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The Churnet Valley Line 1849 - 1996

An Act of Parliament formed the North Staffordshire Railway in 1846. Whilst it was a relatively small railway company it did become widely known as "The Knotty", due to the Staffordshire Knot logo on its rolling stock and on staff uniforms. The headquarters were at Stoke, in the heart of the smoky Potteries, but the N.S.R. did operate a small number of scenic lines too, one of which used the valley of the River Churnet.

The line opened on July 13th 1849, its double track stretching from North Rode, near Macclesfield, to Uttoxeter in the south, a distance of 27 ¾ miles. There were several handsome station buildings such as those at Cheddleton, Rushton, Froghall and Oakamoor, with the one at Alton Towers being quite exceptional. This was designed especially for the use of the Earl of Shrewsbury who lived on the nearby estate. There were few major engineering feats on the line, save for several river bridges and tunnels at Leek, Leekbrook, Cheddleton and Oakamoor. Parts of the railway line between Froghall and Uttoxeter were laid on the drained bed of the Cauldon Canal.

The route provided an alternative way of reaching, say, Manchester from Derby, rather than going via Stoke from London, although using this latter route was quicker in time but longer in distance. The Churnet Valley was therefore probably more important as a diversionary route than as a passenger line (initial service was just 4 trains each way daily) the line being for the local residents and workers. There was, however, heavy excursion traffic from the mills along the route, visitors coming not only for the natural beauty of the line, but to enjoy Rudyard Lake (from which Rudyard Kipling was given his name), Alton Towers and Uttoxeter Racecourse.

Goods traffic was an important revenue earner too: extra trains were laid on twice a week to take livestock and agricultural produce to market in Leek, the biggest centre of population on the line. The copper works at Oakamoor, and later Froghall, provided freight as well. At Froghall Junction, a narrow gauge line went to Cauldon Lowe quarry for the movement of limestone, although this function was transferred to the Leekbrook - Cauldon branch upon its opening in 1905. This line also provided a terminus at Waterhouses for the Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway.

Leekbrook Junction (I mile North of Cheddleton) was also the point where the Stoke line connected with the Churnet Valley line from 1867 onwards and at one time could boast 3 signal boxes, an engine shed (closed 1 932) and triangular track layout for turning locos. There was only one platform on the Churnet Valley line, on the down side, which provided access to the county asylum, via a half mile line operated by an overhead wire, electric tram. It also served the nearby Joshua Wardle factory via a barrow crossing from the works. There was another junction too, off the Churnet Valley line at Rocester, which led to Ashbourne. Just a short distance south from here lay Spath, the site of the first automatic half barrier level crossing in the world.

In 1923, the N.S.R. became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), which in turn became part of British Railways in 1948. Stoke's NSR locomotive department produced two engineers who later transferred to London to serve a most distinguished careers under the LMS upon the merger. First was T. Coleman, who became Chief Draughtsman to Sir William Stanier and worked on the designs for the "Coronation" Pacific's of 1937. And secondly, H.G. Ivatt, last Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the LMSR, known for his small tank and tender locomotives.

Competition, particularly from road transport, meant railway services nationally were reduced. Then in 1963 the infamous "Beeching Report" recommended the closure of over 5000 miles of track and more than 2000 stations to reduce overheads and hopefully turn a profit. The Churnet Valley fell victim to the report. The North Rode to Leek line closed in June 1964, followed by the withdrawal of all passenger services between Leek and Uttoxeter in January 1965. The remaining route was singled in 1968, followed by the closure of Leek station, the last one still open at the time for freight traffic, in July 1970.

The only freight traffic now was the sand traffic, which continued for 25 years from Hepworth's Sand quarry at Oakamoor to St Helens, Merseyside, (for Pilkington glass), concluding in 1988. New wagons had been purchased to speed up the sand trains only 2 years earlier. A week before the last train, a weed killing train had traversed the route.

Consall, Froghall and Oakamoor stations were all knocked down. Only the waiting shelter at Consall survived into the preservation era. Cheddleton station was taken over in 1976 by the NSRS, later becoming the headquarters of the CVR. Leekbrook junction signal box was included in the purchase of the 7 miles of line from BR some 20 years later followed by the opening of the one-mile section between Cheddleton station & Leekbrook junction to preservation in 1996.

Taken from the CVR Souvenir Guide written by Andrew Sollis


The Churnet Valley Railway (1992) plc

The Churnet Valley Railway is a volunteer-run organisation. The operating company, the Churnet Valley Railway (1992) plc, is supported by the North Staffordshire Railway Co (1978) Ltd., a Charitable Trust.

This following is not an exhaustive history of the various bodies association with the Churnet Valley project, rather a brief explanation of some events leading to the organisation in place today.

Cheddleton Railway Centre was established in the mid-1970s by the (then) North Staffordshire Railway Society, as a railway museum displaying small artifacts of the original North Staffordshire Railway Company (the "Owd Knotty"), and a restoration base for, initially, ex- National Coal Board Hunslet "Austerity" loco No.8 (later "Josiah Wedgwood"), ex-LMS Fowler 4F loco 44422 and a small collection of goods vehicles and passenger coaches.

In 1978 the NSRS became a company limited by guarantee, the North Staffordshire Railway Co. (1978) Ltd, and Charitable Trust status was granted in 1983. (Some photographs of early days at Cheddleton are available in the Photo Galleries.)

Over the ensuing years the Cheddleton site expanded, with the acquisition of further land, until it encompassed the station area (with a bay platform added in 1983-84), a signal box recovered from Elton Crossing near Sandbach in Cheshire, a 300 yard demonstration line, a three road locomotive museum building/shed and associated sidings. The NSRC had however been established with the aim of running a railway and it must be said that the Steam Centre, although popular, was hardly an adequate substitute for the "real thing". Envious eyes were often cast over the fence at the adjacent British Rail mineral line, the sole remaining stub of the former NSR Churnet Valley main line.

The closure of the mineral line came in 1988, some 22 years after the closure of the remainder of the route, and immediately members of the NSRC began the long campaign to save the line. Plans were drawn up and contact established with various bodies including British Rail and the County Council. Eventually agreement was reached in principle for the sale of the line. A public share issue would be required to raise the necessary capital for the purchase of the line and associated land. Due to the legal niceties of company law, however, a charitable body such as NSRC may not enter a "risk taking" venture such as a public share issue - it was therefore necessary to promote a Public Limited Company for this purpose. This was incorporated on 30th October 1992 as Goldenlaunch plc, the name of the company being changed to the Churnet Valley Railway (1992) plc on 15th December, 1992. This was initially a non-trading "shadow" company which was a subsidiary of NSRC, until the first share issue was launched, and the trading activities of NSRC were taken over by the CVR.

The promotion of a public limited company was also necessary in order to make an application for a Light Railway Order, which incidentally was the last application made under the old legislation before the onset of the new Transport and Works Act. The plc also needed to be in place for applications for planning permission and numerous other legal necessities. The way ahead was now clear for the launch of the public share issue, and subsequent purchase of the railway and associated land between Leek Brook Junction and Oakamoor Sand Sidings.

The first passenger services outside the confines of Cheddleton yard began on August 24th 1996, this being a "push and pull" operation of a little over a mile between Cheddleton and Leek Brook Junction, the latter being the junction with the mothballed Railtrack line between Stoke on Trent and Caldon Quarry. Trains were initially operated by hired-in "Jinty" tank loco 47383, this and resident 4F 44422 being the mainstays of the service for the first season's operations. Although only a short run, this operation proved to be an ideal training ground for the railway's staff, and got everyone used to operating outside the goods yard.

Saturday 11th July 1998 saw the first southward extension of the railway, when the section between Cheddleton and Consall was reopened for passenger traffic. This brought the railway's operational length to approximately 3 1/4 miles. The next extension, to Kingsley and Froghall, opened to traffic on 11th August 2001, giving an operational length of approximately 5 1/2 miles. This work has been funded by the Company's third Share Issue.


Moorland & City Railways Ltd

Moorland & City Railways (MCR) was established in 2009 by CVR Directors David Kemp and Greg Wilson. Leekbrook Junction and the Cauldon branch were acquired a few months later and contracts were exchanged for the acquisition of the remainder of the route back to the main line at Stoke.

MCR was specifically set up to purchase, renovate, and return commercial rail freight to the Stoke on Trent - Cauldon Lowe rail route. The first eight miles in the Company's ownership was renovated to allow a small scale reopening in conjunction with the CVR whose lines connect to the Company's lines at Leekbrook Junction.

Professional contractors backed up by large groups of volunteers from the CVR commenced clearance operations just after Easter 2010 at various locations along the line from Leekbrook Junction to Cauldon Lowe. Following a programme of clearance, repair and renewal of the infrastructure, the whole of the Cauldon branch was passed for heritage running by H M Railway Inspectorate in November and the line was reopened for traffic on November 12th 2010. Two weeks of steam and diesel heritage events then celebrated what was rightly recognised as an outstanding achievement.

In 2012 the CVR began to operate regular passenger services along the Cauldon Lowe branch with its Steam and Diesel hauled heritage trains.