John Speller's Web Pages Leeds & Thirsk and Leeds Northern Railways

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Leeds & Thirsk Railway

The Leeds & Thirsk Railway was incorporated by an Act of 21 July 1845 to build a line from Leeds to Thirsk on the Great North of England Railway (now the East Coast Main Line) with connections to the Leeds & Bradford Railway at Bramley and Holbeck, and to the GNofER at Thirsk, together with two short branches to Harrogate and Knaresborough. Construction began on 20 October 1845. On 16 July 1846 a second Act gave the Leeds & Thirsk Railway powers to build a line from Northallerton to Billingham on the Stockton & Hartlepool Railway. The Leeds & Thirsk Railway opened from Leeds to Thirsk on 9 July 1848, and the Northallerton to Billingham line opened as far as Stockton on 15 May 1852. The Stockton to Billingham section was never built. The Scottish engineer, Thomas Grainger, FRSE (1793-1852), the great-frandfather of the composer Percy Grainger, was the Engineer of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway. Another name associated with this company was Samuel Smiles, who was Assistant Secretary of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway and later became the Secretary of the South Eastern Railway; he was the author of The Lives of the Engineers.

Leeds Northern Railway

The Leeds & Thirsk Railway reincorporated under an Act of 1851 as the Leeds Northern Railway and undertook to build an extension of their line from Melmerby, a few miles north of Ripon, to Northallerton. This line was also engineered by Thomas Grainger, who died in an accident on the line a month after it opened. The line opened on 2 June 1852. This section of the line was originally single track and was not doubled until 1901.

Starbeck was originally the central hub of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway, but with the opening of the Melmerby to Northallerton line the center of gravity shifted somewhat toward Harrogate. Nevertheless, the major locomotive shed in the area, serving Harrogate and Knaresborough, remained at Starbeck until the end. The Leeds Northern Railway had its locomotive works in Leeds, just west of Leeds Central and north of Holbeck Junction.

In 1854 the York & North Midland Railway, the Malton & Driffield Railway, the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway, the West Hartlepool Harbour & Railways Co., and the Leeds Northern Railway all amalgamated to form the North Eastern Railway, which became the largest constituent of the London & North Eastern Railway at the Grouping of 1923.

Rather curiously British Railways under the Beeching Axe chose to close the more direct Harrogate to Northallerton section of the line, and to route traffic east through Knaresborough to York on the former York & North Midland Railway's Harrogate Branch. This admittedly meant that there were fewer miles of track to maintain, but it made for a longer and more tortuous route for Leeds to Newcastle expresses, and deprived the City of Ripon of its rail service. Passenger service was withdrawn on 6 March 1967, with goods following on 5 September 1969.

Map of the Leeds & Thirsk and Leeds Northern Railways
The 21-arch Arthington Viaduct over the Wharfe Valley near Arthington Junction. Image copyright Tom Blackwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
North Eastern Railway Leeds Express passing through Pannal station in around 1905 behind a Worsdell "M-1" Class (LNER Class "D-17") 4-4-0
Newby Wiske station in around 1910
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