The Railway Comes To Ormskirk

Postcard from the personal collection of Dot Broady-Hawkes

The growth of Ormskirk as the prominent market town in West Lancashire was slow and steady for centuries. The Manor belonged to the Earls of Derby and the Ormskirk Petty Sessions were held in the town under the jurisdiction of the Court Leet for many years, the Court Leet acting on behalf of the Earl of Derby, the Lord of the Manor of Ormskirk. This meant people from many different areas had to be able to travel into Ormskirk safely and quickly.

In late 1844 a Bill went to Parliament submitted by the shareholders of the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston Railway Company. £600,000 capital was raised consisting of 24,000 £25 shares. The new line would run from Liverpool City Centre through to link up with the North Union Railway at Farrington, where the Preston-Blackburn line began. Two branch lines were planned, one to Southport and one to the Lathom coalfields.

Within 12 months the Liverpool, Ormskirk & Preston Railway had amalgamated with the North Union Railway Company and the lines from Leeds all the way to Liverpool were linked up. The construction of the network created a whole new employment sector, with advantages for many heavy and light engineering industries. The railway construction created thousands of jobs over several years during the 1840s and 50s, which attracted a huge influx of Irish labourers, these men came over as the Great Famine was affecting Ireland.

Towns like Ormskirk had a sudden and massive itinerant population to house. This led to the rapid building of the crowded court dwellings built behind the 4 main streets in the town. The single men were followed by hundreds of young single Irish women escaping the same privations in Ireland and these women followed the railway for both work and to marry their fellow countrymen. The Irish population in Ormskirk grew rapidly in the 1840s and 50s and once the railway labouring work came to an end as the railway opened in 1849, the families stayed to take on agricultural and small industry jobs.

The result of the railway construction and the new, large Irish population in the town resulted in the establishing of St Annes Parish Church, replacing the old Chapel, and the Catholic school in Hants Lane.

At the other end of the social scale, the Railway links to both Liverpool and Preston brought the business man and his family out from the city into the newly built Victorian suburbs of Ormskirk, with fresh air, open spaces and relative security. Men of affluence and influence came into the community with their families and these men were to take an active, often philanthropic role in the civic and religious aspects of the growing town.

Agriculture benefitted massively from the fast speedy transport taking produce into city markets. The coal fields were able to access the port of Liverpool with tons of coal at a time set for export, opening up vast new markets.

The first station, on the East side, was opened in 1866, it offered new facilities for passengers. There had only previously been a little wooden hut on the site, which was for the ‘convenience’ of passengers. The booking office had been on the west side. The new station created more permanent jobs for railway staff.

Day trips became possible as leisure time was created through the new five and a half day week. Train services came through Ormskirk to Blackpool, Fleetwood and Southport. The number of employees at the Ormskirk Railway station in the goods yard and the passenger side grew with some railway employees travelling in from other stations to work there due to the high passenger numbers. By 1900 35 staff worked on the passenger side, with a similar number working in the goods yard.

After much planning and purchasing of prime town centre land, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company established the Ormskirk to Liverpool Line in 1844. The cost of land increased when the land owners realised they could make more money quickly by selling their land on a proposed route. The main beneficiary of land purchase from Liverpool to Ormskirk was Lord Derby.

The new line opened up opportunities for businesses to thrive and grow in the town and businessmen, farmers and professionals were able to expand their opportunities to Liverpool and Preston.

The Telegraph came to the town, running alongside the railway lines, creating a whole new occupation, the Royal Mail was transported on trains and this increased the reliability of the new age of the postal service.

The impact on Ormskirk hotels and inns was very positive but it also caused a decline in trade for the mail and passenger coaches that covered the same routes.

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