In the early 19th Century the area around Cockerham Cross had been an unworked expanse of moss but improvements had made it into productive agricultural land. In December 1863 the Garstang & Knot (sic) End Railway (G&KER) company was formed to create an 11½ mile line that would unlock the potential of the land in the area. In their early publications grand ideas were put forward that included their line becoming part of an alternative route to the north-east of England. The idea that Knott End might be developed as a major port to rival nearby Fleetwood was also discussed. These statements alarmed the bigger railway companies who objected to the proposals, which incurred a great deal of cost for the G&KER. In the end they had to modify their aspirations and submit their bill as very much a local railway that would serve only the local area. The railway was authorised on 30 June 1864.
From the start there were financial difficulties. The Parliamentary Act had authorised £60,000 in share capital, but the G&KER was unable to raise the subscriptions required. By December 1867 only half a mile of line had been created and it became clear that creating the route to Knott End was not going to be possible so the plans for the route west of Pilling were abandoned.
The single track line, of only 7 miles between the LNWR Garstang station (which started to be referred to as the ‘Junction’ station) and Pilling, opened on 5 December 1870. There were intermediate stations at Garstang (the town) and Nateby (then called Winmarleigh). The line had cost £150,000.
Cockerham Cross was in a very remote spot with no village or hamlet nearby, merely a scattering of farms. It was situated where the line was crossed by a farm road which runs from Crawley Cross Farm, northwards, across Cockerham Moss to Moss Edge Farm. However, for passengers alighting at the halt, it was only a relatively short walk to the Garstang to Pilling road.
To operate the train services the G&KER acquired an 0-4-2 saddle tank named ‘Hebe’ through a hire purchase arrangement. On 12 October 1870 a group of debenture holders had formed the Garstang Rolling Stock Company (GRSC) and they purchased four passenger coaches.
The G&KER operated mixed passenger/goods trains and the busiest section of the line was that which stretched between Garstang (Town) and Garstang (Junction). There were nine trains in each direction on that stretch of the line Monday-to-Saturday. Through Cockerham Cross, on the Garstang Town – Pilling section of line, there were only two trains in each direction (three on market days). Trains would pick up and drop off passengers at points along the line other than the formal stations and Cockerham Cross was one of the stopping points.
Having only one locomotive caused problems and when ‘Hebe’ needed major repairs in March 1872 the line had to close for two days. On 11 March 1872 the passenger service had to be suspended and although it restarted for a period further problems brought an end to locomotive haulage on 29 March 1872. Occasional goods services were operated after this date using horses for traction.
This dire state of affairs was resolved in the early months of 1875 when the debenture holders purchased an 0-4-0T locomotive named ‘Union’. On 23 February 1875 goods services resumed followed by passenger services on 17 May 1875. There was a basic passenger service of five trains in each direction with variations on Thursdays and Saturdays to accommodate those wishing to travel to and from the market at Garstang. However, almost all the trains now ran between Garstang (Junction) and Pilling, with stops, as required at Cogie Hill and Cockerham Crossing. In December 1875 a further engine was purchased. It was an 0-6-0ST named ‘Farmers Friend’ and it went into service in 1876. It had a distinct high pitched whistle and locals began to call it the ‘Pilling Pig’. That name stuck and began to be applied (unofficially) to subsequent engines that operated on the line.
The G&KER continued to struggle financially and in 1878 the railway was placed in the hands of a receiver as it was unable to meet its financial obligations.
In 1881 the LNWR had renamed their Garstang station as Garstang &Catterall.
The December 1895 timetable showed Cockerham Cross as having four trains in each direction Thursdays and Saturdays only.
In 1894 consideration was given to continuing the line to Knott End. As the G&KER could not raise the capital required, on 12 August 1898, Parliamentary authority was obtained for the Knott End Railway (KER) to extend the line from Pilling to Knott End. As things turned out the new company had just as much difficulty in raising capital and it took them ten years to build a 4 ½ mile length of railway. Having two companies for an 11½ mile railway was not practical so on 1 July 1908 the KER bought the G&KER for £44,690. Passenger services began to serve Knott End on 30 July 1908. There was one intermediate station on the new section of line. After the extension to Knott End was opened in 1908, the service at Cockerham Cross was improved slightly with an additional two trains on Fridays.
The term ‘Halt’ was being used on maps from 1912 and a short platform located on the north side of the line had appeared. The platform had been described in a 1908 article by T.R. Perkins but it is not known when it was installed.
A great deal of effort was made by the KER to promote Knott End as a holiday and day trip location. On busy Sundays during the summer period trains were run to cater for the leisure traveller. In 1913 the KER carried 91,918 passengers.
In the 1920 a daily bus service between Preston and Garstang was introduced and at a stroke it reduced through bookings between Garstang and Preston by 50%. The number of passengers carried on the line slumped from 112,000 in 1920 to 77,579 in 1922. As a means of countering this competition in the summer of 1920 the KER line hired a steam railmotor from the LNWR. The railmotor enabled the KER to cut expenditure and to provide a more flexible passenger service. At first the railmotor was used in addition to the locomotive hauled service during the summer season and for all passenger services in the winter period.
On 1 July 1923 the KER was absorbed into the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). It was the smallest of the companies that was grouped into that organisation.
Under the LMS most of the passenger services continued to be operated by the railmotor.
During the 1920s there was a decline in both passenger numbers and in goods tonnage brought about by ever increasing competition from road transport. On 31 March 1930 the LMS withdrew the passenger service from the line and Cogie Hill was closed completely. The last LMS working timetable that showed a passenger service, which came into effect from 23rd September 1929, showed six up and five down passenger services. All bar the first down service which departed from Garstang Town for Knott End at 7.15 were worked by the railmotor.
The line remained open for goods and passed to British Railways (BR) on 1 January 1948. On 13 November 1950 BR closed the 1908 KER section of the line between Pilling and Knott End. The section of line through Cockerham Cross Halt (between Garstang Town and Pilling) closed on 31 July 1963 and the track was lifted a couple of years later.
With special thanks to Dave Richardson author of The Pilling Pig - A History of the Garstang & Knott End Railway