Preesall is a small town, on the eastern side of the River Wyre in Lancashire, that lies 8 miles to the west of the market town of Garstang and 3 miles to the east of the coastal settlement of Knott End. As early as the 1860s local businessmen from the areas around Garstang 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.
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.
Because of some of the stated aspirations of the lines promoters, 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 (1½ miles to the east of Preesall).
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.
The contractor appointed to build the line was Robert Worthington and he commenced work in January 1899. In June 1899 he bought a gravel deposit on the north side of the station site which was to be excavated for ballast. Work also began on the construction of the station. But then financial difficulties arose which ended up as a legal dispute between the KER with their contactor Robert Worthington. In early January 1900 work ceased on the construction of the line and Preesall station ended up languishing in a semi completed state until the dispute was settled and work recommenced at the end of 1907.
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 other being the terminus at Knott End.
Preesall station was dominated by the Park Lane bridge (then called the Ford Stones bridge) which carried the main Blackpool and Knott End road over the railway. The bridge was an unusual feature on the line which passed through flat country. At most of the other locations where roads crossed the railway level crossings had been provided. At Preesall station a bridge had been insisted upon by local landowners in order to preserve the amenities of the developing seaside resort of Knott End.
The station was located to the east of the bridge (although originally it had been the intention to have it on the west side). A single passenger platform was provided on the south side of the line. It was 245 feet long and 15 feet wide and at the standard height of 2 feet 9 inches. Located on the platform there was a single storey timber and corrugated iron station building with brick chimneys which contained waiting rooms, a booking hall and toilets.
At the time of opening there was no passing loop at the station but one had been added soon after, as it is shown on a 1910 revision of the 25-Inch scale Ordnance Survey map. The up side of the loop (eastbound direction) was never provided with a platform and so it was not used by passenger trains. There was never a signal cabin at Preesall and there is no evidence that signalling was ever installed at the station. The points for the loop and the yard were controlled by adjacent levers. The loop appears to have been used solely to facilitate the shunting of the yard at the station.
Preesall station had a goods yard which was a simple affair with two sidings coming directly off the running line and being located to the south of the passenger station. One of the sidings ran behind the passenger platform to serve a small goods shed and loading bank. The goods shed was a corrugated iron construction, probably wooden framed, on a brick base. The loading bank was equipped with a crane having a capacity of two tons.
There was also a weighing machine at the station.
An interesting and attractive feature of the station was a large pond just to the north of the passing loop. It was in fact formed through the gravel pit excavations that had taken place during the line’s construction.
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 and on summer Sundays traffic could be very intense. During the August Bank Holiday Monday of 1909 there were passenger services through Preesall every 15 minutes between the hours of 11am and 6pm, a remarkable achievement for such a small company.
In 1911 the 1½ mile branch line, from a point ¾ mile to the east of the station to the 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 to be remarshalled before going east to Garstang & Catterall for onward movement by the LNWR. However, invoicing for the salt traffic was undertaken by the staff at Preesall station which would have made it seem very profitable indeed. 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.
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 (to the east of Preesall) 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 an afternoon shuttle service that passed through Preesall. It 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.
The July 1922 timetable showed seven up and seven down (westbound direction) trains Monday-to-Saturday. The first arrival was a service from Garstang (Town) which reached Preesall at 7.38am. The first departure departed for Garstang & Catterall at 8.09am. The journey time from Preesall to Garstang & Catterall, a distance of 10 miles, was 30 minutes. The last Knott End train departed at 7.36pm and the last train for Garstang & Catterall departed at 7.59pm.
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.
Preesall station remained open for goods.
In 1931 the works of United Alkali (by then part of the ICI company) 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 Preesall station could just as easily be handled at Pilling station (as it had been prior to 1908). On 13 November 1950 Preesall station was closed completely, as was the 4½ mile line between Knott End and Pilling.
Owing to labour shortages track lifting did not commence until after 1953. The station building and goods shed were demolished after track lifting but the platform was left in situ.
With special thanks to Dave Richardson author of The Pilling Pig - A History of the Garstang & Knott End Railway