The late Skipton MP Burnaby Drayson faced some tough questioning when he attended the annual meeting of the town’s Women Conservatives 50 years ago. Craven, in common with the whole country, was reeling from the publication days before of Dr Richard Beeching’s plans for the “reshaping” of British railways. Numerous local routes and stations were earmarked for closure and Lesley Tate reflects on how the proposals were received. 

In the first of his reports to government, Dr Beeching recommended the closure of 263 stations and the withdrawal of 5,000 miles of passenger services.

In Craven, routes to be withdrawn were Skipton to Ilkley, Leeds and Bradford; and also between Skipton, Keighley, Leeds and Bradford.

Also to go were services between Skipton to Carlisle, via Settle, and also between Earby and Barnoldswick.

Stations to close included Addingham, Barnoldswick, Bentham, Bolton Abbey, Clapham and Embsay.

Some earmarked to close in the first report were ultimately saved. But in March 1963 they included Ilkley, Cononley, Gargrave, Steeton and Silsden, Hellifield and Settle.

Others which were not to be saved from Dr Beeching’s axe were Kildwick and Cross Hills, Long Preston, Thornton-in-Craven and Horton in Ribblesdale.

Burnaby Drayson was an hour late arriving at his meeting with Skipton ladies 50 years ago as his train from London to Leeds had been delayed.

It was an irony to be picked up at a later meeting of Skipton railwaymen, with one pointing out Mr Drayson would have been a lot later if the passenger line between Skipton and Leeds was to go.

But Mr Drayson was forced to conclude that something needed to be done to make the railways more efficient.

Everyone knew the railways needed to change and although he had not studied Dr Beeching’s report in full, he was pretty sure most people had over-reacted when seeing their own particular station was under threat, he told the meeting.

He urged those present to think carefully about when they last went by train anywhere and consider whether they were acting on sentiment rather than being rational.

Mr Drayson said the country was fortunate that Dr Beeching had looked at railways and had seen where services were losing money.

He believed it would be ten years before all the changes were made and that some proposals would not go ahead, but he pointed out that the railways were currently costing ratepayers – the majority of whom did not use trains – between £150 million and £170 million a year to run.

Asked what alternative transport would be put in place in rural areas, he said it would be up to the Transport Consultative Council to look at providing extra bus routes.

Mr Drayson discussed the problem travellers with a pram or heavy luggage would face and suggested that future buses might be adapted, but that it was a pledge that no community would be left with a lesser service than it currently had.

He thought subsidies would be available to update buses and so provide the country with a modern transport system for the 20th century.

Mr Drayson acknowledged that it would be a busy time for MPs who would no doubt be in receipt of many petitions, but he promised to make sure no one would be worse off.

He went on to say there had been a certain amount of “old-fashioned” thinking among the supporters of railways and that they needed to be brought up to date.

And he believed the debates surrounding the railways would be every bit as vigorous as whether the country should join the common market.

In the first of its reports into Dr Beeching’s cuts, the Craven Herald painted a very grim picture.

If the proposals were to go ahead as suggested, more than 70 railway stations in the West Riding were to be axed.

Craven had known about the impending proposals and its communities had spent some time putting together their arguments for the retention of their own particular stations and services.

However, when they came, the recommendations, reported the paper, would virtually deprive Wharfedale and Airedale of all their local train services.

Other parts of the West Riding would also be seriously affected, either by the loss of a station or the reduction of passenger services.

Hellifield, known throughout the land as a railway centre, was likely to lose its station, as was Barnoldswick.

It was stated that the closure of the Skipton to Leeds, via Ilkley, line would save the country almost £89,000 per year.

The only stations between Skipton and Burnley would be Earby, Colne and Nelson.

It was estimated that across the country, some 70,000 people employed on the railways would lose their jobs.

In Settle, the chamber of trade was particularly concerned about the loss of almost 100 railway workers if the station was to close at Hellifield.

The railway shed employed 27 sets of workers, with three men to each set, and they were to be dispersed to Lancashire, Derbyshire and Skipton.

In North Ribblesdale, residents faced closures to passenger traffic at Giggleswick, Settle, Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Hellifield.

Many of the outlying villages had no bus service and residents were faced with getting taxis to Settle where they could catch a bus.

Not all communities, however, were completely against the proposals.

In Barnoldswick, it was accepted that the railway station had been underused for years while the urban council had been looking at the coal yard as potential redevelopment land.

The only passenger services had been for schoolchildren going to and from school and there had been just one freight service a day, carrying mainly coal.

The Herald reported that there had been an outcry in the town six years previously when the rail service had been severely curtailed, but even though residents demanded the services should stay, the trains remained empty of passengers.

The people of Thornton-in-Craven seemed unmoved by the loss of their station with the Herald reporting that several pointed out that buses were far more convenient because of the distant situation of the station.

Settle town leaders chose to call a meeting of interested parties to decide whether there was strong enough feeling to oppose the cuts, and if so, present a well argued response.

The Rev H Palmer criticised the council for being to blame in what looked like the inevitable closures.

But he went on to explain how he rarely used the trains and preferred to go by car, which he said was cheaper and more convenient.

People were reminded that it was eight years since the Ingleton line had closed, and although it had not been popular at the time, everyone had got used to it.

Another, who lived near Horton station, reckoned 95 per cent of villagers used cars or buses and that he rarely saw people going to the station.

A meeting in Skipton of the National Union of Railwaymen was perhaps understandably the most vociferous in its opposition to the proposals.

How soon would the roads get clogged up with all the extra buses and cars needed to make up for the loss of services, it asked, while others wondered if the public genuinely realised what was happening.

“The rape of the railways would continue unless the public opposed it,” commented Mr L R Pryke, branch secretary.