Book review: A History of the Garstang and Knott End Railway by Robert Cunliffe

Robert Cunliffe with his book A History of the Garstang and Knott End Railway
Robert Cunliffe with his book A History of the Garstang and Knott End Railway

There are still places in the rural Wyre countryside between Garstang and Knott End where the route of this gone but far from forgotten railway can still be traced.


And currently, to the surprise (and delight) of many, a railway restoration group has bravely given itself the task of trying to bringing back train transport to part of the Preesall / Knott End stretch of the old route (albeit with a narrow gauge track).
Such matters, linked to the on-going fascination of the fortunes (and many misfortunes) of the G&KER make the publication of this new book exceedingly timely.
It’s not the first book on the problem-plagued line. That honour goes to the now out of print work by Robert Rush and Martin Price.
Given the on-going interest in its history, Robert Cunliffe’s newly-released, self-published paperback, will be of considerable interest to both local history buffs as well as rail enthusiasts nationwide.
The 94-page book has many strengths, not least on the author’s reliance on the original documents linked to the railway’s early days as well as contemporary press cuttings, many of which are reproduced.
Another strong point of the book is that it takes a simple, largely chronological way to tell the line’s story from the 1860s and to the 1960s.
Reading about the campaign to raise both parliamentary approval for and shareholder capital to finance for the project it’s fair to say that there was a lot of hype and “sexing up” emanating from its initial backers.
They suggested the construction of railway line from Garstang to Knott End, via Nateby, Pilling and Preesall and Knott End would be a low cost, high return venture, boosting the fortunes of not only local farmers expanding their markets, but also attracting tourist traffic which was on the increase in mid-Victorian England.
Mr Cunliffe reveals documentary evidence to show the early ambitions weren’t just “local”. Some of the entrepreneurs behind the railway wanted a major commercial development and extended transport route - with docks at Knott End and the construction of track beyond Garstang leading ultimately to ports on the east coast of England.
Needless to say, and as those with even a smattering of background knowledge about this railway will know, both the development and eventual running of the line was never smooth. Financial and practical problems abounded – Mr Cunliffe’s text outlines them all in a detailed, well written way.
There are numerous excellent illustrations, maps, drawings and good quality photos (both of how things looked then, and importantly, how some of the surviving buildings and current landscapes look in 2017).
I spotted one or two matters in the book which will prompt puzzled responses (eg a far too narrowly drawn definition of Amounderness on page 30, and a rather unfortunate date error on page 76 re the date of Royal Assent for the Knott End Railway Act – which gave approval for the much-belated Stakepool/Pilling to Knott End line – the correct date being 1898).
That stated such matters do not detract from the overwhelming usefulness of this publication which, no doubt will prove attractive to the many people (including me) for whom the old line remains a source of fascination.
We are firmly in the debt of Mr Cunliffe for this book, and to respected historian and Bob Dobson (Landy Publishing) of Staining who encouraged him in his research and loaned the author several original documents.

* A History of the Garstang and Knott End Railway is available from the on-line LULU bookshop. Locally it is available from Market Place News, Market Place, Garstang and Knott End News, Knott End.