The Kirklees Light Railway opened to the public on the 19th October 1991 but the foundations of the line date back to the mid 19th century. A time of rapid expansion by railway companies which led to colourful politics and protectionism.
From Huddersfield to Barnsley was an area rich in textile mills and coal but relatively isolated from the new railways being built. Lying in this area were the villages of Clayton West and Skelmanthorpe. The first proposal for a railway through the communities was in 1846 linking Huddersfield to Rossington but this scheme failed in Parliament. In the following twenty years there were no fewer than 28 proposals to build a railway to or through Clayton West.
The catalyst finally saw action taken was when the London & North Western and Midland Railway’s challenged the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s stronghold in the area. The LNWR proposed to build a railway to Kirkburton which clearly pointed towards Barnsley. The MR proposed running powers over this new railway with an extension through to Clayton West and ultimately Barnsley. The L&YR saw this as a serious threat and the MR were bought off by the L&YR after the latter offered them running powers over its line between Huddersfield and Sheffield and agreed to build a branch from this to serve Clayton West, with the option of a further extension. Interestingly the MR never took up the option to operate its trains over either line.
The Act of Parliament was granted in 1866 and specified that the line must be completed by 1871. The L&YR’s reluctance to build the line was evident and the first sod was not cut until 1872. Construction of the line was protracted and further extensions to the time limit were required, the line eventually being completed with only two days to spare. Major Marindin finally inspected the new railway on the 30th July 1879 and it opened on the 1st September 1879.
With two thriving communities each with a colliery to serve, the railway soon proved its worth. Aside from regular goods and passenger trains the line was also used for excursion trains for workers to travel to places further afield.
Coal traffic was the backbone of the railway and ensured that it survived Dr Beeching’s modernisation plan of the 1960s which saw many similar lines closed. The coal traffic ceased completely in 1979 and with dwindling passenger numbers the railway was finally closed in 1983, the track being lifted during 1986.
Around this time Brian & Doreen Taylor had established a miniature railway at Shibden Park in Halifax. This had become a great success and continues to please many visitors to the park today. Brian however wanted to get his teeth into something bigger and began a search for somewhere to build a 15 inch gauge railway.
Attention finally fell on the line to Clayton West which had lain dormant for only a short time. After negotiations, and with support from Kirklees Council, a Light Railway Order was applied for and this was granted in September 1991, one of the last to be made under the 1896 Light Railway Act.
During this time the Taylors had been busy, with assistance of a small team of paid and voluntary staff, constructing the railway. This opened in stages, firstly to Cuckoo’s Nest in October 1991, Skelmanthorpe in December 1992 and finally Shelley in May 1997, the latter being completed with assistance from the European Union’s coalfield regeneration schemes.
In the early 2000s Brian and Doreen decided that they wished to take life a little easier and retire. The railway was acquired in 2006 by Stately Albion, a family owned company that specialises in the manufacture of park and leisure homes.
With 6 locomotives, 12 coaches, a new engine shed and station building at Clayton West, the Taylors had laid solid foundations. Since purchasing the line, Stately Albion have made many improvements including building and buying new carriages, installing two large play areas and a new tearoom and picnic area at Shelley.
The line now runs from Clayton West to Shelley - a distance of just under 3.5 miles - and is one of the best family days out in Yorkshire!