LMS, BR and Beyond


The demise of the L&Y came about simply because the Government decided to create a few huge railway companies following the First World War, ostensibly for efficiency, but in reality to avoid paying the huge reparations they owed for the enormous effort the private companies had put in during the conflict.

Rather than allowing natural allies to merge through the stockmarket they forced through the amalgamation that became the big four which would have forced the L&Y, on 1st January 1923, to become part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway. However, in 1921 the London & North Western Railway with which the L&Y had good relations, appointed the L&Y General Manager, Arthur Watson, to the same post on the LNW while retaining his L&Y post. It was then announced that the two lines would merge on Ist January 1922.

Whilst the LNW was a much bigger company and its name was adopted for the new organisation it was L&Y men who took most of the top jobs including George Hughes as CME. When the LMS was formed a year later, both Watson and Hughes took the same jobs in the new group. In the three years up to his retirement Hughes introduced his highly successful 2-6-0 mixed traffic engine known as the ‘Crab’ which served the LMS and BR with distinction until the mid-1960s.

The old L&Y became a major part of the Central Division of the LMS and while standard systems were introduced the operation carried on much as it had before. The most obvious change was to liveries with carriages becoming red (although many Attock arc roof carriages retained L&Y colours with LMS markings until withdrawal around 1930). Passenger engines became red until the economies brought on by the recession dictated a return to black.

The great recession of the 1930s affected the area served by the old Company in many ways. Goods movement was down, passenger traffic was down and petrol buses and lorries began to eat away at the remaining business as well. Further rationalisation took place at Horwich, after the building of 10 ‘Jinties’ in 1931 no new locomotive construction took place for 12 years. A few small engine sheds were closed and their staff and locos transferred to nearby larger depots eg. Colne staff went to Rose Grove and Ormskirk staff were split between Lostock Hall (Preston) and Bank Hall (Liverpool).

However, it was not all doom and gloom, as new dormitory suburbs were being built new stations were opened at Squires Gate (Blackpool) in 1931, Besses o’the Barn (Bury) in 1933 and Bowker Vale (North Manchester) in 1937. Signalling was improved as well with special installations at Manchester Victoria in 1930 and Mirfield in 1932 to speed up traffic and replacements were to the latest LMS standards.

During World War 2 maintenance suffered and several L&Y srtuctures were destroyed or damaged. Manchester Victoria took a direct hit causing major damage and the loss of the Central Train Control office.

After the war the Government again forced through a major reorganisation taking the railways into state ownership. Once again the money which should have gone into renewing the railway did not materialise (this time it went to the shareholders of the Big Four) so the recovery was slow and painful. Much of the infrastructure such as station buildings and canopies had not been touched for years and needed major attention. The funds were not available so they eventually became unsafe and had to be demolished. Horwich works was run down and eventually closed although, happily, most of the buildings still survive.

Operationally the old ways continued but with rapidly decreasing traffic. The rise of the private car decimated passenger levels and improving roads and bigger lorries killed all but bulk goods traffic. All the former L&Y branch lines closed as did a number of secondary lines such as the North Lancs Loop. There was even talk of closing the L&Y main line and concentrating through traffic on the LNW trans-pennine line.

Happily, in the years since the mid-1990s things have improved. Most of the remaining former L&Y lines are now run by Northern Rail who are working hard to improve matters. Passenger traffic has grown considerably and a new fleet of trains to replace the British Rail ‘Pacers’ has improved comfort and increased capacity.

Manchester Victoria which had been run down for many years and had its capacity decimated by BR has at last been refurbished with a new roof and improved facilities whilst retaining much of its L&Y history.


Our quarterly Magazine has regular updates of developments on former L&Y lines.