Kendal and Windermere Railway

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Windermere station in 2008.

The Kendal and Windermere Railway is a railway in Cumbria in north-west England. It was built as a railway from the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway at Oxenholme via Kendal to near Windermere, opening fully in April 1847. The engineer was Joseph Locke and the partnership of contractors consisted of Thomas Brassey, William Mackenzie, Robert Stephenson and George Heald.[1][2] It remains open, albeit in much simplified form, as the Windermere Branch Line.


The Kendal & Windermere was promoted because of concerns that the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway (which now forms part of the West Coast Main Line from London to Glasgow) was not planned to go via Kendal. Although a 3.5 km tunnel north of Kendal was proposed to allow the L&CR to be routed via Kendal, that was too expensive, and the line seen today was adopted, running 1.5 km east of Kendal and then turning north-east.

As a result, efforts were put towards a branch line from the L&CR at Oxenholme, to run through Kendal to Windermere. In this context, "Windermere" meant the lake, the Windermere station terminus being at the village of Birthwaite about one kilometre from the lake, the village only later becoming known as Windermere. Oxenholme's railway station is now known as 'Oxenholme Lake District' because of the branch line.


There was opposition to the proposals from those who were against what they saw as destruction of the Lake District landscape. Those opposing included the poet William Wordsworth. His letters to the editor of the Morning Post are reproduced in The Illustrated Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes, P. Bicknell, Ed. (Congdon and Weed, New York, 1984), pp. 186–198. His reactions to the technological and "picturesque" incursions of man on his beloved, wild landscape most famously include the following sonnet:

Is then no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown,
Must perish;—how can they this blight endure?
And must he too the ruthless change bemoan
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure
'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown?
Baffle the threat, bright Scene, from Orresthead
Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance:
Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance
Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead,
Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong
And constant voice, protest against the wrong.

On the opening of the railway in 1847 one of the contracting engineers, George Heald, wrote an impassioned riposte to Wordsworth accusing him of wanting to obstruct the opportunities the railway would bring. It is dated 15 April 1847, the Locomotive at Orrest Head.[3] He argues for the democratising influence of the railway and the cultural and social benefits it will bring rather than the economic reasons that might be expected from a railway engineer:

Baffle the Rail, bright scene from Orrest Head,
Somewhere in Wordsworth I this line have read;
Who calls on Winds and Torrents fierce and strong
In sound and fury to forbid the wrong.
They heard the call in vain; - on "English ground"
"No sacred nook" has ever yet been found
To scare the dead, when enterprise could throw
A fair surmise, that "flowers of hope" might grow.
Our "earliest flowers" we offer to the Bard,
Although his compliments were rather hard;
"Round his paternal fields at random throw"
No "false" enchantments; but a kindly glow;-
"Utilitarian lures?" - 'tis even so.
To feast upon the "beautiful romance"
"Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance,"
Shall be the lot of thousands who shall feel
The vast advantage of a road of steel;
Who 'mongst its pleasing features shall recount,
An easy pilgrimage to Rydal Mount,
"Retirement" "from the busy world, kept pure"
They may admire, but could not well endure;
The Bard need not "the ruthless change bemoan"
When Art flings double charms round Nature's throne.
The Train has stopped it buzzing, roaring wheels,
But the Lake's ripples follow at its heels:
For gliding down its bosom, smooth and clear,
Steamers on Windermere itself appear:-
How shall the Poet's soul "this blight endure!"
His powers will sink! - I fear to rise no more:-
"The rash assault!" "Are humans so dead"
To all that fills a poet with such dread;
As to commit such outrage, and such wrong
In spite of protests which though vain were long?
Come to the bar ye wriggling Rail and Barge
Say if ye can, - Not Guilty! to the charge.
Or why invade the land, (the Plaintiff pleads)
Sacred to solitude, to rocks and weeds;
O'er my "paternal fields" a line to throw
Comes near the darker verge of human woe:
Why give each town-cramp'd soul the sight so grand
To view the peaks that decorate our land?
Speak! - answer why! - or crumble into sand
The Rail and Barge both glory in the deed,
To the impeachment gladly Guilty plead,
But conscious of the bounties they dispense
They offer this, a short and firm defence.
Not to disturb the pure and classic fount
That graceful, flows in ink from Rydal Mount,
But to unite the ground with tamer scenes,
And show to each, that each with beauty teems:
To give the hamlets of the mountain dells
The Arts in which the busy South excells;
To give the South to view the peaks sublime,
That bid defiance to the scythe of time;
To give to town-cramp'd souls the power to soar,
And taste of pleasures never known before:-
WE won our way - through rocks - o'er waters grand,
Opening, (we trust) the beauties of the land.
If from "paternal fields" we take a part,
We pay most handsomely by way of smart;
We give a double value for the slice,
And make the remnant worth a double price.
And for the Bard, - (as Off'ring for our crimes)
We'll give the world to appreciate his rhymes,
The mind will surely place his beauties higher
When read 'mid scenes that did the thoughts inspire,
We'll spread his fame: - what more can he require?
Are not these motives good, and clear, and strong,
Full satisfaction for the sons of song?
Carrying conviction wheresoever read,
Appealing to the heart, as well as head.
Conscious from wrong our cause we have been clearing,
We'll give the Plaintiff good Words,-worth the hearing
The judgement of a jury never fearing.


Despite this opposition, the Kendal and Windermere Railway Act authorising construction received the royal assent on 30 June 1845, and when the L&CR opened southwards from Oxenholme on 22 September 1846, the route to Kendal was already built. On 20 April 1847, the through route to Windermere station was opened.[4]


The railway was leased in perpetuity to the Lancaster & Carlisle on 3 May 1858; the following year, the L&CR was leased to the London and North Western Railway, which put the whole of the West Coast Main Line under their control; in 1923 the LNWR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

Train services[edit]

The branch had a variety of through services at various dates, including to London, Manchester, Preston, Grange over Sands, as well as many special excursion trains. In 1966 it was reduced to a local service only (to/from Oxenholme & Carnforth), and on 3 August 1968 the last steam train ran on the line. Goods traffic on the branch finished in 1972. The double track branch became single track in 1973 (as part of the WCML resignalling scheme) to save money. In 1994, the branch began what may be seen as a renaissance, with through trains introduced to Manchester Airport, which are now run by TransPennine Express.


With the West Coast Main Line electrified, consideration was given to electrifying the branch, but this was not carried out. The possibility of electrifying the branch was raised again in June 2013, when a feasibility study was announced in parliament by the government.[5]

In August 2013, the Department for Transport announced a plan to electrify the line by 2016 as part of the wider scheme to wire many other routes in the North West of England (such as the Manchester to Preston Line).[6] The £16 million scheme will allow through trains from Lancaster & points south to continue using electric rolling stock (such as the Class 350 "Desiro" units) rather than the current DMUs and also improve capacity on the route, though it is not yet clear as to whether the plans will include track & signalling upgrades to permit a more frequent service to operate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helps, Arthur The Life and Works of Mr Brassey, 1872 republished Nonsuch, 2006, p. 107. ISBN 1-84588-011-0
  2. ^ Nicholson, Cornelius, A Well-spent Life, pub. Kendal 1890, p78-88 - available on (Call number: SRLF_UCLA:LAGE-2530919)
  3. ^ Reply to Wordsworth's sonnet on the Kendal & Windermere railway. George Heald. Published Orrest Head : s.n., 1847. (Copy in Leeds University Library)
  4. ^ "Opening of the Kendal and Windermere Railway". Westmorland Gazette. England. 24 April 1847. Retrieved 10 April 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ Lakes Line RUG - Line and Group NewsLakes Line Rail Users Group; Retrieved 2013-10-23
  6. ^ "DfT Unveils Lakes Electrification Plans" Railnews news article 09-08-2013; Retrieved 2014-03-13