History of the line

It is intended that this page should contain a reasonably detailed history of the NYMR from its early days as the horse drawn Whitby and Pickering Railway right up to today.

Information will be updated and added to this page as our archive team find new and exciting information about the heritage of this Railway.

Please keep sending information, details from family history, personal experiences or unpublished photographs that might help us piece together this history puzzle then pleas email archivist@nymr.co.uk


To start at a low point, this is Goathland station in 1969, bereft of all sidings but still retaining most of its signalling. Photo David Slater.


Whitby and Pickering Railway (1832 – 1845)
York and North Midland Railway (1845 – 1854)
North Eastern Railway (1854 – 1923)
London and North Eastern Railway (1923 – 1948)
British Railways (1948 – 1965)
Interregnum and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway  (1965 – today)

Whitby and Pickering Railway (1832 – 1845)

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was built as the culmination of attempts to halt the gradual decline of the port of Whitby. The basic industries of Whitby, whaling and shipbuilding, had been in decline for years and it was felt that opening up better links with the interior of the country would help to regenerate both town and port.
Until the turnpike to Pickering was opened in 1759, Whitby was better connected to the rest of the country by sea than it was by land; even then the difficult climb over the high moors was still an obstacle. Stage Coach services did not start until 1795 and Mail Coaches (thrice weekly) until 1823.
As early as 1795 a canal from Whitby to Pickering was proposed, this would have followed much the same course as the later W&P.
With the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (which had a number of Whitby backers) attention switched to the possibility of a railway from Whitby to either Stockton or Pickering, many pamphlets being issued for or against the various proposal; copies of some of them can be found in the library of the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society . Finally in 1832 it was decided to ask George Stephenson to report on the rival routes. Stephenson’s report was in favour of a horse worked railway to Pickering and his conclusion was accepted at a meeting held in Whitby on 14th September 1832.
A committee was formed to start things moving and the Whitby & Pickering Railway bill received the royal assent on 6th May 1833.
The directors of the W&P Company mainly came from Whitby or the immediate area and represented a fair cross section of the business community, including bankers, solicitors, shipbuilders and ship owners. The shareholders came from a wider area, some from as far away as London but those from the immediate area predominated.
There was always an intention to link the W&P to York and beyond; a meeting held in York in 1834 to further the proposed railway from York to Leeds was attended by a W&P delegation accompanied by their Engineer, George Stephenson, to lobby for a link to Pickering . This meeting may have been the occasion of the first meeting of those two great railway giants George Stephenson and George Hudson and borne fruit in many other directions, even though the York to Leeds line did not appear for some years.
Although the W&P had been promoted for its goods carrying capabilities (including coal, stone, timber and limestone), it was intended to carry passengers from the start and three coaches were obtained (from Beeston & Melling of Manchester) which were basically Stage coaches adopted for use on a railway, in addition a number of cheaper open ‘market coaches’ were obtained, probably locally.
The W&P obtained materials by tender and suppliers were from many parts of the country; for instance rails (which were in short supply at the time, partly due to heavy demand) were obtained from a number of well-known suppliers including:

  • Bradley & Foster’s Stourbridge Ironworks.
  • the Capponfield Ironworks near Birmingham.
  • the Nantyglo Ironworks, Blaenau Gwent, South Wales.
  • the Bedlington Ironworks in Northumberland.

These supplies largely traveled by water. The surviving W&P minute books (in the NA) show that those from the midlands traveled by narrow boat to Gainsborough, where they were transshipped to coasters for forwarding to Whitby, others traveled by boat to Malton (on the Derwent Navigation) and were then forwarded to Pickering by ox-cart.
The W&P was never a particularly well off company and the directors were anxious to start carrying passengers and goods at the earliest opportunity. So on Monday 8th June 1835 the line between Whitby and the Tunnel Inn (now Grosmont) was opened, and the Companies First Class Coach ‘Premier’ left Whitby at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, returning about 8 o’clock. They subsequently ran two return journeys per day (except on Sundays). In early July 1835, for Ruswarp Fair the company provided a special coach that ran sixteen trips during the day (presumably from Whitby), this proved very popular some passengers travelling repeatedly because of the novelty.
With the opening throughout on 26th May 1836 the W&P operated a regular passenger service, which connected at Pickering with the stagecoach to York and thus the rest of the developing railway network. This connection was of practical use; there is a recorded instance of a ship from the Baltic docking at Whitby and its captain finding orders awaiting him to proceed to Liverpool. He took the W&P coach to Pickering connecting to York where he boarded a train for Manchester (connecting by coach over the incomplete part of the Leeds & Manchester Railway) and completed his journey to Liverpool by train – the whole journey only took hours, whereas it could have taken many days only a few years earlier.

The building of the W&P, as was the intention of its proprietors, generated a number of new local industries that could not have thrived without the cheap and easy transport of their wares by the new railway.
These industries brought employment both in themselves and on the railway and, often for a short time, wealth to the immediate vicinity of the railway. Travelling on the NYMR today it is hard to imagine the hive of industry that its original building precipitated and the very different appearance of the landscape as a result. Now little remains of these industries but the determined explorer can still find traces.
The Grosmont area was a particular focus for new industries; Stone Quarries were established at Lease Rigg connected by their own incline to the W&P at Esk Valley (an incline which today has been converted into the only road into this isolated hamlet). A demonstration of the use of this incline was given on the opening day of the W&P, showing that this new industry was very quick off the mark. Lime kilns were built at Grosmont using limestone brought from Pickering and coal from Whitby. The discovery of ironstone during the building of the W&P lead to numerous small ironstone mines in the vicinity and later near Beckhole (as well as a failed mine near Skelton Tower, north of Levisham station). The larger mines were gradually bought out by local and Middlesbrough mine owners and a thriving industry existed before the discovery of more accessible deposits further north in Cleveland.

The earliest structure on the NYMR is the original tunnel at Grosmont built for the horse worked Whitby & Pickering Railway c. 1834. The design of the tunnel can be attributed to the famous railway engineer George Stephenson, who was the Engineer to the W&P Company. There are few W&P structures remaining and no others are intact. The old tunnel is the only W&P structure in the care of the NYMR. This tunnel now provides footpath access to the Bellwood Centre, including the locomotive sheds and repair facilities.

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York and North Midland Railway (1845 – 1854)

With the absorption of the W&P into the Y&NM and thus into George Hudson’s growing empire, through rail journeys became possible from Whitby to the industrial districts of the West Riding, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool and to the capital, London, amongst many other destinations. In the opposite direction Whitby became accessible for day-trippers and holidaymakers. To encourage this traffic George Hudson formed a company to develop the West cliff area of Whitby, building roads and some hotels before work stopped at Hudson’s downfall in 1849.
With a connected national rail network the Royal Mail soon started using the railways to carry the mails. The first train from York to Whitby each morning was the mail train, a train that continued running for the best part of one hundred and twenty years.
The through route to Whitby and the coast was used by generations of people travelling for their annual holiday or on day trips from the West Riding and elsewhere.

As early as 1849 the Y&NM employed 46 people between Rillington and Whitby with an annual pay bill of £2,068/2/- (around £121,049 or an average of £2,631.50 each, at today’s prices).

There are many structures remaining from the rebuilding of the line by the York and North Midland Railway between 1845 and 1849. Not all are now in NYMR ownership, many of the Y&NM (and later) railway cottages were sold to their tenants by both BR and the NYMR. The Y&NM under the control of railway baron George Hudson took over the W&P and converted it to a double track steam railway. This involved providing stations, engine sheds, goods sheds, crossing keepers and labourers cottages, new wider bridges and a new tunnel at Grosmont.

Most of George Hudson’s railways, including the Y&NMR, used the well known York architect George Townsend Andrews . His larger railway commissions included York Old Station, Hull Paragon Station (and hotel) and the original Gateshead station. On the Whitby – Malton line he was responsible for medium sized overall roofed stations at Malton, Rillington Junction, and Pickering with a larger double span overall roofed station at Whitby. Small country stations were erected at Low Marishes, Marishes Road, Kirby, Levisham, Incline Top (Goathland), Grosmont, Ruswarp and Sleights. Crossing Keepers or labourers cottages were built at many locations including Black Bull, Haygate Lane, Mill Lane, Newbridge, Farwath, Moorgates, Goathland and Ruswarp. Goods Sheds and Engine Sheds were built at Malton, Pickering and Whitby, with smaller Engine Sheds at both ends of the Incline (Beckhole & Incline Top).

A railway gas works was built at Pickering, which not only supplied the railways needs but also street lighting in the town. Eventually a private gas company was promoted in Pickering and when they had completed their own, rail served, gas works the railway gas works was decommissioned and in 1892 converted into a grain warehouse. This listed building still stands, to the south of Pickering station – having served as a tyre depot, a café and currently a ladies hairdresser . It is probably one of the oldest railway built gas works buildings still in existence.

The Y&NM also replaced the W&P’s water balance method of working the Beckhole Incline with stationary steam engine haulage. This engine was replaced (at least once) by the NER but after the closure of the Incline the engine was removed and the engine house demolished; leaving virtually no trace today.

Civil Engineering structures are generally not architect designed although the later tunnel at Grosmont and possibly the adjacent river bridge whilst generally attributed to John Cass Birkenshaw, may have been influenced by Andrews. The Y&NM also replaced (possibly widened and strengthened) the many W&P wooden bridges, for the most part in timber (according to evidence from O.S maps).

There were features that have since been lost, such as ‘Pickering viaduct’ – location unknown, which appears in NER Minute books as being converted to an embankment.

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North Eastern Railway (1854 – 1923)

In 1858 six pairs of workers cottages were constructed on the Whitby branch to the design of Thomas Prosser. Of the southernmost three pairs, built by Henry Creaser of York for £99 each, only one pair survives, at Levisham station. The northern half of this pair of cottages is still in NYMR ownership and is used as volunteer accommodation. It has recently been sympathetically extended (a plan considered, but not carried forwards, by the NER in 1899). Of the three northernmost pairs, one was near the Summit and was pulled down before the NYMR took over, probably by BR. The remaining two pairs stand on the original route through Beckhole (not part of the NYMR) and still exist in private ownership.

In the early 1860’s the NER decided to tackle the problems caused by the Beckhole Incline and obtained powers to build a deviation line, including a new station at Goathland. A copy of the tender document is held in the NYMR archives . The line was built by the contractor Mr. Thomas Nelson for a tendered price of £56,000 . They same contractors were engaged on building the new line from Castleton to Grosmont at the same time.
The new Deviation line opened for traffic on 1st July 1865 but the cautious NER retained the old route (including the incline) intact until summer 1868.

Goathland station (originally Goathland Mill) consisted of stone buildings to the design of NER architect Thomas Prosser and comprise a classic country station ensemble: Station house with passenger facilities and accommodation for the station master, goods shed, coal and (covered) lime cells, water tank feeding two standard NER water cranes and a wooden cattle dock . The two wooden buildings on the Up platform were added later. A waiting room was authorised as early as 1866, contractor James Kirby winning the tender with a price of £130/6/5. An 1871 petition for a waiting room at Goathland exists in the National Archive ; it was agreed to be built at an estimated cost of £25. The first of these buildings was a combined waiting and ladies room, whilst the second was an adjacent open waiting shed; both still exist, the former waiting room is now the station shop and the waiting shed still serves its original purpose although the side walls have been cut back (in NER days, probably to meet Railway Inspectors requirements for clearance from the platform edge).

A turntable was installed at Grosmont (Deviation Junction); actually at the south portal of the tunnel. This was a 40ft turntable re-located from Potto .
The Deviation also resulted in the building of the earliest signal cabin on the NYMR at ‘Deviation Junction’ south of Grosmont tunnel; unfortunately this structure has been demolished. The original signal cabin at Grosmont station, in the angle of the junction, may also have dated from this time, this structure was replaced, possibly around 1876 although some authorities give 1908 and survived until closed in 1972 and being finally dismantled in 1978.

The Deviation involved construction of four stone overbridges ( Br. 26, 29, 33 & 36), seven stone underbridges (Br. 22, 23, 31, 32, 35, 38 & 39) and one stone viaduct (Br.37), of which three (Br.31, 32 & 39) are now listed. Many of these ‘stone’ bridges have brick arches with the wings, piers and abutments in stone; however Br.31, 32, 35, 38 & 39 have stone arches. There were five wrought iron underbridges (Br. 24, 25, 27, 28 & 30) and one cast iron overbridge (Br.34). Of the metal bridges the overbridge and one underbridge (Br.30) still exist in their original location, although Br.30 was greatly strengthened in 1908 (and subsequently). The other underbridges were replaced in 1908 (see below). The metal bridges were supplied by Head-Ashby & Co of Middlesbrough, correspondence relating to these bridges is held in the NYMR archives.

The NER installed a 42ft turntable at Pickering in 1870 . This turntable was probably installed alongside the engine shed (south of the station). At some time it was re-located north of the station to the same site as the current NYMR turntable. The NER also extended Pickering engine shed in 1875, the contract drawings for this extension are in the NYMR archives (as are similar drawings for extending Whitby shed ).

The introduction of block signalling in the 1870’s brought the next change with the building of signal cabins (only later were they called signal boxes) at Pickering (Mill Lane, Hungate, Bridge Street and High Mill – all now demolished), Newbridge, Farworth (demolished late 1920’s), Levisham, Newtondale (demolished 1995), Summit (demolished 1970’s), Goathland and Grosmont (probably a replacement or extension of an earlier cabin). To accommodate the signalmen twelve cottages were agreed to be constructed on the Whitby branch at a total cost of £2,177/6/4. The locations are uncertain but the standard NER cottage on the Up side at Farworth is probably one such.

After the mid 1870’s there were few major changes on the NYMR, there were minor improvements at Levisham (wooden waiting rooms (1876), brick waiting shed (1880) and wooden warehouse(c 1881; described as ‘a small Lock-up Shed for the storage of goods at an estimated average cost of about £25’). Wooden buildings on the Up platform at Goathland in 1871, at Grosmont a ‘lock-up cabin’ in 1875 and wooden buildings on the down platform in the first decade of the twentieth century, finally at Levisham a new brick built booking office built onto the signal box in 1926 – to allow the signalman to issue tickets and thus save on staff (the stationmasters post had already been combined with that of Goathland c. 1925).

Farworth signal box was closed due to the wartime temporary singling of the line between Levisham and Newbridge in 1918; following the failure to find finance to replace the second track in 1926 it was presumably demolished. Only one photograph of Farworth signal box is known . Deviation Junction was closed as a signal box in 1930 (at an estimated saving of £133 pa) but continued as an unmanned ground frame until the final stub of the original W&P route via Beckhole was closed in 1952. Newtondale signal box was last used in 1930 but remained ‘switched out’ until 1952 when the equipment and signals were removed. The cabin remained in use as a firewatchers post for some years but following the line’s closure the shell of the building was vandalized and the chimney pot fell through the roof. This allowed severe erosion of the brickwork of the rear wall to the point where in 1995 the NYMR were obliged to demolish the cabin for fear of it collapsing. Summit cabin, the only all timber cabin on the NYMR – so constructed because of its location on the side of a steep embankment, closed in 1964 and by early NYMR days was derelict; it was dismantled after 1970, useful timber being saved for building restoration at Levisham. The signal boxes in Pickering were demolished as part of the BR demolition contract that included removal of the remaining second track between Grosmont to Pickering and all track south of Pickering station. Grosmont signal box originally stood in the angle of the junction of the Whitby Malton line and the branch up the Esk valley to Middlesbrough. This box closed in 1972 (when the remaining double track to Whitby was singled) but being located so close to a (then) BR running line was not available for the NYMR to use (on safety grounds) and so was dismantled in 1978 The present signal box at Grosmont although to a design from the 1870’s was actually built by the NYMR, being brought into use in 1996.

In 1908 the NER carried out a major programme of bridge improvement on the Whitby branch. All the small, presumably still timber, bridges south of the Deviation were replaced with riveted steel bridges using timber waybeams to support the running rails. On the Deviation the four wrought iron (WI) bridges were much changed, the highest and most remote at Thomason Force was strengthened by a massive fabricated steel girder being inserted under the centre of the bridge, thus giving new support to the WI cross-girders. The bridge at Darnholm was replaced in brick – the only entirely brick bridge on the NYMR. The bridge at the south end of Goathland station was completely replaced by a new three track riveted steel bridge by ? of Stanningly, Leeds, thereby improving access to the Goods shed and coal cells. Finally the two river bridges south of Goathland were rebuilt utilizing the WI main girders from themselves and both Darnholm and Goathland station bridges to build pairs .

All the 1908 metal bridges were approaching the end of their life when the NYMR took over; some were strengthened whilst the worse of the larger bridges were replaced in concrete. Now the remaining metal bridges as well as some of the stone bridges on the Deviation require major attention. The stone bridges will be repaired but it seems inevitable that the remaining metal bridges will have to be replaced by modern concrete beam bridges over the next few years, however it is hoped to retain some of the 1867 WI girders as non structural components of the new bridges on the Deviation.

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London and North Eastern Railway (1923 – 1948)

During the depression years of the 1920’s and 30’s attempts were made to trim the railway workforce, posts were combined – Stationmasters covered more than one station (i.e. Levisham and Goathland combined c. 1925), signalmen became porter-signalmen, combining the posts of signalman, clerks and porters. On some lines (such as York to Scarborough) intermediate stations were closed to passengers altogether, although usually remaining open to goods. Some signal boxes were closed, such as Deviation Junction box near Grosmont, although the saving here was based on the cost of uniforms! Newtondale signal box, which had not had regular staff since the Great War, being only opened as required and then by relief staff, was used for the last time in 1930 but left intact until officially closed in 1952.
Such cutbacks saw the railways through the depression and on into WW2, during which the railways were considerably rundown, meeting heavy demands with scare resources for repair and maintenance.

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British Railways (1948 – 1965)

After the war came nationalisation which created British Railways and for a time things appeared to continue much as before, the railways were still considerable employers of labour, new steam engines were being built to replace those lost or worn-out during the war.

In 1952 BR as a cost saving measure removed the G.T. Andrews overall roof of Pickering station and substituted rather crude awnings on each platform (drawings for this work are held in the NYMR archives ). Many of Andrew’s overall roofs were removed about this time including those at Whitby and Rillington Junction (which had been closed to passengers since the mid 1920’s). The roof at Malton survived longer until removed by Railtrack being replaced by an awning created out of part of William Bell’s 1883 roof from the Whitby bay platforms.

In 1958 Pickering engine shed was closed and the turntable north of the station removed

Soon ‘modernisation’ was in the air, diesel engines and multiple units were built en-mass (often to untried designs) and on the Whitby branch the local services were replaced by DMUs in 1959 and diesel locomotives gradually replaced steam on the few longer distance trains.
Soon it was realized that modernization in itself would not be enough and Dr. Beeching was asked to investigate and report on the state of the nation’s railways.
The infamous Beeching Report, when it was published in 1963 recommended the closure of the remaining three railways serving Whitby (the fourth, the coast line north to Saltburn, having already closed in 1958). Despite unusually strong local protests only one line, the branch line up the Esk valley to Middlesbrough, was saved and so, on 8th March 1965 the Malton – Whitby line and the coast line to Scarborough closed entirely (except for goods to Pickering, which lasted a further year). There were many redundancies, felt especially hard at Whitby, which lost all its drivers and guards and much of its goods and passenger staff.

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Interregnum and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (1965 to the present )

Starting in 1967 as a small group of concerned local people who wished to see the Grosmont to Pickering line brought back to life, they gradually obtained access to the line with permission to carry out maintenance and run occasional ‘Steam Galas’ when steam trains could be run strictly for members only (for insurance reasons). The society grew and turned itself into a charity (to ensure no-one could take over the railway for personal profit). Quite early on it was realized that for such a large undertaking some permanent (paid) staff would be required to supplement the many volunteer workers and maintain continuity when volunteers were not available in sufficient numbers. From one person in 1972 the numbers have grown to eighty-five full time paid staff and around fifty part time paid staff (in the summer months) in 2006, still supported by a large number of volunteers. A lot of this growth was forced by the NYMR’s need to establish its own maintenance and administrative infrastructure, it could no longer rely on a head office at York and heavy engineering works at York, Darlington, Doncaster and elsewhere.

More information added to this page soon.

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Scheduled Locomotives

Locomotives scheduled to run on Wednesday 27th July 2016

44806 - 4-6-0 Black 5

45428 - Black 5 - Eric Treacy

76079 - BR Standard Class 4 2-6-0

26038 - Class 26 Diesel

D7628 - Sybilla Class 25 Diesel


Subject to change at any time. Updated at 08.45 27thJuly 2016


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