Through the southwest area of the Peak District National Park can be found a small river known as the Manifold, with it's tributary, the Hamps. Although not as famous as nearby Dovedale, the valleys through which the rivers run are of no less greater beauty. The rivers are smaller than the nearby Dove, but run in wider valleys, through a more remote part of Staffordshire, though access can be gained from the A523 at Waterhouses, at the southern end, and by minor roads at Hulme End, a short distance from the tourist village of Hartington. The whole valley is traversed by a footpath opened by Staffordshire County Council on July 23rd 1937. It is this path that follows the track-bed of the Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway (L&MVLR) which ran for 30 years between 1904 & 1934.
The L&MVLR was the narrow gauge (2ft 6in) section of the "Leek Light Railways" authorized in 1898. The normal standard gauge line running from Leekbrook Junction (known then as Cheddleton Junction) was a North Stafford Railway (NSR) Branch. The L&MVLR was a private concern, but was worked by the NSR on a percentage basis, between Waterhouses and Hulme End.
The Engineer to the line was Mr. E. R. Calthrop, whose experience in these matters had largely been in India, which is why the L&M looked so "Colonial" in appearance, especially in the carriages and the loco's, complete with large headlamps (Although never used). The loco's were designed to have cow catchers, but these were never fitted. The passenger coaches of which there were 4, two first class and two brake composite 3rd's, were painted a beautiful primrose yellow with chocolate lining, although this later became standard LMS maroon on amalgamation. The loco's (E.R. Calthrop, No1 & J.B. Earle, No2) began life in all over Chocolate, lined gold & black, which later became Maroon with straw lining, then finally in LMS days, just plain loco black. (The picture here compares the 4-8-4T "Sir Alex" loco with the 2-6-4T of the L&M. The likeness is obvious)
There was little other rolling stock on the line, one box van for carrying goods in, 2 open wagons which could be covered over, these doubling for passenger carrying in summer months, and 5 of Mr. Calthrop's special invention "transporter wagons". These consisted of 4 short wheel based and 1 long wheel based vehicles, whereby normal gauge wagons could be carried over the narrow gauge sections. Awnings were provided for these it is said, for extra passenger carrying capacity in Whit week in 1905 where 5000 passengers were carried. The main use of these transporter wagons was for the conveyance of standard gauge milk wagons to Ecton Dairy, and coal wagons to various stations along the route. Box vans were not unknown either.
The Journey As It Was (Excerpt taken from R.Keys & L.Porter's book, The Manifold and it's Light Railway)
One boarded the train at Leek, it may be in winter a single coach, or on a Bank Holiday a train of nine six-wheelers, with stops at Bradnop, Ipstones and Winkhill, crossing the 1000ft. Datum, highest point on the North Stafford system, and descended to Waterhouses. There the narrow gauge train would be drawn up, with the engine positioned in reverse. The initial gradient out of Waterhouses was 1 in 40 down, and there were fears that on the return journey the engine, low on water, might burn out the firebox crown. However, some time later, E.R Calthrop was sent away for repair and returned "wrong way round" and was tried out with much trepidation but without mishap, so that latterly there was one engine facing each way: there was of course no facility on the line for turning the engines around.
Waterhouses station stood well above the village and was approached by a drive from the main road (A523), and the platforms reached by steps from this, which then continued to climb to serve the NSR goods yard. There was much transfer at Waterhouses of milk churns (about 300 daily) coming from the farms in the district and from the Ecton Dairy, so the interchange of the trains was an energetic activity for 25 minutes or so, involving many men and barrows. From 1919 a daily milk train ran from Waterhouses to London for this traffic. Latterly milk tanks were used and transferred by the transporter wagons and Waterhouses platforms became more peaceful. Closure of the Ecton Dairy in 1933 really spelt the end of the line as a viable undertaking.
Down the hill from Waterhouses the first obstacle was the crossing of the main road, and here the fireman opened the gates, the train then drifted across and waited again while the guard returned to close them. Then the train was off. Those now traversing the footpath will notice many bends, 40 of them, some quite sharp, and the river bridges of which there were 24. These had footways for walkers, the track itself being left open between the sleepers, American style. Sparrowlee was the first "station"- but Sparrowlee as a place did not exist! Approaching Beeston Tor the valley becomes more rocky and less wooded. Here was the farm of shareholder Mr. Wood, who travelled both the first and the last trains, and who ran a refreshment room for those alighting and wishing to visit St. Bertram's Cave, where a Saxon hoard of coins, brooches, etc., was found in 1924. Latterly the Waterhouses signal box found a home here as a hen-house!
The first contact with the outer world came at Weag's Bridge which carried the road from Grindon to Wetton over the river. Here Grindon station was built. Thors cave now looms on the skyline and soon we are at the station, which also in early days boasted a refreshments room, which can be seen on the photographs. Now came the most famous and most photographed part of the line which one came across in pictures in LMS compartments all over the country- "River, Train and Cliff". A little further on another road crossed at Redhurst, and this proved a handy assembly point for farmers to bring milk to put on the train; so a milk platform was made and later the crossing acquired the status of "Halt". Not that it made much difference from "stations", because if no passengers were seen the train would cruise gently through at it's maximum 15 mph without stopping - as for passengers wishing to alight, the guard, who issued and collected all tickets would know if there was need to stop for this purpose.
Wetton Mill was regarded as a halfway house, and a passing loop existed, though never used as such. The scene, with road to the station crossing the river by a ford was most picturesque.
Swainsley Hall, home of the Wardle family, company shareholders, had to be spared the intrusion of a railway and so there was a short tunnel under the grounds. The tunnel looks a little out of proportion because space in the height gauge was left for the passage of large wagons on the transporter trucks. Once through the tunnel one reached Butterton station, most beautifully situated, and then came to Ecton and the Dairy which was the raison d'etre of the railway for many years. Here the engine would leave the train and wander down the dairy sidings to collect or deliver the milk van or tank, so there was time to inspect the old copper mines and other local features- manifold shunting was leisurely so one had good warning of intention to depart, as well as the warning whistle! By now one was out of the valley and set for the mile run to Hulme End, headquarters of the line, and with much appearance of bustle and activity. There were sheds for the engines and stock, and the only signals on the line other than at Waterhouses, also a cycle shed, coaling and water stage and so on. But outside the station, little, except the Light Railway Hotel (Which still keeps it's name) and the prospect of a 3 mile walk to Hartington, the nearest sizable place. Many of the station buildings survive as County Council depot, and until recently one could see the unique buffer-stop at the end of the line : unique because the trains has a combined buffer and coupler in the center of the buffer beam, to avoid buffer-locking on the sharp curves.
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