Altrincham Gas Works Tramway

An item about the Altrincham Gas Works Tramway appeared on the Industrial Railway Society (IRS) email discussion group to which I belong. [2] John Pitman on that discussion group provided a link to Dr. Mark Newall’s website. [3]

This article grabbed my attention because for the first 5 years of my life in the early 1960s I lived in Altrincham – Broadheath, to be exact. I was born in Altrincham Maternity Hospital in 1960.  I always keep my eye open for interesting snippets of information about the various places that I have lived.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Altrincham like this:

ALTRINCHAM: …. “a town, a township, two chapelries, a subdistrict, and a district, in Cheshire. The town is in the parish of Bowdon, at an intersection of railways, adjacent to the Bridgewater canal, 8 miles SSW of Manchester; comprises good streets and some handsome villas; is a seat of petty-sessions and county courts, and a polling-place; publishes a weekly news paper; carries on iron-founding, bone-grinding, timber sawing, much trade from neighbouring market-gardens, and much transit traffic, and has a head post office, three raIlway stations, two chief inns, a town hall of 1849, a literary institution in the Tudor style enlarged in 1864, a plain church of 1799, a church in the decorated English style built in 1867, a Wesleyan chapel in the Byzantine style built in 1864, five other dissenting chapels, a Roman Catholic chapel, five public schools, a medical hospital, charities £57, a weekly market on Tuesday, and three annuals fairs.-The township comprises 657 acres. Real property, £24,087. Pop., 6,628. Houses, 1,240.” [10]

But, there is no mention in Wilson’s work of a Gas Works present at the time!

It seems that in the 19th century, 3 different gas works existed in Altrincham. The earliest was established in 1844, initially intended to serve an immediate area around the works. It only lasted for 3 years before it was purchased and closed as the main Gas Works was opened in 1847.

South Trafford Archaeological Group produced a short piece about the Altrincham Gas Works just a few days before Newall’s article. As does Newall, they point out that the Altrincham Gas Works were built by 1847. Both add that the third Gas Works were railway related, established to supply gas for carriage lighting.

The light railway, or tramway, between the Gas Works and Altrincham Railway Station was not established until provision was made for it under the Altrincham Gas Act of 1893, as a single track of standard gauge. It cost £1,820 to build, was in operation by 1895 and for many years was horse-drawn.

The South Trafford Archaeological Group point out that, “The tramway ran from the sidings at Altrincham Station for roughly a third of a mile (c. 500m) to the gas works on Moss Lane, where a series of sidings ran around the site. The light railway carried coal for the gas works which was used in the production of ‘town gas’.” [4]

The majority of the length of the short tramway – as shown on the 25″ OS Map from the turn of the 20th century, soon after it was constructed. (The detailed layout in the Gasworks is shown below on enlarged OS Map extract.) This extract shows the line running from the Gas Works, along Moss Lane, to the railway station yard. [15]

 

The map extract above shows the line of the tramway from the Gas Works to the Railway Station Yard. The adjacent extract shows the track arrangement within the Gas Works at about the turn of the 20th century. [15]

“At the station end of the tramway, … the land alongside
the depository was owned by the gas company …; beyond there the land belonged to the railway but the tracks were the responsibility of the gas company. The gas company’s authority ended just before the two sidings became one (on the east side of the station yard).” [5: p198]

Before the tramway was constructed, “coal was conveyed by horse-drawn wagons along the streets to the gas works. The route between the station yard and the gas works was partly along what was, in effect, little more than a rough bridleway (later known as Moss Lane); although unsuited in some ways to the transportation of coal, at least there were no significant gradients to contend with.” [5: p197]

The demand for gas rose quickly in the second half of the 19th century. “By the 1890s the increasing demand for gas meant that easier access to a larger supply of coal … had to be sought. …. [The tramway] was in operation by 1895 and initially was horse-drawn.” [3]

This extract for the 6″ OS Mapping of 1899 also shows the relatively newly constructed tramway serving the Altrincham Gas Works. [8]

The use of horses pertained until the 1930s, when a Sentinel steam lorry running on road wheels was purchased. It was built “by Sentinel of Shrewsbury in 1924, was employed from 1933 to pull the coal trucks.” [4]

The growth in the use of gas in Altincham is evidenced by the increasing use of coal. By 1919, 20,000 tons was used during the year. By 1933, usage had risen to in excess of 32,000 tons of coal. [5: p201]

The Gas Works Tramway in Altrincham from above.. This image covers the curved sidings on the East side of Altrincham Railway Station. Coal wagons are much in evidence. This view was taken in 1927. [6]

An aerial image of the Gasworks taken from the South in 1951. Careful inspection wil show at least one wagon in the Gas Works site to the right of the Gasometer on the left side of the image. [7]

In 1943, a Peckett 0-4-0ST took over locomotive duties from the Sentinel steam lorry. Newell says that this was “Peckett’s W/No. 2034, a ‘Yorktown’ type 0-4-0ST, and the new tank engine was named ‘Arthur E Potts’, after one of the company directors.” [3] No. 2034 left Peckett’s works on 27th May 1943. [13]

The Peckett was joined by “a second locomotive …. in 1947, a four-wheel vertical boiler engine built by Sentinel (W/No. 9375).” [3] Dixon says that this was a diesel loco, [11] but research suggests that Sentinel (W/No. 9375) was a steam locomotive. Sentinel Locos with this range of Works Nos. were all steam-powered. An example is Works No. 9376 which Sentinel’s records show as a Vertical Boiler Steam Loco built in 1947 for ‘Ind Coope and Allsop’ and used at their Burton Brewery. [12] Millichip explains: “This type of engine, with enclosed cylinders and chain drive to the leading axle, was eminently suited to gas works duties. Coke dust, which proliferated in gas works, always seemed to be attracted to the motion and other moving parts of conventional locomotives, and when mixed with oil the effect was far from satisfactory.” [5: p203]

These two locos (Peckett and Sentinel) shared 4 or 5 trips per day between the Gas Works and the Railway Station Sidings on weekdays. [11]

The tramway ran eastward from the Southern end of the sidings at Altrincham Railway Station to the Gas Works where there were a series of sidings that served the Works. Newell says that the “line entered the gasworks from the south-west, passing a weighing machine and an associated building on the western side of the track. It then threaded its way between two gas holders before branching north and eastwards towards two process buildings. Three turn tables gave extra flexibility for the coal wagons accessing these buildings.” [3]

Newell writes about some of the various developments on the line over the years. His words do not need rehearsing in detail here as they can easily be read on his site: https://archaeologytea.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/the-industrial-archaeology-of-the-altrincham-gas-works-tramway [3]

In summary, Newell says that the essential changes were:

  • 1908: a short 50 metre siding running north from Moss Lane between Oakfield Road and Balmoral Road
  • 1936/1937: doubling of the tracks at the Railway Station.
  • various changes to sidings in the Gas Works over the years
  • 1951: a siding accessing a processing building to the East end of the Gas Works site.

Millichip talks of the siding at the station being very difficult to shunt because there was only a small passing loop available. This meant that a rope hawser was used to facilitate shunting. The two sidings mentioned by Newell above  were not connected in a way that would allow either of the Gas Works engines to run round the wagons delivered to the Station Goods yard. [5: p203] Millichip and Robinson provide two excellent shots of the rope -shunting taking place. [5: p203 & p204] In the second of these pictures the short passing loop is visible.

The Altrincham Gas Works was nationalised in 1949 when it became part of the North Western Gas Board. Millichip tells us that North Western Gas Board was one of twelve gas boards set up at Nationalisation and took over not only the Gas Works but nearby offices and a gas showroom on Cross Street in Altrincham [5: p204]

Gas production at Altrincham ceased on 26th June 1957. [5: p204] Newell tells us that the tramway was closed in December 1957, track was removed in 1958, and the Moss Lane site became the headquarters of the Gas Board, opening in 1965. The two gas-holders at the Gas Works survived this work but did not survive beyond the end of the 20th century. [3] The whole site, including the headquarters building were redeveloped in the first decade of the 21st century as housing and a new ice-rink. [3][5: p204]

If you are interested, the process used at Gas Works is covered in an article on the International Good Guys website (https://www.igg.org.uk/gansg/12-linind/gasworks.htm). [14]

References

  1. M. Newall in Reference [3] below mentions a 14 year period. It seems as though the line was first constructed by around 1895 and was still in use in the late 1950s – see references [5] and [9] below.
  2. https://groups.io/g/IndustrialRailwaySociety
  3. M. Newall; The Industrial Archaeology of the Altrincham Gas Works Tramway; 10th August  2020; https://archaeologytea.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/the-industrial-archaeology-of-the-altrincham-gas-works-tramway, accessed on 15th December 2020.
  4. https://stagarchaeologymanchester.wordpress.com/2020/08/07/exploring-altrinchams-gas-works-tramway accessed on 15th December 2020.
  5. Malcolm Millichip & Douglas Robinson; Altrincham Gas Works; Railway Bylines Magazine, Irwell Press, Vol. 5 Issue 5; April 2000, p196-204.
  6. https://britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw017603, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  7. https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW036247, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  8. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=17&lat=53.38629&lon=-2.34401&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  9. The Museum of Transport Greater Manchester has shared an image from 1959, showing the tramway in productive use; https://flic.kr/p/2jy9WSY, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  10. John Marius Wilson; Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales; 1870-1872. https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/549, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  11. F. Dixon; The Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway; 2nd ed. Oakwood Press, 1994.
  12. https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/sentinel-works-no-9376-no-7-0-4-0-vbgt, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  13. https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/70791-pecketts-yorktown-class/page/2, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  14. https://www.igg.org.uk/gansg/12-linind/gasworks.htm, accessed on 15th January 2021.
  15. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=16.193710244992022&lat=53.38569&lon=-2.34339&layers=168&b=1, accessed on 15th January 2021.

 

1 thought on “Altrincham Gas Works Tramway

  1. Michael Battman

    Some track by Moss Lane bridge was remained for many years after the tramway closed, I recall it certainly in the late 60s and maybe early 70s

    Reply

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