Professor Paul Salveson is a historian and writer and lives in Bolton. He is visiting professor in ‘Worktown Studies’ at the University of Bolton and author of several books on Lancashire history including the forthcoming Moorlands, Memories and Reflections. He was part of the ‘Crescent Road Cleaning Gang’ referred to below.

The last train from Horwich departed on September 25,1965. It had a rousing send-off from hundreds of local people sad to see the end of an era.

The final departure was the 12.05 to Bolton, driven by old-hand Bolton driver Bob Croston and fireman Sam Ashworth. It was one more casualty of the infamous ‘Beeching Cuts’ of the 1960s.

The station always had the feel of a country branch line terminus. It opened in 1870, nearly 20 years before the opening of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s enormous locomotive works nearby. The station had a single platform and adjoining goods shed and yard which serviced local farms, factories and mills.

The stationmaster was an important part of the local community. Anyon Kay, in his reminiscences of Horwich in the early twentieth century, remembers a Mr Horsfield as stationmaster, “a gentlemanly character who took his job very seriously”. His daughter became headmistress of a local school on Lord Street, emphasising the close links between railway and community.

The short branch line to Blackrod was operated by a shuttle service known as ‘The Horwich Jerk’. This referred to a relatively unusual arrangement where the steam locomotive operated a ‘push and pull’ train, with the engine and carriage a fixed unit.

When in ‘push’ mode the driver would ride in a special cab inside the carriage while the fireman looked after the fire on the footplate of the loco, ‘pushing’ from the rear. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, at its nearby Horwich Works, built a small number of trains known as ‘Rail Motors’ for rural branch lines. It was only fitting that the Horwich branch should have its own.

This Is Lancashire:

In later years the ‘push and pull’ service was operated by conventional steam locos, based at Bolton’s Crescent Road sheds, specially adapted for push and pull operation. Most of these trains operated from Horwich via Blackrod to Chorley, rather than Bolton. However, some trains (including the very last) ran direct to Bolton via ‘the Fork’, avoiding Blackrod.

The train service was hardly glamorous, though during the holiday season some special trains to the seaside started from Horwich. Evening excursions to Blackpool during the Illuminations were popular with courting couples as well as families.

Mrs Doreen Corns recalls the excitement when her family went on a trip to the seaside in the early 60s.

She said: “We walked through the park and along the path to the station. When the train came in the noise frightened me to death. Then the steam! We had our buckets and spades, banana butties. That’s all we needed.”

Perhaps the most unusual consignment handled by the goods yard was the sectional wooden building which formed Roynton Cottage for Lord Leverhulme’s Rivington estate. It was designed and built by the Portable Building Company of Manchester in 1900 and was, it is thought, taken by goods train to Horwich where the sections were transferred to horse and cart for the last leg of the journey.

This Is Lancashire:

Despite Horwich’s international fame as a centre of railway engineering, Horwich station itself was quite a sleepy place. Senior railway officials visiting the Loco Works would mostly get off at Bolton and taken a cab to the Works.

However, Anyon Kay remembers Mr Walton Ainsworth of Beech House, Rivington, who owned mills in Bolton, being a regular user before the First World War. He used to drive down by horse and trap from his mansion to catch the 9.06 to Bolton each day. Before arriving at the station the local newsagent, Tom Dutton, would hand Mr Ainsworth his morning paper!

The local train service was always sparse and had difficulty competing with Bolton Corporation’s frequent tram service along Chorley New Road, which was replaced by buses in 1946. Most users of the station in its later years were railwaymen and their families on free passes!

This Is Lancashire:

It came as little surprise that the Horwich branch was one of the hundreds of lines slated for closure in the Beeching Report published in 1963.

The various formalities were covered by a public hearing, but the closure was given consent by the transport minister. The station would close on Sunday September 26, 1965. That meant, in effect, the day before as there hadn’t been a Sunday service for many years.

A group of young railway enthusiasts, myself included, decided that the last train should be a special occasion. The Crescent Road sheds had a favourite locomotive – 42626 (known as ‘two half dollars’) and the shed authorities quietly arranged for it to be put to one side for a few days while the ardent schoolboys set to work cleaning and polishing it. Years of grime were removed, revealing immaculate paintwork.

Saturday September 25 was wet and chilly. Yet ‘2626 looked resplendent in her polished black livery, with some added front-end decorations and a special headboard made by Preston rail enthusiast Alan Castle. Bolton schoolboy Harvey Scowcroft provided a wreath to adorn the front of the loco.

This Is Lancashire:

A crowd of some 200 gathered at the station and watched the loco shunt the two carriages in readiness for departure. A few verses from ‘Last Train to San Fernando’ were sung. “If you miss this one, there’ll never be another one...”

The Crescent Road ‘cleaning gang’ crowded into the locomotive cab before departure, in the hope that some of us might be allowed to stay on for the ride. However, Driver Bob Croston was a conscientious railwayman and giving young lads cab rides was strictly against the rules.

But at 12.04 Bob turned to the throng and asked “Are you stayin’ on or gerrin’ off then?” To which we could only respond that we’d prefer to stay on, if that was OK.

The whistle blew, Bob opened the loco’s regulator and 42626 puffed into history, to the accompaniment of several dozen detonators which had been placed on the track to make sure we went off with a bang.

This Is Lancashire:

There was a sense of anti-climax when we arrived at Bolton. Our nice clean engine had more mundane duties to perform, the next job being a local train to Wigan. A few weeks later she was taken out of service and scrapped.

The goods yard closed the following year and the site became derelict. It has now been re-developed as Old Station Park and has a set of loco wheels to recall its railway connections.

There was an attempt to re-open the line in 1996 with formation of a campaign group called ‘Horwich Rail Link’. While the campaign wasn’t successful it played a part in getting a station built at Horwich Parkway on the main Bolton to Preston line.

Thanks to Heritage Heritage and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society for their assistance with this article. Horwich Heritage Centre has lots of railway memorabilia but is currently closed due to coronavirus. See www.horwichheritage.co.uk