50 Years Ago – Steam across the high peak

Brian Sharpe recounts the story of steam’s return to one of Britain’s most popular tourist areas 50 years after BR retired its last six steam engines in the area, with 1968 photography by Maurice Burns.

At the end of 1967, the Carlisle sheds had closed to steam, and steam power became concentrated almost entirely in Lancashire and Cheshire with just the occasional steam working across the Pennines to the West Riding. For the first few weeks of 1968 though, steam could still be found in parts of Derbyshire, with Buxton shed retaining a fleet of LMS 8F 2-8-0s mainly for working stone traffic in the High Peak area.

Buxton was served by two routes from the Manchester area. The LNWR took a fairly direct but steeply-graded route via Chapel-en-le-Frith. The Midland Railway had a main line from St Pancras to Manchester Central but this bypassed Buxton, diverging just beyond Millers Dale, to run via Peak Forest and Chinley, where the Hope Valley line from Sheffield joined it. Buxton was however served by a branch from the main line at Millers Dale Junction.

LMS 8F 2-8-0 No. 48191 rounds the curve at Great Rocks heading for Buxton in February 1968. MAURICE BURNS

By 1967, the LNWR line from Buxton south to Ashbourne had closed to passengers but freight traffic continued as far as Hindlow. By the start of 1968, a diesel servicing point had been built at Buxton and the regular traffic flow from the various quarries to the ICI works at Northwich had been handed over to diesel traction. Buxton shed in early 1968 had just seven 8Fs still in service, one of which was quickly withdrawn. Their duties consisted mainly of trip workings to serve the various quarries and the cement works at Hope, virtually all steam working being concentrated on the MR route out of Buxton via Peak Forest.

The Cromford & High Peak Railway had been the first railway route across the Peak District and remarkably, most of this had survived into the 1960s. The first section to be closed was the rope-worked incline to Middleton Top in 1963 but trains still ran from Buxton to Middleton Top until April 1967, latterly using LNER J94 0-6-0STs. The eastern section from Cromford Wharf to Sheep Pasture was worked by Class 03 diesels, which had replaced the LMS 0-4-0STs.

Buxton shed closed to steam on March 4, 1968 together with the sheds at Northwich and Trafford Park. The last weeks of steam working in the Buxton area during February saw periods of cold sunny conditions with a covering of snow.

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