The streets of Rothwell were practically empty on Saturday 3 July 1880 as several hundred families went on a day trip by two special trains from Woodlesford station to the seaside at Morecambe.
The excursions were funded by a friendly society for the miners working for Charlesworth’s Rothwell Haigh pits. The fund was mainly used to pay benefits to sick and injured miners and allowances to widows whose husbands had been killed in the pits. A low number of accidents that year seems to have led to a surplus allowing the trustees to splash out on free tickets for the trip, although many families were still too poor to travel because they were unable to afford a few pennies for food and entertainment.
The trains were scheduled to depart from Woodlesford at 5.30 in the morning and it must have been quite a sight as the crowds from Rothwell made their way to the station along Aberford Road or Holmsley Lane as dawn was breaking.
For many on the trip it would have been their first experience of travelling by train and there may have been some anxiety amongst the passengers as they recalled an accident along the route which had happened five years earlier. Five people had been killed and 40 injured at Kildwick and Cross Hills station when a mail train ran into the back of a similar excursion returning from Morecambe to Leeds. Thankfully the “Rodiller’s” trip passed off without any calamity.
A description of the day’s events appeared in the Rothwell Times the following Friday and is reproduced below. The name of the reporter is unknown but it’s interesting to speculate that it may have been written by John Batty whose History of Rothwell had been published three years earlier. Today, by changing trains in Leeds, it’s still possible to travel on pretty much exactly the same route.
In 1904 passenger trains started running on the East & West Yorkshire Union Railway through Rothwell. The timetabled service to Leeds only ran for a few months due to competition from the electric trams but excursion trains were a regular feature of the line. After 1923 when the E.& W.Y.U. became part of the London and North Eastern Railway the most popular excursions were to Bridlington and Cleethorpes picking up at Robin Hood station and running via the junction with the Great Northern main line at Lofthouse.
When the railways were nationalised in 1948 more destinations became available including Blackpool. For these trains the empty stock came from the Midland main line and a banking engine was needed to push the heavy load up the steep gradient from Stourton Junction. After running round the carriages the train engine could manage the loaded departure but another push by a banker was need when the train returned at night.
In the early 1950s British Railways lost interest in providing excursions from Rothwell but through the enterprise of Alice Cotton, the wife of station master Albert Victor Cotton, they still ran for a number of years. Even after the couple moved to Stanningley she continued to put on at least two trains every year. As well as Blackpool those trains also ran to Scarborough and Bridlington.
(Albert Victor Cotton, the son of a colliery deputy, was born at Soothill Nether near Dewsbury in 1897. He joined the North Eastern Railway as a clerk in 1914 and married his first wife at Batley Carr in 1926. She died in 1931 and he married Alice Glazebook in 1939 whilst he was the station master at Summer Lane on the Barnsley to Penistone line. Alice Cotton was 70 years old when she died at Calverley in 1973. Her husband passed away at Bridlington two years later.)
TRIP TO MORECAMBE. Rothwell Times, 9 July 1880.
“Nah! lass, is ta gettin’ up, its three o’clock,” would be a salutation with which many a hard-handed, kind-hearted son of the “black diamonds” would greet his sleeping spouse on Saturday morning last.
Very soon all the house was on the stir, and Mrs., who has been “throng” all the previous day, baking bread, boiling ham, and making buns and cakes for the inevitable effect of sea air on half a dozen rosy faced “chicks,” busied herself making sandwiches, dressing the youngsters in their “bit a best,” and arranging everything for the day out.
Some, of course, had to leave part of their progeny with granny, or uncle, “who works at Newmarket or Robin Hood, and who is going with their trip.” A few, alas, were not able to spare the few extra coppers the trip would cost them, and had sold their tickets in order to add a shilling or two to their impoverished store of home necessaries.
However, the fact remains, that a large number accompanied the trip on Saturday last, than has ever gone before, no less than 1,600 tickets having been issued, requiring nearly 50 carriages, which were divided into two long trains.
As we reported last week, it is a happy sign that so few and small have been the calls on the accident fund, that the club can afford to spend £200 out of the last year’s balance in giving a treat like this to every man, woman, and boy connected with it. Certainly very deep thankfulness to God, the only author of all blessings, should fill every heart.
The people began tramping down to Woodlesford station by half-past three or four o’clock, and as we paced down the main street of Rothwell, scarcely was there a house out of whose door were not issuing men, women, and children, neatly dressed, with happy countenances, lively spirits, and laden with sundry baskets, bags or satchels, in which were contained an unmentionable variety of “appetite quenchers.”
Jokes and tricks were the order of the day, and as the early morning sun beamed down on the jolly procession of trippers, every heart seemed to rejoice, and to look forward to a very happy day.
By five o’clock, Woodlesford station platform was full, and as pedestrians and conveyances still poured in, the scene became most animated; certainly, a little rain began to fall, but fortunately it was nothing serious, and the time for the departure gradually drew near.
By the capital arrangements and thoughtful firmness of Mr. James Hargreaves, the manager of the Rothwell Haigh Colliery, and the stewards and others, who acted with him, the first train at 5.30, was rapidly filled and moved off, followed within ten minutes by the second, the whole being managed most successfully and speedily, especially considering the large number of persons, old and young who are unaccustomed to railway travelling.
Pulling up at Hunslet, about 500 trippers were received, filling the provided carriages to their utmost capacity, and completing the invited number.
Now we are clear off, and steam away at a careful speed through Holbeck, passing Armley Gaol, Kirkstall Abbey, Rawden College, Woodhouse Grove School, to Idle tunnel, where the usual female screams were heard, and where no doubt, many a loving swain expressed to his “Mary dear,” the feelings he was too bashful to make in the daylight.
Windhill Crag, in the distance, stands a memorial of eccentric taste, and then we come by the Saltaire Mills, where 4,500 hands are employed, and where a patriarchal care has been taken to provide for the genuine needs of the people, by well built cleanly houses, and attractive plots of garden, by Mechanics’ Institute, Art Gallery and Park, by welcoming every organisation tending to promote morality and religion, and preventing every incentive to drunkenness and crime; Shipley Glen, too, reminds one of happy hours spent amid its well wooded shade, and by its rippling stream.
On, on, by Bingley, Keighley, into Craven. Many a time have we crossed the river on our journey, and as we observe its beauty and clearness we can hardly believe that this is indeed the same black, dirty stream, on which Leeds is built, but so it is.
Steeton, Kildwick, here everybody looks out to see the spot where that fearful collision took place, and we were thankful to get by safely, and inwardly trust we may arrive home all right.
At Skipton we are allowed a few minutes for refreshment, and the iron horse takes in its feed of cold water. Again in our seats, we push on by Gargrave, Bell Busk, (the station for Malham), Hellifield, Long Preston, Settle, Clapham, to High Bentham, when we enter Lancashire.
Wennington, Hornby, (with Hornby Castle, and Thurland Castle in the distance), Caton and Halton, bring us at last to Lancaster. All the stations from Gargrave here have prettily laid out gardens, provoking the admiration of the thousands that daily pass by.
Before reaching Lancaster we ride under a curiosity of engineering skill, this is the Lune aqueduct, carrying the Kendall and Preston canal over the railway, and fifty-three feet above the river. On the way we have also observed several of our higher hills, Pendle Hill, Pennigant, Ingleborough, and the lake mountains in the distance.
Arrived at Lancaster, a number of the party got out and walked into the town, where they spent the morning, walking or driving to Morecambe later on in the day. Here the castle was the principal attraction, the original erection dating so far back as the year 76, two of the seven towers still remaining; the turret, John O’Gaunt’s chair, was also ascended, giving a splendid view of the country. To some, the place of execution was a spot of some interest, the lowermost window of the castle swinging on hinges to admit of the mournful procession; a short distance from here are two 36 pounder guns taken at Sebastopol.
The majority of the trippers, however, went right forward to Morecambe, where we arrived at 9.5., the first train being about a quarter of an hour before us. Although the rain had fallen pretty constantly during the whole journey, and there were a few showers up to 11 o’ clock, the weather after this hour was all that could be desired.
No sooner out of the train than pell-mell went the “country folks” down to the sea, but not into it, thank you, we must get a little more used to the air first, and then possibly a very infinitesimal number may have a “dip.” It’s not so easy, however, getting near the water at Morecambe. Unlike Blackpool, where the briny ocean sometimes invades the town, and unlike Southport where a long stretch of beautiful sands intervene, Morecambe is almost an inland sea watering place, if such a term is not tautological.
The bay is circled by a pebbly beach of some extent, which again is inter-circled by sand and sand-banks, while the fact of the town being built well into the curve preserves it from many a storm, though, we understand the spray sometimes dashes over the pier-head in magnificent style.
However, here we are, and after a good breakfast at one or other of Brayshay’s Restaurants, we sally out on to the promenade, which is crowded with visitors, many of whom we recognise as “Roddillers”. Standing here, we can distinctly point to Grange, Kent’s Bank, and Ulverstone, while Barrow is observed at the far extremity of the bay, with its iron works and shipping.
Behind these towns may be observed the mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland, whose heights are traced in faint blue lines on the horizon. After having a walk on the promenade, which is not yet completed, most people had a stroll on the handsome pier, at the end of which a band is stationed, whose performances are well up to the bands usually found at pier-heads.
A capacious and well-arranged dancing platform and band-house are in course of erection, which when finished will no doubt be an additional attraction to visitors. The pier is 303 yards long, and 21 feet in width, besides which are six recesses and the end widens out in the shape of a T. The view from the pier-head is very fine and extensive, and was keenly enjoyed by the excursionists.
With the sea dashing round one, the trippers begin to feel the various sentiments which float into one’s mind, after a year’s absence from the coast; some have a secret feeling of fear which they would not like anybody to know, not on any account; others have a longing desire to ride on the heaving bosom of Neptune, and rejoice in the glorious freedom one experiences when again on the ocean wave.
By degrees, however, the latter feeling predominates, and what with the wish to have a ride on the water for the sake of telling it to friend at home, and the persevering endeavours of the weather-beaten tars on the banks, the landsmen move on board, and bye and bye, the first steamer is filled, and away she slips, as gently as a dove.
During the hours in the middle of the day, the steamers were well patronised, and trips were made to Grange, to the floating light-ship, and other places. Although the water had just the happiest, most pleasant ripple, several passengers were troubled with sickness, but as a rule, the enjoyment was taken without this disagreeable set-off.
Very few ventured to take a run out in a boat on their own “hook”, but those who did so had a most pleasurable time of it. Stepping into one of the rowing boats, accompanied by a companion or two, the little vessel is let go, and by a push or two with the oar she gets into her depth, and settling to their oars, the country fellows pull it out to sea.
The sensation of freedom and independence felt by one when on the wide waters, master of one’s own craft, and at liberty to wander away at one’s own sweet will, is something indescribably pleasant and elevating. Now and again, we pull up to salute a passing steamer, many of whose living freight return the cheer, while jokes are cracked and puns exchanged.
Two officers under the School Board happening to have taken a “row out”, were jocularly asked by a steamboat excursionist “whether they were seeking scholars out there?” Considerable amusement was also caused by the enquiry of two or three lads, who were vainly endeavouring to get “under way” as to: “How are we to get turned round”? met by the reply to “get out and push”.
But back again to dry land, and a number of us took a drive or walk to Heysham, a little country place, where the village blacksmith was having a great day “at welding a cart wheel” turf being used instead of coke.
Passing onwards, we were informed by a small placard that the “keys of Chapel Hill are kept here, admission one penny.” Having knocked at the door, a cleanly old dame appeared, and keys in hand, led us to the gate of the little church-yard, where her ruddy-cheeked “old man” opened the gate, and we pressed forward to the church; on our way noticing a number of ancient tomb stones.
Entering the quaint little church, our guide proceeds to point out the various interesting relics within. About 17 years ago it was rebuilt and renovated, but the same material was used, as far as possible, so that its old age is still retained. Its origin dates from before the times of the Normans, as is proved by a plate in the chancel, where an ancient chapel is preserved. “Portion of a chalice found in the tomb of an early Rector of Heysham, who was interred under this south-east wall of the chancel, and who was probably the founder of the Norman part of this building. It is placed here for preservation in conformity with the wish of the late Rev. John Royds, Rector.”
In another part of the church is the stone lid of a tomb (supposed to be that of the above mentioned) on which are the signs of Knight Templary. The still more ancient ruin of St. Patrick’s rises from a high rock, overlooking the present churchyard, the size of this venerable pile being only about 24 feet by 7½.
It dates back from the early Saxons, and must have been built in the second or third century. This church was afterwards inhabited by monks, some 1500 years ago. From its elevation, they lighted beacons fires to guard vessels from breakers in the rocks. The name of Heysham is derived from Hesse, who owned it. It would be an agreeable task to describe the curious epitaphs, the rude arches, the roughly hewn stone coffins; and to linger awhile on the delightful breeze-blown eminence, whence opens a magnificent view of the country, inland and seaward; but time flies, and we must make the most of the day.
Wandering away back to the churchyard, the healthy old octogenarian opens the gate, replying to our query, that “he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t live another twenty years (and he looks likely,) and a pleasant chat with his 81 years-old spouse, who seems likely to continue her earthly pilgrimage as long as her husband, and we return to the Strawberry gardens.
For a small admission, we found ourselves in the midst of a little “country” Paradise. Nature and Art have both been pressed into service for the completion of a most attractive resort. The flower gardens are laid out most tastefully, blooming with rare and hothouse plants, while a miniature river runs among the beds, bathing the sides of diminutive rocks and hills.
Further on, are greenhouses, a neat fernery, and cool grottos. A dancing saloon is erected mostly of glass, in which are cases of antique china, stuffed birds and foreign curiosities. Beyond this are swings of every description, while the flavour of the strawberry gardens is wafted on the gentle zephyr. After regaling our senses with the sights and music, we purchased a few strawberries, and wended our way back to Morecambe to tea.
By this time, six o’clock, wearied men and women, especially those who have young children, and who have not had the means of riding, are seen in large numbers, resting on the grass or on the seats near the promenade, and are looking forward to going home.
We however, must have just a look at the town, and remember the little ones at home. Like most watering places, there is an old town and a new one, which are sometimes mixed up rather heterogeneously. The newer portion consists of elegant marine residences, boarding houses, hotels, refreshment rooms, bazaars, etc., while several handsome chapels and churches have been erected.
Turning towards the station, the long train steams up at a quarter to eight, and in a few minutes, every compartment in the first portion is packed to its utmost capacity, and the first contingent is borne away; followed in ten minutes by the remaining excursionists, who (by reason of a number of Normanton people getting in) had been swelled to a larger number than left Yorkshire in the morning. Two extra carriages were put on, and amid singing, shouting, joking, the trippers left Morecambe, and steamed along towards Rothwell Haigh.
Taking the large number of persons on the trip, and the natural high spirits in which such people indulge, (if we except about a dozen who unfortunately got more than they could carry) the miners with their families behaved most respectably, and probably better than most companies of men of their class.
On account of other trains somewhat delaying ours, it was a quarter to twelve before the second train reached Woodlesford Station, bringing to a happy termination, the trip to Morecambe in 1880.