Scarborough Spa Express

On 20 July 2010 a steam hauled train stopped to pick up passengers at Woodlesford for the first time since 1967. The train was the Scarborough Spa Express which arrived at 1155 and stood for a few minutes before heading off towards Methley and its next stop at Castleford.

On 20 July 2010, for the first time in over 40 years, a steam hauled train stopped to pick up passengers at Woodlesford. It was the Scarborough Spa Express, a summer only service operated by charter train company, West Coast Railways.

Despite preserved steam engines passing through on excursion trains this was the first time a steam train had actually stopped for passengers since the autumn of 1967 when the steam hauled Leeds City to Cudworth and Sheffield service was withdrawn.

60 children from Woodlesford school lined the “Down” platform to watch the train after their teachers had heard about the event that morning on BBC Rado Leeds. Coincidentally the Year 5 pupils were having a Victorian theme day and were all dressed in period costume.

Teacher Andy Smith who was wearing a top hat said the staff had only heard about the steam train when they came into school and made a spur of the  moment decision to go and see it. 

During the morning the children were taught about  George Stephenson who engineered the line through Woodlesford. Then they walked down Church Street to the station to see the line as it would have looked in the steam age. “The kids absolutely loved it. It gave them a sense of what transport in those days was all about,” said Andy. 

Year 5 pupils from Woodlesford School wave to passengers on the Scarborough Spa Express.

The 12 coach train, of red liveried BR Mk1 and Pullman stock, hauled by 46115 Scots Guardsman, arrived a couple of minutes ahead of its booked time of 1158 and was drawn forward over the foot crossing so that only the last three carriages were at the short “Up” platform.

It mirrored exactly the scene in the 1960s when steam hauled trains on the Leeds City – Cudworth – Sheffield service were operated in a similar manner to allow passengers to cross the line whilst the train stopped for up to ten minutes so that parcels could be unloaded from the guard’s van. Express engines of the Royal Scot class were often used on these trains as well as the fast services like the Thames Clyde Express which also ran through Woodlesford.

One train, the 1750 departure from Leeds, stopping at Woodlesford at 1809, was known as the infamous “Mill Girls Special”. The women, on their way home from work in Leeds, were notorious for their raucous behaviour, and many male passengers were known to arrive at Woodlesford minus their shirts and trousers!

The sight of a long express stopping at the platforms also brought back memories of a similar event in the “Down” direction when the Devonian was brought to a stand one summer Saturday evening on the orders of Tom Swaby, Woodlesford’s last stationmaster. 

A bemused woman passenger, who was bound for Bradford, had arrived on one of the Sheffield DMUs after being directed to the wrong train by a porter at Leeds. The next returning stopping service wasn’t due for some time so Tom, gentleman that he was, took pity on the lady, and used his not inconsiderable powers to tell the signalman to halt the holiday express.

A puzzled looking driver of the Devonian stopped his 12 carriage train at the short platform and the lady was shepherded aboard so she could reach her destination in style. If she was not too embarrassed to tell her story to fellow passengers and friends it probably did more for railway customer relations than any amount of expensive tv advertising.

The Scarborough Spa Express called at Woodlesford as part of a new circular morning working from York routed via Normanton, Wakefield Kirkgate and Wakefield Westgate. It then took the curve at Whitehall Junction in Leeds past the site of the old Holbeck engine shed and back onto the Midland main line.

After stopping at Woodlesford the train returned via Castleford to York and Scarborough. On the return evening journey it retraced its steps in the same direction. 

Woodlesford is one of the country’s oldest stations on a main line. It was opened on 1 July 1840 and lost its staff and station buildings in 1970.

Photos by Stephen Ward, Rothwell Record. Video by Howard Benson.