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.