Notes: Widnes Central station was located on the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway and Midland Railway Joint Railway (MSLR &MR Jt) Widnes Branch that connected to the Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) Liverpool and Manchester line at Widnes East Junction (north-east of Widnes) and at Hough Green Junction (north-west of Widnes). The Widnes branch was built because the CLC had bypassed the chemical manufacturing town of Widnes and local industrialists were aggrieved at the charges being levied on them for the carriage of goods by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) that had a monopoly in the town. The Widnes industrialists tried to persuade the CLC to build a branch to the town so that the LNWR monopoly would be broken. The CLC was a joint railway consisting of three partners, the Great Northern Railway, the MSLR and the MR. The Great Northern was not interested in the idea of a Widnes branch but the other two partners were and so they formed a partnership to build it. The line was built in two stages.
The first section of the line was authorised on 7 July 1873. It was 3 miles long and connected with the CLC by means of a triangular junction to the north-east of Widnes. The terminus was intended to be half-a-mile to the east of where Widnes Central would later be built. This first section of the line opened for goods on 3 April 1877. During the period when the line was under construction a further proposal had been made which had received authorisation in October 1874. This was the Widnes West Junction Railway Act which was for a line of 2 miles from Tanhouse Lane to Hough Green via central Widnes, in effect creating a loop line through the town connected to the CLC at two points. A link to the dock estate at Widnes was also included in the act. The line opened on 1 August 1879 with one station at Widnes Central which was close to thecommercial centre of the town.
Widnes Central had two platforms and was situated to the west of Victoria Road, on an embankment. An approach road connected Ditton Road to the main station facilities on the Liverpool (westbound) direction platform. The buildings were single-story brick and timber in a Tudor style and included a substantial canopy over the platform. Above the front entrance door which led into the booking hall was stained glass window which included the Widnes Borough coat of arms.
A subway led to the Warrington direction (Eastbound) platform which was also provided with a brick and timber building and a canopy. A path also connected the eastbound platform to street level.
To the west of the station goods sidings were on both sides of the line, controlled by a signal box (also called Widnes Central) located just beyond the platforms on the south side of the railway. The siding south of the line ran to the rear of the Liverpool direction platform and was provided with cattle pens.
East of the station the line passed over Victoria Road which, at that time, was the main business and shopping district of Widnes. The names of the station and of its owning companies were painted in large letters on the bridge.
At its opening Widnes Central was served by trains operated by both of the owning companies and by the CLC. The CLC was owned by three companies: the MSLR, MR and the Great Northern Railway. The CLC never owned any locomotives so its services were hauled by MSLR locomotives. Passengers could travel from Widnes Central to Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington, Southport and further afield.
On 1 September 1890 another station opened on the Widnes Branch; it was just over a mile east of Widnes Central and called Tanhouse Lane.
The December 1895 Bradshaw timetable showed Widnes Central as having eight up and five down weekday trains (click here to see table of trains). On Sundays there were three up but only one down train.
On 1 August 1897 the MSLR changed its name to the Great Central Railway (GCR) and Widnes Central became part of the GC & MR Joint Railway Widnes Branch. From 22 May 1905 a new signal box opened immediately east of the original which was closed and demolished; the box was a GCR type with a 46-lever frame.
The 1904 Handbook of Stations listed Widnes Central as being able to handle passengers, parcels, livestock and horse boxes.
By the 1920s Widnes Central had a much more intensive train service. The July 1922 timetable showed Central with fifteen up and sixteen down trains (click here to see table of trains). On Sundays there were four up and two down trains. This was the best service that Widnes Central ever enjoyed.
At the grouping in 1923 the GCR became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) whilst the MR became a constituent of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). The CLC remained a separate company, owned jointly by the LMS, who held a third share, and the LNER who held two thirds. CLC services through Widnes Central were hauled by LNER locomotives. The LMS summer timetable for 1932 showed ten up and eleven down trains on weekdays (click here to see table of trains). On Sundays there were three up and two down services.
On 1 January 1948 Widnes Central became part of British Railways (London Midland Region). In the first year of nationalisation there were eleven up and eleven down trains on weekdays. On Sundays there was only one up and one down service.
On 31 October 1954 Widnes Central signal box closed and Moor Lane box, a short distance to the west, took control of the section of line through Widnes Central station. It is likely that the sidings at the west end of the station were removed at this time as the 1956 Handbook of Stations showed Widnes Central was only able to handle passengers and parcels.
By winter 1956/7 the service consisted of nine up and six down trains on Monday-to-Friday. An extra down train ran on Saturdays but none called on Sundays. By summer 1960 the service had declined to only five up and six down trains Monday-to-Friday with two extra down calls on Saturdays.
Although at this time Widnes Central was listed as not being able to handle goods it did so on 13 February 1961. After the 8.16am down passenger service for Liverpool Central had departed a single van was brought to the down platform from Tanhouse Lane yard by ex-LMS Ivatt 2MT class 2-6-2T locomotive number 41244. The van contained packages for a local factory. The van was unloaded at the station over the period of a couple of hours and when it was empty it was worked back to Tanhouse Lane yard.
The passenger service had declined even further by the summer of 1962 (click here to see table of trains), even though DMUs had been introduced onto many of the services from 1960.
Rugby League specials had run from Widnes Central since the early days and continued into the 1960s. By the early 1960s the station had become a run-down and forbidding place, its staff reduced to just one per shift.
The two passenger stations on the Widnes branch - as part of the Liverpool Central – Gateacre – Warrington Central ‘modification’ of services - were listed for closure in the Reshaping of British Railways ‘Beeching’ report of March 1963. The formal proposal to close ‘Liverpool Central – Manchester Central (Widnes Loop)’ was published on 11 July 1963, and the closure hearings ended on 5 February 1964. On 13 August 1964 Ernest Marples, Secretary of State for Transport consented to the closure, despite opposition from factory workers who used the services to and from Tanhouse Lane and claimed that they would suffer hardship if they were withdrawn.
The last trains ran on Saturday 3 October 1964. The last up train departed for Stockport Tiviot Dale at 5.22pm. It was a steam hauled train consisting of an Ivatt Class 4 2-6-0 locomotive and five coaches. The last down train was a Saturdays only service from Stockport Tiviot Dale. It departed for Liverpool Central at 6.32pm and was also a steam hauled service. Steam haulage had persisted on peak-hour services which included those that ran on Saturday’s. Official closure came on Monday 5 October 1964.
On 6 December 1964 the line was closed as a through route, goods services being diverted along other lines. The station was demolished, leaving only its platforms, and the track was lifted. For many years after closure the embankment and viaduct on which the station stood survived in a derelict condition. It was all swept away in 1984, leaving no trace, to make way for a new road called Ashley Way.
Tickets from Michael Stewart route map by Alan Young
- An Illustrated History of Liverpool’s Railways – P Anderson – Irwell Press 1996
- An Illustrated History of The Cheshire Lines Committee – P Bolger – Heyday Publishing Company 1984
- Bradshaw's Rail Times December 1895 - Middleton Press - 2011
- Bradshaws July 1922 Railway Guide - Guild Publishing - 1986
- British Railways (London Midland Region) Timetable 31st May to 26th September 1948
- British Railways (London Midland Region) Timetable 17th of Sept 1956 to 16th of June 1957
- British Railways (London Midland Region) Timetable 16th June to 9th September 1962
- Cheshire Lines Committee – Signal Box Register – M J Addison & J G Dixon - 1996
- Disused Stations – Lost Stations of North West England - P T Wright – Silver Link Publishing Ltd 2011
- Liverpool & Manchester, 2: Cheshire Lines - B Pixton - Kestrel - 2007
- LMS Time Table July 18th to September 11th 1932
- The St Helens Railway - J Tolston - The Oakwood Library - 1982
For other stations on the Liverpool
to Manchester CLC line click on the station name: Liverpool Central, Liverpool
St. James, Brunswick, Otterspool, Garston, Halewood & Manchester