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The History of the Whitby and Pickering Railway (1832 – 1845)

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The Railway was built to provide a transportation link, an engineering marvel of its time. With steep gradients, tight curves, and impressive viaducts. Here’s further information about the History of the Whitby and Pickering Railway.

The railway played a crucial role in Whitby and the surrounding area’s development, providing a vital link for transporting goods and people. It has a fascinating history full of triumph, tragedy, and innovation. In this article, we will delve into the history of the Whitby and Pickering Railway and explore its impact on the area.

The History of the Whitby and Pickering Railway

Before the opening of the turnpike to Pickering in 1759, Whitby relied more on the sea than land transportation due to the challenging climb over the high moors. Even after the turnpike was built, the journey remained difficult. It wasn’t until 1795 that stagecoach services began, and mail coaches started running three times a week in 1823.

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A stream train at Pickering Station.

In the early 1800s, Whitby’s merchants decided they needed a way to increase trade to compete with merchants in Stockton. After the success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which had several backers from Whitby, there were discussions about constructing a railway from Whitby to either Stockton or Pickering. Many pamphlets were issued, both for and against the different proposals. Copies of some of these pamphlets can be found in the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society library.

George Stephenson discussed building a horse tramroad

In 1832, a group of shareholders led by George Stephenson discussed building a horse tramroad that would provide the transportation of lime and stone between Whitby and Pickering. With the primary industries of shipbuilding and whaling experiencing a decline for many years, the opening of improved transportation links aimed to rejuvenate the town and its port. On the 6th of May 1833, the Whitby and Pickering Railway bill was granted royal assent.

George Hudson and George Stephenson

NYMR at Goathland Station

Shortly after, George Stephenson crossed paths with George Hudson, a prominent figure in the railway industry, in Whitby. They discussed the tramroad project and explored ways to expand it. The plan was always to connect the Whitby and Pickering Railway to York and beyond. A meeting held in 1834 aimed to advance the proposed railway from York to Leeds.

Even though the York to Leeds line took some time to materialise, this meeting positively affected various areas.

First major work

The River Esk at Larpool Flat between Ruswarp and Whitby was diverted in the first significant work of the project. Due to the requirement of many bridges and tunnels that had to be cut through the hard alum rock, progress was slow.

The railway line initially ran from Whitby to ‘Tunnel’ (Grosmont) and was later extended to Pickering, opening in 1836. However, due to being built cheaply, it was not suitable for carrying the heavy steam locomotives used on other lines. Instead, passengers were transported in carriages pulled along the rails by horses.

Iron Railway Tracks.

There was a challenging stretch of 1,500 yards between Beck Hole and Goathland. To overcome the steep incline of Goathland’s moor, a mile-long gentle slope was constructed, where carriages were attached to ropes and heavy tanks filled with water slid downhill on rails, pulling the carriages up in a balanced system.

The railway line generated very little revenue

The line generated little revenue due to the lack of goods or passengers transported. In 1845, George Hudson improved the line by building a bigger tunnel in Grosmont and constructing new stations. Additionally, the line was connected to the new Scarborough and York line that Hudson had developed. By 1847, the Whitby line was connected to York, further improving transportation and connectivity in the area.

Problems persisted

Despite efforts to improve the railway, problems persisted. An accident in 1864 saw two fatalities when a train could not stop due to the rope snapping while being lifted at Goathland. Change was necessary. The North Eastern Railway took over in 1860 and made improvements in 1865 to accommodate the growing ironstone trade. To bypass the troublesome rope incline, a new line was constructed from Grosmont to Moorgates, which required significant engineering due to its steep gradient.

In 1965, the railway line from Grosmont through Pickering to Malton was closed due to the increasing use of motor cars. This decision caused a public outcry, especially after the service south of Whitby was cut.

As a result, a Preservation Society was formed in 1967, with enthusiastic volunteers raising funds for the cause. In 1968, work began to revive the railway, which led to the opening of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 1973.

The railway today

Today, this railway carries over 300,000 passengers annually. It meets the Network Rail line at Grosmont. And the reinstatement of the Whitby to Pickering Railway has been made possible.

NMR Light Spectacular.

The North York Moors Heritage Railway

The North York Moors Heritage Railway is an excellent option if you’re looking for a truly unforgettable journey. You’ll be treated to breathtaking scenery as you travel through the national park, stopping at various stations. With stops in Pickering, Levisham, Newtondale Halt, Goathland, Grosmont, and Whitby, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and take in the Yorkshire countryside.

The North York Moors Historical Railway Trust runs the railway, a not-for-profit charitable organisation staffed by dedicated volunteers with experience in railway operations and business.

Whether you’re interested in cycling or walking, there are great routes to explore, some of which are only accessible by rail. And with special events like The Light Spectacular Express and Santa Specials, there’s always something exciting happening. Don’t miss the opportunity to ride the Pullman Dining Train for an exceptional experience!

The Whitby and Pickering Railway significantly influenced the region’s transportation history. Its construction and operation facilitated the movement of goods and people and brought economic growth and development to the area. We hope you have found this article helpful; you can let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Header image credit: The Moorlander Express steam train arriving at Goathland Station by Glen BowmanCC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

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