40 years since rail service came to the end of the line
THE 40th anniversary of the closure of Keswick to Penrith Railway passed almost unnoticed this week.
The last train from Keswick left on 4th March, 1972 to the sound of bandsmen and the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Keswick Station was its busiest for many years when more than 400 people travelling on the specially-chartered last train were joined by a good number of local people who wanted to be present and witness history.
Ken Nicholson was the journalist in Keswick who covered the event for the Herald and was also involved in planning the day’s events as a member of the Round Table.
He recalls: “The day was planned jointly between members of Penrith and Keswick Round Table who met at a midway hostelry and contributed to the local economy by serious sampling of ale.
“The result of our deliberations was that we hired the last train from British Rail or whoever was the authority then and raised a substantial amount for our charitable funds by flogging tickets, which quickly sold out at £1 each.
“We were fortunate to have David Ferguson as a member in Keswick and he designed and printed the posters which were also popular and the souvenir brochure which we sold for 25p each as a condition of entry onto the station.”
He added: “The train, laden with passengers, left Penrith at 8pm, arriving in Keswick 32 minutes later then departed after an hour’s jollification for the very last time.”
Construction of the line began in May, 1862, and Thomas Bouch, of Tay Bridge, surveyed the line and prepared the plans for its passage through parliament.
Despite the multitude of bridgeworks, the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line (CKP) took less than three years to build, opening for mineral traffic in November, 1864, and for passengers the following January.
The CKP was one of many small railways in Cumberland until it disappeared as a legal entity in the great merger which created the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, in 1923.
The line proved to be an essential transport link for the mid-19th Century iron and steel industry, but soon began attracting substantial tourist traffic.
By the 1960s, with competition from the private car and in the face of the rail economy drive led by Sir Richard Beeching, then chairman of the British Railways Board, the western end of the line closed in April, 1966.
Economies were not sufficient to save the rest of the line which closed on 6th March, 1972, causing the railway line through some of Cumbria’s finest scenery to disappear from the rail map.
Railway enthusiasts led by Cedric Martindale, a freelance railway engineer, remain determined that trains will one day run again from Keswick and around £400,000 has been invested in surveys, design and environmental work.
They say the 18-mile section from Keswick to Penrith ticks many 21st Century boxes with pressure to reduce the amount of traffic in the Lake District at peak times.