An ex-LNWR railmotor stands at Knott End station in the late 1920s From 1920 passenger services on the Garstang and Knott End line had been operated by railmotors. In this view the railmotor is wearing its LMS livery. Photo from the John Mann collection
Knott End is located at the mouth of the River Wyre on its eastern side. On the western side of the river is the town of Fleetwood which in the early years of the 20th century was an important port and the base of a large fishing fleet. It had also become a popular spot for tourists. The Fylde coast, and especially the town of Blackpool, had developed as a popular tourist destination from the mid-1850s and by 1910 over 4 million visitors were coming each year. Many of those visitors made their way to Fleetwood and a popular attraction there was the Knott End ferry that had been taken over by Fleetwood Urban District Council in 1893 (having been started by a private operator 1n 1841).
As early as the 1860s local businessmen from the areas around Garstang (a market town 10 miles to the east of Knott End) hoped to provide an outlet for the increasing volume of agricultural produce that was being produced from the reclaimed mosslands, a characteristic of the area, and develop Knott End. They intended to do this by building a railway and in December 1863 they formed the Garstang & Knot [sic] End Railway (G&KER) company.
Because of some of the stated aspirations of the lines promotors, such as developing Knott End as a port to rival Fleetwood, the project was objected to by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (LYR) and those objections cost the G&KER a great deal of money. In the end the local company watered down its aspirations and authorisation for the line was granted on 30 June 1864. As work on the line commenced it became clear that the G&KER was not going to be able to raise enough capital and they had to amend their plans and build a shorter route. On 5 December 1870 a single track line of 7 miles in length opened to Pilling (4½ miles to the east of Knott End).
The G&KER struggled financially and it went into receivership in 1878. However it did retain its aspiration of reaching Knott End but being in receivership it could never raise the capital.
A solution to the problem was devised when on 12 August 1898 a separate company, the Knott End Railway (KER) was authorised to build a 4½ mile line between Pilling and Knott End. As things turned out the KER had just as much difficulty raising finance. Furthermore the KER ended up in a legal dispute with their contactor Robert Worthington. Although work had commenced on the line by the end of January 1899 it had ceased by early January 1900. In the end it took the KER 10 years to build the 4½ mile line at a cost of £19,065 (Photo above shows construction work on the line circa 1908). The operation of two companies for an 11½ mile route would have made no sense so on 1 July 1908 the KER bought the G&KER for £44,960. They also bought the G&KER locomotives and rolling stock for £110,000.
The new section of line opened on 29 July 1908 with two stations, the terminus being Knott End and the other new station being Preesall. Knott End station was located on the south side of Bourne Road close to the Fleetwood Ferry landing point (the company had made an agreement with Fleetwood Borough Council to locate the station as close to the ferry landing point as possible). The station was single story but constructed of red brick with a pebble dashed upper half and a slate roof. The accommodation for passengers consisted of a booking office, waiting rooms and toilets. At some point very shortly after the opening a large glass waiting shed, incorporating substantial brick side walls, was added to cover the station concourse. To the rear of the building there were two platforms. The platforms were the longest on the line at 326 feet long by 20 feet wide and they were entirely exposed to the elements without any form of shelter or waiting room. Just beyond the southern end of the eastern platform there was a locomotive watering tower and to the south of that a carriage shed.
The station was provided with goods facilities which were on the western side of the station site. A large goods yard was accessed via a driveway on the western side of the station. The goods yard consisted of two sidings, the one nearest the river serving a substantial brick-built goods shed together with a loading mound which incorporated a horse and carriage dock. There was also a 2-ton lifting crane, situated on the loading mound close to the goods shed. Rail traffic movements at the station were controlled by a signal box, provided by the Railway Signalling Company of Liverpool, which was located to the south of the station inbetween the goods yard and the passenger station lines.
At the time of opening passenger services were operated by one of four locomotives (0-6-0ST Jubilee Queen, 0-6-0ST New Century, 0-6-0T Knott End and 2-6-0T Blackpool) and 8 bogie coaches that had been purchased from the Birmingham Carriage & Wagon Company.
The KER put a great deal of energy into capturing tourist traffic. In partnership with Fleetwood Urban District Council tickets were sold that included both ferry and train travel within the fare. On summer Sundays traffic could be very intense. During the August Bank Holiday Monday of 1909 there were passenger departures from Knott End station every 15 minutes between the hours of 11am and 6pm, a remarkable achievement for such a small company.
From the early years of the 20th century detachments of artillery volunteers (later to become the Territorial Army) held their Summer camps in the area and they would practice firing their guns on Pilling sands. Prior to the opening of the line to Knott End this military activity had been served by the G&KER using Pilling station. After July 1908 this military traffic was handled at Knott End station. Photographs from June 1909 show army horses being unloaded at the passenger platforms whilst in the station yard gun carriage limbers can be seen. The train from which the horses are being unloaded is of the LNWR company and will have run straight through to Knott End from somewhere on that company’s network.
In 1911 the 1½ mile branch line, from a point ¾ mile to the east of Knott End station to a salt works of the United Alkali Company at Preesall, first came into use. The branch connected to the KER line facing west so trains coming off it travelled to Knott End station where they would be remarshalled before going east to Garstang & Catterall for onward movement by the LNWR. Inbound traffic did the same thing in reverse. In 1913 (the year the salt works branch came into full use) 5,032 tons of salt was handled by the KER. This went to St Helens and Widnes (by 1918 the tonnage had increased to 30,918 tons). Inbound traffic for the salt works consisted of coal and by 1918 7,880 tons was coming in. Including the movement of empties there were over 150 wagon journeys along the line each week in association with the salt works. This would have made the yard at Knott End station a busy place.
In 1913 there were 91,918 passenger journeys on the KER.
All seemed well for the prosperity of the KER but following the outbreak of the Great War on 4 August 1914 the line was taken into government control (as were all of the railways in the UK). Although tourist traffic continued to grow throughout the war years, as did tonnages of freight carried, the KER did not benefit as most of the money generated went into the Treasury to pay for the war. The line would remain under Government control until 1921.
After the Great War (1914 – 1918) the carriage of general goods began to feel the effects of road transport and there was a decline in the tonnages of moss litter, beer and other general goods. However the United Alkali Company continued to keep the railway busy and in 1920 53,416 tons of salt and 24,135 tons of coal were carried.
Motor buses had been competing with the KER for the Knott End – Pilling traffic since 1909 and in 1920 a direct motorbus service began between Garstang and Preston. For the start of the summer season of 1920 the KER hired a steam railmotor from the LNWR as a means of competing with the buses. They also opened a halt at Carr Lane which was much closer to the village of Pilling than Pilling station was (the station being at Stakepool). The KER working timetable for the period 12 July to 30 September 1920 shows that the halt was served by an afternoon shuttle service which was operated by the railmotor between Knott End station and either Carr Lane Halt or Pilling station. This was undoubtedly for the benefit of holidaymakers coming across from Fleetwood on the ferry and represents a very credible response to the competition from motor buses for this traffic. In addition to this shuttle service, there were seven trains running between Knott End and either Garstang Town or the junction and five trains in the opposite direction as well as a Saturdays only early morning service between Garstang and Pilling. Of note, is the provision of evening trains from Knott End to Garstang to serve passengers returning after a day out in Blackpool or Fleetwood. The final service from Knott End at 8pm was worked by the rail motor and ran straight through to Garstang Town, pausing there for 15 minutes before continuing to the junction.
In March 1921, the KER directors agreed that the railway would purchase an electric advertising display machine from the Poster Advertising Machine Co. at a cost of £150. This was providing that a site could be obtained for free from Fleetwood UDC on the promenade close to the ferry. It was also proposed that the company would erect a small booking office to sell tickets for the railway which would include the cost of the ferry. There was of course already a long-standing agreement between Fleetwood Urban District Council and the KER for each concern to sell through tickets which were valid on both modes of transport. However, the KER management clearly felt that a more pro-active approach to the promotion of the railway was required on the Fleetwood side of the river. The idea was that if holiday makers using the ferry could be persuaded to buy a railway ticket before embarking, they would not then fall into the arms of the motor bus operators waiting for their custom on the other side.
It is known that the electric poster advertising machine was installed on the promenade as it attracted the attention of the LYR, whose Fleetwood station was situated just a short distance from the ferry. The LYR were themselves no strangers to advertising and promotion and were very experienced and highly successful in publicising their own services to Blackpool and the other Fylde coast resorts. However, they were sufficiently interested to send their official photographer to Fleetwood to record this new addition to the street furniture. The single photograph which has survived is a close up, so it is difficult to appreciate what the poster machine looked like in situ or how it actually functioned. However, the poster displayed at the time of the photograph bears the following legend. “Knott End Railway. Visitors to Fleetwood should spend an afternoon in Pilling. Travel by rail motor”. The poster goes on to provide details of walking times to the village from Carr Lane Halt and Pilling station, together with fare and timetable details.
This was certainly a good effort on the part of the KER and shows that the line was doing everything possible to combat the competition from motor bus operators.
The July 1922 timetable showed seven arrivals and seven departures Monday-to-Saturday. The first arrival was a service from Garstang (Town) which reached Knott End at 7.43am. It departed for Garstang & Catterall at 8.05am. The journey time from Knott End to Garstang & Catterall, a distance of 11½ miles, was 34 minutes. The last arrival got to Knott End at 7.41pm and it departed for Garstang & Catterall at 7.55pm.
In the year 1922 there were 77,579 passenger journeys on the KER line and 69,535 tons of goods was carried. 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). The new company continued to use the railmotor for most of its passenger services.
In the 1920s road transport was also affecting passenger numbers and by the end of the decade the passenger service had become uneconomic. On 31 March 1930 the LMS withdrew the passenger service.
Knott End station remained open for goods.
In 1931 the United Alkali (by then part of the ICI company) works had to be closed due to flooding issues. Salt traffic had reverted to water transport in the mid-1920s which had led to a dramatic fall in traffic for the railway.
On 1 January 1948 the line became part of British Railways London Midland Region (BR[LMR]) who within a couple of years decided that economies needed to be made. It was felt that the goods that were being handled by Knott End station could just as easily be handled at Pilling station (as it had been prior to 1908). On 13 November 1950 Knott End station was closed completely, as was the 4½ mile line to Pilling.
Owing to labour shortages track lifting did not commence until after 1953.
After closure the station building was used as a café.
The line between Pilling and Garstang Town closed on 31 July 1963 with the final section, between Garstang Town and Garstang & Catterall closing on 16 August 1965.
In the years after closure the Knott End station building became a café which still existed (albeit in a heavily modified form) in 2020.
With special thanks to Dave Richardson author of The Pilling Pig - A History of the Garstang & Knott End Railway