The Delph Donkey was a line of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) in northern England which opened in 1849 to connect Oldham, Greenfield and Delph to the main Huddersfield to Manchester line.
Both the Saddleworth villages of Delph and Greenfield are on the western slopes of the Pennine hills. The branch followed the main cross country line between Manchester and Huddersfield as far as Delph Junction set above the village of Uppermill. Just before the junction was Moorgate Halt. Although this was situated on the main line, it was only ever used by trains to Delph. The Delph branch then left the main line and veered sharply left past Ladcastle Quarry before reaching Dobcross halt. It then continued to Delph with one additional intermediate halt that served the 'Measurements' factory on Delph New Road where trains only called at the start and end of the working day. The line terminated at Delph where a private siding served Messrs Mallalieu's Bailey Mill. There was also a goods shed and coal staithes serving local business. Delph was the only station on the line beyond Moorgate with permanent structures; the station building still survives as a private residence (as does Grotton & Springhead station). Services ran to and from Oldham via Greenfield with connections to several other destinations, and summer specials ran usually to coastal resorts.
Origin of the name
The line took its name from the original service which was said to be a railway carriage drawn by a donkey; however Gordon Suggett states in his book “Lost Railways of Merseyside & Greater Manchester” that it has never been proven that there ever was a donkey or horse drawn service on this line. Since the branch trains worked onto the main Manchester to Huddersfield line, it is unlikely horse drawn trains would have been permitted.
Passenger trains ceased to run on the Delph Donkey in April 1955, although a limited number of freight trains continued to use the line until November 1963. The track was lifted in 1964 to turn the line between Oldham and Grotton into a cycle/walk way; the line between Moorgate and Delph became the Delph Donkey Trail footpath and bridleway, on which the halts at Dobcross and Measurements are now marked by replica station nameboards. The section of the railway between Greenfield and Grotton was either abandoned as waste land or converted into small footpaths; a section of the line that ran below Grasscroft through Friezland is now part of a large housing estate.
As of 2012, there remain old pieces of track outside Bailey Mill at the old Delph terminus that have not been moved since the closure almost 50 years ago.
The tunnel running underneath Lydgate connecting Grasscroft and Grotton is still completely intact and maintained; however, it is now unused and completely inaccessible. It was felt after lifting the track and deciding the future use of the new available land that it would be too costly and dangerous to collapse or infill the tunnel especially since there are now more structures such as housing above the tunnel than there had been when the tunnel was built in the mid-1800s. Minor work was carried out in the 1980s as part of a planned maintenance programme which infilled the centre air vent to avoid any rare subsidence. In 2008, 44 years after the tunnel had been last used, a routine inspection revealed some areas of loose and hollow brickwork in the tunnel lining, routine maintenance work was carried out by BRB (Residuary) Limited to rectify this, with substantial areas of the tunnel lining replaced with new brickwork incorporating drainage pipes, and other securing works. News of the inspection and remedial work led to some local people becoming concerned that the tunnel was near to collapse, however BRB(R) stated this was never a risk, and the work was just on-going planned maintenance.
- Suggett, Gordon (2004). Lost Railways of Merseyside & Greater Manchester (1 ed.). Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-869-1.
- Goddard, L. (2006). Scenes from the past 49: Delph to Oldham, including Lees MPD, Motor Trains and the O.A & G.B to Ashton (1 ed.). Foxline. ISBN 1870119827.
- The Leeds, Huddersfield & Manchester Railway by Martin Bairstow (ISBN 1-871944-02-3)
- British Railways in 1960, Delph Junction to Delph
- 28 Days Later Urbex Archive - Lydgate Tunnel 2012/09 – Photographs of some of the new work in the tunnel taken by urban explorers