This walk commenced in the Community Centre Car Park which in earlier times had been crucial to the story of the railway history of Ingleton. Just as the walk was about to commence the dark threatening clouds decided not to threaten us any more, but to drench us instead.
In the Middle Ages our starting point had been used as a tenter field where cloth was stretched as it dried, and in more recent times it had served as Ingleton Railway Station, in which it played an important role in the rise and fall of the viaduct. We walked gingerly down the slippery Brow, which in earlier times had served as a rubbish tip for the villagers. There does not seem to have been too much concern for the welfare of the people down near the River Greta, in the area which is and was known locally as ‘the Bottoms’. In the Bottoms, on the site of what is now the Pottery, there was an ancient fulling mill, known as Walk’s Mill or Walkers Mill, dating back as far as the 13th C. This is where the cloth was beaten into shape originally by human feet (hence the name), later by water-driven blocks (and later still by steam engines) prior to being stretched on the tenter frames both in what is now the Community Centre car park and also on the site of the caravan park on the opposite side of the river.
We sheltered from the inclement weather under the mighty arches of the viaduct, where we listened to the story of skulduggery, greed, hope and bloody mindedness, which led to the construction of the viaduct, which could and probably should have become the main line through to Scotland. It eventually fell into disuse, in stark contrast to the Settle-Carlisle route, which blossomed. In the era of railwaymania, everyone was piling in, wanting a slice of the action. In the early 1840s, The Leeds & Bradford Railway put in a line from Shipley which went to Skipton. The (Little) North Western Railway (NWR, which operated in the Craven Area) saw this as an opportunity perhaps to connect the West Riding Industrial towns via Skipton with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, (LCR) as a means of getting a direct line from the West Riding through to Scotland. Parliamentary consent was obtained to start work, and the intention was that the line would go through Ingleton and make use of the yet to be built viaduct. At the same time the LCR obtained Parliamentary approval for their proposal to build a route up the west coast, linking Lancaster with Carlisle, in the expectation that a line would be built through to Scotland.
By the end of 1848 a line had been built all the way through to Ingleton, at which point there was grave concern that there might be insufficient money to complete the link north of Ingleton. As a result worked stopped. At that time some of the foundation work on the viaduct had been completed, and quite a lot of work had been carried out on the stretch from Ingleton to Cowan Bridge. Rather than abandon the idea altogether, the NWR decided to build a line to link Clapham with Lancaster. This was not as direct a route as through Ingleton, but it nevertheless meant that passengers would be able ultimately to get through to Scotland (via Lancaster) and what is more, it was a lot cheaper. The first passengers arrived at Ingleton on the 31st July 1849, but the job was only half completed, because Ingleton was at that stage the terminus of the line. But just under a year later the Clapham, Lancaster line was completed, which in effect made the Ingleton Line redundant - save for very local traffic.
The dream of building the viaduct and getting the shortest possible route through to Scotland lived on, and the NWR applied once again to Parliament in 1854 for permission to build the line. No Act was forthcoming from Westminster. Then the LCR broke the hearts of the Directors of the NWR by successfully piloting an Act through Parliament in 1857. In the Act, Parliament insisted that L & C reimburse NWR for the work it had already carried out on the foundations, and for the work it had already carried out between Ingleton and Cowan Bridge. The L & C commenced work on the new line (and the viaduct) in the summer of 1858 and three years later on the 16th September 1861 the line was open for passenger transport - and it was at last possible to get through to Scotland by the ‘short route’ through Ingleton and over the viaduct.
Interestingly during the course of construction, despite the fact that hard hats were probably not available to the work force at the time, there was no loss of life nor were there any serious injuries. Whilst all this was going on the NWR was in effect taken over by the Midland Railway and rather confusingly the L & C was taken over by the London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR). Everything should have been plain sailing from then onwards - but petty jealousies and plain stupidity got in the way. The two Companies could not agree on the shared use of the Midland Railway Station (built on the Ingleton side of the River Greta) - and so in a fit of pique the LNWR built a second station on the north side of the viaduct (Thornton). Passengers arriving at Ingleton would in the early days have to carry their suitcases manually over the viaduct - and then to make matters worse the LNWR would apparently schedule their trains to leave for Carlisle and Scotland just minutes before the Midland trains would arrive at Ingleton. Midland got fed up with this situation and having failed to negotiate a sensible arrangement with LNWR, they sought and obtained an Act of Parliament authorising them to by-pass Ingleton and its viaduct by building a line from Settle to Carlisle using a new viaduct to be built at Ribblehead. This was not only a longer route, but given that the Ingleton viaduct had already been built, the additional cost of building the Settle-Carlisle line was enormous. After Midland’s Act was passed by Parliament, the LNWR came to their senses and offered reasonable terms to the Midland. These terms were accepted by Midland, who then went to Parliament for consent to ‘withdraw’ the Act. Parliament refused, and at a stroke it consigned the Ingleton Viaduct and its line to the scrap heap.
The building of the Settle-Carlisle line nearly bankrupted the Midland, but eventually the line opened on the 1st May 1876 - having taken 7 years to construct. Some 47 years later British Railways was reorganised and the two warring railway companies - the Midland and the LNWR - were forced to effectively merge. One direct result of this was the closure and demolition of Thornton Station. There was a little life yet left in the viaduct. It continued as a rural branch line until 1954 when a decision was made to keep the Settle-Carlisle line, not because it was more economical than the Ingleton line (because it was much more expensive to run), but because the Government at the time was persuaded that closure would have a calamitous effect on the communities served by the Settle-Carlisle line.
The last passenger train went over the viaduct on the 30th January 1954 when, for the last time, the locals dressed up in their finest Victorian clothes. And the train was accompanied to the music of the Kirkby in Lonsdale Band, which had accompanied the arrival of the first train more than a century earlier. The local Ingletonians were moved to sing Auld Lang Syne and no doubt many a tear was shed that day. There was still some life left in the old line, in that freight was carried until the Beeching Axe fell - the last train left in the early part of 1965.
Some of you may remember the bitterly cold winter of 1962/63. There was so much snow that the Settle-Carlisle line was blocked for a few weeks. The Ingleton line was still in reasonable condition so the main line to Carlisle was diverted through Ingleton and over the viaduct until the bad weather released its grip on the Settle-Carlisle line. After that the line was occasionally used by the pupils of Giggleswick , Sedbergh, Casterton, Cressbrook and Kirkby Lonsdale Schools. These schools arranged School Specials to take pupils to and from their learning establishments. Finally, as if to make sure that the line should not spark back into life, British Railways arranged for the removal of the railway tracks in 1967.
Since then the viaduct has in vain sought a role for itself. About 15 years ago, Rail Track sought a buyer for the viaduct. It was on offer at the bargain price of £1. Nobody appears to have risen to the bait - perhaps the potential liability for repairs and health and safety issues put off any prospective buyers. Then in 2000 the Government offered ‘Millennium’ money to communities. A proposal was made in Ingleton to open up the viaduct as a walkway. There was fierce opposition from some quarters, vandalism and an encouraging location for suicides being two of the concerns. In the end the only action taken was to tidy up and replace some of the railings on the viaduct. Now, whenever you look at the Ingleton Viaduct, you can say to yourself, I wonder what would have happened if
Having dwelt for so long on the history of the viaduct it is easy to forget that the walk did cover other areas of interest in Ingleton. We went to St Mary’s Church, built on a promontory overlooking the river and the viaduct. It is thought likely that in the dim and distant past, the site was used as a defensive position. The land is made up of glacial till, which in turn is constantly being undermined by the river below. The present church was built in 1886 with limestone from Skirwith Quarry and sandstone probably from Bentham. The architect was Cornelius Sherlock from Liverpool. There was a local builder by the name of Holmes and it is of course known that here was a strong Ingleton connection for Arthur Conan Doyle - so perhaps without Ingleton, Sherlock Holmes would never have been born! The church is built on poor foundations and has over the years been propped up more than once. There was apparently even some discussion in the 1960s as to whether or not the Church should be relocated owing to the problems with the foundations.
We quickly walked through the so-called ‘Market Place’ taking note of the bull ring, by which bulls were tethered before being cruelly beaten. Then onto the far end of the playground from where we could just about make out the Hoffmann Limekiln at Meal Bank Quarry. The Langcliffe Hoffmann Limekiln has been saved for future generations. The Ingleton version, besides being smaller than its cousin down the road, looks hopelessly down at heel and it can only be a question of time before it disintegrates.
We walked back to the Community Centre via the Swimming Pool, built in 1933. Fortunately for Ingleton the decision to build the pool coincided with the construction of the iron bridge over the Greta on the A65. One of the engineers for the bridge offered his advice on the construction side of the building of the Pool. Shortly after the work started, the miners from the Ingleton Colliery went on strike and they offered their services for the digging out of the Pool. The completed Pool was filled with water from the river by means of a 3 inch bore pipe. The operation took many hours to perform and the pipe was therefore replaced in 1936 with a 6 inch bore pipe, which speeded up the process.
A little further down the River we came to the site of the manorial corn mill which was demolished in 1780. One does not need quite as much imagination to work out what went on at the Cotton Mill on the opposite side of the river adjacent to the Guest House, which was the Mill Manager’s House. One can still make out the gable wall of the former Cotton Mill, which hangs uncomfortably off the end of the former Manager’s House.
Note: Much of the information regarding the history of the viaduct came from an excellent book The Ingleton Branch - A Lost Route to Scotland by Robert Western.