Template:Infobox heritage railway

The Middleton Railway is the world's oldest continuously working public railway. It was founded in 1758 and is now a heritage railway run by volunteers from The Middleton Railway Trust Ltd. since 1960.

The railway operates passenger services at weekends and on public holidays over approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) of track between its headquarters at Moor Road, Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England and Park Halt on the outskirts of Middleton Park.

Origins Edit

Coal has been worked in Middleton since the 13th century, from bell pits, gin pits and later "day level" or adits. Anne Leigh, heiress to the Middleton Estates, married Ralph Brandling from Felling near Gateshead on the River Tyne. They lived in Gosforth and left running of the Middleton pits to agents. Charles Brandling was their successor. In 1754, Richard Humble, from Tyneside, was his agent. Brandling was in competition with the Fentons in Rothwell who were able to transport coal into Leeds by river, putting the Middleton pits at considerable disadvantage. Humble's solution was to build waggonways which were common in his native north east. The first waggonway in 1755 crossed Brandling land and that of friendly neighbours to riverside staithes.[1]

In 1757 he began to build a waggonway towards Leeds, and to ensure its permanence Brandling sought ratification in an Act of Parliament, (31 Geo.2, c.xxii, 9 June 1758) the first authorising the building of a railway.

An ACT for Establishing Agreement made between Charles Brandling, Esquire, and other Persons, Proprietors of Lands, for laying down a Waggon-Way in order for the better supplying the Town and Neighbourhood of Leeds in the County of York, with Coals.

The Middleton Railway, the first railway to be granted powers by Act of Parliament, carried coal cheaply from the Middleton pits to Casson Close, Leeds (near Meadow Lane, close to the River Aire). Not all the land belonged to Brandling, and the Act gave him power to obtain wayleave. Otherwise the line was privately financed and operated, initially as a waggonway using horse-drawn waggons. Around 1799 the wooden tracks began to be replaced with superior iron edge rails to a gauge of 4 ft 1 in (1,245 mm).

Cheap Middleton coal gradually enabled Leeds to become a centre of the many developing industries which used coal as a source of heat, e.g. for pottery, brick and glass making, metal working, and brewing, or as a source of power for mill and factory engines.

Introduction of steam Edit

Blenkinsop's rack locomotive, 1812 (British Railway Locomotives 1803-1853)


In 1812 the Middleton Railway became the first commercial railway to successfully use steam locomotives. John Blenkinsop, the colliery's viewer, or manager, had decided that an engine light enough not to break the cast iron track would not have sufficient adhesion, bearing in mind the heavy load of coal wagons and the steep track gradient. Accordingly he relaid the track on one side with a toothed rail, which he patented in 1811 (the first rack railway), and approached Matthew Murray of Fenton, Murray and Wood, in Holbeck, to design a locomotive with a pinion which would mesh with it. Murray's design was based on Richard Trevithick's Catch me who can, adapted to use Blenkinsop's rack and pinion system, and probably was called Salamanca. This 1812 locomotive was the first to use two cylinders. These drove the pinions through cranks which were at right angles, so that the engine would start wherever it came to rest.

In 1812, Salamanca was the first commercial steam locomotive to operate successfully. Three other locomotives were built for the Middleton colliery, and the railway was locomotive-operated for more than twenty years. A number of other firsts can be claimed by the railway. Being the first line to regularly use steam locomotives on freight trains it was naturally the first line to employ a train driver. The world's first regular, professional train driver was a former pit surface labourer named James Hewitt who had been trained by Fenton, Murray & Wood's test driver.[2] The first member of the public to be killed by a locomotive was almost certainly a 13 year old boy named John Bruce killed in February 1813 whilst running alongside the tracks. Leeds Mercury reported that this would "operate as a warning to others" though 200 years later sadly similar accidents still happen on our railways.

Though it was considered a marvel at the time, a child who witnessed it was less impressed. The child, David Joy, became a successful engineer.

Living in Hunslet Lane, on the London Road, the old coal railway from the Middleton Pits into Leeds, ran behind our house a few fields off, and we used to see the steam from the engines rise above the trees. Once I remember going with my nurse, who held my hand (I had to stretch it up to hers, I was so little) while we stood to watch the engine with its train of coal-wagons pass. We were told it would come up like a flash of lightning, but it only came lumbering on like a cart.[3]

Boiler explosions and a return of horsesEdit

Salamanca's boiler exploded on 28 February 1818 killing the driver when, as a result of the force of the explosion, he was "carried, with great violence, into an adjoining field the distance of one hundred yards."[4] This was the result of the driver tampering with the safety valves. Another boiler explosion occurred on 12 February 1834, again killing the driver. This time the most likely cause was a badly worn boiler, kept going by in-house repairs which were no longer expertly carried out after Blenkinsop's death. The driver killed on this occasion was James Hewitt, the world's first regular locomotive driver. The following year horse haulage returned and steam was abandoned apart from a c.1 mile section near the main pit, which for some time was chain-worked by a stationary steam engine.

Return of steamEdit

Steam was reintroduced in 1866 with tank engines from local firm Manning Wardle. In 1881 the railway was converted to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge allowing it to connect with the Midland Railway. Other extra links included one to the Great Northern Railway in 1899 and sidings serving other sources of freight including Robinson & Birdsell's scrapyard and Clayton, Sons & Co's engineering works.[5] The Middleton Estate & Colliery Co became part of the nationalised National Coal Board in 1947. Some rationalisation took place, the city centre staith at Kidacre street was closed and in the end coal movement was concentrated on the stretch of line from the GNR connection to Broom Pit. Preservationists mainly from Leeds University were allowed to move in to an abandoned part of the line, between Moor Road and the GNR connection, by its then owners Messrs. Clayton, Son & Co. When Broom Pit closed in 1968 the preservationists, by then called the Middleton Railway Trust, were able to reinstate the connection and operate to the site of Broom Pit, maintaining the continuous operation of the line.[6]

Preservation Edit

Middleton rail shed

The engine shed museum. Photo: Ian Kirk

In June 1960, the Middleton Railway became the first standard-gauge railway to be taken over and operated by unpaid volunteers. Passenger services were initially operated for only one week, using an ex Swansea and Mumbles Railway double deck tram (the largest in Britain seating 106 passengers), hauled by a 1931 diesel locomotive hired from the nearby Hunslet Engine Company. However, the volunteers of the Middleton Railway subsequently operated a freight service from September 1960 until 1983.

Regular operation of passenger services began in 1969.

The Middleton Steam Railway is home to a representative selection of locomotives built in the Jack Lane, Hunslet area by the famous Leeds manufacturers of John Fowler & Co., Hudswell Clarke, Hunslet Engine Company, Kitson & Co. and Manning Wardle. The locomotives include "Sir Berkeley", which was featured in the 1968 BBC TV version of "The Railway Children". The locomotive is owned by the Vintage Carriages Trust of Ingrow near Keighley.

Middleton railway 3

Park Halt

Route and stations Edit

  • Middleton Park - Proposed Extension

It has long been the ambition of the railway to run further in to Middleton Park and plans have existed for some time to extend the railway to the centre of the park, this however would however require significant earthworks and funding.

  • Park Halt - Current Terminus

Located close to the site of Broom Pit colliery and on the edge of Middleton Park. Branches once continued to Day Hole End and to West Pit via a rope worked incline. There were also numerous wagonways from early pits in the park, the remains of which can still be seen.

  • Dartmouth Branch

The stub of the line that once connected various local metal industries branches off close to the M621 tunnel. This is occasionally used on special events and has in recent years been used for training mainline track workers. This is close to the former connection to the Great Northern line.

  • Moor Road - Current Terminus

Located few yards from Moor Road level crossing, the site includes the Engine House museum and workshops. The site was once a junction between the link to the Midland Railway mainline via the "Balm Road Branch" and the line to Kidacre Street coal staith near the centre of the city.[7]

  • Balm Road Branch

The Balm Road branch continues to meet the Leeds - Sheffield line, the mainline connection is however bolted closed having not been used since 1990.[6] This section of track crosses Moor Road and is only used on special events. The line and crossing would need upgrading for regular use.

Motive power Edit

[8][9] [10]

Steam locomotives Edit

Operational Edit

  • Manning Wardle L Class 0-6-0ST no. 1210 Sir Berkeley. Recently returned to traffic after a boiler replacement but now used on passenger trains at Middleton, boiler ticket expires in 2017. This locomotive is on loan from the Vintage Carriages Trust, at Ingrow Railway Centre, on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. It often visits other railways and can be seen at its Leeds home between its travels, though not usually used in winter due to its original Victorian open cab.
  • Manning Wardle No. 1601 "Mathew Murray". Returned To Service In June 2010. Boiler Ticket Expires In 2020
  • NER Class H /LNER Class Y7 0-4-0T No. 1310. Returned to traffic in October 2011. Boiler Ticket expires in 2021
  • Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST Slough Estates No. 3. Moved from Swindon and Cricklade Railway, November 2011 [11]

Undergoing overhaul/restorationEdit

  • Sentinel 0-4-0VBT LNER No. 54, BR No. 68153, Departmental No. 57. Undergoing restoration to operational condition.
  • Hunslet 0-4-0ST No 1493. Undergoing restoration to operational condition, the frames have their wheels and are being painted before the motion goes on.
  • Hawthorn Leslie 0-4-0ST No 6 "Swanscombe". Undergoing restoration to working order, the frames have been re-wheeled and painted and the cab has been fitted to the frames and is being painted, the final motion parts are being fitted and work on the saddle tank, smokebox and boiler will start afterwards.
  • Manning Wardle 0-4-0ST No. 14. In the final stages of overhaul, wheels fitted under the frames and boiler being retubed.

Static display Edit

  • Chemnitz 0-4-0WT 385, ex DSB. Displayed in the Engine House museum.
  • Cockerill 0-4-0VBT 1625.
  • Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST No. 1309 "Henry De Lacy II" Cosmetically restored and displayed in the Engine House museum.
  • Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T M.S.C. 67 (works number 1369 of 1921). Returned to traffic in 2002, after its pistons were re-bored. The boiler inspection ticket (Certification) expired on 1 January 2012 and the locomotive will be displayed in the Engine House museum until it is decided to overhaul it again.
  • Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST No. 1882 "Mirvale". Displayed in the Engine House Museum
  • Hunslet 0-6-0ST 2387 "Brookes No.1". Out of traffic, boiler ticket expired in 2009. Displayed in the Engine House museum
  • Peckett and Sons 0-4-0ST No. 2103.

Stored Edit

  • Hunslet 2-6-2T No. 1540 of 1927 "Picton"
  • Hunslet 0-4-0T No. 1684 of 1931
  • Kitson 0-6-0ST 5469 "Conway" ex Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway.
  • Peckett and Sons 0-4-0ST No. 2003 John Blenkinsop. Stored awaiting overhaul.

Diesel locomotives Edit

Operational Edit


Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0DM 631 Carroll

  • Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0DM 577 Mary
  • Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0DM 631 Carroll Not used very often due to its inability to pull both of the railway's coaches.
  • Hunslet 0-6-0DM 1697 John Alcock
  • Hunslet 0-4-0DM 1786 Courage
  • Peckett 0-4-0DM 5003 Austins No. 1
  • Thomas Hill 0-4-0DH 138C a 'conversion' utilising the frames of a Sentinel steam locomotive.


  • Brush/Beyer Peacock 0-4-0DE 91. Currently sidelined because of engine problems and a difficulty sourcing parts, it is intended to repair this loco.
  • Hunslet 0-4-0DM 6981 OF 1968 Currently undergoing cosmetic work and modifications before it can begin passenger use.
  • Hunslet 4wDH Rack BEM402 (works number 8505) on loan from the National Coal Mining Museum for England (3 ft  (914 mm) narrow gauge)
  • Hunslet 6273 on loan from the National Coal Mining Museum for England. (2 ft 2 in (660 mm) gauge)
  • John Fowler 0-4-0DM 3900002 On static display in the Engine House.
  • John Fowler 0-4-0DM 4200033 Requires some work before it can enter passenger service.

Non-operational electric locomotivesEdit

Operational diesel inspection vehicleEdit

  • Drewry Overhead Line Inspection Vehicle DB998901 "Olive"

A Mumbles tramEdit

Following the closure of the Mumbles Railway by South Wales Transport attempts were made to preserve some rolling stock at the Middleton Railway, but were subsequently scrapped.

A Scrapped Tram in Leeds - - 1357840

The attempt at preservation of a Mumbles Railway, Mumbles tram at the Middleton Railway in Leeds.



  1. History of the Middleton Railway Leeds Sixth Edition (1990), p.3.
  2. A History of the Middleton Railway, Eighth Edition, Middleton Railway Trust Publication, ISBN 0-9516205-5-X
  3. "Diaries of the Late David Joy; edited G.A. Sekon.. Railway Magazine 1908 Volumes 22 & 23". (2008-01-02). Retrieved on 2012-09-06.
  4. Leeds Mercury 7 March 1818
  5. "page about Claytons". Retrieved on 2012-09-06.
  6. 6.0 6.1 From Rag to Railway, Middleton Railway Trust, ISBN 978-0-9558264-5-0
  7. Old Ordnance Survey Maps, Hunslet 1905 Godfrey Edition, ISBN 978-0-85054-710-8
  8. Middleton Railway website - stocklist
  9. Middleton Railway Stocklist (available from the railway's shop
  10. "Slough & Windsor Railway Society – Home". Retrieved on 2012-09-06.


  • A History of the Middleton Railway, Eighth Edition, Middleton Railway Trust, ISBN 0-9516205-5-X, 2004
  • From Rag to Railway, Middleton Railway Trust, ISBN 978-0-9558264-5-0
  • Middleton Railway stocklist, Middleton Railway Trust, available from the railway's shop
  • Roe, Martin. Coal Mining in Middleton Park. Meerstone. ISBN 978-0-9559477-0-4. 

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