Glossop Heritage Trust

Theo Walter Ellison's Glossop Dale Reminiscences.


Travel by Road and Rail, Past and Present (published 15 March 1935).

My narration of the existence of Turnpike Roads more than a century ago and their abolition upwards of fifty years ago and the construction of the railway will be fresh in the minds of my readers.

In 1793 Bernard Howard of Fornham, near Bury St Edmunds, who was then Lord of the Manor of Glossop, is stated to have sold land to the Trustees of the Chapel-en-le-Frith and Enterclough Turnpike Road, and in 1821 the road from Sheffield to Glossop was opened and used as a Mail Coach road, and the Snake Inn opened, of which John Longden was tenant.

On the 2nd August, John White J.P., and George William Newton, J.P., viewed the portion of the Sheffield and Glossop Turnpike road and certified it was fit and commodious for the passage of carriages and travellers thereon. We have seen, however, what Michael Ellison had to say about the unsatisfactory construction of this road and the enormous expense entailed.

What stupendous change in modes of transport we have to contemplate. We need not trouble ourselves unduly about the old Roman roads, but be satisfied with a resume and contemplation of the character and import of the British Roads and Railways and their facilities for travel and transport.

There can only be a very limited number of inhabitants of today who travelled by coach in the old days – though there will be many who remember the toll bars and toll gates. My personal recollections may interest. I was less than seven years of age when I was packed off from Ryecroft House to a preparatory school at Hathersage, where I spent three years in the rudiments of education in company with a score of boys, including a brother of the late Bishop Casartelli and one of the Wakes. The journey was sometimes made by road via the Snake Inn, Ashopton and Bamford, and occasionally by rail in a special reserved saloon to Sheffield, thence ten miles by road past the old Fox House Inn and the ‘Surprise View’. Never have I forgotten the coach ride on one occasion. The driver was apparently over refreshed, and though he could drive his horses without fear to himself, it was not so to his passengers. There was a violent thunderstorm which exhilarated both the driver and his team, and the vehicle rolled and rocked. A young governess from the school was in charge of the boys and, poor soul, was more terrified than her pupils, whom she enjoined to pray. I have ever since thought highly of that coachman.

How often since have I walked, ridden on horseback and driven over those roads. In an hour and a half we easily compassed on foot the seven miles from Glossop to the Snake Inn, and one horse standing 17-3, could, with my light weight, trot comfortably in half an hour – that I may recall was the rate at which horses usually went from Glossop to Manchester, fourteen miles under the hour, in the days before paved roads and tramways. By comparison the walks from the Norfolk Arms Hotel, Glossop, up to the Norfolk Arms, Marple Bridge, by two of my brothers in 1 hour 4 minutes and 1 hour 3 minutes 39 seconds, respectively, were good performances.

About 1878, two of us, aged fifteen and thirteen, walked from Glossop to Hathersage one day, slept at the Ordnance Arms the night, and walked back the next day through continual rain and thunderstorms both days. Again, two of us walked to Buxton and back one hot day in July, and as we were doing the last lap, down Chunal, when I was mightily tired, two rough looking tramps endeavoured to waylay us. My brother Frank promptly ‘butted’ his head into the chest of one and then we ran down the hill – where I found that last ounce of strength from I do not know, but it was our only escape from perhaps an ugly assault.

At the risk of being tedious, may I revert to the Snake Road and recount an exciting experience with a kicking, bolting Irish mare, which we were breaking in for driving. She had hitherto only been used for hunting and hacking, but my father thought she would be useful in harness. After he had experimented one afternoon without success, it was decided my elder brother, who had little fear, myself and the coachman, Dick Laight, should harness her in the two wheeled dog cart and proceed up the road towards the Snake before breakfast next morning. She jibbed, but with coaxing and gentle tapping under the forelegs with knotted handkerchiefs instead of whips, she was at last induced to move, gallantly trotting up the hill for over a mile past the Royal Oak with the three passengers, my brother driving, I by his side, and Dick Laight behind. Then we turned round – fatal mistake – trusting to her apparent sweet docility. In a flash, on feeling the weight behind her. She ‘let go the painter’ and bolted, two of us holding the reins hard and feeling the blows of her heels hammering fast on the footboard. Soon, catching one hind leg on the splintering bar or shaft, down she came a cropper. Luckily, the road was wide, and we were not too near the stone wall on the left. I shot out and my brother right over me, and Dick either jumped or was thrown behind. No one was hurt beyond a slight graze and all scrambling up, ran to the animal, sat on her head in orthodox fashion, removed the harness, and to our relief she got up, the only damage sustained being bruises and abrasions, and one broken shaft. The experiment was not repeated.

These personal reminiscences may include the mention of yet another which I heard my father relate, though the scene was far distant. He was driving his four wheeled dog cart, his second wife and his young children from Blackpool on the main road to Preston when his horse bolted, owing to a loose strap, which had not been properly fastened by the ostler at the stables, hitting against the horse’s flanks. Half a mile ahead was the railway and the gates were shut for a train to pass. Imagine the awful situation. Many a man would have quailed with fear at the fate awaiting them if the horse crashed at the gates. It was the famous black horse ‘Rugby’, and he certainly would have leapt the gate, as he had done many a five barred gate in the hunting field. Calmly and courageously my father drew the horse to the hedge, intending that if there was to be a crash it should be into the adjoining field, but he failed to see a stump of a thorn tree, with which the dog cart collided and overturned. Fortune favours the brave! Here, again, no injury was sustained beyond the damage to the vehicle.

Reverting to Turnpike Roads, I have heard my father relate how, coming home on horseback late one night down ‘Mottram Brow’, the Toll-keeper failed to answer his call to open the gate, whereupon he set his horse and together they cleared the obstruction and away.

The Turnpikes were maintained by tolls levied at toll houses erected at such distances and situations as would prevent travellers using roads without paying tolls, and gates were erected across the road controlled by the toll-keepers, who collected the tolls and gave receipts which exempted payment for perhaps two or three other toll gates. Tolls, like tithes and income tax, were not regarded with favour, and evasion of payment was no uncommon event. The expenses of turnpike roads and toll houses were met in the first instance by raising money on mortgages of the tolls, but I doubt whether these mortgages were of much value. Be that as it may, the Turnpike roads in Glossop Dale were in a sorry condition when the Trustees handed them over to the local Authorities in or about 1882.

It is but a little more than a hundred years since the railway from Stockton to Darlington was opened, when the locomotive driven by Stephenson himself, drawing 38 carriages, covered the 9 miles in 65 minutes – yet in that year, 1825, he was considered as wanting in mentality. James Watt had built the first practical steam engine in 1769, having discovered a now apparently simple factor concerning steam. Then the line from Manchester to Liverpool was constructed but not until Dukes, Lords, and plebeians had opposed the scheme in all manner of ways, and Parliament had been urged to restrict the speed to 8 or 9 miles an hour. ‘Supposing a cow were to stray upon the line’ asked a Parliamentary committee man, ‘would not that be a very awkward circumstance?’ to which Stephenson gave the reply, ‘Yes, very awkward indeed for the cow’. It was alleged that the value of land in Manchester would be greatly deteriorated, and the scheme was described by Counsel as the most absurd scheme that ever entered the head of man to conceive. A meeting of clergymen of all denominations held in Manchester declared that the locomotive was ‘in direct opposition both to the law of God and to the most enduring interests of Society’. The most fantastic results were conjured and put forward by way of objection. I quote in effect from ‘Pegasus’.

In 1830 the ‘Rocket’ accomplished 35 miles in an hour. Then in 1842 Queen Victoria travelled by rail for the first time from Windsor to London, and thenceforth public opinion veered round with true British snobbishness, and in 1847, Stephenson, who, twenty-five years previously had been dubbed mad, was at the opening of the Trent Valley Railway acclaimed by Sir Robert Peel to be ‘the chief of our practical philosophers’. Then followed a perfect furore of railway undertakings.

The Railway from Manchester to Sheffield was constructed in sections and opened about 1844, and was known as the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, when the branch line from Glossop to Dinting was made by the Duke of Norfolk and sold to the Railway Company at cost price about 1845 to avoid the necessity and expense of obtaining another special Act of Parliament. Those of advanced years remember the old engine and coaches of the branch train and the driver, Sam Wragg, and the bell outside the station which was rung to announce the departure and arrival, and how in our more nimble days having missed the train at Glossop we ran along the railways to Dinting and caught (though not always) the main line train.

Later in the eighties came the ‘Iron Devil’, under Benton and Woodiwiss, contractors, who performed wonders in removing the embankment and making way for the two curved double sets of rails so that through trains might run between Glossop and Manchester and Glossop and Hadfield and Sheffield, and now waiting rooms and station accommodation were provided. George Benton was in his early days a stone mason at Old Glossop, and entered the service of a railway contractor on the construction of railway at Guide Bridge, who was unable to carry out the contract, an event which gave George Benton his opportunity. He afterwards went into partnership with Sir Abraham Woodiwiss of Derby as Railway Contractors and died a very wealthy man. On several occasions I rode on horseback with my father to see him at Cyne House, Stretford. His two daughters, when young, were at school at Primrose House. One married Charles Johnson, Solicitor, of Stockport. The youngest son, Charles, who was a Lancashire County cricketer, died under tragic circumstances at Knutsford during the war.

There were several railway accidents on the main line at Dinting, Hyde Junction and elsewhere, but none so disastrous as that at Bullhouse Colliery, near Penistone, when the 12.30 mid-day London express from Manchester to King’s Cross came to grief, a crank axle breaking owing to a hidden flaw, and several coaches were flung off the rails into the road and fields below killing 23 passengers. I drove to the scene of the accident the same afternoon in company with F.C.J. Hadfield and saw the wreckage.

The old M.S. and L. Railway had no through line to London, but had arrangement with the Great Northern Railway Co., and an excellent joint service of trains was run at high speed via Stretford, Peterborough and Grantham. Business and occasional pleasure trips took me to London frequently by those trains and I remember the interest excited when a new type of locomotive with large driving wheels drew very fast trains from Sheffield to Manchester (L.R.) without a stop in 1 hour 3 minutes and performed the journey between London and Manchester in 4½ hours. The mid-day train from London was stopped when required at Hadfield or Dinting about 5 o’clock in the afternoon to and from London and some trains stopped at Godley.

Then came the extension of the M.S. and L. Railway to Marylebone, the change of name to the Great Central, and the termination of the agreement with the Great Northern. The opposition to the extension was so intense that the line was driven to a circuitous route here and there until the total distance was over 200 miles and after experimenting with newspaper trains at high speed in the night resulting in hot axles all prospect of a fast service to London by G.C. was abandoned.

The amalgamation since the War of the leading railway companies has effected some improvements in local service, but not on our main line trains. An outstanding defect is that not one single through train from Manchester to London is due to stop at Dinting, the reason being the difficult gradient and curve and proximity to the Dinting Viaduct, though two through trains from London stop by signal.

Railway facilities have an important bearing upon the establishment of business and the development of a residential district, and are the subject of particular enquiry by business men who are considering the suitability of this district for such purposes.

An improvement which was much appreciated was the stopping at Dinting of the 9.25 morning express train from Liverpool and Manchester Central to Hull, which provided a much needed express train at a convenient time for travellers to Glossop from Manchester and beyond; and also for passengers from Glossop to Sheffield with connections to the South. This was secured as the result of a personal letter from myself to Sir Sam Fay some twenty years ago, fully explaining the needs and advantages; after due consideration he decided the alteration should be given a trial, with the result that it was made a permanent arrangement. He was always willing to give courteous consideration to any representation.

Traffic was in the past years for a long time congested on the M.S and L. and the G.C and much vexatious delay occurred in the local service, due largely to the bottle neck approach to London Road Station being crossed and recrossed by the L. and N.W. goods trains, one of the principal officials with whom I occasionally discussed these. On one occasion gave expression to the extraordinary view that they did not care much about passenger traffic, as they had so much mineral and goods traffic.

For one feat, however, I must not omit to give the G.C.R and their staff every credit, namely the expeditious provision and running of a special train at a moment’s notice. It happened thus: My old friend Herbert Partington and myself had driven to London Road Station to catch the 5.20 afternoon train to Glossop with but a few minutes to spare; he went ahead and boarded the train, the signal was given, the train departed, and he stood at the carriage window waving his hand and laughing with great glee seeing me walking up the platform and left behind. Now, Inspector Peter Robinson was a great friend to both of us, and would have held the train if he had spied my approach. Quickly recovering from my disappointment the following brief dialogue ensued: T.W.E.: “Can I have a special train?” Peter: “You can”. T.W.E.: “What will it cost?” Peter: “The first class fare and 5s a mile”. T.W.E.: “How soon can I have it?” Peter: “In a few minutes”. T.W.E.: “All right! I’ll have one. Just come to the refreshment room and let me know when you are ready”.

Within five minutes Peter brought me a receipted bill and escorted me up the platform, where an empty train had just drawn in ready to take passengers to Hyde. “Stand back” was shouted to the waiting passengers, and in less time than it takes to relate the incident, the engine and three coaches were uncoupled and I was on my way to Glossop, passing en route a train evidently diverted on to another track to permit my special to pass. When I arrived at Glossop I was received in great state and sauntered to the trysting place. In a little while my jubilant companion arrived, and was astounded to find me already there. It was not until I produced my receipted bill that it dawned upon him the 5.20 train had been held up to let me pass and then – Well! ‘He laughs best who laughs last’.

Railways had always for me a special interest. Conversations and exchange of ideas with not too obtrusive fellow passengers, the reading of book and papers, the solution of business problems and the quiet contemplation of scenery make railway travel enjoyable and instructive. One form of travel which, however, I never really enjoyed was the journey by sleeping car. I tried several times on the L.M.S. to Euston, but my sleep was always disturbed by the rumbling of the wheels and dreams of thunderstorms, making one feel jaded on arrival, and not refreshed as after a peaceful night’s slumber.

Regarding high speeds the present impetus in this direction reminds me of the prophecy of a railway magnate (Sir Wm Watkins Wynn, I think) a good many years since, who held it was possible if the track was suitably constructed, the load of due proportions, and the locomotive of sufficient power to travel with safety at a speed of 120 miles and hour, and now 100 miles an hour is proved to be attainable with safety. I have travelled in very fast trains on all the principal lines, but not on the flyers of recent times.

Divergent opinions are held on the desirability of high speed travelling. For those of sound heart and nerves and without fear, yes; but for those with weak hearts or poor nerves, no. A railway inspector of many years’ service on the old Midland, with whom I was discussing railway matters at St. Pancras, was much opposed to fast speeds, thinking it did not matter to any one whether the journey took half an hour or more longer or not. Considering how many business men there are, whose engagements in London or other important cities involve frequent visits, and to whom time is of great importance, such an opinion is retrograde. Hundreds of travellers go, for example, from Birmingham to London and back and transact several hours’ business in one day, there being excellent services on two railways, taking only two hours each way. So Manchester men wish to be brought within 3 hours of London and to be able to leave Manchester, say at 8 o’clock, breakfast on the train, arrive at 11 o’clock and return by an evening train, dining en route, thus effecting a great saving of time and expense to themselves and their clients or customers. In these days of fierce competition, every facility for the rapid despatch of business and the obtaining of orders is almost a necessity.

Glossop, being on the G.C. Railway, cannot hope for such a convenience facility, but improvements are within the bounds of possibility, and if businesses and residents are to be attracted it is essential that the railway services should offer adequate facilities. The railway companies, nevertheless, expect evidence of the existence of a demand.

The evolution effected by motor traffic on the roads is marvellous in results, its reaction on railways, the complete revolution in horse traffic, the diminution in the horse breeding industry, the manufacture of motor cars and vehicles, the reconstruction of road surfaces, and vast road constructional works, the effect upon industries and employment, and the opportunities afforded to all classes of people to adopt some form or other of motor transit from the luxurious Rolls Royce to the humble motor bicycle at prices adapted to millionaires or artisans, including the superseding of tramways by motor buses.

These revolutionary changes have not been effected without loss of life, and it is not a matter for surprise that letting loose upon our roads the equivalent of express trains, often in the hands of inexperienced drivers, has been responsible for numerous fatalities and serious injuries, which, happily are now being reduced by the adoption of precautions and regulations for motorists and pedestrians and the infliction of penalties.

A dissertation upon these important topics would be incomplete without a reference to yet another phase in the mode of travel and transport. Years ago I had the good fortune to witness for a couple of hours on a bright afternoon from the Grand Stand at Doncaster Racecourse, an exhibition of ‘flying’ in monoplanes and biplanes by several well known aviators. I was deeply impressed and completely convinced that aviation had come to stay, and its development offered immense possibilities. Some weeks later, when proposing the ‘Town and Trade of Glossop’ at a Mayoral luncheon, I deplored the lack of first class facilities of transport, and suggested a solution might eventually be found in the carriage by air of cotton and cloth direct to and from this district. Though received with scepticism and regarded as not quite seriously intended, I have always considered it feasible, and I certainly see no reason now why it should not become an accomplished fact. The Doncaster Town Council are celebrating the opening of the first air liner services from the Doncaster Corporation Aerodrome and the first aeroplane is christened ‘Spirit of Doncaster’.

Oil and electricity as motive powers are as yet in their infancy, but here also lie potent factors in association with the subject of transport.

Rudyard Kipling said: ‘When a nation is lost, the underlying cause of the collapse is always that she cannot handle her transport’. There are surely now in view, by road, by rail, by water, and by air, such available means of rapidly and safely transporting the world’s commodities and travellers as will prevent any such calamity, and may yet revivify international trade. The last hundred years has produced wonders, what the next century will evolve is beyond imagination.


Button image Return to Ellison Reminiscences Contents Button image Return to Local History Articles Button image Return to the home page






Page last updated: 9 May 2017.