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Brief History

Handforth station lies on the Crewe to Manchester railway line.

The line was originally constructed in 1841 by the Manchester and Birmingham Railway Company. There was some local opposition at the time as local landowners (including the clergy) realised that Back Lane (now "Old Road") would be severed by the line. Meetings were planned to protest but despite this the station opened on 10 May 1842.

The northbound ("down") platform was originally to the north of the existing road bridge. The southbound platform has remained in approximately the same location over the years. A latticed iron footbridge was built to link the two severed parts of Old Road/Back Lane, no doubt to placate the landowners.

To the north of the station were sidings near Spath Lane. One of these ran past what is now St Benedict’s school to the print works (now Finsbury Way) to serve a tank testing depot in wartime.

The location of the current northbound platform was, until 1960,  used for more sidings and a small signalbox.

Here are some 1940's recollections from Handforth resident Leslie Bell:

"My recollection of the Northbound (down) Platform at Handforth is that it was appreciably lower than the Southbound (up) one. The footbridge, which lead nowhere in particular was rackety in the extreme, and frightening to a juvenile train-watcher, (I still watch trains though now in my anecdotage). The sleepers which formed the footway were widely spaced, and one of the baffle plates was either missing or missaligned so hot steam would envelope a little chap who stood in the wrong place while a loco passed underneath."

The line was electrified in 1959-1960 as part of the West Coast Main Line project. The station buildings were demolished to be replaced with a typical 1960s booking office at road level. At this time the road bridge was raised to allow clearance for the overhead wires and the northbound platform was relocated opposite the southbound platform. Steps were built to replace to wooden ramps - these present an obstacle to wheelchair users, young families and cyclists to this day.

Diesel units started to appear around 1956 followed by electric multiple unit trains in the early sixties as steam traction faded away. 

The stationmaster had a house adjacent to the station (Surveys Systems offices now occupy this site). The last Station Master left in 1964.

The original latticed iron footbridge was replaced by a more utilitarian structure in 1989. The 1960 booking office fell into disrepair in the early 1990's and was demolished.

As the station fell into a dilapidated state several local people decided to take action to save their station from ruin and even closure. Thus Friends of Handforth Station were born.

Due to lobbying from the friends group a temporary pre-fab booking office was provided prior to the construction of the present premises. With railway privatisation in 1996 services passed from British Rail to North Western Trains (latterly First North Western).

A change in franchise in 2004 saw Northern Rail take the reigns and they now operate the station and rail services. The late 1990s saw the start of major refurbishment of the line, resulting in many service stoppages over the following years.

A full service was only resumed in 2007. Handforth Station is now an integral part of the community, being used by commuters, pupils at Wilmslow High School, shoppers and many more.

Here's to the next 167 years!

Detailed History (courtesy of Tony Edwards)

Originally opened in May 1842, by the Manchester and Birmingham Railway and later, became the London North Western Railway right up to the pre-grouping days of 1923. It was then the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway until, the nationalisation of the railways in 1948.

Handforth, as a virtual hamlet, had station amenities consisting of wooden buildings with slate tiled roofs on both platforms. The buildings on the north "down" platform performed the main office administration for the station, while the south platform only staffed when local stopping trains were due. The main reason for the office administration to be sited on the north platform was the easy access to the railways internal telephone system, as the overhead wires passed down the western side of the railway through the Handforth section. The only brick constructions consisted of the stationmaster’s house, signal box, lamp room, and the platform retaining walls.         

The original intention for the station was to have opposing platforms on the north side of the road bridge. The conclusion for this is that the proposed access point to the south platform would have been adjacent to the Railway Public house; from here, you could view for many years a stone flight of stairs leading down to the embankment. Theses were incorporated into the bridge structure probably during the bridge construction.       

At some point during the station construction, the railway company must have abandoned the idea of having opposing platforms, as they decided to build a coal wharf. This would have coincided with the south platform, hence the reason for staggered platforms at Handforth. The siding started partly opposite the north platform and in line with the pedestrian lattice iron bridge. From under the lattice bridge, the first sixty feet of the siding had a brick retaining wall built, which formed a mini platform. This enabled two box vans or other rail vehicles to be shunted up and unloaded at ground height. After the mini platform, the ground then gradually sloped down to the rail track level.  The siding consisted of a single track of about two hundred and twenty yards. A trailing point positioned under the lattice iron bridge gained access to the siding from the southbound line towards Wilmslow. Initially, when the siding was under construction and from my research there was also a northbound entry into the siding. It embodies a trailing point just north of the level crossing that was the entry for high-sided farm wagons into Brook Farm. After the level crossing, a diamond crossing was incorporated to transverse the line that ran towards Wilmslow after which, it connected with a point that was at the opposite end from the lattice pedestrian bridge. Granite stone sets completed the whole length of the coal wharf to act as a paving. After completion of the siding, an installation of a three hundred sixty degree hand cranked five-ton crane took place together with a loading gauge. These two items stood the test of time until their demolition in the mid 1950s.

Tucked into the bridge abutments on the south side of the rail bridge, here the railway company sited their signal box with a cross over installed with trailing points. During the construction of the railway, a further parcel of land was purchased, just beyond the signal box and on the west side, which amounted to about five acres. Second thoughts must have prevailed at that time, as a second siding was laid down starting from the end of the signal box. The siding extended for some two hundred seventy yards almost to the viaduct that crosses the River Dean. The reason for this is that when goods trains on the north bound line needed to call at Handforth, there would have been conflicting traffic patterns. The goods train would have to stand on the line while the shunting progress took place. This would have inhibited all other traffic between Wilmslow and Stockport. With this facility in place, it enabled goods trains to draw pass the signal box and then reverse into the siding at the of the signal box. The wagons for Handforth were then uncoupled, drawn down to the trailing point, beyond the level crossing and shunted into the coal siding. If the signalman has a request to accept other traffic he then could quickly suspend shunting operations and allow the traffic to pass through the Handforth section.

When Handforth village received their gas supply from Wilmslow around nineteen twenty five, the station dispensed with the paraffin lighting during nighttime hours and replaced with gas. This remained until the electrification of the line in 1960.

In the mid nineteen thirties, the L.M.S. Railway decided to move the coal siding that partly faced the north platform and re-sited adjacent to the signal box. Having previously purchased the land in the early years of the railway, and already laid down a siding, this would have been no problem for further development. A large excavation took place here, as the land beyond the siding line rose about twelve feet above the track bed. On completion of the excavation, a further extra siding was laid, this allowed the visiting goods trains to use the first siding as a reception siding. After completion the shunting process, the wagons designated for Handforth were then left on the new siding, braked, to wait the unloading by the local coal merchants. As there was no access at that time from the main A34 trunk road to the new coal siding, a new road track had to be cut through the fields to gain access.

Dramatic changes came to the railway at Handforth with the advent of the Second World War. The Air Ministry and the War Department established large camp sites around Handforth, part of which were rail served. Three quarters of a mile north of Handforth station in an area known as Spath Lane, a large exchange siding became established. It consisted of a reception siding, together with three other sidings; this could accommodate one hundred and twenty wagons. Because of this, the complete section of Handforth had to be re-signalled. New signal box commissioned opposite the sidings to oversee traffic entering and leaving. The box at Handforth station was switched out of service, the additional siding that had been laid five years previously became redundant. As now all coal wagons destined for Handforth station siding were left at the Air Ministry`s sidings at Spath Lane.

With the Air Ministry selecting to build a Maintenance storage unit at Handforth, this also increased the amount of passenger freight passing through Handforth station. The ministry had to provide a secure brick building on both platforms, as invariably large wooden crates would have to be man handled off the passenger trains and then put into immediate storage. In the post war period, the storage building on the north platform also acted as a small office manned by a part time civilian clerk from the maintenance unit. His main task was keeping inventory of items stored on a day-to-day basis. This arrangement lasted until the mid nineteen fifties. The Air Ministry must have entered into a contract with the railways, as on Tuesdays and Fridays around midday, Stockport locomotive depot provided a light engine with a box van to collect the freight from the station and return to the Spath Lane sidings. From here, the Ministry’s own diesel shunting engines conveyed the freight onwards to its destination within maintenance unit site. While performing this duty for the Air Ministry, coal wagons for the station would have been also attached and shunted at same time. As this was a regular duty at the station, it necessitated temporary switching in the box for shunting operations.

The railways had to staff the station with a porter/signalman to cover such events. Mr. Mathew Powis and Mr. Harry Lee became the last two stationmasters to be in residence at Handforth with their principal titles being stationmaster and goods agent. The responsibilities being the day-to-day running of the station with the overseeing that all semaphore signals had indicative lights lit at night within the Handforth section. As mentioned earlier the brick building called the lamp room, located on the north side of the road bridge opposite the northbound platform. Here paraffin oil, spare wicks, and a complete set of spare oil lamps for the signals were stored. It was the porters’ duty to ascend the signal posts once week to exchange the oil lamps. This ritual prevailed until the electrification of the line. In the late nineteen forties, nineteen fifties, a Mr Jack Webb held the local permanent way engineer post. His main task would have been to carry out track inspections on a daily basis. He would walk the Handforth section from the Cheadle Hulme boundary to the Wilmslow boundary transgressing both track ways.

Mathew Powis came to Handforth in nineteen forty one just when the R.A.F. maintenance unit became operational. For many years, he had been active in the Boy Scout movement and subsequently after the war made scoutmaster for Handforth. In nineteen fifty six, Mathew Powis had to retire from the railways due to ill health. Harry Lea became the last incumbent to hold the post of stationmaster until nineteen sixty-four when the railways made the post redundant.

With the reorganization of local councils and county boundaries in the early nineteen seventies. Handforth became within the boundary of Macclesfield Council. Completion of the electrification of the Manchester to Crewe rail line and the building of a new northbound platform on the old coal siding site in the early nineteen sixties. The remainder of the land lay dormant for many years until the late nineteen seventies.

Macclesfield Council must have stepped in when British Railways advertised the land for sale. Today standing on this land, we have Cypress House, Honford community hall, and elderly people's flats. South Acre Drive is now the official name for the original cinder road track that went to the coal sidings.

Tony Edwards 2009.