As Blackpool and the Fylde Coast grew during the last two decades of the 19th century, the railway network slowly began to consolidate and improve.
In the last quarter of the 19th century Blackpool grew quickly into one of Britain’s most popular seaside resorts. Some of the town’s most famous attractions date from this period. These include: the three piers (1863-93); the Winter Gardens (1878); Grand Theatre (1894); Blackpool Tower (1894), and the Pleasure Beach (1896). Alongside all these developments came some very necessary changes to the railway.
By the late 1870s, local businesses and the town council were putting increasing pressure on the L&YR/LNWR to improve capacity. At one stage, encouragement was even given to the West Lancashire Railway, in league with the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, to build an alternative route into the resort. Powers were obtained for the line, but it was never built.
The L&YR/LNWR finally began to respond, and In 1880 changes were made to the layout at Preston to try to remove the bottleneck for trains heading to the Fylde. Then in 1889 the whole line from Preston to Kirkham (which itself was rebuilt) was quadrupled. The junction at Kirkham served both the Talbot Road and Central lines, so this effectively meant four tracks all the way from Preston to Blackpool.
Meanwhile there were also big improvements at Fleetwood where, except for the opening of Thornton Cleveleys on the line from Poulton in 1865, little had happened in over twenty years.
In 1878 the L&YR built a docks complex that included 8 miles of railway track and a large grain elevator. Some fishing vessels had started using Fleetwood back in 1860, but it was not until 1892 a trawler fishing fleet was established. Eventually the town became the largest fishing port on the west coast and the third largest in Britain. Most of the new fish traffic was handled by rail.
In 1883 a new station was opened further north at Fleetwood next to the quay that had been created for steamer services to Belfast, Londonderry, and the Isle of Man. As well as an undercover connection to the boats, the new station allowed easier access to the promenade. Wyre Dock was opened in 1885 to replace the original Fleetwood.
The sailings to Belfast continued, with peak* passenger numbers reaching 100,000 in 1900. Several boat trains were added to the timetable, and in 1901 the first L&YR corridor and dining car express was introduced from Fleetwood to Leeds and Manchester as a connection out of the Belfast Steamer.
(*Heysham opened in 1904 and eventually took Fleetwood’s traffic.)
Progress at Poulton
There was also a major infrastructure development at Poulton in 1896 where the tracks were realigned to allow a much gentler curve towards Blackpool. Poulton Station was re-sited to the west along the new line.
The old station remained as a goods station until 1968, accessed only from the south. In 1899 a new Blackpool to Fleetwood curve was also opened and by the turn of the century there were 19 services a day using it.
Back in 1893, the old Poulton junction had been the site of the Fylde’s first fatal train crash. It occurred when a short excursion train returning from Blackpool to Stockport became derailed at speed on the curve. The driver and two passengers were killed, and the cause was attributed to the driver going too fast.
As the Fylde Coast developed as a popular destination to visit, it also became a sought-after place to live. By the 1890s, the area, particularly Lytham and St Annes, was home to many wealthy businessmen who commuted each day by train to Manchester.
Apparently, it was a Mr Harold Bowman of St Annes who first suggested the club carriage in the mid-1890s. The idea, which was readily accepted by the L&YR, was that in return for a guaranteed number of first-class season tickets purchased at a higher-than-normal rate, an open saloon carriage* would be attached to the daily commuter train from the Fylde Coast to Manchester Victoria.
Use of this carriage would then be open to a small club of around 50 people who wanted to travel to their businesses in each other’s company. This was at a time when regular carriages offered compartments seating just 6 or 8 people.
2 (later 3) comfortable saloons with an attendant serving light refreshments were provided. Membership of the travelling club was quite exclusive and was governed by strict rules that forbade bad behaviour. Even unauthorised opening of the windows was not permitted.
(*The system continued until 1939 but was not revived after the war. However, even into the 1970s the fastest Manchester commuter train from Blackpool South retained the nickname “Club Train”.)
New Stations for Blackpool
In 1898 Blackpool Talbot Road was remodelled. The rebuilt station comprised of two train sheds and a terminal building. The main building housed 6 platforms, but another 10 platforms further east (in what was almost a separate station) were provided for summer only.
This development was quickly followed by work to rebuild Blackpool Central, where a new station was opened in 1903 with more than 20 platforms. The new station included a cab approach covered in ornamental iron work, and a 3-storey station building made from red Accrington brick and topped by a clock tower.
Busiest Station in Europe
1903 saw the opening of Blackpool Waterloo Road (later Blackpool South) and what was called the Marton line, a direct link line from Kirkham to Blackpool which saved 5 miles from the roundabout route via St Annes. This effectively quadrupled the line from Kirkham to Blackpool Central. The two routes met at Waterloo Road.
The final part of the picture came in 1902-4 when more improvements to Preston station meant that Blackpool’s access by rail was improved again. Visitor numbers continued to grow and during the Edwardian summers Blackpool Central became the busiest station in Europe.
Rise of the Railmotors
Blackpool had one of the first electric tramways in the world. The system dated from 1885 and is still in operation today. By 1903, after a false start with gas, electric trams had also reached Lytham. As in other parts of the UK, this modern form of transport quickly became a competitor to the railway.
One of the L&YR’s responses to tram competition was the introduction of the railmotor, a lightweight railcar, comprising of a railway carriage with a steam traction unit integrated into it. The railmotor could be driven from both ends and could be turned around at termini quickly. The idea was to provide cheaper and more frequent services often with extra added halts.
The first railmotors in the Fylde were introduced between Blackpool North and Fleetwood in 1908. Extra halts were opened at Burn Naze in the same year and at Poulton Curve in 1909. Railmotors were then introduced between Lytham and Blackpool Central in 1913 with extra stops at Gillett’s Crossing north of St Annes and Burlington Road south of South Shore.
War and Peace
When war broke out in August 1914, Blackpool was in the middle of its summer season. The season was interrupted but initially continued almost as normal; interest in holidays only began to wane when casualties began to mount in France.
The resort with its wide beaches and plentiful accommodation saw some use as a base for military training. Although holiday traffic did not cease in the war years completely, it was much reduced. In 1916 South Shore station closed
As soon as the conflict was over, prosperity began to return and with (initially at least) full employment in the Lancashire cotton industry, the resort did well. Blackpool also found that many of the soldiers who had been accommodated in the war wanted to return and its appeal began to widen.
As far as the railways was concerned, there were few changes in the 1920s. Grouping in 1923 saw the end of the L&YR/LNWR partnership that had lasted since 1849 and meant that all of the Fylde’s railway network came under the new London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS).
There was a tragedy in November 1924, when an express passenger train from Liverpool Exchange to Blackpool Central derailed between Moss Side and Lytham. The cause was a tyre on the engine failing due to metal fatigue. Three traincrew and fourteen passengers were killed in what remains the worst accident in the Fylde to this day.
Blackpool & Fylde Coast Express
As the Fylde coast’s population grew so did the need for trains to London. Cecil J Allen, writing in his book “Titled Trains of Britain” in 1946 claims that the introduction of the named “Blackpool and Fylde Coast Express” in the 1920s was due to the fact a director of the new LMS lived in Blackpool.
The introduction of the new service (not the first ever direct train to the capital, of course) allowed the Fylde-based businessman to make a day trip to London with a whole 4 hours available for meetings.
In the 1920s and 1930s the train, normally comprising 7 or 8 coaches including a restaurant car, left Blackpool Central at 8:25am, stopped at St Annes, Ansdell, Lytham and Kirkham before leaving Preston at 9:08am. It was scheduled for a non-stop run from Crewe and was due into Euston at 12:50pm.
The “up” journey time of 4 hours and 25 minutes was the fastest ever. The “down” train took about 20 minutes longer, leaving Euston at 5:10pm and being back into Blackpool Central just before 10pm.
By the 1930s, the Fylde’s holiday coast was getting between 6 and 7 million visitors a year. Most of these tourists continued to use rail to reach the resorts. On one day in July 1936 more than 650 trains passed Kirkham on their way to and from the coast.
Blackpool’s catchment area had also widened considerably since the First World War. Birmingham, for example, was sending more excursion trains to Blackpool than it sent to all the other British resorts combined.
Nevertheless, by the 1930s the threat of road competition was growing. The 1938 August bank holiday saw 450 trains bring holidaymakers into Blackpool, but alongside them were also 6,000 motor buses.
Although the decade had started with a new station at Squires Gate opening in 1931, it was also marked by the first serious closures; Singleton was the first in 1932, followed by Lea Road in 1938. The railmotor halts Gillett’s Crossing, and Burlington Road went in 1939.
In 1938 another redevelopment plan for Blackpool Central was published; it was ambitious and would have resulted in the station being rebuilt after only 35 years. In the end the designs were abandoned due to the start of the Second World War in September 1939.
Holiday visitors would return to the resort in their millions after the conflict, but for the railways, the boom was almost over.
1940-2020: Decline, Stagnation & Electrification
Station List (1880-1939)
NB – All station names are the current or final ones. Opening dates in bold indicate a station opened with the line itself. Stations shown as OPEN were open in December 1939.
North Fylde (Preston to Fleetwood & Blackpool North)
|Kirkham & Wesham||1840||OPEN||Rebuilt 1890 / Renamed from Kirkham 1906|
|Poulton le Fylde 1||1840||1896||Open as goods station until 1968|
|Poulton le Fylde 2||1896||OPEN|
|Thornton Cleveleys 1||1865||1927||Re-sited in 1927|
|Thornton Cleveleys 2||1927||OPEN|
|Layton||1867||OPEN||Opened as Bispham renamed 1938|
|Blackpool North||1846||OPEN||Renamed from Talbot Road in 1932|
South Fylde (Kirkham to Lytham & Blackpool)
|Ansdell & Fairhaven 1||1872||1903||Relocated 1903|
|Ansdell & Fairhaven 2||1903||OPEN|
|St Annes on the Sea||1873||OPEN|
|Blackpool South||1903||OPEN||Renamed from Waterloo Road 1932|