Southport – More of Anthony Graham’s railway photos & 10 years of volunteering for the Friends of Meols Cop Station

Here’s another posting based on the old railway photos of Anthony Graham, who has generously agreed to my using them. This time we are in Southport and in particular looking at the former railway infrastructure in the Hawkshead Street/Meols Cop area of the Town. Having looked at the history this posting moves on to cover the first 10 years of the volunteer group Friends of Meols Cop Station.

Hawkshead Street Junction & Meols Cop Triangle 25th November 1925

Hawkshead Street Junction signal box opened in 1900, replacing the previous 1887 box. It was a Lancashire & Yorkshire box with a 20 lever L&Y lever frame that was enlarged to 32 levers in 1912 for the new layout at Meols Cop Repair Shops. The junction towards Preston was disconnected on 28th September 1964, the two main lines towards Roe Lane Junction subsequently being converted to two additional EMU storage sidings. Shunts between sidings at the Hawkshead Street Junction end of Meols Cop Works had to be done via the main line, the shunting neck being too short to fit a three car EMU. When the box closed on 11th October 1965 it had to be quickly demolished so as to enable the short neck to be extended through the site of the signal box and across the site of the former Preston lines, just short of the junction, to allow EMU shunting to be done within the works sidings.

Hawkshead Street Junction Site after junction removal March 1967

Left to right, withdrawn Lancaster-Morecambe EMU, Class 502 EMU, withdrawn ex Tyneside baggage car M68000M and another class 502 EMU. The two sidings on the extreme left were the former down and up main lines to and from Preston. The recently extended (October 1965) siding in the centre was to permit shunting operations between sidings on Meols Cop Works, previously these were done via the main line until Hawkshead Street Junction signal box closed on 11th October 1965. The box was immediately demolished on closure and the siding was extended through the former site of the box and across the former Preston Lines, just short of the junction.

Meols Cop Junction Signal Box March 1967

Clearly much has changed particularly with the loss of the line to Preston – Oh how useful that line would be today!

The good news is that Meols Cop Station is now looked after by a dedicated band of volunteers who have recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. Their story is in the latest edition of the Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Assn (OPSTA) magazine:-

Friends of Meols Cop Station- Ten Years of progress

The Friends of Meols Cop Station adoption group was formally constituted in 2009 following its launch at a meeting held on the station platform in July of that year, with its Constitution being formally agreed in October 2009.

However, prior to this founder members of the group, namely David & Pat Sumner and Dr. Jim Ford, had been at work from 2008 to begin the process of tidying up the overgrown grassed area which had been left following the demolition of the station buildings in 2000, and its reduction in status to an unstaffed halt, with only a minimal shelter for its passengers. This made it a somewhat forbidding place to wait for a train, especially on a winter night, for the basic train service which was then available.

History – Up to 1964 the station had been a hive of activity as it was also served by the local electric train service to Crossens which had reached Meols Cop in 1910 along with the railway workshops built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway to maintain the then new electric trains.

After this service was withdrawn in September 1964 along with the services to Preston from Southport, the station continued to be served by a limited service to Wigan and Manchester and eventually lost its timber extension to its island platform as train lengths were progressively reduced when traffic declined in the later BR years.

The station had once been a call on the local “Altcar Bob” steam railmotor service to Altcar, which was later cut back to Barton, being closed in 1938 by the LMS railway although the route remained intact to its junction with the Cheshire Lines Railway at Hillhouse Junction, Altcar until 1957. It is therefore a unique operating survivor from that route.

By 2010 the station’s appearance had been greatly improved by the efforts of the Friends Group, the grassed area had been tamed, and tidied up, surviving lupin plants, (a remnant of the original flower beds on the station) had been trimmed and in some cases relocated, and the construction of new flower beds, aided by a donation of redundant sleepers from Network Rail had begun, ready to accept plants and shrubs provided by Sefton MBC for the following season. Then came three large planters donated by Bellway Homes and sited on the main platform area.

Through the efforts of Councillor David Sumner, a spare bus-type shelter was provided by Merseytravel to provide extra cover for the growing number of users of the station, and a cycle shelter was also installed which was funded by Sefton MBC.

Later Norwood Ward Councillors provided funding for a sturdier lawn mower and strimmer which has made these jobs much easier to do.

The Friends of Meols Cop are active in many ways, helping to promote the station, and one of its early successes was the June 2012 “Muffin Monday” when Coffee and Muffins were offered to early morning commuters, some 70 in all, according to the records of the time. This event gained valuable local press publicity, helping to further promote the station’s facilities, by then enhanced by a restored Sunday train service. We have also had help from several local businesses for our events and running repairs from Latham’s, Porters and Jewsons.

In later years the station fared well in the North West “Britain in Bloom” competition, gaining several outstanding awards. Children from Norwood Primary School also helped to tend the flower beds as part of a school project, and the local Guides (now disbanded) also helped, both Groups enjoying a trip along to Hindley Station with tickets to ride from Northern.

After a couple of successive years of vandalism not only at the Station but along the line, with pressure from the Friends, British Transport Police and Norwood Ward Councillors, CCTV was finally installed funded by MerseyTravel, Northern and Network Rail, this has made the Station a very much safer place to wait for a train.

In 2016 the Northern franchise moved to a new operator, Arriva Rail North, and the station now benefits from a real-time train indicator, public address, and latterly a ticket vending machine and new, larger recycled plastic planters with money made available from ACORP, replacing the originals of 2010 which had given years of sterling service.

We have helped with the campaign to save the Southport to Manchester Piccadilly service, in July 2016 we held Juicy Tuesday when rail users were given a drink and a book to read on their journey provided by the High Park Project from Southport Community Centre and North Meols Library Association, whilst they took part in a rail survey.

What of the future? Having gained a two trains an hour weekday daytime service in 2018 the use of the station continues to grow, and from surveys conducted from time to time, it is clear that passengers have come to like its new lease of life, and there has been comment that it was a pleasure to wait for a train, even to the point of arriving early just to look at its flowers on a summer’s day.

Meols Cop station can justify its rejuvenated life as part of the West Lancashire Line, as its large white on red sign proudly announces.

The Friends of Meols Cop meet on the second Sunday of each month at 10.30 am. There is no membership fee; just remember to bring your gardening tools to qualify, and enjoy the company of a friendly group.

*****

My thanks to Anthony Graham for the use of his photos and congratulations to the Friends of Meols Cop Station.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them for viewing.

Coal – It once kept food on the tables of my mining community

A biomass train at Liverpool’s Seaforth Dock headed for Drax Power Station when full of wood pellets.

The BBC has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52973089

As an environmental campaigner this story on the BBC website obviously interests me, not least because I was born and lived my early years (late 1950’s/early 1960’s) in a community dependent on the coal mines surrounding it. Of course it has to be good news that we have gone for 2 months without needing to use coal to generate power and at some point in the not too distant future power from coal in the UK will be all but a distant memory.

However, within the BBC article there’s mention of Drax Power Station running on biomass wood pellets and the photo at the head of this posting shows a biomass train at Liverpool’s Seaforth Dock. That train takes the imported pellets to Drax which have been delivered to the UK by ship. My point here is what are the carbon implications of producing the pellets bringing them by a diesel powered ship to the UK and then taking them across the north of England by a diesel powered train?

It may well be the case that the power station is all but carbon neutral and far more environmentally friendly than it was when it burned traditional fossil fuels but is biomass really as green as we are being led to believe when you take into account deforestation and the energy used to produce and deliver the wood pellets to Drax? It would be interesting to see any background work done by environmental scientists on this.

This article from the i newspaper (linked below) tackles some of the issues I have concerns about:-

inews.co.uk/news/environment/uk-drax-power-plant-burning-us-trees-wood-pellets-deforestation-303461

And for the context of my family involvement in coal mining here’s a blog posting about that from 2019:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/06/02/nottinghamshire-the-miners-strike/

Opening up schools again – It’s NOT easy

To those outside of the often complex world of education reopening schools even on a phased basis during our health pandemic may look to be a straight forward matter, indeed government often gives such an impression. The reality of course is very different.

I’m a Trust member of a High School Academy and have been for around a year now. The school, which I also happened to attend many years ago, is not the issue here as this affects all schools across the UK. However, what I’ve learned especially since lockdown hit us is that keeping a large school of @1000 students going is a huge task. Yes the school has remained open for vulnerable students and those who are the children of Key Workers but coursework is being set and sent home to many many more students.

Schools have onerous responsibilities not just to educate our children but to safeguard them, to help manage the consequences of children living in dysfunctional family groups, to ensure they eat regularly, to help deal with all kinds of issues which affect the ability to both learn and to grow up as well rounded citizens. That’s one hell of an agenda and it’s a very different and hugely more complex one than what I encountered as a teenager in the 1970’s.

Just take the H&S Risk Assessment process which a school has to go through to enable it to teach a wider number of students within a school during this health pandemic. I can guarantee that it will be a long and complex document for any school to put together. If you think about it the RA effectively covers the students from the point they leave home to the point they return, so if they use school buses which pre-covid 19 were full to bursting but can only now accommodate say @ a dozen of them how does that work? There’s face covering to think about on those buses too. Then how many students can a school safely take in whilst maintaining safe distancing etc. etc. And what about the school’s staff members who may themselves be vulnerable due to health issues. Of course some of the students will be vulnerable too for the same reasons.

Over the past 3 months I’ve sat in on the school governors meetings (held via Zoom) as they grapple with all the above difficulties and more and I have to say the attention to detail is admirable indeed. I’m told that my job as a Trust member is to have oversight of the management of the school by the governors to ensure the objectives of the Trust are being realised/kept to. If what I have been seeing and participating in is replicated across other schools (and I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t) then seriously detailed work is happening to plan for safe workplaces and learning places for what could well be many months to come.

Teachers want to teach, they want their students to learn and be successful so if you hear of comments being made about teachers not being keen to reopen schools please take them with a pinch of salt. Teaching unions are not being obstructive they are simply trying to ensure that schools are safe for all who work or study within them. And no I’m not just saying that as a retired trade union officer, I’m saying it because of the evidence of my own eyes.

With the ‘R’ number looking very much as though it could be creeping above ‘1’ in the north west of England as I write this posting there is naturally great caution out there about reopening of schools. That caution is both well placed and seriously considered. We must ensure that reopening schools, even with significantly less students being in them each day from what used to be normal, are as safe as they can reasonably be.

Beware easy political solutions and ‘just get on with it’ rhetoric from those in power, turning a governmental wish to re-open schools this month into lager numbers of children actually being in schools is far from easy.

And just as I had completed this posting it seems that the Penny had dropped with government, at least as far as with primary schools are concerned, as this BBC article explains:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52969679

Speeding – Is it an addiction akin to alcoholism/drugs?

There can be little doubt that driving standards have plunged during lockdown and that this has mainly manifested itself via excessive speeding. That’s certainly been my experience travelling around Sefton and West Lancashire by car, cycle and indeed walking.

We had quite a number of weeks when there was little or no traffic on our roads and this seemingly became an invitation to those who enjoy/can’t resist speeding to put their clogs to the floor in both urban and rural areas regardless of pretty much anything. ‘We can so we will’ and they certainly have been doing! Maybe they thought the police would be enforcing social distancing and would not be bothered about speeding?

But now speeding become the norm will the petrol heads slow down as our roads are pretty much back to what they used to be? Frankly I’m not sure. Yes they’ll be slowed by the weight of traffic but will the urge to speed mean they’ll take greater risks to get past anything which slows them down? Or put another way once you’ve had a taste of speeding and done it regularly can you stop the addiction?

I’d like to see the stats for speeding enforcement on Merseyside and in Lancashire during lockdown as logically more speeding tickets should have been handed out assuming of course that police resources have not been reallocated elsewhere.

But what are our two local police forces going to do to try to normalise traffic speeds? Letting them rise was an inadvertent consequence of less traffic on our roads, bring them back down may well be a much harder task.

And yes I know some of you reading this will say the police have better things to do than fine motorists but you may have a different thought if a relative or friend is killed walking a country lane, cycling a local road or even being in a vehicle hit by another driven far too fast.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the most important and vulnerable thing on our highways is the pedestrian followed by cyclists. Only after that come powered vehicles.

My point in raising this issue once again is that if someone is caught say 2nd or 3rd time speeding within a specified period then is there not a reason to look upon that driver as someone with an addiction problem who needs help? They may also need to be stopped driving until their addiction has been tackled.

Altcar – Light & shade on the S&CLER

Great Altcar Civil Parish in West Lancashire remains a predominately rural community to this day. It lost its very rural passenger service along the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway in 1952, well before Beeching came along.

The trackbed is now a part of the National Cycle Network, the Trans Pennine Trail and is known as the Cheshire Line Path.

The two light and shade shots in this posting were taken just to the north of the site of the former Altcar & Hillhouse Station. Both are looking south and from the same location – the next bridge north of the B5195 Wood Lane.

If you click on the photos to enlarge them you will see more detail. The first one shows the next bridge south (Wood Lane) and the former station would have been just the other side of it where a sewerage works now stands at the side of the Cheshire Lines path.

I love the stone and brickwork in these shots, built to last you might say. The line opened in September 1884, so these bridges are over 130 years old and still looking pretty much as good as the day they were erected.

The first shot is also amongst my Flickr photos at – www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Rimrose Valley Country Park – An Update

Rimrose Valley Country Park.

The latest news from Rimrose Valley Friends is available via the link below:-

www.rimrosevalleyfriends.org/news/running-track-restoration-valleywatch-and-more/

Rimrose Valley Country Park