Bury to Holcombe Brook: A Short History

Mark Bartlett

Having put a selection of Cam Camwell's Holcombe Brook Branch pictures on the website I thought a few words about this short but interesting line might be of interest.

Brandlesholme Road Halt: Immediately after the steam push pull trains had taken over from the electric trains on the branch L&YR 2-4-2T 50829 pulls in to Brandlesholme Road Halt, serving a suburb of Bury, on the 4.16pm from Bury Bolton Street to Holcombe Brook. Electric operation officially finished three days later so this would have been one of the first steam operated services. Brandlesholme Road passed over the bridge and is still the main road from Bury out to Holcombe Brook. W A Camwell Collection (Courtesy Mark Bartlett) 22/03/1951

The branch was only 3 ¾ miles long but steeply graded with three viaducts and at one time had nine halts and stations, four of which also handled goods traffic. It was single track throughout with one passing loop at Woolfold Station. During its short life the line employed steam power, two different forms of electric traction and finally steam again for its final period of service.
The line was promoted by an independent company, the Bury and Tottington District Railway, although L&YR engines and rolling stock were used from the opening in 1882 and six years later the L&YR took the line over. Initially just the stations at Woolfold, Greenmount, Tottington and Holcombe Brook were opened but competition from trams meant that a railmotor service was introduced in 1905 with additional halts at Woodhill Road, Brandlesholme Road, Sunnywood and Knowles Crossing.
When electric trams were introduced on the nearby roads it suited the railway company to collaborate with the Dick Kerr Company of Preston who wanted to use the line as a proving ground for its electrical equipment. The branch was electrified using 3500 volt DC overhead equipment and two motor coaches and two trailers were supplied for the 1913 opening.
In 1916 the Manchester to Busy line was electrified using the 1200 volt DC side contact third rail and two years later the branch was converted to this system too although Woodhill Road and Knowles Crossing halts were closed. Woodhill Road Halt opened again in the 1930s to serve new housing. Some of the concrete bases for the catenary masts survive however and, over 90 years after they were last used, can be seen in several locations alongside the former trackbed.

Woodhill Road Halt: L&YR 2-4-2T 50651, with a 26D Bury shedplate on its smokebox, calls at the small Woodhill Road Halt on its way to Holcombe Brook on the last day of services. Conductor rails still in place alongside the line. (Does anyone have pictures of the electric trains on this branch?) I visited this site in December 2008 and found that not only has the station gone but also the embankment has made way for housing too, with the spoil apparently moved up the hill to fill in Brandlesholme Road cutting see image [[21238]], where houses were also being built. Print credited to N R Knight. W A Camwell Collection (Courtesy Mark Bartlett) 04/05/1952

The branch settled down to an uneventful existence and enjoyed a frequent service of electric trains on the short run to Bury Bolton St but by 1951 the electrical equipment was worn out while the level of traffic did not warrant expensive replacement. So, on 25th March 1951, electric operation ceased and from then until 5th May 1952 a steam push pull service was operated using L&YR 2-4-2T locomotives.
Goods traffic continued for a period using L&YR Lanky A Class 0-6-0s and then Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0s from Bury shed but the line was progressively cut back towards Bury and closed completely in 1963.
Much of the line is now built over but the stretch from Greenmount to Woolfold can still be walked as an official foot and cycle path, known as the Kirklees Trail, and including the section over Tottington viaduct. Thankfully Cam Camwell and his friends captured the last year of railway operations for posterity.

Tottington: A view over Tottington viaduct, along the Holcombe Brook branch (Kirklees trail), towards Greenmount and the terminus. The local landmark, Peel Tower, can be seen high on Holcombe Moor. Mark Bartlett 26/05/2009

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