The Fylde’s network expanded from a single line linking Preston with Fleetwood. Branches to Lytham and Blackpool were soon completed. As traffic started to grow, Blackpool’s development into a significant resort began.
First line to Fleetwood
The development of railways in the Fylde can be traced back to one man: Peter Hesketh. Born in 1801 to a wealthy landowning family, Hesketh inherited land and Rossall Hall near present-day Fleetwood in the 1820s. He enjoyed a meteoric rise in local politics: he was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1830 and became a member of Parliament for Preston in 1832.
Educated at Oxford, he spent time at the growing seaside resorts on the south coast of England in his youth. He became interested in creating something similar in the north and decided that the River Wyre estuary, close to Rossall Hall, would be the perfect location.
In 1830, in his capacity as High Sheriff, he attended the opening ceremony of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. He was impressed and soon decided to put the two ideas together: to build a new resort and link it to the growing railway network. In the early 1830s negotiations were conducted in Preston and a company formed.
His ideas soon grew from creating a town designed solely as a resort for sea-bathing to building a port with ferry links as well. Hesketh figured that not only was there a market for travel to the Isle of Man, Ireland, but also for Scotland too. At the time it was thought impossible to build a railway through the difficult terrain to link Preston with Glasgow, so a railway to a steamer port on the Wyre with a link to Ardrossan (close to Glasgow) made perfect sense.
He decided to give the town the name of his maternal ancestors: Fleetwood. In 1831 he changed his own name to Hesketh-Fleetwood. He hired a friend, celebrated architect, Decimus Burton to design the town. By 1835 the plans were ready.
Meanwhile, the railway plan had not progressed well. Estimates of construction costs had spiralled out of control and the company had sold fewer shares than anticipated. Hesketh-Fleetwood stepped in to organise and guarantee the Preston and Wyre Railway Company. It was a move that probably ensured his eventual downfall.
Construction of the new town and the railway began in 1836.
The Railway Opens
The Preston & Wyre Railway (P&WR) opened in July 1840. On the opening day two locomotives, North Star and Duchess, hauled 400 guests from Preston for lunch at the new station house in Fleetwood.
The line (approx. 20 miles long) began at a new station at Maudlands in Preston, although a link was soon provided to the main (and current) Union station at Preston. When it opened, the line had two intermediate stations: Kirkham (approx. 8 miles) and Poulton (approx. 15 miles). Although it had been generally easy to engineer, the last two miles into Fleetwood crossed a tidal inlet and had presented significant problems (The L&YR created a diversion inland after 1846).
The port soon boasted steamer links with the Isle of Man, Barrow, Belfast (up to 4 sailings a week by 1845) as wells as Ardrossan. The whole trip from London to Glasgow via Fleetwood came down to 27 hours.
In 1841 the North Euston Hotel became the fourth hotel to open in Fleetwood. Its name, suggested by Hesketh-Fleetwood himself, referred to the journey that travellers through the town on their way to Scotland would make, departing from Euston station in London, staying at the North Euston in Fleetwood.
The new railway was successful and in the first month expectations were exceeded and over 20,000 passengers were carried. In 1842 two new stations were opened between Preston and Kirkham at Lea Road and Salwick and the first excursion trains to Fleetwood ran.
For Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood though, things went from bad to worse. To pay the debts of the construction costs of the town and the line he was forced to sell off most of his property including Rossall Hall (which became a famous school). He was forced off the board of the railway in 1846, gave up being Preston’s MP in 1847 and retired to London.
In 1847 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert travelled through the town on their way to Scotland. They were among the last travellers to use the route; the railway linking Preston and Carlisle over Shap (today’s West Coast Main line) opened in 1848.
The P&WR had been left underfunded. In 1846 it was leased to the Manchester & Leeds Railway which soon became the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&YR). By 1849 the line had passed into the joint ownership of the L&YR and London and North Western Railway (LNWR) where it would stay for more than 70 years.
Branch Line to Lytham
The history of Lytham (twelve miles south of Fleetwood) had become inexorably linked with the Clifton family in 1606 when, after passing through several owners, the manor of Lytham had been bought by Cuthbert Clifton. The current Lytham Hall was completed in 1757 and the family established a dominance over the area that would last until the middle of the 20th century.
Lytham grew slowly into what was, by the end of the 18th century, large enough to be called a town. By the 1830s it had a promenade and, having a much bigger population than tiny Blackpool, was much the largest settlement on the coast.
It had begun to attract the wealthier classes who were beginning to follow the new habit of sea bathing as an alternative to visiting inland spa towns for health reasons. Encouraged by the Cliftons, several hotels had already been constructed.
When the plan for a line to Fleetwood was first mooted, a line to Lytham and its docks was offered in competition, eventually, as we have seen, the plan to Fleetwood won, but the idea of a line linking Lytham remained. The line was finally constructed as a branch of the Fleetwood line, and it opened in February 1846.
The new railway, about 4.5 miles long, was initially single track. There was also a short spur to Lytham Docks, but the only intermediate station was at Moss Side. The branch left the main P&WR line at Lytham Junction about a mile west of Kirkham. The junction was almost at right angles with provision made for both Fleetwood facing (added later) and Preston facing chords.
Branch Line to Blackpool
Blackpool (between Lytham and Fleetwood) had started out as just a few farms on the coast but by the middle of the 18th century it had also begun to attract the wealthier classes pursuing sea bathing.
In 1781 a private road had been built, a regular stagecoach from Manchester had started and the first hotels had opened. By the 1801 census the town had grown to almost 500 residents. Growth was accelerated in the early 19th century partly encouraged by investment by two locals, Henry, and Robert Banks.
However, when the P&WR line was being planned to Fleetwood, Blackpool was overlooked. It was thought that traffic heading to Blackpool from the nearest railhead at Poulton would only amount to about 10% of the traffic and 3% of the receipts, roughly about 4000 customers annually.
In the event, 1840 proved to be a bumper season for Blackpool with tourists willing to change at Poulton and continue the journey to the sea by road.
Plans were soon afoot to create a branch line to bridge the three and a half miles to Blackpool. It opened in April 1846, although the new station at Talbot Road was not quite finished by the time it opened.
With the Preston & Wyre Railway now in the hands of the L&YR/LNWR and Hesketh Fleetwood out of the picture, Blackpool began to steal a march.
The railway began to organise excursions for Sunday bathing from Manchester and even further afield. Typical scheduling was 6am from Manchester and 6pm return from Blackpool. In addition to trains organised by the railway, groups such as choirs, and Sunday schools began to lay on their own excursions.
First class fares were one third of stagecoaches, so the middle-class market was attacked, but it was really the demand for third class that boomed.
Many of these early third-class excursion trains were formed of cattle trucks and other dubious stock, but they were very successful. They were as cheap as 3 shillings for men and 1 shilling and 6 pence for women and children. The 1840s saw an upturn in the Lancashire economy and these rates were less than a day’s wages for a working man.
Before long, Blackpool was getting ten times the number of visitors it had before the railway. Along with the new Sunday traffic came social problems; there were reports of shouting and singing and bathing without recourse to machines as well as allegations that the sabbath was being destroyed.
Soon the cheap fares began to be extended from bathing Sundays to Summer weekends including the Lancashire Whitsuntide holidays, with visitors often spending from Saturday to Monday in cottage lodgings.
Whilst other resorts still tended to try to attract the upper classes, Blackpool did not. One reason for this was that most of the other seaside towns remained under the influence of the landed gentry, whilst on the Fylde coast the Clifton family, the prominent landowners, seemed to prioritise Lytham and left Blackpool to its own devices.
Over the next few decades, Blackpool continued to grow as a resort aimed more at the working classes. The railway helped to define its catchment area; easier rail links to Manchester and eastern Lancashire meant that increasingly the town’s visitors came from those areas.
In the 1870s mill owners were forced to grant their workers holidays and the resort’s prospects further improved. Between 1860 and 1870 visitors arriving by train grew almost doubled to 2 million.
Nevertheless, it seemed that the railway was not making too much effort to keep up with the demand. Apart from the doubling of the Blackpool branch in the late 1860s and new stations at Bispham (now Layton) in 1865 and at Singleton in 1870, there had been no real improvements to the line. Blackpool’s original 1846 station (renamed Blackpool Talbot Road in 1872) was unable to cope well with the summer crowds.
The Blackpool & Lytham Railway
Whilst the L&YR/LNWR continued to operate from Preston to Fleetwood, to Blackpool, and to Lytham, in the early 1860s a new company gained the right to construct a railway linking Blackpool with Lytham.
The Blackpool and Lytham Railway (B&LR) opened their line in April 1863. In Lytham it used a different terminus station (B on the map below) on the other side of the small town from the original 1846 station (A on the map).
The line was around 7 miles long and terminated in Blackpool at Hounds Hill (later Blackpool Central) closer to the promenade than the original 1846 Blackpool station. The map below shows both the original Blackpool station (A) and Hounds Hill station (B) shortly after the latter opened.
With its two independent termini, the short B&LR line was not linked to any other part of the railway network. When it opened it only had one intermediate station at South Shore. For several years, this station*, situated on Lytham Road, remained at the edge of Blackpool’s built-up area; going south from here was mostly sand dunes all the way to Lytham.
Another station, Stony Hill, was opened a couple of years later in 1865, followed by another one a little further south along the sand dunes at Cross Slack in 1870. Stony Hill was closed in 1872 but Cross Slack was relocated in 1873 and eventually became St Annes-on-the-Sea.
(*The later Waterloo Road station (current Blackpool South) was opened to the north of South Shore in 1903. South Shore itself closed in 1916. Between 1913 and 1939 there was a halt, Gillet’s Crossing in the vicinity of Cross Slack, and another, Burlington Road, south of South Shore. The site of the latter is now Blackpool Pleasure Beach station. The current Squires Gate station opened in 1931.)
South Fylde Line
The new line was not a commercial success and in 1871 the B&LR was purchased by the L&YR/LNWR. Between 1872-4 work was undertaken to join it to the existing Lytham branch line and then double it. This effectively created a second route from Preston and Kirkham to Blackpool. It became known as the South Fylde line.
At the same time as the link between the lines was being created another station at Wrea Green was added between Moss Side and Kirkham. From there a new cut off (slightly to the east) was built to shorten the route between Kirkham and Lytham.
The original 1846 P&WR station at Lytham became the goods station whilst the B&LR station* was modified to become the through station.
(*Lytham station remains in this location to this day)
With the line between Lytham and Blackpool now in the process of being linked into the network, work began on providing it with two more stations.
Ansdell and Fairhaven, just over a mile west of Lytham, was opened in 1872. It was built close to “Starr Hills”, a house once occupied by Richard Ansdell, a famous Victorian painter, from whom the area gets its name.
In 1873 the Clifton family, who still owned most of the land between Lytham and Blackpool, built a chapel to serve the residents of the hamlet of Heyhouses. They dedicated it to St Anne.
A year later, Elijah Hargreaves, a wealthy Lancashire mill owner from Rawtenstall, leased land in the vicinity of the new church from the Cliftons and created a company aimed at developing the area into a new resort. He called the enterprise the St Annes-on-the-Sea Land and Building Company. The St Annes Hotel became the first proper building in the new town* in 1875.
In 1873 Cross Slack Station was relocated to the current position of St Annes station (3 miles from Lytham / 4 miles from Blackpool) and in 1875 it was formally renamed St Annes-on-the-Sea.
(*St Annes grew and prospered over the next few decades; in 1922 it merged with its older neighbour to become Lytham St Annes.)
In 1876 Hounds Hill was renamed Blackpool Central. But for a small but important addition to come a quarter of a century later, the railway network of the Fylde was now complete.
By 1880 the numbers arriving in Blackpool by train each year had risen to 3 million, yet still local businessmen sensed that the railway, who were also the main promoters of travel to the resort through advertising, were resting on their laurels. In 1879 a committee to promote the town was formed; the L&YR/LNWR would now come under increasing pressure to improve things.
Station List (1840-1879)
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 still open in December 1879
North Fylde – Preston to Fleetwood / Blackpool
|Poulton le Fylde 1||1840||OPEN|
|Blackpool Talbot Rd.
||1846||OPEN||Opened as Blackpool, later Blackpool North|
South Fylde – Kirkham to Lytham / Blackpool
|Lytham 1||1846||1874||Open for goods until 1963|
|Ansdell & Fairhaven||1872||OPEN|
|St Annes-on-the-Sea||1873||OPEN||Renamed from Cross Slack in 1875|
|Cross Slack||1870||1873||Relocated to “current St Annes” in 1873|
|Blackpool Central||1863||OPEN||Opened as Hounds Hill renamed 1876|