937, the only main line locomotive left operational was No. 6 Rosie, with some of the quarries diesel shunters being required to deputise on a regular basis. The section from Sefton village to Aughtonside Quarry was mothballed in 1937 and lifted during the Second World War in 1941.

Following the closure of the Ffestiniog Railway during the Second World War and a locomotive sitting in a shed with a nice new boiler waiting to be fitted, the opportunity was taken to purchase Prince, which was deemed more cost effective than overhauling No. 6 Rosie. The locomotive was quickly overhauled and fitted with her new boiler, entering service in 1952. Following the success of the reopening of the Talyllyn Railway, the railway company decided to try operating a tourist passenger service over the summer months, turning again to the Ffestiniog Railway for second hand carriages.

The tourist services started at Porthmelling and ran as a circular excursion. Rather than reopening the line to Sefton, one of the quarry lines was upgraded to passenger standards and formed a southern spur of a loop around the Aughtonside Slate Quarry.

The tourist trains where a success, but slate traffic was dwindling further. In March 1961 the quarry at Aughtonside closed and although the tourist service had proved popular the railway company did not have enough funds to keep going without the slate traffic. The company operated the summer passenger services until the 31st August when services were withdrawn and the last remaining staff where laid off.

A group of enthusiasts from Liverpool University had formed the Sefton & West Lancashire Railway Society in the mid-1950s and had supported the summer tourist trains, helping with cleaning of the locomotives, selling refreshments and collecting tickets. The Earl of Sefton who owned the majority of the Sefton & West Lancashire Light Railway Company agreed to transfer the ownership of the Company to the Society, which occurred formally on the 1st September and the railway became (at the time) a wholly volunteer operation.

The railway was very worn out, with a track relay required for the complete line. The first section was relaid by Easter 1962, when trains started to run between Porthmelling and Aughtonside via Strawberry Corner. By the following summer season the line was relaid around the Aughtonside Slate Loop. In 1965 trains started running along the route of the original tramway, The Bluebell Line, enabling circular excursions.

Trains finally returned to Sefton in 1972, which became the railway's operation base. Trains now generally operate from Sefton via the Bluebell Line to Porthmelling, then running clockwise around the slate loop to Aughtonside, before returning via the Strawberry Line to Porthmelling, then completing its anticlockwise return journey back to Sefton.