With the advent of steam powered mills there was need to bring coal and other supplies into the valleys and take out the finished products of the industry. The local mill owners had only horses and carts, or pack horses so were at a considerable competitive disadvantage with their competitors in Keighley, where there was both a canal and railway.
So they built a railway from Keighley, to where the Midland Railway Bradford/Leeds – Skipton line had opened in 1847, over the 5 miles into the valleys of the Worth and Bridgehouse Beck to the villages of Oakworth , Haworth and Oxenhope. There were over a hundred worsted mills that required serving, but few were adjacent to the Railway due in the main to a combination of geography and historical circumstances. The mill owners were only interested in obtaining the benefit of the Railway, so they arranged for the operation of trains to be undertaken on a Victorian form of ‘franchising’ by the Midland Railway. This company eventually bought out the KWVR Company in 1886. The Midland amalgamated with the London & North Western, Caledonian and several small companies in 1923, and the branch became a tiny part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1924. In turn, in 1948, the LMS became part of British Railways (BR).
The Railway’s demise is frequently portrayed as being due to the decline of the local textile industry; this is far from the reality. The introduction of individual electric motors to each loom in the mills after the Second World War put paid to the industrial coal traffic. After that, all that remained was domestic fuel, although this was for the time being, considerable. Meanwhile, developments with the internal combustion engine, particuarly the diesel, meant that motor buses could now reach the villages high on the sides and tops of the valleys, whereas previously, like the Railway, they could only serve the bottom of the valleys. This meant that local people were offered an almost door to door service by the bus, but the train dropped them often a very long way from home, facing a walk up a very steep hill with prams and shopping.
The only remaining trade was what we would call commuter traffic to the engineering works around Keighley Station, which were a long way from the bus terminus in Keighley, Vale Mills next to Oakworth station and remote from a bus service still provided substantial commuter traffic also. Domestic coal remained, but that was falling rapidly as central heating became more common, as did day-old chicks from Oakworth, where there was a hatchery, and which travelled in their tens of thousands in cardboard boxes, chirruping away on every train.
But it was not enough. An agreement between British Railways and the bus company put paid to the passenger traffic, which ended in December 1961 and the small goods traffic could not survive by itself, so ceased in June 1962.
But the service would be missed. Many lived or worked near to and used the Railway, particularly those in the bottom of the valleys and, to this day, domestic coal is a thriving business, sold still from the Goods Yard at Haworth to people who live beyond Haworth, where that and wood are the only means of fuel. So local people and railway enthusiasts joined forces to try and save the Railway. A Preservation Society was formed and after many years of volunteer struggle the line re-opened to passenger traffic on 29th June 1968. The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway has been re-born.
The steep gradient up the Worth Valley from the Keighley terminus has been a challenge for locomotives ever since the line opened on 15th April 1867. The sound of a steam locomotives tackling this climb echoes from the steep sides of the valley, while great clouds of exhaust add drama to the scene. Many of the woollen mills that once stood close to the line have been demolished, but a few remain as reminders that the textile industry was the reason why the line was built. Like the railway, the mills relied on coal, and the trains were able to bring hundreds of tons up the valley each week to keep the looms working by steam power. The five mile journey is a powerful reminder of our industrial heritage, as well as being a unique way of enjoying the beautiful countryside immortalised by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë.
There is so much to explore in Brontë Country as it spans across the Worth Valley to include Keighley, Ingrow, Damems, Oakworth, Haworth and Oxenhope. There is no better way to explore what the Valley has to offer than by taking the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway to carry you along the line and into the heart of the beautiful and inspiring Brontë Country.
Oxenhope is a Pennine village set in beautiful countryside and surrounded by windswept moors, hills and deep valleys. You can explore this Victorian mill village, famous for its annual Straw Race, by following the town trail and then stop for lunch at one of the local pubs.
Haworth sits on top of the hill, perched so as to look down into the Worth Valley to the north and the Bridgehouse Beck valley to the east. Later development, mostly Victorian and post Railway, has caused it sympathetically to tumble down the hills to the east and up the far valley side. All around, it is surrounded by the most dramatic of moorlands.
The village is most famous for being the place which inspired the Brontë sisters to write their world famous novels. The Brontës wrote whilst living at the Parsonage when their father was the parson at the church of St Michael and All Angels. Attracted by the aura created by Bronte’s, the village is now a hive of visitor activity, a long way from its humble roots.
For more information about Haworth and the local area visit the Discover Haworth and Bronte Country website.
Stanbury is slightly off the main track but is an ideal place for those wanting to explore the outdoors and enjoy some of the excellent walks in the area. It is an a popular place to start and end walks, routes from here include those to Top Withens (often credited with inspiring the house in ‘Wuthering Heights’) and the Brontë Waterfalls.
Nearby Ponden Hall (now a private house offering bed and breakfast) dates from 1634 and is thought to be the house Emily called Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights. Once back in Stanbury you will find the aptly named Wuthering Heights Inn, ready to welcome you with real ales and homemade food, along with the equally well named, Friendly Inn.
Oakworth is most famous for being the railway station featured in 1970 film ‘The Railway Children’, there is an enjoyable guided walk taking in all the locations from the film, for which a leaflet can be bought for a few coppers at the Railway’s shops or Tourist Office in Haworth. More or less devoid of the tourists who inhabit Haworth across the valley, the village is a good base for enjoying the outdoors with a selection of walks starting here.
Damems station served the mill close by. It is the UK’s smallest station and is only one coach in length. Would be passengers must ask the crossing keeper to stop the train if they wish to join, or the guard if they wish to alight. The station has featured in the BBC’s ‘Born and Bred’ a Sunday evening TV soap.
Ingrow West is situated a short ride from Keighley and is home to RAIL STORY, a collaborative plan between the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, the Vintage Carriages Trust and the Bahamas Locomotive Society to develop the site progressively giving visitors greater opportunities to learn about and understand about the preservation and conservation of our railway heritage. For more information about RAIL STORY, visit the dedicated RAIL STORY website. The Ingrow Loco Museum has an amazing selection of railway memorabilia and the Ingrow Museum of Rail Travel has provided railway carriages for over 70 films and television programmes.
Ingrow is a suburb of Keighley, where the tram service ended and the trolley-buses (known locally as ‘tracklesses’ started when briefly they ran in competition with the Railway to Oxenhope. It is said that they caused the lights to go out in Oxenhope on the rare occasions that one actually managed to make it up the hill from Ingrow and the service ceased very quickly.
The Railway’s site at Ingrow is actually much larger in itself and has at least as much to offer the visitor, as many other places which market themselves as ‘Railway Heritage Centres’. The station is a gem, moved here stone by stone from Foulridge in Lancashire, about 12 miles away and each of the two museums are of award winning standard
Keighley is the start of the railway and a gateway to Brontë Country. The town has a great selection of museums including Cliffe Castle, East Riddlesden Hall and the Police Museum. The town is home to the Airedale Shopping Centre and Indoor Market so perfect for a spot of retail therapy.
Download this free visitor’s guide to the Worth Valley, click HERE