Notes: Gateacre station was situated on the Cheshire Lines Railway (CLC) North Liverpool Extension Line that connected the CLC Liverpool and Manchester line at Halewood to Aintree and via a branch to the north Liverpool docks at Huskisson Dock. The CLC was a joint railway with three partners, the Great Northern Railway (GNR), the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR) and the Midland Railway (MR). All had wanted access to Liverpool which by the mid nineteenth century had become a major seaport: indeed by 1849 the secretary of the Liverpool stock exchange claimed proudly that his city had become ‘the greatest thoroughfare in the world’. This statement was probably, at that moment, true. The CLC Liverpool and Manchester line which opened throughout on 2 September 1873 had given the three companies
access to Liverpool but only to the south docks. To north of the city new docks had been built that could take much larger vessels. To north of the city new docks had been built to accommodate much larger vessels. The London & North Western Railway (LNWR) and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (LYR) had access to the north docks and the CLC partners wanted the same. The most logical way for the CLC to gain such access would have been for them to extend their Liverpool and Manchester line by three miles from its Liverpool terminus. However this would have involved tunnelling under the city centre which would have been prohibitively expensive. The alternative solution was to build a line around the eastern edge of the city using agricultural land that was, by the 1870s, very cheap. The only significant engineering that would be required was at Walton, north of Liverpool. The North Liverpool Extension Line and its branch to Huskisson was authorised on 30 July 1874 and opened from Halewood to Walton-on-the-Hill for passenger services on 1 December 1879.
Gateacre station opened with the line on 1 December 1879. It was on the eastern edge of the village from which it took its name and located on an embankment on the north side of Belle Vale Road which passed under the line. The station building, reached by a sloping path, was on the west side of the line. It was a two-storey house consisting of a pair of adjacent pitched roofs, flanked to the south and north by a single-storey range. It was similar in design to the stations further north on the line at Knotty Ash and West Derby.
The station building did not stand adjacent to the down platform (Aintree direction) but was set back from it several yards to the west. The reason for this was that the CLC had future expansion in mind and that their double-track railway would ultimately need to be quadrupled. All of the road-over-rail bridges and tunnels along the line were built with quadrupling in mind. Gateacre and Childwall stations, being on embankments, were set back to give space. Despite these efforts the railway never would expand beyond being a double-track line.
To afford passengers some protection from inclement weather a covered passageway was provided between the station building and the down platform across the area that had been reserved for quadrupling. Both platforms were constructed using a timber face backfilled with spoil. They each had extensive hipped timber and glass canopies. Whilst the down platformwas provided only with the canopy, the up platform (Halewood direction) also had waiting accommodation to the rear of the canopy in a long wooden structure with a ridged roof. The up platform was reached from the booking office via subway which was also built to accommodate four tracks. It was lit by gas and lined with glazed bricks to reflect as much light as possible.
The station had a goods yard south of Belle Vale Road, on the west side of the line. It consisted of two long sidings parallel to the main line. At the south end of the yard was a loading ramp. A road linked the goods yard to Belle Vale Road. A signal box controlled the line through the station and access to the goods yard; it was located on the east side of the line south of the bridge over Belle Vale Road. At the south end of the goods yard there was a ground frame within a cabin which controlled access to the yard at that end.
At the time of opening Gateacre was served by trains between Walton-on-the-Hill and Liverpool Central. Walton-on-the-Hill was a temporary terminus on the Huskisson branch as tunnels leading down to the docks had not been completed. They were ready by 1 July 1880 when goods services started to run to Huskisson. On 2 August 1880 the passenger service was extended from Walton-on-the-Hill to Huskisson.
For race meetings at Aintree special trains were run for the first time on 13 July 1880 to a CLC station at Aintree provided for that purpose. Gateacre would have been served by some of these trains. The CLC owned its own rolling stock but possessed no locomotives: all local CLC services were hauled by MS&LR locomotives.
On 11 August 1881 a scheme called the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway (SCLER) was approved. The CLC backed the scheme which created a line from Aintree to the seaside resort of Southport and made an end-on connection at Aintree to the North Liverpool Extension line. A route to the seaside town with its promise of lucrative traffic would be created that the CLC had agreed to operate (although the SCLER would be a separate company). The SCLER line opened on 1 September 1884. The racecourse station at Aintree opened for public services at the same time. West Derby gained services that ran between Southport and Manchester, Liverpool and Stockport. However the station at Huskisson had proved unremunerative and closed on 13 July 1885. Walton-on-the-Hill became the terminus for local services.
From 1887 the station was called Gateacre for Woolton.
On the 1 August 1897 the MS&LR changed its name to the Great Central Railway (GCR).
On 6 December 1914 a new signal box opened at Gateacre adjacent to the original box which closed and was demolished. The new box was a CLC type CL2b with 20-lever frame.
On 1 January 1918 the service between Liverpool Central and Walton-on-the-Hill was officially withdrawn although it had ceased to run in 1915. Despite the loss of this service Gateacre was still well served the July 1922 timetable showing twenty up and twelve down trains Monday-to-Friday. there were also a number of terminating trains from Liverpool. Trains ran in the main to Southport Lord Street, Manchester Central and Liverpool Central.
At the grouping of 1923 the CLC remained independent but its parent companies changed. The GCR and the GNR became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the MR became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). The LNER was given two-thirds of the CLC shares and the LMS one- third. Motive power for CLC services was provided by the LNER.
In 1930 the LMS dropped the 'for Woolton' part of the station name in its timetables. It also disappeared from Bradshaw timetables in 1938.
During the Second World War passenger services on the line were cut back. The route through West Derby was of national strategic importance as it provided a link between Britain’s western gateway (Liverpool Docks) and the rest of the country. It was extremely busy, freight trains running day and night almost in convoy. The only exception with regard to passenger services was between 24 December 1940 and 5 July 1941. Heavy bombing had damaged the extremely busy commuter line between Southport Chapel Street and Liverpool Exchange at the Liverpool end of the line. To enable Southport commuters to travel into the city and return home each day extra trains were provided between Liverpool Central and Southport Lord Street. The journey would have taken much longer, but it allowed the city to continue functioning. These trains would not have called at Gateacre.
On 1 January 1948 the CLC became part of British Railways [London Midland Region] (BR[LMR]).
The new nationalised railway saw no need for the former SCLER as it could run trains from the North Liverpool Extension line to Southport Chapel Street via a connection with the former LYR network at Aintree. The SCLER passed through sparsely inhabited country and was unremunerative. Passenger services between Aintree (which BR[LMR] renamed Aintree Central on 1 July 1950) and Southport Lord Street were withdrawn from 7 July 1952.
Gateacre was left with a scheduled train service that ran, in the main, between Aintree Central and Manchester Central. The station was served by summer excursions to Southport Chapel Street. For local journeys though Gateacre was not an attractive prospect. By the summer of 1957 its service had been reduced to only four up and three down trains Monday-to-Friday.
With the last up departure being at 8.35am and the first Monday to Friday down departure being at 5.50pm the service was next to useless for anything other than work journeys. It came as little surprise when BR[LMR] proposed the withdrawal of the service between Gateacre and Aintree in 1960. The last regular passenger trains to run north of Gateacre did so on Saturday 5 November 1960.
Interestingly the station was substantially altered in 1957. The canopies were removed from both platforms and a more simple structure was erected on the down platform at the end of the covered walkway. A new waiting room was erected on the up platform. The platform surfaces were also improved. As the service was so poor and would be withdrawn by November 1960 it appears odd that British Railways went to such trouble, but during the late 1950s and into the 1960s large housing estates were built on the east side of the line near Gateacre station. Other housing estates also developed to the north. The station offered a journey time to central Liverpool of less than 30 minutes which was far quicker than the local bus service. So after the withdrawal of the Aintree trains an hourly Liverpool Central – Gateacre service was introduced, operated by DMUs which offered a journey time of 25 minutes to Liverpool and only 10 to Garston, which had a large market. The new service became very popular with local people.
The Reshaping of British Railways (‘Beeching’) report of March 1963 recommended the closure of Liverpool Central and the diversion of its very well used services to Liverpool Lime Street. However the Gateacre service was not recommended to transfer to Lime Street and was considered for withdrawal. There was a great deal of public protest, and the local authorities became involved, the result being that the Gateacre service was saved. However in saving the service the local authorities had given British Railways a problem, as they did divert all other trains away from Liverpool Central with effect from September 1966. This left a huge terminus station with only an hourly DMU service. All of the costs associated with the running of Liverpool Central were apportioned to the Gateacre service which, although popular, became hopelessly uneconomic.
A conundrum of the 1960s was that whilst British Railways saw reduction and retrenchment as the future, local authority planners were already beginning to see that mass car ownership was causing problems and that simply building more roads within cities was not sustainable. The local authorities produced the Merseyside Area Land Use Study (called the MALTS report) in 1966 that recommended modernisation and expansion of the rail network in the Liverpool city region. The North Liverpool Extension Line was identified as an ideal opportunity to create a belt line around the eastern edge of the city. In 1969 the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority was created and it adopted many of the ideas from the MALTS plan. A Transport and Works Order was secured in 1971 for the creation of new underground lines in Liverpool City centre and the electrification of routes, including the former CLC line through Gateacre.
While all of this was going on British Railways was busy running-down the North Liverpool Extension line. On 22 September 1968 the section of line between Aintree Central and Fazakerley South Junction was closed and lifted shortly after. On 30 November 1969 the line from Walton-on-the-Hill (Fazakerley West Junction) to Knotty Ash was singled.
In order to build the new sections of underground line Liverpool Central had to close as the site was needed to allow shafts to be sunk. This caused a problem with regard to the Gateacre service. Local people argued that the service should run to Liverpool Lime Street for a few years while the underground lines were being built, then electrification could be extended to Gateacre, as a first phase. British Rail considered that it was too costly to run the service in this way,and the local authorities would not meet the cost. The Liverpool Central – Gateacre service was withdrawn after the last train had run on 15 April 1972. The withdrawal of the service was supposed to be for onlya few years as new electric train services had been promised to the Gateacre residents. Leaflets showing the new lines were even produced. The station building at Gateacre was demolished as it was considered that a new building would be more appropriate for the future.
When the Gateacre service ceased the only trains using the North Liverpool Extension line were daily freight trains between Edge Hill and Huskisson. On 21 October 1972 the line from Gateacre to Knotty Ash was singled. There was a fire at Gateacre signal box in August 1973, and British Rail officially closed it on 26 September 1973 and singled the line from Gateacre to Hunts Cross West Junction; this was another strange decision as the line was planned to reopen to passenger services within a few years. In July 1975 the last freight trains ran and the line through Gateacre was mothballed.
The underground lines in central
Liverpool opened as part of the Merseyrail network on 2 May 1977. On 3 January 1978 the former CLC line from Liverpool Central to Garston, over which the Gateacre service ran, reopened as an electrified line. By this time an economic slowdown had meant that many aspects of the MALTs plan had to be put on hold; lectrification and reopening to Gateacre was one of the casualties. In the early months of 1979 British Rail lifted the North Liverpool Extension Line all the way back to Hunts Cross. Hopes of Gateacre reopening faded, and although the electrification was extended to Hunts Cross on 16 May 1983 the plans for the eastern belt line were quietly dropped.
In the late 1980s a footpath and cycleway called the ‘Liverpool Loopline Path’, part of the Trans-Pennine Trail, was created through the site of Gateacre station. The construction of the path saw the demolition of the platforms at Gateacre.
To read more about passenger services at Gateacre click here
Tickets from Michael Stewart, Bradshaw from Chris Hind, Totem from Richard Furness, BR map from Paul Wright and route map by Alan Young
- The Cheshire Lines Committee, by P Bolger, Heyday Publishing Company 1984.
- Bradshaw Timetable December 1895.
- Bradshaw Timetable July 1922.
- LMS Timetable Summer 1932.
- BR (LMR) Summer Timetable 1948.
- BR (LMR) Summer Timetable 1957.
- Cheshire Lines Committee Signal Box Register, M J Addison & J D Dixon 1996.
- Roads, Rails & Ferries of Liverpool, J Joyce, Ian Allan 1983.
- The Railway in Town & Country, Jack Simmons, David & Charles 1985.
To see the other
stations on the CLC North Liverpool Extension Line click on the
station name: Aintree Central, Warbreck, Clubmoor, West Derby, Knotty Ash & Childwall
See also Huskisson branch stations
Walton on the
Hill & Huskisson
For stations on
Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway click on the
station name: Southport
Lord Street, Birkdale
Palace, Ainsdale Beach, Woodvale, Mossbridge, Altcar & Hillhouse, Lydiate & Sefton and Maghull
See also feature: Halewood Triangle