Middleton Railway

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Middleton Railway
Middleton Railway Engine House - Beza Street - geograph.org.uk - 1230468.jpg
Main station building on Moor Road.
LocaleHunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire
TerminusMoor Road
Coordinates53°46′30″N 1°32′19″W / 53.775070°N 1.538600°W / 53.775070; -1.538600Coordinates: 53°46′30″N 1°32′19″W / 53.775070°N 1.538600°W / 53.775070; -1.538600
Commercial operations
NameMiddleton Railway
Built byCharles Brandling
Original gaugeuntil 1881 4 ft 1 in (1,245 mm)
From 1881 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Owned byThe Middleton Railway Trust Ltd.
Operated byThe Middleton Railway Trust Ltd.
Length0.96 miles (1.54 km)
Preserved gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
1758Construction of first waggonway
1799Wooden tracks replaced with iron edge rails
1812Introduction of steam locomotives
c. 1835Line reverts to horse drawn trains
1866Return of steam locomotives
1881Line converted to
4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
1947Rationalisation of the Line
1960Line taken over by preservation society
Preservation history
June 1960One week passenger service
1960Start of freight service
1969Start of regular passenger service
1983End of freight service
HeadquartersMoor Road station

The Middleton Railway is the world's oldest continuously working railway,[1] situated in the English city of Leeds. 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, in Hunslet, and Park Halt, on the outskirts of Middleton Park.

Origins: Middleton colliery[edit]

"The Collier", aquatint from a painting by George Walker in his The Costume of Yorkshire, engraved by Robert Havell 1814, showing a Matthew Murray steam locomotive (Salamanca) on the Middleton Railway

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 at Thwaite Gate.[2]

In 1757 he proposed 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 the Staith[3] at 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]


In 1812 the Middleton Railway became the first commercial railway to use steam locomotives successfully. 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 use steam locomotives regularly 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.[4] 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 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.[5]

Boiler explosions and horse haulage[edit]

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."[6] 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 Blenkinsop engines remained at work for thirty years: when John Urpeth Rastrick and James Walker visited the line on the behalf of the Directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in January 1829 noted they were still at work, one of them being recorded as pulling a load of thirty load coal wagons, weighing 140 tons. At least two were working until 1835.

Horse haulage returned and steam was abandoned apart from about a 1-mile (1.6 km) section near the main pit, which for some time was chain-worked by a stationary steam engine.

Return of steam[edit]

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.[7] 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 into 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.[8]


The engine shed museum
Middleton Railway Blue Plaque

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.

Route and stations[edit]

Middleton Railway
0.37 mi Hallam & Pontefract Lines
0.29 mi
Beza Road
Balm Road Branch
0.17 mi
Tulip Street
0.03 mi
Moor Road
former line towards city (removed)
0.00 mi Museum & shed | Moor Road
0.10 mi engine & wagon storage siding
0.16 mi
 M621  motorway
0.24 mi Dartmouth Branch
0.55 mi
John Charles Approach
0.69 mi
between John Charles Centre
and South Leeds High School
0.94 mi Park Halt | engine run-around loop
0.96 mi End of line
Proposed extension into Middleton Park

Although the operational line starts at Moor Road, the line actually begins with the Balm Road Branch which joins the Middleton Railway with the Leeds - Sheffield route of the Hallam & Pontefract Lines. However, the connection to the main network has not been used since 1990 and has been bolted closed preventing access.[8] This section of track crosses Beza Road, Tulip Street and Moor Road. It is currently only used during special events as the line and crossings would need upgrading for regular use.

Located few yards from Moor Road level crossing is the line's main terminus, Moor Road station. The site includes the Engine House museum and workshops along with a single platform for departing and arriving trains. 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.[9]

Departing Moor Road, are a selection of locomotives and rolling stock stored on sidings before the tunnel. The tunnel is the only one located on the route and allows the railway to pass under the M621 motorway. It is approximately 263 feet (80 m) long. Immediately after, there is the junction with the Dartmouth Branch, a stub of the line that once connected various local metal industries with the main line. This is occasionally used on special events and has in recent years been used for training mainline track workers. This branch is close to the former connection to the Great Northern line.

After the Dartmouth Branch, the line begins to enter Middleton Park. The line passes by the John Charles Centre for Sport on its right and the South Leeds Academy on its left. There are two over bridges on this section: one road bridge, carrying John Charles Approach and a second footbridge connecting the school and the sports centre.

Located close to the site of Broom Pit colliery and on the edge of Middleton Park, Park Halt railway station is the current terminus of services at the far end of the line. 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. The station consists of a platform for Middleton Park and a run round loop for trains allowing return running.

A proposed extension of the railway into Middleton Park has been discussed for many years and it has long been the ambition of the railway to run further in to Middleton Park. Plans have existed for some time to extend the railway to the centre of the park, however this would require significant earthworks and funding.

Route gallery[edit]

Motive power[edit]

Steam locomotives[edit]

Number / Name Design Manufacturer Notes Image
1310 NER Class H / LNER Class Y7 0-4-0T Gateshead Railway Works Returned to traffic in October 2011. Boiler ticket expires May 2022. Hugh llewelyn 1310 (6966652794).jpg
2387 Brookes No.1 0-6-0ST Hunslet Engine Company Boiler ticket expired in 2009 and underwent overhaul that was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Returned to service in August 2017. Boiler ticket expires in 2027. Brooks No. 1 at Middleton Park.jpg
3860 No. 6 0-4-0ST Hawthorn Leslie and Company Worked for Portland cement at Swansombe in Kent.

Operational. Returned to service in September 2021. Boiler ticket expires 2031.

Hawthorn Leslie 3860. Known as "no.6 ".png
LNER No. 54 / BR No. 68153 / Departmental No. 57 LNER Class Y1 0-4-0VBT Sentinel Waggon Works Returned to service in 2021. Boiler ticket expires 2029.
Sentinel 68153 nearing completion.jpg
Undergoing overhaul/restoration
1210 Sir Berkeley L Class 0-6-0ST Manning Wardle Boiler ticket expired in early 2017. Undergoing overhaul. On loan from the Vintage Carriages Trust. Set to return to service in 2022. Manning Wardle 1210 "Sir Berkeley".jpg
1493 No. 11 0-4-0ST Hunslet Engine Company Undergoing restoration.
Static display
385 Chemnitz 0-4-0WT Richard Hartmann Previously owned by the Danish State Railways (DSB). Steamed until 1999. Displayed in the Engine House museum.
Chemnitz 385 on display.jpg
1309 Henry De Lacy II 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke Cosmetically restored and displayed in the Engine House museum. Henry De Lacy II.jpg
1369 M.S.C. No.67 0-6-0T Hudswell Clarke Boiler inspection ticket expired on 1 January 2012; now displayed in the Engine House museum MSC No. 67 at the Middleton Railway.jpg
1544 Slough Estates No. 3 0-6-0ST Hudswell Clarke Built in 1924. Arrived from the Swindon and Cricklade Railway in November 2011 [10] Boiler ticket expired on 18 April 2021. Hudswell-Clarke 1544 "Slough Estates no. 3".jpg
1882 Mirvale 0-4-0ST Hudswell Clarke Displayed in the Engine House Museum. Hudswell Clarke Mirvale.jpg
2103 0-4-0ST Peckett and Sons Originally worked at Croydon Power Station B.
Peckett 2103.jpg
5469 Conway 0-6-0ST Kitson and Company ex Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway. On display in the Engine House awaiting the completion of its cosmetic restoration.
1540 Picton 2-6-2T Hunslet Engine Company Originally worked on a sugar cane railway in Trinidad. Transported back to England to await conservation. In 2016, a special shelter was constructed in the car park at Moor Road to protect it. Hunslet Picton.jpg
1601 Matthew Murray L Class 0-6-0ST Manning Wardle Returned to service in June 2010. Boiler ticket expired in 2021. Manning Wardle 1601 "Matthew Murray".jpg
1684 0-4-0T Hunslet Engine Company Finished its working life at Kilmersdon Colliery in Somerset. Hunslet 1684.jpg
2003 John Blenkinsop 0-4-0ST Peckett and Sons Stored awaiting overhaul. Currently at the Ribble Steam Railway for cosmetic restoration. Middleton Railway.jpg

Diesel and electric locomotives[edit]

Number / Name Design Manufacturer Notes Image
45 0-6-0DM Hudswell Clarke Arrived in September 2017 from the East Somerset Railway. Hudswell Clarke No. 45.jpg
D577 Mary 0-4-0DM Hudswell Clarke Built in 1932. Middleton railway 3.jpg
D631 Carroll 0-4-0DM Hudswell Clarke Built in 1946. Carrolllocomotive.jpg
1697 John Alcock LMS diesel shunter 7051 0-6-0DM Hunslet Engine Company The Middleton Railways Trust's first locomotive. HE1697 "John Alcock".jpg
1786 Courage 0-4-0DM Hunslet Engine Company Named after the brewery where it worked. Also known as Sweet Pea. Can only operate in conjunction with another loco due to lack of vacuum brakes. Middleton Railway, Hunslet.jpg
5003 Austins No. 1 0-4-0DM Peckett and Sons Built in 1961. Acquired in 2001 Peckett diesel Austins No. 1.jpg
D2999 Alf British Rail Class D2/11 0-4-0DE Brush/Beyer Peacock In traffic 2015. British Steel No.91, (D2999).jpg
4220033 Harry 0-4-0DM John Fowler & Co. Returned to traffic 2016. Fowler 4220033.jpg
6981 0-4-0DM Hunslet Engine Company Currently undergoing cosmetic work and modifications before it can begin passenger use. Acquired 2011.
Hunslet 6981.jpg
420452 Coke Oven locomotive Greenwood and Batley Electric locomotive. Built 1979. On permanent static display.
Greenwood 420452.jpg
DB998901 Olive Overhead Line Inspection Vehicle Drewry Car Co. Built 1950. Used by British Railways' Eastern Region and British Rail Research Division. Acquired 1997.

It was subject to an arson attack at Moor Road in 2016, currently undergoing overhaul offsite.

Middleton Park Halt.jpg
3900002 0-4-0DM John Fowler & Co. On static display in the Engine House. Fowler 3900002.jpg


Following the closure of the Mumbles Railway by South Wales Transport attempts were made to preserve some rolling stock at the Middleton Railway. One car (no. 2) was saved for preservation by members of Leeds University in Yorkshire and stored at the Middleton Railway. However, it was heavily vandalised and eventually destroyed by fire leading to the tram being scrapped. An experimental Leeds single deck tram, number 601, was preserved at the Middleton Railway along with tram 202 owned by Leeds Museums. These were, however, also destroyed by vandalism and arson during 1962. Leeds Horsfield Tram No 160 and Feltham Tram No 517 suffered the same fate at Middleton in 1968.[14]

Number / Name Design Manufacturer Notes Image
No. 2 Double Deck Tram seating 106 passengers Brush Electrical Company Built c. 1929 A Scrapped Tram in Leeds - geograph.org.uk - 1357840.jpg

Rolling stock[edit]

Number / Name Design Manufacturer Notes Image
Passenger Stock
1867 PMV Standard Brake Southern Railway Converted from ex SR PMV Van. Fitted with heating. ParkHalt2.jpg
2084 PMV Standard Trailer Southern Railway Converted from ex SR PMV Van. Fitted with heating.
1074 PMV Standard Brake Southern Railway Converted from ex SR PMV Van. Fitted with heating and designed for easier wheelchair access.
860E Brake Van Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon works Build to a North Eastern Railway Design. Capacity of 10 people. Often used at gala weekends and in Santa Special trains.

Fitted with vacuum brakes.

158760 LMS Brake Van LMS (Derby) Undergoing restoration in the Moor Road workshop BrakeVanLMS158760.png



  1. ^ Winn, Christopher (2010). I never knew that about Yorkshire. London: Ebury. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-09-193313-5.
  2. ^ History of the Middleton Railway Leeds Eighth Edition (2004), p.6.
  3. ^ A history of the Middleton Railway Leeds Eighth edition 2004 p10
  4. ^ A History of the Middleton Railway, Eighth Edition, Middleton Railway Trust Publication, ISBN 0-9516205-5-X
  5. ^ "Diaries of the Late David Joy; edited G.A. Sekon.. Railway Magazine 1908 Volumes 22 & 23". Steamindex.com. 2 January 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  6. ^ Leeds Mercury 7 March 1818
  7. ^ "page about Claytons". Leedsengine.info. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  8. ^ a b From Rag to Railway, Middleton Railway Trust, ISBN 978-0-9558264-5-0
  9. ^ Old Ordnance Survey Maps, Hunslet 1905 Godfrey Edition, ISBN 978-0-85054-710-8
  10. ^ "Slough & Windsor Railway Society – Home". Swrs.co.uk. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  11. ^ a b c Middleton Railway website - stocklist Archived 16 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b c Middleton Railway Stocklist (available from the railway's shop
  13. ^ a b c Industrial Locomotives: including preserved and minor railway locomotives. Vol. 15EL. Melton Mowbray: Industrial Railway Society. 2009. ISBN 978-1-901556-53-7.
  14. ^ Leeds Transport, Volume Four, by Jim Soper


  • A History of the Middleton Railway Leeds Sixth Edition, Middleton Railway Trust Limited, 1990
  • 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.
  • Ransom, P.J.G. (1990), The Victorian Railway and How It Evolved, Heinemann:London

External links[edit]