A new display in Hellifield Station Tearooms will ensure the glory days of steam trains are never forgotten. It has been put together by Barry Atkinson, of Earby, with help from fellow steam enthusiast Robin Benzie, of Long Preston. Both men are Friends of Hellifield Station and the Settle-Carlisle Railway Line. Mr Atkinson has always been fascinated by steam trains and, as a boy, used to cycle over to Hellifield from his home in Nelson to watch the trains and look around the engine sheds. His love affair has never ended. Now he organises slide talks at the tearooms and has gathered together some old photographs so people have something to look at when they visit the station. Here we look at the history of the station.

Before the railway arrived, Hellifield was just another Craven village. It had about 56 houses and chief excitement for its 250 residents was the arrival of the daily mail coach at The Black Horse.

But all that was to change. The first inkling of things to come occurred in 1844 when surveyors were seen working below Hellifield Haw. The purpose of their efforts became apparent at a public meeting in Settle’s Golden Lion Hotel, when it was announced that North Western Railway (NWR) intended to link the Leeds and Bradford Railway at Skipton to the London and North Western Railway at Low Gill.

Parliamentary approval was granted on June 26, 1846, and, soon after, gangs of navvies arrived, bringing with them a taste of the transport revolution. There was antagonism between them and the local population.

The navvies worked hard, but also liked to play hard and it was left to just one parish constable to maintain the peace. Apparently, he found the workers’ brawling and drunkenness too much to handle and a letter was sent to the Bishops of Chester and Ripon to ask for the appointment of two clergymen to undertake the pastoral care of the workers in an attempt to curb their excesses.

Meanwhile, work on the railway continued and in 1849 the North Western Railway opened a station, 400 yards to the north-east of Hellifield. People who had never ventured outside the village could now travel to Leeds and Bradford with comparative ease.

However, the station was a modest affair and facilities were kept to a bare minimum, with a small ticket office, waiting rooms and porter’s room. It was said to be little more than a wayside hut. William Ash was appointed as the first station master at a salary of £44-4-0d a year (17 shillings or 85 pence a week).

He had to work a 13-hour day, seven days a week. His duties included station master, booking clerk, porter, signalman, shunter and passenger and goods agent. Initially, only six passenger trains called at Hellifield each day.

In July 1871, NWR was bought by the Midland Railway. By then, the station had nine workers – a stationmaster, assistant clerk, signalman, three labourers, two railway repairers and a platelayer.

Within a year, the Midland Railway was proposing a new station be built to the west of the new Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (LYR) route from Blackburn. But wrangling between the two railway companies meant the contract for the station was not awarded until February 1879, when it was given to Messrs Robert Leake who had built Normanton Station.

Again, the construction brought conflict between locals and the workers. Several of the navvies were taken to court, including one who allegedly shot a local woman during an argument.

The new station – with its striking ornamental cast iron and glass canopy – was officially opened on June 1, 1880, and it was reported its “arrangements, comfort and elegance would compare with any roadside station in the country”.

The village had changed almost out of recognition. By 1895, the population had increased by more than 230 per cent and housing was at such a premium that the railway companies were forced to build accommodation for their workers.

By now, Hellifield was an important railway junction, with its own goods yard, locomotive shed and turntable. At the turn of the century, the station was handling 36,000 passengers a year and by 1914 it dealt with 90 passenger trains a day.

Traffic and revenue continued to increase until the 1950s when a general decline set in. Passenger services from Blackburn were withdrawn in 1962, the locomotive shed closed the following year and local trains from the station to Carlisle ended in May 1970.

By the late 1980s, the main buildings and canopies were in poor condition and under threat of demolition, but following a £500,000 cash injection from British Rail in conjunction with English Heritage and the Railway Heritage Trust, they were refurbished.

The work included stripping more than 40 coats of paint from the Grade Two listed canopy and ironworks, and repainting them in Midland Railway livery.

The station was leased to Kingfisher Railtours, which started running regular steam-hauled chartered trains over the Settle-Carlisle line, and reopened the Long Drag tearoom. Trains to and from Carlisle also started calling again.

The refurbished facilities were officially opened by North Craven author and historian Bill Mitchell in June 1995. Since then, further investment has been made, with Network Rail spending £2 million on improving signals in the area. Looking to the future, there are plans to reopen the exhibition room at the station. Unfortunately, a burst pipe during the recent cold snap brought down the ceiling.

“We want to give people something to see when they come to Hellifield Station,” said Mr Atkinson.

“The more people who come, the more business we can generate and the more chance there is of keeping the station open.”

Meanwhile, the last slide show of the current season can be seen at the tearoom on Friday, March 4, when Robin Lush will give a presentation on “Out and About in 1964”. It will include railway scenes from across the North of England, including Aisgill Summit. It starts at 7.30pm and admission is £3.50.