by Colin Berwick

The first railway line in North Skelton was a temporary branch of the Cleveland Railway near its crossing of Stanghow Lane and past Wet Furrows Farm. The Cleveland Railway, which extended to Brotton in 1865, had a depot near Stanghow Lane which serviced North Skelton Mine while it was under construction. The mine opened in 1872 and Longacres Mine a year later, by which time the North Eastern Railway Company had built an extension branch line from Saltburn to Brotton through North Skelton. This line opened on the 1st June 1872, but not for passenger traffic. It included the spectacular Skelton Viaduct, designed by T.E. Harrison with eleven arches, 783 feet in length and 150 feet high.

Meanwhile North Skelton had grown. In 1870 fifty cottages were built near the mine at a cost of £80 each, and the following year the Skelton and Brotton Urban District Council built a further 156 cottages to house the miners and their families who came from as far afield as Durham and Cornwall to find work in the expanding iron industry. In 1881 the foundation stone of the Primitive Methodist Chapel, which was to be built of wood and corrugated iron, was laid by George Robinson, the mine manager, and in 1900 Bolckow, Vaughan and Company, the mine owners, came to an agreement with the North Eastern Railway Company to leave sixty per cent of the ironstone beneath the site of the proposed North Skelton Station near Hollybush Farm.

The station opened on the 1st July 1902 and cost £1447 to build. At this point it is interesting to note that the York National Railway Museum’s Directory of Railway Stations shows North Skelton Station as opening on 1st April 1875. I can only surmise that this was a depot for goods traffic - coal, timber and machinery - for either North Skelton or Longacres. Certainly, signal boxes were situated at the approaches to both mines. The Passenger Station buildings, which were built mainly of wood, comprised a station house, waiting room and booking office on the ‘up’ platform - the line to Saltburn. On the ‘down’ line were a waiting room, and a signal box at the Brotton end of the platform. This controlled the siding which led from the main down line behind the station to the goods shed. On the Saltburn side of the station was a footbridge for passenger use when crossing the track. Some distance down the line, near to the two bridges which cross the road through North Skelton, was another signal box opposite Richard Street. This controlled the junction where the Brotton line and the Preistcroft Spur converged, the latter leading to the branch into the sidings at the mine. By 1911 the population in the Skelton district exceeded three thousand and the number of passengers booked at North Skelton which served the area was over twenty four thousand. By 1921 the population and the number of passengers booked had hardly changed. In the winter of 1912/13 there were about twelve passenger trains a day in each direction. The first train to Saltburn was at 7-43 am and the last train back from Saltburn was at 7-35 pm except Saturdays when there was a late train at 10-10 pm.

The main routes were to and from Scarborough via Whitby or to Middlesbrough via Guisborough, changing at Brotton. The ‘up’ line required a change at Saltburn in most cases but occasionally there was a through train travelling further afield. Ron Booth remembers a school visit to London in the early 1930’s when a through train from North Skelton carrying children from a number of local schools left at two o’clock in the morning. He had to walk from Groundhill and remembers with some gratitude the roaring coal fire in the Waiting Room. These were times when the railways had little competition. Buses were almost non-existent and people were used to walking long distances. Deliveries of essentials such as coal and milk were usually by horse and cart, often collected from the railway stations. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the station platforms would be full of milk churns, fish boxes, pigeon baskets, luggage and people. Such was the popularity of rail travel that on many lines, where reversing and shunting were necessary, as at Brotton and Guisborough, steam Autocars and Railcars were introduced, alongside the traditional locomotive and carriages, to speed up operations. The Autocar units made matters easier because only the driver changed ends - not the engine. The Autocars and Railcars were given names such as ‘Neptune’, ‘Old Blue’ and ‘John Bull’ after well-known stagecoaches of the past.

By the 1940’s things had changed. Rail travel was still popular but other forms of transport such as buses and cars were becoming more available. In 1949 there were only four trains a day from North Skelton; the 9-46 a.m and 6-29 p.m to Brotton and the 10-40 a.m and 6-56 p.m to Saltburn. The economics were obvious and on 15th January 1951 North Skelton Station was closed. It re-opened briefly on 18th June for the Summer season but closed again on 10th September - this time permanently. In 1959 the platforms were empty for most of the time and the Station Master, Mr. Noble, shared his responsibilities with Brotton, which remained open for passenger traffic until 1958. In its relatively brief lifetime of less than fifty years the station performed an important function in the growth of the area and many people have their personal recollections of it. Edna Owens (nee Dowson) remembers as a child her father taking a cart or wheelbarrow to the station goods yard for coal. She enjoyed the journey there because she could ride on the cart, but after watching it being filled and weighed she had to walk all the way back. She also remembers the footbridge being dismantled in the mid-1940’s after Clive Curnow fell off it. (It should be emphasised that he was only a small boy at the time!). To a child in the 1930’s a trip by train to Saltburn was an adventure. The chocolate machine in the station provided refreshment in the shape of a bar of Nestlé's in its red and silver paper. The ride over the viaduct was followed by a donkey ride, ice cream and picnic on the beach. The only drawback for a tired youngster was the long walk home from the station.

Three years after the station closed, Longacres Mine shut down though stone was still taken out through North Skelton. Ten years later, on 17th January, 1964 North Skelton Mine closed. It had produced 25 million tons of ironstone in its lifetime. The last trainload of over 200 tons left the mine on 20th January and soon after, North Skelton Junction Signal Box stopped operations. The Station House still remains as a reminder of the past. The railway viaduct still spans Skelton Beck, though the line is now single track and carries mineral traffic from Boulby Mine and steel from Skinningrove. Remarkably, that is almost exactly what it was designed to do one hundred and thirty years ago.

Colin Berwick

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