In the early years of the nineteenth century the area around the village of Pilling was an unworked expanse of moss. 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 £106,715.
The station that was provided for Pilling was located at the small settlement of Stakepool a mile to the south-east of its village namesake.
Situated to the east of a road junction where the route from Cockerham to Knott End was joined by a minor road from Eagland Hill, the station was quite basic. There was a single platform on the south side of the line and the passenger facilities were contained within a very simple timber building. To the south of the platform there was a goods yard. The track layout was very straightforward with just a run round loop at the platform and two sidings in the yard. There was not even a head shunt. The southernmost siding served a long loading mound but maps from the period show no other facilities.
To the east of the station the line crossed Pilling Water by means of a timber bridge.
An unusual feature of the station layout was the way in which the line terminated. Instead of ending at the road, the line carried on right across the middle of the road junction and encroached into the field on the opposite side. Locomotives running around their trains had to run onto the road. A crossing keeper’s cottage was provided (on the east side of the road and south side of the line) but there were no level crossing gates. As the traffic on the road would have been light and slow the movement of locomotives probably didn’t matter very much (see 1892 map below which shows the station in near enough its original form).
At the time of opening there were two arrivals and two departures which ran as mixed passenger and goods. To operate the train services the G&KER had 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.
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.
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.
During the early years of the railway the G&KER erected a water tower just to the east of the wooden bridge that carried the line over Pilling Water. The water tower was fed from the adjacent Pilling Water by means of a windmill driven pump which became something of a local feature. Providing water for the lines locomotives had been an issue and the arrangements at Pilling provided a solution to that problem.
As the western terminus of the line Pilling was one of the busier stations particularly for the handling of goods. Most of the goods traffic was agricultural in nature. The station was particularly busy when the potato crop was being harvested from July onwards. However actual receipts did not live up to expectations and the G&KER continued to struggle financially. 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.
After December 1891 the United Alkali Company started to move rock salt by rail from Pilling station. The rock salt was brought from their Preesall works by road and 300 tons per week was brought to the railway for onward movement. Return workings brought in slack which was also taken by road to the Preesall works as a fuel for boilers. This traffic only lasted for a couple of years because in 1893 the United Alkali Company built a jetty on the river at Preesall which allowed the company to use ships.
The 25-inch scale map of 1893 showed that Pilling station had remained pretty much as it was at the time of opening but within the goods yard a weighing machine is shown.
The December 1895 timetable showed Pilling as having four arrivals and four departures Monday-to-Saturday. The first train arrived at the station at 7.25am and the first departure left at 7.40am.
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.
In 1903 the passenger facilities at Pilling were improved. A brick built station building was constructed at to provide a booking hall together with waiting rooms and toilet facilities for both sexes. The contractor was Jonathan Collinson of Nateby. The old wooden hut that had previously served passengers was retained, perhaps as a storeroom and simply moved a little further down the platform. A siding was also installed around this time at the western end of the run around loop. It was most probably installed to facilitate the building of the KER line to Knott End.
The 1904 Railway Clearing House Handbook of Railway Stations lists Pilling as having the facilities for the handling of general goods, livestock, horses, carriages and furniture vans. The 1910 map also shows access to the yard was via a facing connection for eastbound trains together with a long head shunt which had extended across Pilling Water at the eastern end of the station site. The provision of the head shunt necessitated the replacement of an old wooden bridge with a new structure to accommodate two tracks. Also, by this time, the loading mound had been extended eastwards and a cattle pen had been constructed.
By 1907 the Wigan Coal and Iron Co had established a branch depot in the goods yard at Pilling station.
As things turned out the KER had just as much difficulty in raising capital as the G&KER. They also ended up in a legal dispute with their contractor and in the end it took them ten years to build a 4½ 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.
As Pilling had been upgraded in 1903 the only improvements that were necessary for the opening of the route to Knott End were the addition of an up (eastbound) platform and signalling (by 1908 there was no signalling on the former G&KER route). A small signal cabin as was installed at the west end of the station on the up side of the line by the Railway Signal Co of Liverpool. The run around loop became a passing loop. The level crossing was also provided with gates.
The western terminus of the line at Knott End was located on the eastern bank of the River Wyre opposite the port of Fleetwood and a ferry provided a link between the two places. By 1908 Fleetwood had become a popular with tourists and one of the attractions was the ferry to Knott End. From the start the KER had recognised the potential for tourist traffic along its line during the summer months. The village of Pilling was a draw for tourists and from the start of the holiday season in 1909 the KER put on extra passenger trains. Although the passenger timetable would normally be adhered to on busy Sundays and bank holidays, when there were no goods trains to worry about, this was abandoned, and the service was run on a continuous basis as long as a sufficient number of passengers presented themselves at Knott End. Speaking in 1930, the former general manager G. Erroll Worthington recalled that on August Bank Holiday Monday 1909, between the hours of 11am and 6pm, the railway ran a train in or out of Knott End station every 15 minutes. Pilling also catered for local needs and in June 1909 a large party of scholars and friends numbering 155 from Pilling Wesleyan Sunday School travelled from the station to Garstang &Catterall.
The opening of the line through to Knott End does not appear to have resulted in a decline in goods handled at Pilling station. By 1910, a local firm of animal feed millers and distributors, W and J Pye, had established a depot. Sometime after 1910 but before 1930 a corrugated iron storage shed was erected in the station yard which may have been utilised by W and J Pye.
From 1911 a new branch line, which had been built from a point near Knott End to the Preesall salt works, started to be used and large tonnages of rock salt (outbound) and coal (inbound) was handled by the KER.
At some point, probably in the early 1920s, the Preston and District Farmers’ Trading Society Ltd erected a corrugated iron warehouse at the station. It was situated in the field immediately to the south of the station, but fronted onto the yard, towards the western end of the long loading mound.
By 1920 bus services had become established in the area. A bus operated between Knott End and Pilling village, which would have been much more convenient for passengers. 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. To better compete with the bus that ran to Pilling Village a halt was opened at Carr Lane to the west of Pilling station. The halt was located much closer to the village and was therefore more convenient for passengers. The KER working timetable for the period 12 July to 30 September 1920 showed an afternoon shuttle service was operated by the rail motor, which ran between Knott End and Pilling station (with some of the services going only as far as Carr Lane Halt).
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. The electric poster advertising machine was installed on the promenade at Fleetwood and a poster displayed within it stated, ‘Knott End Railway. Visitors to Fleetwood should spend an afternoon in Pilling. Travel by rail motor’. The poster also provided details of walking times to the village from Carr Lane Halt and Pilling station, together with fare and timetable details.
The July 1922 timetable showed seven up and eight down services as shown in the timetable below.
In February 1923 W and J Pye opened a new warehouse on the south side of the line immediately to the west of the level crossing. The warehouse was served by a short private siding which was opened at the same time. The new warehouse was a single story building 50 feet by 40 feet. It was constructed with a steel framework which was clad in corrugated iron. The private siding, which had a facing connection for eastbound trains, had a maximum capacity of 8 wagons.
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.
Sometime between 1920 and 1923 the platforms at Pilling station had been lengthened. A Board of Trade report from 1920 stated that both platforms were 275 feet long by 15 feet wide but a survey undertaken by the LMS in 1923 LMS gives the length as 350 feet.
Under the LMS most of the passenger services continued to be operated by the railmotor.
Sometime around 1920 a farmers’ auction mart had opened on a site close to the station. This was operated by the Pilling and District Farmers’ Auction Mart Co. Ltd and was described in their advertisements as the “Smithfield of the North”. Whilst there might have been some exaggeration in the boast the establishment of this locally important facility must have brought more livestock traffic into Pilling station yard and some additional passengers whenever a sale was on.
Whilst the developments that had taken place around Pilling station over the previous decade resulted in more business overall the line began to see 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 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.
After the withdrawal of the passenger service Pilling became a goods only station but it remained busy.
In the 1930s Pilling station started to handle grass turf, cut from the salt marshes and used on lawns and bowling greens (this commodity would remain a significant source of revenue for the line into the early 1950s). In 1932 the Preston and District Farmers’ Trading Society Ltd erected a smaller warehouse alongside the first. This was constructed of brick to floor level and then timber and corrugated iron.
After 1931 trains ceased to run to the Preesall salt works. Salt traffic had ceased in the 1920s but coal was conveyed until the works closed.
The Pye’s siding may have been closed by 1937 as it was not listed in the LMS working time table for that year even though the track was still in situ.
During the 1930s the LMS decided that just one goods train per day would be enough for the Garstang – Knott End line and their working time table of freight trains dated 5 October 1942 shows just one train leaving Garstang &Catterall at 11am and reaching Knott End at 12.25pm. The return trip commenced at 12.50pm, returning to Garstang &Catterall at 2.28pm. On Saturdays, the service left Garstang &Catterall at 9.30am.
On 1 January 1948 the line was nationalized as part of British Railways London Midland Region (BR[LMR]). The line’s new owners decided that Pilling station was more than capable of handling the goods traffic at the western end of the line and on 13 November 1950 they closed the section of line between Pilling station and Knott End. Once again Pilling became a terminus station.
The line to Knott End was not lifted until after 1953 and at first engines continued to run around trains, in order to carry out shunting moves, by using the passing loop. After the track to Knott End had been lifted the line at Pilling was cut back to the east side of the crossing and a set of buffer stops was installed at the end of the line. The former up line of the passing loop was taken out and a run around loop was created further towards the east to facilitate shunting.
On 1 May 1954 the Stephenson Locomotive Society (N W Area) and the Manchester Locomotive Society North Lancashire Railtour visited Pilling station. An ex-LMS 2-6-4 Fowler tank engine, number 42316 hauled seven bogie carriages to and from the station and it was possibly the first time that passengers had travelled on the line since March 1930 (there is no record of any excursion trains having run on the line after 1930).
The 1956 Handbook of Stations listed Pilling station as being able to handle general goods, parcels, livestock, horses and carriages/motor cars. The station was listed as being equipped with a 1-ton lifting crane.
A further enthusiasts’ trip to Pilling took place on 29 May 1956, again under the auspices of the Manchester Locomotive Society. This time it was a rather less grand affair and the passenger accommodation consisted of a second goods brake van attached to the rear of the daily goods train to Pilling.
On 31 July 1963 BR[LMR] closed the section of line between Garstang Town and Pilling. The line does not appear to have been taken up until after 1965 (after the Garstang Town – Garstang &Catterall section had closed). The station was then demolished and only the crossing keeper’s cottage has survived into the 21st century.
With special thanks to Dave Richardson author of The Pilling Pig - A History of the Garstang & Knott End Railway