On Track in North Wirral

North Wirral Stations 


Early Wirral Locomotives and Electric

Ex-Wirral Railway 4-4-4 tank locomotive No. 14

Wirral Railway train between Birkenhead Docks and Bidston headed by 0-4-4 tank locomotive No. 3


 

Wirral Railway locomotive No. 1, later L.M.S.R. No. 6830, built in 1892

No. 9, completed in 1888 for the Seacombe, Hoylake & Deeside Railway, a constituent of the Wirral Railway

Three-car electric train set for Wirral section, L.M.S.R.

In The Railway Magazine for 1938 it remarked that:   

In view of the attention the Wirral Section of the LMSR is now attracting on account of its electrification, it is interesting to note the stages by which this essentially seaside line came into being and to recall some of its early experiences. The first line of the system to be laid was that between Birkenhead and Hoylake, originally single track throughout. It was formed under an Act of July 28, 1863, which incorporated the Hoylake Railway Company to build a line "from a point immediately contiguous to Seacombe Ferry, proceeding near the northern side of the Birkenhead Docks, through Poulton village to Bidston, and thence by way of Moreton, Saughall Massey, Great Meols, and Hoose, to the Hoylake terminus adjoining the racecourse" A branch was planned from Bidston into Birkenhead at Wallasey Bridge Road near the Dock cottages."

 At a meeting of shareholders held in Liverpool early in February, 1864, it was reported that active steps were being taken to obtain possession of the land, and for beginning construction of the line to Hoylake; "also, that the necessary proceedings had been taken in furtherance of the scheme for which the company was originally projected - to extend the railway across the River Dee to Mostyn" Actually, the company secured two Acts for extensions, one on July 5, 1865, for the 4� miles to New Brighton, and the other on July 16, 1866, for an 8�.mile line to Parkgate. Despite this auspicious start, the only line built had its town terminus at Bridge Road, not far from the present Birkenhead (North) station, and its further terminus at Hoylake, a distance of only 5 miles, 22 chains. As opened on July 2, 1866, this railway was comparatively primitive in form, but it had as now intermediate stops of Bidston, Moreton, and Meols; Leasowe did not become a stopping place, however, till June, 1894. All the stations were of the most elementary type, having cinder platforms very scantily supplied with buildings, a state of affairs which in the case of the intermediate stations has persisted to the time of electrification.

Coaching stock was, in the main, of the open type, the compartments not being completely divided, but having partitions that went only half way up to the roof. Seats were of wood, and of the particularly narrow type thought correct for the lower orders in those days..Six trains were run each way on weekdays and four on Sundays, all comprising three classes, the fares for which were, respectively, 1s., 8d., and 6d. for the single journey. Passengers to Hoylake from the Merseyside reached the line by a horse bus to Bridge Road station, which lay well out of Birkenhead. The easy-going methods of working adopted on the system can he gauged from the following paragraph which appeared in thee Birkenhead Advertiserrof Saturday, September 29, 1866::

On Thursday, the 5.15 p.m. train from Birkenhead, whilst nearing Hoylake terminus suddenly ran off the rails at the points near the station, fortunately without injury to life or limb of any of the passengers. A large number of men were immediately set to work to get the engine on the rails but it was fast imbedded in the sand and defied their efforts. The 7.15 train to Birkenhead therefore had to he drawn by horses.On Thursday, the 5.15 p.m. train from Birkenhead, whilst nearing Hoylake terminus suddenly ran off the rails at the points near the station, fortunately without injury to life or limb of any of the passengers. A large number of men were immediately set to work to get the engine on the rails but it was fast imbedded in the sand and defied their efforts. The 7.15 train to Birkenhead therefore had to he drawn by horses.

The building of the line was premature, however. Hoylake in those days was a small fishing village and the rest of the coast quite undeveloped, hence it was soon found that the traffic was too small to make it a paying concern, and in 1869 the company was forced to close down. On July 8, 1870, the line was seized by bailiffs at the instance of a local landowner. The track then lay derelict, but later in the same year the promoters of the Hoylake & Birkenhead Tramway Co. Ltd. arranged to buy it. This company, which was seeking powers to build various street tramways in Birkenhead, promoted a Bill that received the Royal Assent on July 18, 1872, incorporating the Hoylake & Birkenhead Rail & Tramway Company. Among the powers secured were sanction to the purchase of the Hoylake Railway, and authority to build a tramway from the Docks (Bridge Road) station of that line to Woodside Ferry. Under the new auspices, the Hoylake Railway was reopened on August 1, 1872..

One of the early moves of the new company was to buy the Comet, a Beattie 2-2-2 tank engine, from the London & South Western Railway in December, 1872. Built at Nine Elms in 1852, this locomotive had 5 ft. 6 in, driving wheels and cylinder dimensions of 14 in. x 20 in. It was not until 1877 that the company was able to have any engines built for itself, but in that year it placed an order with the Yorkshire Engine Co. of Sheffield for two 2-4-0 tank locomotives which were named West Kirby and Birkenhead respectively. Their outside cylinders were 14 in. x 20 in., the coupled wheels were 5 ft. and the leading wheels 3 ft. 4 in. in dia. Another second-hand engine was bought in 1882 from the Neath & Brecon Railway, hut this was employed for stationary work at Birkenhead..
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Under the new management the line prospered and in 1878 was carried on to West Kirby, a distance of 1 mile, 17 chains, to which point it was opened on April 1 of that year. At the same time Birkenhead Docks station was constructed, thus carrying the line a little nearer into the town. The company's street tramway extended from the Docks station to Woodside ferry, traversing the line of docks. This was entirely separate from the ordinary tramway system of Birkenhead, which was in the hands of the Birkenhead Street Railway Co. Ltd., an undertaking promoted by the eccentric American, George Francis Train, of which the first section was opened as long ago as August 30, 1860. Eventually, however, arrangements were made to merge the two tramway enterprises, and the Hoylake Company's tramway activities were segregated from the railway undertaking on October 11, 1879, when its line was sold to the Birkenhead 'I'ramways Company (the successor of the original Birkenhead Street Railway Co. Ltd.).

By Act of July 18, 1881, the name of the railway company was changed to the Seacombe, Hoylake & Deeside Railway Company, and powers were secured for a line to Seacombe, thus reviving one of the first plans of the old Hoylake promoters. A further Act (July 12, 1882) sanctioned a line to Warren Drive, New Brighton, and four years later (on September 25, 1886), Parliament authorised an extension into the town of New Brighton.

Meanwhile the original Wirral Railway Company was incorporated by a Board of Trade Certificate dated June 13, 1883 (granted under the powers of the Railways Construction Facilities Act, 1864). The scheme was for a railway from the Mersey Railway (then being built) at Birkenhead to Bidston and Connah's Quay, through the heart of the Wirral peninsula, joining the proposed new line of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway at Hawarden bridge. The only activity of the original W'irral Railway that concerns the system now being described was the construction of a line from the Docks station of the Hoylake Railway to Birkenhead Park station, in order to effect a connection with the Mersey Railway. This line was authorised by Act of August 14, 1884, and was begun in April, 1886.

On August 25, 1884, a limited company known as the Wirral Railways Co Ltd., was formed to buy the shares of the Seacomhe, Hoylake & Deeside Railway Company and the Wirral Railway Company, and to merge them into one Parliamentary company. While the projected Connah's Quay line was in the air the merger was not effected, but from 1884 onwards the Hoylake and Wirral Railways virtually became one concern. It is unnecessary here to detail the circumstances in which tIre Connah's Quay scheme passed into the hands of the M.S. & L.R. (afterwards (G.C.R.) as they were set out in THE: RAILWAY MAGAZINE as recently as November, 1937, in " Notes on the L.N.E.R. in North Wales." From the time of the transfer of the powers in 1889. the S.H. & D. and tire Wirral settled down as purely local enterprises.

Jamuary 2, 1888, was an important date in the development of the system, for it saw the opening of the S.H. & D. branch to Wallasey; the Wirral Railway line from Birkenhead Docks to Birkenhead Park and the Mersey Railway branch from Hamilton Square to Birkenhead Park, where an end-on junction between the two railways was made in a joint station. On March 30, 1888, the Wallasey line was opened to New Brighton. A year prior to the opening of this important branch the company began to order engines from Beyer, Peacock & Co. of Manchester, and sixteen, all tank engines of various types, including 2-4-0, 4-4-2, 4-4-4, 0-4-4, and 0-6-2, were delivered up to 1914.

By an Act of June 11, 1891, a new Wirral Railway Company was incorporated, to take over and amalgamate the undertakings of the Seacombe, Hoylake & Deeside and the (old) Wirral. Thee limited company continued in existence, however, as a holding concern possessing all the issued ordinary capital (�290,870) and some of the preference shares of the statutory railway company.

Although connections were made with other lines at West Kirby and Bidston, the Wirral retained its individual style, being as ever an essentially seaside system. It remained single-tracked until 1894, when tlre laying of another set of rails was put in hand the work was completed as far as Hoylake by Jrme 1, 1895. The extension to West Kirby remained single for another year but was doubled in 1896, at which time a new terminal station at this town was opened. June 1, 1895, was also the opening date of the branch through Poulton into Seacombe, the last extension the company made. It gave the system four terminal stations and by means of two unusual triangular layouts near Bidston trains from any terminal were able to run to any of the other three. During the war, however, the rails on the side of the triangle that aliowed through running from Seacombe to New Brighton were taken up for use in France, and, as bus services shortly afterwards did away with the need for a direct train service between these two puints, the rails were never put down again. The line from North Wales, which joined the Wirral tracks at Bidston station, was opened for goods traffic on May 16, 1896, and for passenger traffic two days later, but the company (now the L.N.E.R.) did not get the running powers into Seacombe, which it now enjoys, until 1898.

For some years from 1906 a service, locally known as the "Dodger" service, was run hetweeri New Brighton and Seaconibe, but it did not pay and was withdrawn during 1911, when road transport facilities made it unnecessary. During 1906, the Slopes branch was opened, thereby affording connection with the dock lines on the north side of the docks between Birkenhead arid Seacombe. A further connection was completed in the same year between a Point near the Docks (now North) station which communicated with the G.C.R. crossing the Wirral main line at what is now Bickenhead North No. 2 signal box. This line has since been a regular path for shipping coal, iron ore, and so forth between the docks and the G.C.R. yard at Bidston.

In the early days the Wirral Railway had a strongly sea-board character, Hoylake then was a village of sandhills which extended a peculiarly long distance in from the shore, and most of the streets now are purely concrete and other paving placed directly on this seemingly uin-substantial foundation. In those mid-Victorian days the sand was apparently everywhere, extending up to, and in many places beyond, the railway ; the derailed engine of 1866 it will he noted became embedded in this shiftting substance. So powerful, however, is the builder's art to change even the very land upon which he works that it is hard to see these early characteristics in modern Hoylake. From Wallasey right into New Brighton terminus the track also ran among dunes, with the result that it was always covered with sand, often only the rail heads appearing above the surface . A little to the east of Wallasey (Grove Road and before Warren Station) station the sand trouble was very acute and, after any sort of a wind from the sea, men had to be employed to clear the rails sufficiently for the safe passage of stock, indeed men wcre nearly always at work on tIns stretch. A peculiar point about this section of track used to be the silent running of the trains and musically muffled beat of engine exhausts caused by the echo-deadening effect of the surrounding dunes.

The system passed to the L.M.S.R. on grouping, at which time it comprised 13 miles of route, with 17 tank locomotives, 70 passenger coaches, 80 goods vehicles, and 18 other vehicles. Owing to shortage of funds, only second-hand locomotives had been acquired between 1914 and the time of amalgamation, all of the 2-4-2 type, one of which was from the L. & Y.. Railway and four from the L.N.W.R. In 1923 two L.N.\V. R. coal 0-6-2 tank engines, provided with specially widened tanks, were drafted to the Wirral. Thereafter five standard Class "3" 0-6-0 and 13 standard Class "3" 2-6-2 tank engines gradually took over the working, together with five coal tank engines, all of which have now been transferred elsewhere, except three or four of the 0-6-0 standard tanks. Since amalgamation improvement has come upon improvement, one of the most noted being the conquering of the sand trouble at Wallasey by planting the hills with grass, as the result of which the track at this section is now as clear as any inland stretch..

Finally, since March 14 last, electric trains have worked the whole of the service. The line has been electrified on the third-rail 650-volt system, and new all-steel rolling stock has been introduced, in appearance not dissimilar from that used on the London tubes. It is of smaller cross-section than ordinary main-line stock, although ample for the requirements of the local service between Liverpool Central and West Kirby, which it works. The New Brighton line is operated by the trains of the Mersev Railway. All services now work through to Liverpool Central. The new L.M.S.R. stock is of welded construction, and thiss, together with its smaller section, has made possible considerable weight reduction. The trains consist of three cars third-class motor coach weighing 36 tons, third-class motor trailer weighing 21 tons, and between them a first-class trailer car weighing 20 tons. At busy times two sets are coupled together, making a six-coach train. Power is obtained from the Liverpool Corporation by cables through the Mersey Railway tunnel, and substations are provided along the route. The train service is normally at 20-min. intervals, except morning and evening, and for a short period at midday, when it is doubled..

The stations have all been improved or modernised. At West Kirhy and New Brighton reinforced concrete awnings have been erected over the platforms. At Leasowe, Moreton, Meols, and Hoylake new reinforced concrete buildings and footbridges have been erected, and the platforms raised and improved..
Railway Magazine 1938.. http://www.upton.cx/newwebsite/wir4.phpp reprinted with permission

From Railway Magazine dated March 1954 reprinted fromm http://www.upton.cx/newwebsite/wir4.phpp  reprinted with permission..

Written by: By H. A. Robinson, B.Eng., M.R.S.T.Written by: By H. A. Robinson, B.Eng., M.R.S.T.

Everyone in Birkenhead knew and loved "the Wirral." In a town served by the London & North Western and the Great Western within a stone's throw of a tentacle of the Great Central, and not far across the water from the busy Lancashire & Yorkshire, most Birkenhead people knew the Wirral better than any of its huge neighbours both by its name and by their travels on it. Many families went by Wirral to Wallasey sandhills, or Moreton shore or West Kirby for a day on the sands with the children, and so it was known even to rare travellers.

The start was from Park Station, the main one of the Wirral Railway, entered by way of a booking hall at street level and a flight of stairs beside which hidden compressors maintained a booming rumble to supply air to reservoirs on the Mersey Railway electric trains. The station had two island platforms, with extra outer roads, six in all, but in normal service Mersey trains used one of the outer platform faces and all Wirral trains the inner face of the same platform. So transfer from electric train to steam train was easy and in the morning and evening that platform was thronged with Wirral dwellers employed in Liverpool.

Work was not in my mind when I entered Park Station, but the excitement of a railway journey, then a rare treat. The station is in a shallow cutting which Wirral trains entered through a short curving tunnel, and the closely-fenced grassy area round the station and running lines was to me a gateway to adventure. "Keep off Conductor Rails" said red-painted notices at the platform ends, for third-rails were laid in many places even where electric trains never normally ran, and there had been many rumours of impending electrification of the Wirral, as a natural extension of the Mersey system, a quarter of a century before the change was actually made. In those days each Mersey train of American-looking cars rumbled noisily to a stand, the motorman emerged from his compartment with a hose, lifted an iron cover plate from a hole in the station platform and connected the hose to an underground air-supply pipe. Incredible though it may seem, there was no compressor on the train, but reliance was placed on periodic charging of a reservoir which fed air to the Westinghouse brakes and also to the Westinghouse electro-pneumatic controllers for the traction motors. When a satisfactory charge had been obtained, the motorman turned off the cocks on supply-pipe and reservoir, and pulled up the hose with a loud "sssh-ack" as the air in the hose escaped.

The Wirral coaching stock compared very favourably with many other vehicles used in British suburban railway service at that time; prominent features were the round-topped doors, the letters WRY cast on the inner door-handles, and the red-painted ends of the guards' vans. The locomotives were Beyer Peacock tank engines of a variety of types, some with the dignified type of chimney to be seen on contemporary Great Central engines and others having older flared-top chimneys. Each locomotive was usually accompanied by the distinctive smells of oil and smoke that seem peculiar to small engines, and which for me are now associated with temporary escape from the town to the healthier exhilaration of country and seaside.

With a "peep" from a high-pitched whistle, the train would leave by the crossover to the down line, the engine in some cases giving a not-quite-even beat and in others emitting from the motion a rhythmic staccato that might well have inspired the legendary engine-chant "I'm not an old tin can" that has been ascribed to many small lines besides the Wirral. The train then entered the first tunnel, a patch on the brick face of which was painted white behind the advanced starting signal, and went on through grassy cuttings and under a succession of street bridges to the first stop at Birkenhead Docks Station. When travelling with the window open through the longest of the intervening tunnels, one heard sounds as of pistol-shots marking the impacts of wheels on rail joints, and inhaled the acrid tang of engine smoke.

Immediately after passing under the road bridge at the north-west end of Docks Station one could see a turntable on the left. I noticed this several times without knowing - or even asking myself - what it was for as, although I had seen the same engines sometimes facing one way and sometimes the other, I had assumed that reversal had been effected on the triangle of running lines between Docks Station and Bidston. On the right of the line were carriage-sheds and, a little further on, the rather rudimentary engine sheds of the Wirral alongside a double track forming an extension of the dock lines, which crossed the Wirral line on the level at about 45 deg., using a wooden trestle bridge to span the Birkett Brook and connecting to the Great Central sidings that fan out from the goods line at Bidston. Away to the left, behind rows of wagons, the Great Central engine shed could be seen, sometimes with 0-6-0 tender engines near it.

A wooden footbridge extended over Great Central and Wirral tracks at Bidston Station, giving access to a miry footpath that ran alongside the Seacombe line to join a public road near Poulton. Much of the land in this neighbourhood is flat and low-lying, protected from the sea only by the Wallasey embankment, and at that time subject to floods, so that the path was often obstructed by areas of watery mud.

Bidston Station, a cindered island platform, was joint with the Great Central, and one might sometimes have seen there a passenger train headed by a Robinson 4-4-2 tank engine a-gleam in green, gold, chocolate-brown and polished safety-valve columns. But even the Wirral engines, black though they were, might show some colour, for I remember most vividly looking ahead from a carriage window of a West Kirby train and seeing a side tank green with reflection from the fields, so smooth was its surface. By now the train was jogging along in purely rural surronndings, and at Leasowe Station the public road had a level crossing with the line. At Moreton, where I nsually alighted, was a road bridge and its modest height was enough to make it prominent in such flat surroundings. From this bridge on a clear still day one might follow the steam-cloud for almost the entire extent of the journey of every Wirral train on all three routes, Park to West Kirby, Park to New Brighton, and Seacombe to West Kirby.

  There are now no through trains between Seacombe and West Kirby, but the much more frequent electric train services on the other two routes together with the numerous bus services in the district are a measure of the extensive development of the Wirral peninsula as a dormitory for Liverpool.

In view of the attention the Wirral Section of the L.M.S.R. is now attracting on account of its electrification, it is interesting to note the stages by which this essentially seaside line came into being and to recall some of its early experiences. The first line of the system to be laid was that between Birkenhead and Hoylake, originally single track throughout. It was formed under an Act of July 28, 1863, which incorporated the Hoylake Railway Company to build a line "from a point immediately contiguous to Seacombe Ferry, proceeding near the northern side of the Birkenhead Docks, through Poolton village to Bidston, and thence by way of Moreton, Saughall Massey, Great Meols, and Hoose, to the Hoylake terminus adjoining the racecourse" A branch was planned from Bidston into Birkenhead at Wallasey Bridge Road near the Dock cottages."

  At a meeting of shareholders held in Liverpool early in February, 1864, it was reported that active steps were being taken to obtain possession of the land, and for beginning construction of the line to Hoylake; "also, that the necessary proceedings had been taken in furtherance of the scheme for which the company was originally projected - to extend the railway across the River Dee to Mostyn" Actually, the company secured two Acts for extensions, one on July 5, 1865, for the 4� miles to New Brighton, and the other on July 16, 1866, for an 8�.mile line to Parkgate. Despite this auspicious start, the only line built had its town terminus at Bridge Road, not far from the present Birkenhead (North) station, and its further terminus at Hoylake, a distance of only 5 miles, 22 chains. As opened on July 2, 1866, this railway was comparatively primitive in form, but it had as now intermediate stops of Bidston, Moreton, and Meols; Leasowe did not become a stopping place, however, till June, 1894. All the stations were of the most elementary type, having cinder platforms very scantily supplied with buildings, a state of affairs which in the case of the intermediate stations has persisted to the time of electrification.

Coaching stock was, in the main, of the open type, the compartments not being completely divided, but having partitions that went only half way up to the roof. Seats were of wood, and of the particularly narrow type thought correct for the lower orders in those days. Six trains were run each way on weekdays and four on Sundays, all comprising three classes, the fares for which were, respectively, 1s., 8d., and 6d. for the single journey. Passengers to Hoylake from the Merseyside reached the line by a horse bus to Bridge Road station, which lay well out of Birkenliead. The easy-going methods of working adopted on the system can he gauged from the following paragraph which appeared in the Birkenhead Advertiser of Saturday, September 29, 1866:

On Thursday, the 5.15 p.m. train frnm Birkenhead, whilst nearing Hoylake terminus suddenly ran off the rails at the points near the station, fortunately without injury to life or limb of any of the passengers. A large number of men were immediately set to work to get the engine on the rails but it was fast imbedded in the sand and defied their efforts. The 7.15 train to Birkenhead therefore had to he drawn by horses.

  The building of the line was premature, however. Hoylake in those days was a small fishing village and the rest of the coast quite undeveloped, hence it was soon found that the traflic was too small to make it a paying concern, and in 1869 the company was forced to close down. On July 8, 1870, the line was seized by bailiffs at the instance of a local landowner. The track then lay derelict, but later in the same year the promoters of the Hoylake & Birkenhead Tramway Co. Ltd. arranged to buy it. This company, which was seeking powers to build various street tramways in Birkenhead, promoted a Bill that received the Royal Assent on July 18, 1872, incorporating the Hoylake & Birkenhead Rail & Tramway Company. Among the powers secured were sanction to the purchase of the Hoylake Railway, and authority to build a tramway from the Docks (Bridge Road) station of that line to Woodside Ferry. Under the new auspices, the Hoylake Railway was reopened on August 1, 1872.

  One of the early moves of the new company was to buy the Comet, a Beattie 2-2-2 tank engine, from the London & South Western Railway in December, 1872. Built at Nine Elms in 1852, this locomotive had 5 ft. 6 in, driving wheels and cylinder dimensions of 14 in. x 20 in. It was not until 1877 that the company was able to have any engines built for itself, but in that year it placed an order with the Yorkshire Engine Co. of Sheffield for two 2-4-0 tank locomotives which were named West Kirby and Birkenkead respectively. Their outside cylinders were 14 in. x 20 in., the coupled wheels were 5 ft. and the leading wheels 3 ft. 4 in. in dia. Another second-hand engine was bought in 1882 from the Neath & Brecon Railway, hut this was employed for stationary work at Birkenhead.

Under the new management the line prospered and in 1878 was carried on to West Kirby, a distance of 1 mile, 17 chains, to which point it was opened on April 1 of that year. At the same time Birkenhead Docks station was constructed, thus carrying the line a little nearer into the town. The company's street tramway extended from the Docks station to Woodside ferry, traversing the line of docks. This was entirely separate from the ordinary tramway system of Birkenhead, which was in the hands of the Birkenhead Street Railway Co. Ltd., an undertaking promoted by the eccentric American, George Francis Train, of which the first section was opened as long ago as August 30, 1860. Eventually, however, arrangements were made to merge the two tramway enterprises, and the Hoylake Company's tramway activities were segregated from the railway undertaking on October 11, 1879, when its line was sold to the Birkenhead 'I'ramways Company (the successor of the original Birkenhead Street Railway Co. Ltd.).

  By Act of July 18, 1881, the name of the railway company was changed to the Seacombe, Hoylake & Deeside Railway Company, and powers were secured for a line to Seacombe, thus reviving one of the first plans of the old Hoylake promoters. A further Act (July 12, 1882) sanctioned a line to Warren Drive, New Brighton, and four years later (on September 25, 1886), Parliament authorised an extension into the town of New Brighton.

  Meanwhile the original Wirral Railway Company was incorporated by a Board of Trade Certificate dated June 13, 1883 (granted under the powers of the Railways Construction Facilities Act, 1864). The scheme was for a railway from the Mersey Railway (then being built) at Birkenhead to Bidston and Connah's Quay, through the heart of the Wirral peninsula, joining the proposed new line of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway at Hawarden bridge. The only activity of the original W'irral Railway that concerns the system now being described was the construction of a line from the Docks station of the Hoylake Railway to Birkenhead Park station, in order to effect a connection with the Mersey Railway. This line was authorised by Act of August 14, 1884, and was begun in April, 1886.

On August 25, 1884, a limited company known as the Wirral Railways Co Ltd., was formed to buy the shares of the Seacomhe, Hoylake & Deeside Railway Company and the Wirral Railway Company, and to merge them into one Parliamentary company. While the projected Connah's Quay line was in the air the merger was not effected, but from 1884 onwards the Hoylake and Wirral Railways virtually became one concern. It is unnecessary here to detail the circumstances in which tIre Connah's Quay scheme passed into the hands of the M.S. & L.R. (afterwards (G.C.R.) as they were set out in THE: RAILWAY MAGAZINE as recently as November, 1937, in " Notes on the L.N.E.R. in North Wales." From the time of the transfer of the powers in 1889. the S.H. & D. and tire Wirral settled down as purely local enterprises.

  Jamrary 2, 1888, was an important date in the development of the system, for it saw the opening of the S.H. & D. branch to Wallasey; the Wirral Railway line from Birkenhead Docks to Birkenhead Park and the Mersey Railway branch from Hamilton Square to Birkenhead Park, where an end-on junction between the two railways was made in a joint station. On March 30, 1888, the Wallasey line was opened to New Brighton. A year prior to the opening of this important branch the company began to order engines from Beyer, Peacock & Co. of Manchester, and sixteen, all tank engines of various types, including 2-4-0, 4-4-2, 4-4-4, 0-4-4, and 0-6-2, were delivered up to 1914.

  By an Act of June 11, 1891, a new Wirral Railway Company was incorporated, to take over and amalgamate the undertakings of the Seacombe, Hoylake & Deeside and the (old) Wirral. Thee limited company continued in existence, however, as a holding concern possessing all the issued ordinary capital (£290,870) and some of the preference shares of the statutory railway company.

  Although connections were made with other lines at West Kirby and Bidston, the Wirral retained its individual style, being as ever an essentially seaside system. It remained single-tracked until 1894, when tlre laying of another set of rails was put in hand the work was completed as far as Hoylake by Jrme 1, 1895. The extension to West Kirby remained single for another year but was doubled in 1896, at which time a new terminal station at this town was opened. June 1, 1895, was also the opening date of the branch through Poulton into Seacombe, the last extension the company made. It gave the system four terminal stations and by means of two unusual triangular layouts near Bidston trains from any terminal were able to run to any of the other three. During the war, however, the rails on the side of the triangle that aliowed through running from Seacombe to New Brighton were taken up for use in France, and, as bus services shortly afterwards did away with the need for a direct train service between these two puints, the rails were never put down again. The line from North Wales, which joined the Wirral tracks at Bidston station, was opened for goods traffic on May 16, 1896, and for passenger traffic two days later, but the company (now the L.N.E.R.) did not get the running powers into Seacombe, which it now enjoys, until 1898.

For some years from 1906 a service, locally known as the "Dodger" service, was run hetweeri New Brighton and Seaconibe, but it did not pay and was withdrawn during 1911, when road transport facilities made it unnecessary. During 1906, the Slopes branch was opened, thereby affording connection with the dock lines on the north side of the docks between Birkenhead and Seacombe. A further connection was completed in the same year between a Point near the Docks (now North) station which communicated with the G.C.R. crossing the Wirral main line at what is now Bickenhead North No. 2 signal box. This line has since been a regular path for shipping coal, iron ore, and so forth between the docks and the G.C.R. yard at Bidston.

  In the early days the Wirral Railway had a strongly sea-board character, Hoylake then was a village of sandhills which extended a peculiarly long distance in from the shore, and most of the streets now are purely concrete and other paving placed directly on this seemingly uin-substantial foundation. In those mid-Victorian days the sand was apparently everywhere, extending up to, and in many places beyond, the railway ; the derailed engine of 1866 it will he noted became embedded in this shiftting substance. So powerful, however, is the builder's art to change even the very land upon which he works that it is hard to see these early characteristics in modern Hoylake. From Wallasey right into New Brighton terminus the track also ran among dunes, with the result that it was always covered with sand, often only the rail heads appearing above the surface . A little to the east of Wallasey (Harrison Drive) station the sand trouble was very acute and, after any sort of a wind from the sea, men had to be employed to clear the rails sufficiently for the safe passage of stock, indeed men wcre nearly always at work on tIns stretch. A peculiar point about this section of track used to be the silent running of the trains and musically muffled beat of engine exhausts caused by the echo-deadening effect of the surrounding dunes.

The system passed to the L.M.S.R. on grouping, at which time it comprised 13 miles of route, with 17 tank locomotives, 70 passenger coaches, 80 goods vehicles, and 18 other vehicles. Owing to shortage of funds, only second-hand locomotives had been acquired between 1914 and the time of amalgamation, all of the 2-4-2 type, one of which was from the L. & Y.. Railway and four from the L.N.W.R. In 1923 two L.N.\V. R. coal 0-6-2 tank engines, provided with specially widened tanks, were drafted to the Wirral. Thereafter five standard Class "3" 0-6-0 and 13 standard Class "3" 2-6-2 tank engines gradually took over the working, together with five coal tank engines, all of which have now been transferred elsewhere, except three or four of the 0-6-0 standard tanks. Since amalgamation improvement has come upon improvement, one of the most noted being the conquering of the sand trouble at Wallasey by planting the hills with grass, as the result of which the track at this section is now as clear as any inland stretch.

  Finally, since March 14 last, electric trains have worked the whole of the service. The line has been electrified on the third-rail 650-volt system, and new all-steel rolling stock has been introduced, in appearance not dissimilar from that used on the London tubes. It is of smaller cross-section than ordinary main-line stock, although ample for the requirements of the local service between Liverpool Central and West Kirby, which it works. The New Brighton line is operated by the trains of the Mersev Railway. All services now work through to Liverpool Central. The new L.M.S.R. stock is of welded construction, and thiss, together with its smaller section, has made possible considerable weight reduction. The trains consist of three cars third-class motor coach weighing 36 tons, third-class motor trailer weighing 21 tons, and between them a first-class trailer car weighing 20 tons. At busy times two sets are coupled together, making a six-coach train. Power is obtained from the Liverpool Corporation by cables through the Mersey Railway tunnel, and substations are provided along the route. The train service is normally at 20-min. intervals, except morning and evening, and for a short period at midday, when it is doubled.

Everyone in Birkenhead knew and loved "the Wirral." In a town served by the London & North Western and the Great Western within a stone's throw of a tentacle of the Great Central, and not far across the water from the busy Lancashire & Yorkshire, most Birkenhead people knew the Wirral better than any of its huge neighbours both by its name and by their travels on it. Many families went by Wirral to Wallasey sandhills, or Moreton shore or West Kirby for a day on the sands with the children, and so it was known even to rare travellers.

The start was from Park Station, the main one of the Wirral Railway, entered by way of a booking hall at street level and a flight of stairs beside which hidden compressors maintained a booming rumble to supply air to reservoirs on the Mersey Railway electric trains. The station had two island platforms, with extra outer roads, six in all, but in normal service Mersey trains used one of the outer platform faces and all Wirral trains the inner face of the same platform. So transfer from electric train to steam train was easy and in the morning and evening that platform was thronged with Wirral dwellers employed in Liverpool.

Work was not in my mind when I entered Park Station, but the excitement of a railway journey, then a rare treat. The station is in a shallow cutting which Wirral trains entered through a short curving tunnel, and the closely-fenced grassy area round the station and running lines was to me a gateway to adventure. "Keep off Conductor Rails" said red-painted notices at the platform ends, for third-rails were laid in many places even where electric trains never normally ran, and there had been many rumours of impending electrification of the Wirral, as a natural extension of the Mersey system, a quarter of a century before the change was actually made. In those days each Mersey train of American-looking cars rumbled noisily to a stand, the motorman emerged from his compartment with a hose, lifted an iron cover plate from a hole in the station platform and connected the hose to an underground air-supply pipe. Incredible though it may seem, there was no compressor on the train, but reliance was placed on periodic charging of a reservoir which fed air to the Westinghouse brakes and also to the Westinghouse electro-pneumatic controllers for the traction motors. When a satisfactory charge had been obtained, the motorman turned off the cocks on supply-pipe and reservoir, and pulled up the hose with a loud "sssh-ack" as the air in the hose escaped.

The Wirral coaching stock compared very favourably with many other vehicles used in British suburban railway service at that time; prominent features were the round-topped doors, the letters WRY cast on the inner door-handles, and the red-painted ends of the guards' vans. The locomotives were Beyer Peacock tank engines of a variety of types, some with the dignified type of chimney to be seen on contemporary Great Central engines and others having older flared-top chimneys. Each locomotive was usually accompanied by the distinctive smells of oil and smoke that seem peculiar to small engines, and which for me are now associated with temporary escape from the town to the healthier exhilaration of country and seaside.

With a "peep" from a high-pitched whistle, the train would leave by the crossover to the down line, the engine in some cases giving a not-quite-even beat and in others emitting from the motion a rhythmic staccato that might well have inspired the legendary engine-chant "I'm not an old tin can" that has been ascribed to many small lines besides the Wirral. The train then entered the first tunnel, a patch on the brick face of which was painted white behind the advanced starting signal, and went on through grassy cuttings and under a succession of street bridges to the first stop at Birkenhead Docks Station. When travelling with the window open through the longest of the intervening tunnels, one heard sounds as of pistol-shots marking the impacts of wheels on rail joints, and inhaled the acrid tang of engine smoke.

Immediately after passing under the road bridge at the north-west end of Docks Station one could see a turntable on the left. I noticed this several times without knowing - or even asking myself - what it was for as, although I had seen the same engines sometimes facing one way and sometimes the other, I had assumed that reversal had been effected on the triangle of running lines between Docks Station and Bidston. On the right of the line were carriage-sheds and, a little further on, the rather rudimentary engine sheds of the Wirral alongside a double track forming an extension of the dock lines, which crossed the Wirral line on the level at about 45 deg., using a wooden trestle bridge to span the Birkett Brook and connecting to the Great Central sidings that fan out from the goods line at Bidston. Away to the left, behind rows of wagons, the Great Central engine shed could be seen, sometimes with 0-6-0 tender engines near it.

A wooden footbridge extended over Great Central and Wirral tracks at Bidston Station, giving access to a miry footpath that ran alongside the Seacombe line to join a public road near Poulton. Much of the land in this neighbourhood is flat and low-lying, protected from the sea only by the Wallasey embankment, and at that time subject to floods, so that the path was often obstructed by areas of watery mud.

Bidston Station, a cindered island platform, was joint with the Great Central, and one might sometimes have seen there a passenger train headed by a Robinson 4-4-2 tank engine a-gleam in green, gold, chocolate-brown and polished safety-valve columns. But even the Wirral engines, black though they were, might show some colour, for I remember most vividly looking ahead from a carriage window of a West Kirby train and seeing a side tank green with reflection from the fields, so smooth was its surface. By now the train was jogging along in purely rural surronndings, and at Leasowe Station the public road had a level crossing with the line. At Moreton, where I nsually alighted, was a road bridge and its modest height was enough to make it prominent in such flat surroundings. From this bridge on a clear still day one might follow the steam-cloud for almost the entire extent of the journey of every Wirral train on all three routes, Park to West Kirby, Park to New Brighton, and Seacombe to West Kirby.

There are now no through trains between Seacombe and West Kirby, but the much more frequent electric train services on the other two routes together with the numerous bus services in the district are a measure of the extensive development of the Wirral peninsula as a dormitory for Liverpool.

The bridge at Moreton was a pleasant enough vantage point on a fine summer's day and from it I first discovered that the exhaust from a locomotive may he invisible in hot weather. I had observed a train to start from Bidston and again from Leasowe with the usual exhaust noise but with no trace of a steam-cloud, and my resulting impression that this was some new type of locomotive was heightened when I found that it was one (No. 14) that I had never seen before. It was a 4-4-4 tank like No. 11 but it had a Belpaire firebox and curious safety valves, quite different from the Ramsbottom valves in the L.N.W.R. style fitted to most Wirral engines.

At holiday times intensive passenger train services were run with assistance from the 0-6-4 tanks, normally reserved for freight traffic, and Moreton Station handled large numbers of people seeking a day's relaxation on the sands. There was no other form of public transport from Birkenhead and the old lane from the station to the shore was thronged with summer visitors. In winter the place was deserted and, with cold damp wind from the sea shrieking in the telegraph wires, the general feeling could be one of desolation.

While very young I spent much time at Moreton Station, and was rewarded by my first footplate trip. Presumably because of my repeated inspection of his engine, a driver treated me to a run to West Kirby and back. I was lifted on to a shelf at the back of the cab and, sitting there surveying from on high all that went on, I commenced a career of footplate riding. My strongest recollections of this first taste of coveted discomfort were the oscillating water levels in the gauge glasses, the words "Beyer Peacock, Gorton Foundry" on the regulator quadrant, and the flooding of water on top of the side tanks while they were being replenished at West Kirby.

It was at Moreton that I saw, for the first and only time, the forbidden operation of fly-shunting. Having brought some goods vehicles from West Kirby to Moreton an engine had to return with the brake van behind it. The van was pushed by the engine along the down main line for a hundred yards beyond the crossover. The engine then started smartly back towards the crossover, with the van in tow, steam was shut off, the van uncoupled, and the engine opened out to continue quickly along the straight. Immediately it had passed the points, they were reversed to divert the van, moving by momentum, on to the up main alongside the the engine. It was then easy to pick up the van and take it hack to West Kirby behind the engine.

Another unique event for me was a sight of the old 2-4-0 tank locomotive No. 3 with a permanent-way repair train. This engine, which hnd a peculiarly ugly chimney top, was not normally in steam and I never saw it again. The sister engine, No. 4, I never saw at all, but the other thirteen Wirral locomotives became familiar to me from prolonged periods of observation at Park and Moreton. At both places the normal frequency of trains was four an hour, approximately doubled during the morning and evening rush hours. The goods trains did not venture out during these periods.

At Moreton occasional variety was provided by the arrival of a pick-up goods train, and there was a daily L.N.W.R.-G.W.R. goods taking a short cut via the Wirral from West Kirby to Birkcnhead whenever I saw it this train was hauled by G.W.R. No. 651, a 0-6-0 saddle tank with a short chimney.

I had my favourites among the Wirral engines. Some strange instinct inclined me to disfavour the 4-4-4 tanks; now I should say that an engine with such a small proportion of its total weight on the driving wheels is not ideal for start-and-stop work. The 4-4-2 tank No. 1 seemed to me rather a weak oddity and my strongest attachment was to Nos. 8 and 9, possibly because the chimneys they then had gave the aspect of a simper whereas the Robinson-style chimneys looked somewhat surly. All the engines seemed rather to labour, and speeds were not high. Not easily shall I forget the mental re-adjustment I had to make when I went from Liverpool to Manchester behind a North Western "Jumbo" whose speed made station name-boards unreadable. A crude yardstick, no doubt, but no stop-watch could have been more convincing.

I had left the Birkenhead district before the last true Wirral engine appeared, the big 0-4-4 tank No. 3, but in the meantime a Webb 4 ft. 6 in. 2-4-2 tank had been bought from the North Western: three others came later, and finally a Lancashire & Yorkshire 2-4-2 tank was added to the stock. So even before the L.M.S.R. group swallowed the tiny Wirral, the motive power of the local line was losing some of its individuality. The tank engines that had plodded industriously up and down those short-railed tracks during the great railway years before 1914 were wearing out and their total number was so small that the L.M.S.R. could replace them without any perceptible effect on its own huge army. So although various static features of the Wirral Railway survived for many years, the locomotives, the heart and soul of any railway, were fated to early extinction. In the last month of its separate existence, the Wirral made local headlines with a collision that might almost have been staged as a dramatic gesture of revolt against the new order. It is at least possible that the driver who passed two signals at danger was brooding on the fate awaiting the Wirral engines.

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North Wirral Stations

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