Whitby and the coming of the railway

THE ancient fishing port of Whitby was greatly changed by the coming of the railway, it is hard to imagine now as one looks at the quiet station, with a limited service to Middlesbrough only, what it was like fifty years ago.
There were two stations then, "Town" and "West Cliff". The two were linked by a steam auto-car which panted up the steep incline from the river side, past the engine shed and the goods yard, then round the great bend. Under the high brick viaduct carrying the coast line, and up to Prospect Hill and the West Cliff.


In 1834 George Hudson, the "Railway King" from York, met George Stephenson, the "Father of ‘railways", at Whitby, but previous to this, in 1832, a share list was opened in the Angel Hotel to promote a line linking George Hudson, the "Railway KingWhitby with Pickering and planned by Stephenson. The line was opened in 1836 and by the 1840s Hudson was developing the West Cliff fields for hotels and boarding houses, and the Khyber Pass was cut in the cliff from the pier. George Street and Hudson Street are today’s reminders of this period. The line crosses the river Esk many times, and from Goathland passes through Newton Dale, a spectacular gorge which has no road through it.


Steam engines were replaced by diesel coaches in 1959. And in 1965 the line between Pickering and Grosmont was closed, along with the Whitby to Scarborough coastline which was opened in 1883. The town was almost back to Georgian days, except that the road links were being used beyond their capacities and the narrow streets and steep hills were congested with motor vehicles.


The railway to Scarborough was possibly even more scenic than the one to Pickering. From West Cliff station it went on to Hawsker, with views of the abbey; dropped down, almost on the cliff edge, to Robin Hood’s Bay; and then climbed the tremendous incline to Ravenscar, with sweeping sea vistas. Continuing through Staintondale, Hayburn Wyke, Cloughton and Scalby, it Whitby steam trainended on a long extension platform in Scarborough station, the line was blocked for several weeks by huge snow drifts during the severe winter of 1947. The course of the railway between Scarborough and Hawsker is now a Linear Park. Northwards from Whitby the railway ran alongside the sea at Sandsend, through Kettleness tunnel and crossed a spectacular viaduct at Staithes. The viaducts have gone, and future visitors will wonder at the odd truncated piers left in the becks at Sandsend. The once well-cared for stations with their oil lamps and flower beds are ghost places. The platform seats, lamps and name boards are now scattered souvenirs.
But not all is forgotten.

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The North York Moors Historical Railway Trust, which runs summer services from Grosmont to Goathland and Pickering, is keeping at least one of Whitby’s rail links alive. It has steam locomotives, revitalised rolling stock and more passengers each year. It is dedicated to seeing the reinstatement of a transport facility which ought never to have been withdrawn.


Abook Whitby and Pickering Railway by David Joy (Dalesman Books) gives the complete story of the line, and details of membership can be had from the Trust at 36 Westgate, Pickering.

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Whitby and the coming of the railway

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