The last Northern Pacer!

A Pacer at Preston Station

The 27th November saw Northern’s very last Pacer in service. It left Kirkby Station on Merseyside heading for Wigan following a small ceremony which had been kept quiet due to Covid restrictions. Here’s a video of the final departure from You Tube by Kieran’s Transport Diaries:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AbmiSDLz14

I’ve blogged about these unloved diesel units many times particularly with regard to the campaigns to get rid of them. Here’s a post of mine from February 2018:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/02/07/pacers-are-thankfully-on-their-last-legs-or-is-that-wheels/

I for one will not be sorry to see the back of them. Buses on railway wheels, sometimes called ‘Nodding Donkeys’, they were shockingly uncomfortable to ride on.

A Preston bound ‘Nodding Donkey’ at Ormskirk Station.

Remember the Skem ‘Jazzer’ train?

I recently came across a detailed recollection and very significant analysis of this fabled train by Mike Pealing, who has generously allowed me to publish his work on this blog site.

The Skem.Jazzer. A Personal Reflection

I was born in Ormskirk during 1947. My father and his father before him were both railwaymen and as a family we used the railways extensively, which in those days, was so easy to do. There was little need to own a motor car, something that would be considered unbelievable today.

It was as a small child, that I first became acquainted with the Jazzer. Sometimes while waiting for the local service for Town Green at Ormskirk station, I would run off, to the top end of the station. There the Jazzer could often be seen. Belching black smoke, it looked like and was something, from a bygone age even in those days. What I remember most vividly was the huge chimney’s those locomotives had.

My father use to chase after me and I could be found staring at the engine. Sometime later he took me for a ride on the Jazzer, which I can barely remember.

Many places in the country in those days, had access to a station, even isolated villages. You could quite literally, travel anywhere by train.

Ormskirk was a very busy mainline station, with frequent express services to many destinations further north. (Windermere, Blackpool, Glasgow to name a few). Freight and goods trains were also very common. In addition, there were the local services to Southport, Skelmersdale, Rainford and St. Helens. It was a hive of activity. The water cranes were particularly fascinating to us as children.

I will not dwell on the history of the Rainford Branch Line, as there are many books and sources of information available, should the reader wish to explore further.

My interest in the Skem. Jazzer was rekindled some years back, when there was much local speculation that the old branch line might be reopened to Skelmersdale. Articles were written and with the rise of social media many posts appeared, some of which were just not true. One even suggested that the Skem.Jazzer operated between Liverpool and Wigan.

I decided to explore this local legend in an attempt to find out how the Jazzer came by its name. Little did I know that it would be a journey full of red herrings and dead ends.

The Jazzer operated between Ormskirk and St. Helens with seven through services each weekday but only services as far as Rainford Junction on Sundays. In addition, on weekdays, a more local service operated between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction with an onward connection at Rainford Junction for St. Helens. There were intermediate stops at Westhead Halt and Skelmersdale.

Among the first trains to operate on the line were the “Hughes Rail Motors”

Below, rare colour photograph of a Hughes Rail-Motor.

Above, Hughes Rail-Motor at Ormskirk Station

As can be observed from the photographs, the locomotive and carriage were fixed together and quite rigid, which could make the ride a little “jerky”. These rail motors operated with what was known as a “push-pull” system, which meant the train could be operated from either the locomotive or from the last carriage. This eliminated the need for turning at the destinations. The photograph below shows how the system worked. The driver can be seen in the coach.

The rail motors operated on the Rainford Branch until c1933* by which time, they were all withdrawn.

Photo below…. merged picture of how the Jazzer would have looked passing over Sefton’s bridge, Plough Lane. Lathom.

It seems likely that the “Jazzer” name started to be used to describe the Hughes Rail Motors from the mid-nineteen twenties, probably due to the characteristic ride experienced on these trains. In some way, the name was “borrowed” from the Jazz dance craze of the era. There is evidence that the rail motors had the nickname “Iffit” in their early years on the line. Possibly meaning “if it comes” or “if it runs” or “if it gets there” or a similar connotation.

Wherever these old trains operated on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, they acquired nicknames, such as “The Horwich Jerk “and “The Altcar Bob”. These nicknames and there are others, may very well have referred to the ride experienced on the trains, for example… “Bobbed about,” “Jerked around”, or even “Jazzed”.

“The Altcar Bob” at Downholland Station.

A locally, well-known painting and prints of the same exist of a Hughes Rail Motor, by a railway artist, the late Jim Petrie. This excellent painting shows a train at Ormskirk Station in 1914. The painting is titled “The Skem Jazzer 1914” and depicts an incoming service from Rainford using the mainline platform and a WW1 scene at the station. The photograph below shows a copy of this painting. However, in my search to find the origins of the Jazzer name, we must analyse the evidence.

The word “Jazz” did not enter UK English until sometime in the early 1920s. It can therefore be ruled out, that the Hughes Rail Motors carried the Jazzer nickname before this time.

The Hughes Rail Motors were withdrawn from service c1933* and replaced by two types of locomotives on the branch line. They were the Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t and the Hughes 1P. 2 4 2t

Both continued to use the “push-pull” system, utilising extra coaches, known as trailing coaches, according to passenger demand.

*Ormskirk engine shed (photos above&below) closed in 1935. There is evidence that the shed allocation of 1934 included one rail-motor, although it was most likely out of service and awaiting disposal.

Skem. Jazzer. Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t at Ormskirk Station. c1949.

Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t at Rainford Junction station.

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t

(Below) Hughes 1P 2 4 2t approaching New Lane, Burscough. Heading towards Southport.

These locomotives operated on the line from c1932 until c1950. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were generally used on the passenger services between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction. Other loco types operated the goods and freight services. The Hughes type 1P locos seem to have been mainly used on the through passenger services between Ormskirk and St. Helens. Both types were fitted with the push-pull system. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were based and maintained at Aintree MPD. The Hughes type 1P locos were based and maintained at Sutton Oak (Peasley Cross). Both were also known as radial tanks.

They were used throughout the wartime years and my late father remembered them very well.

As a young man and before joining the R.A.F. in 1942 he served with the Local Defence Volunteers (the precursor to the Home Guard) guarding Ormskirk Station from the might of Hitler. He told me how quiet and scary it was wandering around during the night. The lads used to spend the nights when off duty in a camping type coach, which was situated in the sidings adjacent to the Jazzer bay.

It has proved difficult to obtain definitive information on how and when the Jazzer got its name. Most of my research is based on hearsay. Information from an elderly family member has clarified the mystery.

During the WW11 years and for some time after, dances where held in Skelmersdale. Local people, including many American soldiers who were billeted in Maghull, made the journey from Ormskirk using the train. Extra coaches were added to accommodate the increase in passengers on Friday and Saturday nights. The place where the dances were held was the old Cooperative Hall (pictured below). This venue (there may well have been others) along with the dances held there, adopted the combined name of “Skem. Jazzers”.

Today, if you were to ask young people what they were doing on a Saturday night, the answer would probably be “Clubbing”. In those days, a similar question would be answered with “Jazzing”.

In those wartime years dancing was extremely popular, with dances such as the Jitterbug being a favourite. During those difficult and austere times, railway maintenance was at a minimum, the rolling stock in use was also well passed its sell by date. The trains would have been crowded, with many passengers standing. Travelling on the line was known to “jolt” or “jazz” passengers around, particularly when passing over points, level crossings and on the long curve in the line approaching and leaving Ormskirk.

The Co-operative Hall. Skelmersdale. Home of the “Skem. Jazzers”

From c1950 the old radial tank engines were withdrawn and replaced by the more familiar Ivatt tank engines. (At this time, the line between Rainford Junction and St. Helens was closed). The Ivatt Tanks remained in service until the closure of the line to passengers in 1956. The locomotives used on the line were numbers 41283 and 41284, still utilising the push-pull system. Both were based and maintained at Aintree MPD.

My conclusion is that the name “Jazzer” came about in the mid to late 1920s based on the jolts and rickety journey experienced, particularly by those standing and the comparison with the Jazz dance styles and craze of the era.

The Jazzer name and local tales of the train journey would have been very well known in the area, as well as to those in later WW11 times travelling to the dances.

The dances and venues in Skelmersdale simply adopted and used the name “Jazzers” which was a part of everyday conversation in those days.

Photos above and below show Ivatt Tank Engines, the last locos to carry the Jazzer name (Ormskirk Station.

Early morning photo of The Jazzer. Travelling light engine from Aintree MPD to Ormskirk, passing through Town Green Station. (Photo below)

The Skem Jazzer in its final form. Ivatt Tank Engine at Ormskirk Station.

It does appear that the answer to this local legend has been clarified or solved, but as previously mentioned, there is no definitive evidence. The Skem.Jazzer remains an important part of our local history.

The chance of the old branch line between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale ever reopening is unlikely. Current railway plans for the area, suggest a new station for Skelmersdale, which will be connected to the present-day line at Upholland. Other options include electrification to Burscough.

Modern thinking for the railways, is what is known as “rail heading”. New stations are built or in some cases reopened, to where people can drive and park their cars. The journeys are then continued by rail into the cities.

The old train is still fondly remembered, and we can only imagine the difference it would now make to the area if you could still catch a train to Skelmersdale, Rainford or St. Helens with onward connections to Wigan, Manchester and other places. Not forgetting the much-missed service between Ormskirk and Southport.

Below, The Jazzer near Westhead, heading towards Ormskirk. The loco is a Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. c1949 Note, the large chimney.

Below, The Skem Jazzer at Westhead Halt. c1949. The loco is an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2 t.

Jazzer at Westhead Halt. (Hughes Rail motor) c1930. Note the steps to the top right of photograph. Used for getting on and off the train.

Below, Jazzer at Crank Halt, Rainford Junction to St. Helens line. Hughes Type 1P 2 4 2t.

Crank Halt, showing remains of the platform

Skelmersdale Station(below) showing a goods train operated by an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Skelmersdale station(below) after closure. Limited freight traffic along with some rolling stock movements continued to use the line until the tracks were finally lifted.

Skelmersdale Station. Now abandoned. One of the final goods services passing through.

The line in the past also served the many coal mines and pits that were in the area. In the Ormskirk direction a mineral railway branched off and served Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate pit, then Brookfield pit and finally Tawd Vale (later Glenburn) colliery.

The mineral railway at Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate Pit.

Photo below shows the Sandwash (top blue marker on the map above) and lines to the pits and collieries.

A mineral railway also ran from White Moss Crossing. This served White Moss and Mossfield collieries.

And another ran to Bickerstaffe Colliery, to the south of White Moss Crossing.

In WW1, a military railway ran from Skelmersdale Station into the Lathom Park Remount Depot. Its purpose was to transport warhorses. Standard gauge from Skelmersdale but became narrow gauge on entering the depot. (of the same type that was used in the trenches)

Below, horses at Ormskirk Station awaiting movement to the remount depot at Lathom Park.

Ormskirk Station showing the Rainford Branch, centre right. Lower right corner, tracks to Jazzer and Coal Sidings.

Photographs below shows the approaches to Ormskirk Station. The points and curves were the most likely source of the “jolts” experienced by passengers.

Aerial view of Ormskirk Station (below) showing the Rainford Branch top left.

Above, Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. For me, the iconic locomotive type that operated on the line and the engine I most remember from my childhood.

What remains today?…

Photos above and below courtesy of Orion Aerial Images. Track bed from Ormskirk and Westhead Village shown.

Some of the former track bed between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale is extant but generally inaccessible and mainly on private land. Between Skelmersdale and Rainford, the old route can be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

This section of the former line, however, has generally been obliterated by White Moss Landfill but some of the route remains as farm track. It is mainly on private land.

From the former Rainford Junction Station (now Rainford) towards St. Helens, a long section of the old track bed remains. This has become a cycle/walkway. Starting near The Junction Public House. It is known as Rainford Linear Park.

The final few miles from where the Linear Park ends at Mill Lane, near Crank and onwards into St. Helens is generally inaccessible and has all but disappeared under roads and development. This section of the old line can also be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

(More information can be found on the excellent “Disused Stations” webpage…http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/)

Photos of the Jazzer or in some example’s identical locos, included with very many thanks to the unknown original photographers of these and some other photographs contained in this article.…….

Footnote…. To some the trains were also known by the name “Skem. Joey”. But that’s another story!

My thanks to Mike for allowing me to blog about his excellent reasearch. My thanks also to Keith Page for this help with my befuddlement over technical aspects of sorting out computer stuff.

Click on the photos and graphics to enlarge them where that is possible

Lancashire Railways 1964-1968 (Liverpool – Southport – Ormskirk – Burscough – Wigan)

The Burscough Curves are in West Lancashire. This historic shot of them is from when they were in place, in 1960’s.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ3SxCwCcIQ

I can’t recall whether I’ve posted about this particular You Tube video before (posted by Michael Dawson – see link above) or not but it is so significant in documenting the railways around Merseyside and West Lancashire in the mid 1960’s through to the end of steam that it is well worth sharing.

It covers through trains from Liverpool Exchange to Scotland via Ormskirk, the now long gone and much missed Southport – Preston Line, the fabled Burscough Curves which OPSTA are trying to get reopened and many other delightful railway scenes.

And I’m also taking the opportunity to add in more photos by Anthony Graham, which he has kindly given me permission to use, to further illustrate in a similar timeline some of the lines the video:-

Hall Road Station 1968 with a Liverpool Lime Street to Southport Class 108 DMU in the station.

Hesketh Park Signal Box May 1968

Ormskirk Station Signal Box 1968 May

Rufford 1970 2nd May, the final Saturday 0900 Liverpool Exchange-Glasgow Central service being cautioned owing to a block failure between Rufford and Midge Hall.

Kirkdale Station 1968 looking north east

I’m sure this posting will bring back memories for many folk looking at it. How lucky we are that our railway past has been so well documented on film/video and by photographers.

Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

WP_20160430_15_56_43_Pro r

For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Merseyrail’s Northern Lines – Posting 1 – The Ormskirk Line

A selection of scenes from Merseyrail’s Liverpool – Ormskirk line:-

Please click on the photos to enlarge them

Merseyrail's Kirkdale Motive Power Depot with Kirkdale Station in the background.

Merseyrail’s Kirkdale Motive Power Depot with Kirkdale Station in the background.

Aintree Station at night

Aintree Station at night

Maghull Station

Maghull Station

The award winning work of the Maghull Station Volunteers literally on display at Maghull Station.

The award winning work of the Maghull Station Volunteers literally on display at Maghull Station.

Pedestrian and road bridges where Poverty Lane crosses the line north of Maghull Station.

Pedestrian and road bridges where Poverty Lane crosses the line north of Maghull Station.

The entrance/exit of Ormskirk Station at night.

The entrance/exit of Ormskirk Station at night.

Ormskirk Station at night.

Ormskirk Station at night.

Photos 1, 3, 5 & 7 are also amongst my Flickr photos at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Ormskirk – A look back at its station in the 1970’s

In the last of my present run of 1970’s photos’ of a number of Merseyrail Stations in the latter days of the the old Class 502 EMU here is Ormskirk.

A 502 EMU at Ormskirk

I purchased the photo (and then scanned it) from the Friends of the 502 Group.

The photo is also amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/