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Barnsley Tales 3: The trials and tribulations of one of the areas most beautiful train stations.

It’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of sixty years ago at the now tranquil Penistone railway station.

Lots of walkers with their children and dogs pass it on the Pennine trail. It’s surreal to see the magnificent granite stonework, that is now home to small businesses, and take in the magnificent scenery.

Credit: John Irwin - The bustling train station

The remains of the station, which opened in 1874, can be seen in the overgrown track beds and platforms. The first station opened in 1845 and was a few hundred yards to the west.

It was home to two main lines and had six platforms. 360 trains passed through it daily.

I did a lot of research into the railway when I wrote my book ‘The Woodhead Diaries’

The Sheffield to Manchester line closed for passengers in 1970 but continued with freight until 1981.

It was built for the coal trains from the South Yorkshire pits and passenger trains from Sheffield Victoria to Manchester London Road (now called Piccadilly) The coal trains went to Fiddlers Ferry power station near Warrington.

The Wath branch was for the coal trains and the Doncaster via Barnsley Court House line departed from platform one.

Credit: John Irwin - The viaduct callapse of 1916

However the line had a terrible name for disasters. In 1884 twenty four passengers were killed when carriages rolled down the embankment at Bullhouse Bridge. Six months later and again in 1889 and 1897 there were more fatal accidents. In 1916 the viaduct on the Huddersfield line collapsed, due to heavy rain, and a locomotive fell through it when an arch gave way.

The notorious Woodhead tunnel is six miles to the west of Penistone and was the longest tunnel in the world at just over 3 miles long.

Joseph Locke was partly in charge of the project. Work began in 1838 and it was completed in 1845. A large number of ‘navvies’ (navigators) mostly Irish, were killed from unsafe working practices. Roof falls and shaft fatalities were commonplace and cholera killed 28 in one day.

Credit: John Irwin - How the train station can be found today

Rachel Foulkes was 36 and volunteered to nurse the sick on a Friday but died on the Monday. She is No 248 in the burial register.

Most of the navvies are buried in unmarked graves in a field behind the St James chapel at Crowden, 4 miles from Woodhead.


The Manchester Guardian was scathing in its comments; - ‘life is recklessly sacrificed, women and children unnecessarily rendered widows and orphans’

The parliamentary committee set up in 1846 did not even debate the deaths. But then what was to be expected of a House of Commons where one railway company was said to have 80 members in its pocket. Terry Coleman in his book ‘The Railway Navvies’ described the place as ‘a story of magnificent profits and devout hypocrisy’

Did you know that the saying ‘living over the brush’ comes from Woodhead. The navvies would initiate a crude sort of marriage with ‘tally women’ or camp followers by jumping over a brush or broom.


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