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Blog- Three Shire's Head - The Buxton Leek & Macclesfield Railway - an imagined history

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Imagineering a fictitious history for your layout used to be quite common, however it seems to have fallen out of favour of late. None the less I've always liked the concept and develop the history below for the creation of Three Shire's Head.


The Buxton, Leek & Macclesfield Railway


Railways came early to Buxton in the form of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, originally a horse drawn waggonway built to link the Cromford and Peak Forest Canals. Bizarrely the promoters of this waggonway didn’t seek to encourage traffic on route and actively sought to avoid towns and habitation on the route, thus the line bypassed Buxton at high level the nearest point being Ladmanlow yard. Over the next 50 years the line developed being re-laid for steam locomotives. The line’s remote location offered the opportunity for quarries to be opened up along the route and considerable tonnage of stone started to be moved over the line. Eventually the line came under the auspices of the LNWR.

Meanwhile Buxton got its mainline passenger and freight links with the rest of the country in 1864 when both the Midland Railway and LNWR arrived. The LNWR offered a route to Manchester and Midland East to Derby.


The good business men of Buxton however were not satisfied as they felt cut off from routes south. It was against this backdrop the Buxton, Leek and Macclesfield Railway was proposed.


The distance between the three towns is short, but as anyone knows who has travelled between the towns via the Cat and Fiddle pass and Axe Edge it is not Railway friendly geography. Initially the Railway sought to ally with the North Staffordshire railway. The North Staffordshire Railway was never the most adventurous of Railways and thus didn’t want to contribute to such an obvious white elephant, it was however tempted by the thought of accessing Buxton and potential freight revenues and so offered encouragement without commitment. The LNWR quickly made it’s feeling known, Restricting the traffic onto the North Staffordshire’s lines in order to warn the North Staffs off and preserve the freight coming off the Cromford and High Peak for itself (It must have been galling for the LNWR to watch most of the stone traffic flow off the line eastwards onto the Midland, probably one of the drivers behind the opening of the Ashbourne line in 1894).


Various moves to get the Buxton, Leek and Macclesfield line under way failed with the Acts of Parliament becoming time barred due to inactivity. Meanwhile the Midland became a player, eyeing East - West traffic potential from the West Coast Mainline to their own Midland Mainline at Derby. Unfortunately for the promoters they were already over committed through this period with the construction of the Settle and Carlisle Line so no ready cash came. Encouraged by the positive noises being made by the North Staffs and the Midland the promoters raised and new Bill which was heavily opposed by the LNWR. The bill was granted with the caveat that should the company go into receivership the LNWR would be granted first refusal at purchase.



The Blue lines represent the Lines built by the BL&M the Red lines showing the intended links into Leek and Macclesfield that bankrupted the company. The line to Ashbourne is shown but at the beginning of the period modelled this did not exist. Ashbourne being a terminus on the North Staffordshire Railway.


In 1881 the first sod was cut on the hillside above Buxton and the line quick progressed with a small terminus in Buxton steeply graded up to the junction with the High Peak Line at Ladmanlow (and its adjacent quarry and coal mine) and on to the edge of the Staffordshire moorlands at an area known as Three Shire Heads. Here the line was to split with a leg of the Y going on to Macclesfield and Leek. The line was steeply graded at 1 in 40 and contained two massive tunnels of 3 miles and 4 miles in length. The cost of these tunnels proved prohibitive for the small company and when problems occurred during the digging of the second tunnel the finances finally ran out. The Company soldiered on generating little revenue, the terminus at Three Shire Heads provide a station for the hamlets of Flash and Wildboreclough but these generated little traffic. With little receipts and no chance of investing in stock to work the line (a contractors locomotive was purchased to provide initial motive power) the railway closed in 1884.


The LNWR stepped in and purchased the line outright. It had no intention of developing the line through to its original terminals but in its purchase prevented any other party from doing so. The original terminus in Buxton was removed and the line extended into the LNWR’s station in Buxton. The original BL&M station being little more than a shack. Traffic at Three Shire Heads did increase though. Fluorspar deposits were discovered and mined in limited quantities, being brought to the rail head in horse and cart and a limestone quarry developed, burning lime for slacked lime thus coal imports grew (from the Mine at Ladmanlow and further afield) and limestone and lime products exported. The quarry exchanged wagons with the LNWR via and exchange siding at Three Shire Heads. Some additional passenger traffic was generated for Edwardian touring parties using the line from Buxton to visit the Staffordshire Moorlands and nearby Roaches.

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