[Source: Paul Wright and Alan Young]

Garstang Town in its pre-1909 form. Photo from the John Alsop collection 

Garstang was a market town and had developed some local industries following the completion of the Lancaster Canal in 1819. On the 25 June 1840 the Lancaster & Preston Junction Railway (L&PJR) opened but its course was ¾ mile to the east of Garstang. A station was provided, called Garstang, 1¾ mile to the south of the town. The L&PJR contributed to the costs of a road between the station and the town and arranged for omnibus services to operate but the station remained remote and inconvenient and the canal remained the primary mover for the town.

By the 1860s the L&PJR had become part of the west coast trunk route between London and Glasgow, with the section of line through Garstang becoming part of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) through a lease on 29 July 1864 (and purchased by them in 1885).

In the early years of the 19th century the area to the west of Garstang had been an unworked expanse of moss but improvements had been carried out that made it suitable for agriculture. 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. The line had cost £150,000.

The G&KER Garstang station was located between Back Lane (the modern day Croston Road) and High Street. Back Lane was at the western end of the station site and this was where the main point of access for vehicles was, on the south side of the line. There was also a footpath connection at the east end of the station site to High Street which the line passed over on a bridge. The footpath was the main means of access for passengers.

At the main vehicle entrance to the station site, on Back Lane, there was a small goods office and a weighing machine. A driveway led up to track level. The main line ran east to west and on the south side of it a single platform was provided for passengers. On the platform there was a small brick built structure that housed the booking office and acted as a waiting shelter. The booking office/sheler was present by 1875 but may have replaced an earlier wooden structure. To the rear of the platform (south of it) there was a brick built single goods shed which had two sidings to its east and a small engine shed (probably opened with station on 5 December 1870 but certainly in situ by 1876) to its west.

A passing loop was provided at Garstang and on the north side of it a single line carriage shed was added sometime around 1874.

Adjacent to the level crossing, on the south side of the line, there was a two storey crossing keepers cottage.

The map below shows the arrangements at Garstang as they were in 1890.

To operate the train services the G&KER aquired 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 the stretch between Garstang (Town) and Garstang (Junction). There were nine trains in each direction on that stretch of the line Monday-to-Saturday but only two each way to Pilling (three on market days). Trains would pick up and drop off passengers at points along the line other than the formal stations. In most cases this would be at level crossings.

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 the 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.

In 1883 a 2-ton lifting crane was erected on the platform at the western end of the goods shed.

The December 1895 timetable showed that services started from and finished at Garstang. The first departure of the day was at 7.00 and it ran to Pilling (the down direction). It returned at 8.05am and then ran on to Garstang Junction (the up direction). In all four trips were made to Pilling and four to Garstang Junction except on Thursdays when there were five services to Garstang Junction. The last arrival back into Garstang was at 6.55pm. There was no Sunday service on the line.

The 1904 Handbook of Stations listed Garstang as being able to handle passengers, general goods, parcels, furniture vans, livestock, horses and carriages. The station was equipped with a 2ton 10cwt lifting crane.

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. The new line cost £19,065, and the transfer locomotives and rolling stock cost £110,000. Including the G&KER purchase and miscellaneous charges the complete line of 11 miles and 29 chains had cost the KER £179,991. Passenger services began to serve Knott End on 30 July 1908. There was one intermediate station on the new section of line.

A number of improvements had also been carried out on the existing line including a rebuild of Garstang station. The works were carried out in the early months of 1909. The goods facilities on the south side of the station remained substantially unaltered but the small engine shed was altered and converted into a joiners’ workshop for repairing wagons. The original platform and its building were removed and the main line was slewed to run where it had stood. An 250ft long 30ft wide island platform was constructed in the space between the main line (at its new position) and the passing loop. The platform was accessed by a footbridge at the eastern end. The main passenger facilities were located on this platform in a single storey building constructed of timber and corrugated iron. The building housed a booking office, waiting rooms and toilets for both sexes . A signal box was also located on the platform at the western end of the passenger facilities. It was wider than the station building, had windows on three sides and easterly facing half bay windows to provide the widest possible view for the signalman.

On the north side of the line at the western end of the station site a new two-road engine shed was built. It was provided with two inspection pits and space for a coal stack but watering facilities were rather basic (a standpipe). The original carriage shed was demolished to make way for sidings and replacement sheds were built at the east end of the station site.

The fortunes of the line improved in 1911 when the United Alkali Company opened a branch railway siding 1½ miles long near Knott End. By 1913 5,032 tons of salt were being carried and by 1920 the total had reached 53,894 tons. The United Alkali works also required considerable volumes of coal and in 1913 the KER transported 7,970 tons which rose to 13,678 tons in 1920.

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 catter for the leisure traveller. In 1913 the KER carried 91,918 passengers.

In 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.

The July 1922 timetable showed Garstang as having seven trains to Knott End, one to Pilling and eight to Garstang and Catterall on weekdays, with an extra train from Garstang & Catterall to Garstang on Thursdays, as seen in the timetable below.

In 1922 as well as the 77,579 passenger journeys already mentioned the KER carried 69,535 tons of goods. The total revenue was £12,815 against an expenditure of £11,583.

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. The LMS working timetable published on 1 May 1923 showed a basic, daily, through service between Garstang and Catterall and Knott End of five trains in each direction. In addition to this there was an early morning train from Garstang to Garstang & Catterall, arriving there at 8am and a through service to Garstang and Catterall (7.55pm ex-Knott End) which ran on Wednesdays only and daily during the Whitsuntide holiday week. There was also a solitary mixed train which ran from Garstang to the Garstang & Catterall departing at 5.15 pm. In the down (Knott End) direction the additional trains were as follows: An early morning Garstang to Knott End service leaving at 7.15am and then two services which ran only on Wednesdays but daily during the Whitsuntide holiday week. These were a 7.02pm train from the Garstang & Catterall to Knott End and finally an 8.45pm service that terminated at Garstang. Of the total passenger trains run, only four were not worked by the rail motor. These were the early 7.15am Garstang to Knott End which returned as the 8.05am to Garstang and Catterall. The other was the aforementioned 5.15pm mixed train from Garstang Town. This returned from Garstang & Catterall as the 5.42pm train to Knott End.

On 2 June 1924 the station was renamed as Garstang Town (the KER had been refering to it by that name in documents dating from 1920). Signage was replaced to reflect the name change.

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. The last LMS working timetable that showed a passnger 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. On the same day that passenger services were withdrawn the Garstang Town engine shed was closed and thereafter the line was worked by engines from Preston.

Goods services continued to serve Garstang Town and the other stations along the line.

On 1 January 1948 the line became part of British Railways London Midland Region (BR[LMR]). In 1950 the principal commodities carried on the line were merchandise (3081 tons), coal (10,406 tons), other minerals (1694 tons) and livestock (3345 animals). Outgoing traffic was mainly limited to livestock and grass turf harvested from the coastal salt marshes. The incoming traffic apart from coal and minerals was mostly of an agricultural nature with seeds, fertiliser, feeding stuff and grain predominating. On 13 November 1950 BR[LMR] closed the 1908 KER section of the line between Pilling and Knott end.

The 1956 Handbook of Stations listed Garstang Town as being able to handle general goods, parcels, furniture vans, horse boxes and cattle.

On 31 July 1963 BR[LMR] closed the section of line between Garstang Town and Pilling. The section of line to Garstang Town was retained as coal, coke and patent fuel was still being handled at the station and two coal merchants had stacking grounds in the yard. In 1964 a total of 3,548 tons of this type of freight was carried to Garstang Town.

A further reason why this section of line had a stay of execution was probably because there was a proposal to use the yard at Garstang Town as a railhead for concrete supplies for the nearby M6 motorway which was at that time in the course of construction. In the event the railhead was established at Bay Horse further north.

Complete closure came on 16 August 1965.

Garstang Town station was completely demolished after 1975 and the site was later developed with housing.

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[Source: Paul Wright and Alan Young]

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