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York to Scarborough Railway


Although the railway between York and Scarborough was opened as long ago as 1845, it has changed little over the years, and except in the vicinity of York Station, it still runs on exactly the same course that was laid down originally.

The first scheme for a railway from York to Scarborough, appears to have been in 1833, when a line was proposed from the Leeds & Selby Railway near Sherburn, through Tadcaster, York and Malton to the coast. This plan never came to fruition, and the next positive step was a public meeting held in the Town Hall at Scarborough on October 19, 1839, when George Hudson and George Stephenson addressed the assembled company.

On July 20, 1840, the directors of the York & North Midland Railway authorised George Hudson to spend £500 on the cost of a survey of the route to Scarborough, to be carried out by George and Robert Stephenson. In the following year, Hudson met George Stephenson, and together they visited the site of the proposed line. It was during this meeting that firm plans were made for the survey to be carried out. After the survey was completed, the Scarborough branch scheme was shelved for a while, as the directors considered that the opening of the line between Darlington and Newcastle was of greater importance and must take priority.

At a meeting held on November 17, 1843, it was decided the line should go ahead, and to apply to Parliament for the necessary powers to build the new route. Within a few days the plans were bound, for a line of 42 miles level course and 14 original stations, and on the 30th of the same month they were deposited with the authorities.

From the moment the line was first mooted, a certain George Knowles had campaigned against the construction of a railway to Scarborough, and in 1840 he published a pamphlet in which he said:

“Scarborough has no wish for a greater influx of vagrants and those who have no money to spend. Scarborough is rising daily in the estimation of the public as a fashionable watering place, on account of its natural beauty and tranquility, and in a few years more, the novelty of not having a railroad will be its greatest recommendation.”

Another point that he made was that although the journey time by train would be two hours less than by stagecoach, the visitors to Scarborough were travelling only for pleasure, and any time saved was of no account.

Apparently Knowles was not the only person who did not want the railway to be built. On March 16, 1844, Earl Fitzwilliam presented a petition to the House of Lords, from the citizens of Scarborough, protesting against the proposed line. The petition was received by the Duke of Wellington, with the typical Parliamentary phrase that “he would mention the subject in the proper quarter”.

Despite these objections, on July 4, 1844, the Act for the construction of the line was passed, and in just over a year, on July 7th, 1845, only one year after the Act for the construction of the line was passed, the York to Scarborough line was opened. Festivities commenced with a public breakfast at York, and the inaugural train of 35 coaches left York at 11am and according to reports of the time: “proceeded at a slow rate over the line, with the first stop at Castle Howard Station to pick up Lord Morpeth.”

The stop at Castle Howard probably proved quite worthwhile, as apparently the Earl of Carlisle provided a supply of strong ale from the cellars of Castle Howard for all those who chose to partake.

The report goes on: “The arrival at Scarborough was soon after 2pm and the company proceeded to an elegant luncheon, which had been laid out in the temporary station.”

Afterwards, a procession headed by a band, was formed and proceeded around the town of Scarborough, before rejoining the train for York. In the evening, 700 gentlemen attended a dinner in the Town Hall at York, and there were speeches congratulating George Stephenson and George Hudson who had worked to make the new line possible.

It isn’t clear just how much of the line was single or double track when the line was opened in July, but it is stated that doubling would be finished throughout between York and Scarborough by the middle of April 1846.


A study of the deposited plans reveals that the line was originally planned to pass through Whitwell Hill by means of a tunnel, 1,430 yards long, reaching the banks of the River Derwent east of the present Kirkham Abbey Station, instead of west as was eventually constructed. The proposed tunnel would have shortened the distance between York and Scarborough by approximately 1.75 miles. On the plans the present line through Kirkham Abbey and Barton Hill is shown as the “Deviation Line”, and the 1844 Act specifically stated that this was the route which should be used.

There are three other points where the plans differ from the line as built:

First, the bridge across the River Ouse at York was originally planned to be sited a quarter of a mile further upriver. The change became necessary because of the objection by the citizens of Clifton to a bridge over the river at Clifton Scalp, and also because the Great North of England Railway objected to the proposed course of the line.

It must be remembered that at the time the Scarborough line was being built, the old York station was in use, and it was, of course, a dead-end. It served the York & North Midland line to the south, and the Great North of England line to the north, and these two lines diverged immediately after passing through the City Walls. From the GNER line, a mineral branch ran to a coal depot, and the YNMR planned to cross this line on the level as its Scarborough branch swept round to cross the river. These two objections were upheld, and the Scarborough line had to be built so that the junction with the GNER was further north and facing in the opposite direction to that originally planned. This necessitated the Scarborough-bound trains being backed out of the station before reversing, and then proceeding on to the branch line. This method of working continued until the new station was opened 32 years later.

Secondly, the line originally was intended to pass through Norton, some distance further to the south, and the present course was obtained by diverting the River Derwent slightly, east of the present level crossing.

Thirdly, the station at Scarborough was to have been on the south side of the road, now known as Westwood, on what would have been a very cramped site. Actually, it was built on the north side of Westwood, then known as Love Lane.

In his speech at Scarborough in 1839, George Hudson estimated that the yearly takings for the line would amount to £42,425, made up as follows:











However, in readiness for the formation of the North Eastern Railway, it transpired that for a week in mid-summer, 1853, the total takings on the line amounted to just over £730 and for a week in mid-winter, exactly six months later, the takings amounted to only £286.

To give some idea of the income from the line, here are some of the takings in subsequent years:















An interesting point to note regarding the above statistics is the steady growth from 1885 to 1921, however income appears to have been halved in 1931 after the station closures on the line. However, it should be noted that the negative effects of the onset of the Great Depression should be taken into account.

A journey over the line has many features of interest. Leaving York, the River Ouse is immediately crossed on Scarborough Bridge, actually the bridge of 1845, rebuilt and strengthened, with a footpath for pedestrians below the level of the tracks on the up side. It is recorded that a similar footpath was included in the original design, but it was then situated between the tracks.

In another three quarters of a mile, at Burton Lane Junction, the Foss Islands branch would turn away to the right to serve first Rowntree’s chocolate factory (where there was a private station for the employees), and then the local gas and electricity works, as well as the Foss Islands Goods Depot and the connection with the Derwent Valley Light Railway.

In another half-mile was Bootham Signalbox, which controlled a level crossing over the York-Helmsley road, and also the junction for the line to Market Weighton, Beverley and Hull. The line headed out across the flat Vale of York to the north-east of the city and there is nothing of particular interest until beyond Barton Hill, 11.5 miles from York, where the Howardian Hills begin to close in and the train decreases speed.

In order to avoid the cost of tunnelling at the Howardian Hills, the line had to be made to hug the bank and follow the tight curves of the River Derwent resulting in speed restrictions that remain in force today. However, the reduced speed benefits the passenger, in giving more time to take in the spectacular views where the ruins of the ancient abbey can be seen on the opposite bank of the river.

Only three-quarters of a mile beyond Kirkham Abbey is Castle Howard Station, named after the famous residence of that name some 2.5 miles to the north, and it was there that Queen Victoria stayed in August 1850. In another 2.5 miles is Huttons Ambo, and immediately beyond the platforms, the River Derwent is crossed on a girder bridge, which replaced the original structure in 1867.

Malton Station, 21 miles from York is within a few yards of the half-way mark on the branch. The station is actually in Norton, which is in the East Riding of Yorkshire, while Malton is in the North Riding, the river marks the boundary between the two Ridings. Malton was then a busy market town with breweries, flour mills and a number of racehorse training establishments, but only the racehorse businesses remain today. Malton was the junction with connecting lines to Thirsk and Driffield (both lines now closed).

After Malton there’s the straight run to Rillington junction, and the connecting line to Pickering & Whitby which is now closed. This line has, however, reopened from Pickering onwards as the popular North York Moors Railway. The York to Scarborough line continues to Seamer and connections to Filey & Bridlington, and finally reaches the coast at Scarborough.

Today the line is part of the Trans-Pennine Express route. Of all the original fourteen intermediate stations, only Malton and Seamer are still open to normal passenger traffic. Trains run coast-to-coast from Scarborough via York, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester, to the final destination at Liverpool Lime Street.

Freight is no longer carried on the line between York and Scarborough, but, in the summer months, regular steam-hauled special trains, called the Scarborough Spa Express, arrive at Scarborough from various UK starting points. All go via York which is still an important railway centre and home of the world’s largest railway museum.