A NEW book exploring the 50 or so year history of Ashbourne’s rail services has gone on sale in the town and, with the help of its author, Howard Sprenger, the News Telegraph has been plucking some of the interesting facts, figures and photographs from the story of the ill-fated service.
Ashborne was first connected up to the flourishing railway system in 1852 when the Ashbourne branch of the North Staffordshire Railway, which connected the town with Uttoxeter, was opened in May of that year.
Its construction cost around £10,000 per mile and five trains per day used the line at a time. Some carried passengers but milk and limestone was transported regularly from town to town on the new line.
Skip forward a few decades and the booming rail industry was leading to expansions further north of Ashbourne, and a vision of linking Manchester with London, via the popular spa town of Buxton, accelerated plans to extend a line from Parsley Hay that would continue in to Ashbourne and link up with the town’s branch of the North Staffordshire Railway. Work got under way in 1896 and huge resources were thrown at its construction. According to Mr Sprenger’s book up to 500 navvies were working on it at a timne and its three-year construction cost in the order of one and-a-half million pounds.
The book reports how the siting of Ashbourne’s station, on the site now taken up by Ashbourne Leisure Centre and opposite the Station Hotel, took up the site of ‘The Paddock’ - a much-loved sporting venue in the town.
Its construction might not have pleased everyone but the railway brought new people into the town and connected villages in a way the communities had never enjoyed before.
Trains ran regularly along the new stretch of Ashbourne to Parsley Hay, crossing the many viaducts and bridges and whizzing through the many cuttings but by the 1950s it had become abundantly clear all was not well.
Bus services between Ashbourne and the villages to the north had become the favourite way of travelling. The railway was disastrously under-used and was running at a loss.
Long before Dr Beeching’s axe fell on most of the country’s railways the rot had set in on Ashbourne’s train service.
Nationalisation and the second world war had proven too much for the under-used service and reality struck that the only occasions it became well-used was during times of heavy snowfall. When the worst of the weather hit the buses were crippled but the trains were, largely, able to make it through.
In fact, when talk of the line’s closure was first mooted, it was agreed the line would stay in place for occasional services in times of extreme weather.
The once celebrated rail service in Ashbourne had become little more than a back-up plan for when it was snowing.
It remained in place, running the occasional excursion to events such as Tissington Well Dressings, until 1963 and on its final day hundreds gathered to pay the last train a fond farewell. Newspapers at the time report a ceremony involving fireworks, trumpets and around 500 people turning out. The railway was still useable right up to 1964 when plans began to pull the tracks up for the final time.
Nowadays the line has become the Tissington Trail and still runs from Ashbourne to Parsely Hay, starting in Mappleton Lane on the other side of the now pedestrianised tunnel and each former station is now a car park - with facilities including a kiosk and toilets at Tissington village.
The book, which costs £19.95, is available at the Tourist Information Centre in the Market Place and more information can be found by visiting www.kestrelrailwaybooks.co.uk