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The Low Moor and Clifton Colliery Tramways

This review starts with the Clifton Colliery Tramway, which was subsequently acquired by the Low Moor Ironworks, before dealing with the centre of operations at Low Moor. The reason for this is two-fold: this article appears on a Calder Valley orientated Website, and secondly, the Clifton Colliery line is rarely dealt with in its own right.

For those researching these tramways there is a  Website dedicated to Low Moor and its industries at http://www.lmlhg.org.uk/lowmoor/Ironworks.html. This provides a comprehensive collection of photographs of the Low Moor Works. The site notes that the Low Moor Ironworks was established around 1790, and then grew rapidly. The rapid rise in the number of employees caused a great increase in the local population and the need for housing, churches, shops, pubs and public buildings: in fact, a whole township. The Low Moor rail and tramway system was extensive, although branches were opened and closed with great regularity: the full extent of the system can be viewed here overlaid on modern Ordnance Survey mapping, along with gradient profiles..

Clifton Colliery Railway

According to Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion, the Clifton Colliery Railway was built in 1834-1835 by brothers Benjamin and Edmund Walker to transport coal from the mines at Clifton, and closed in 1928. However Margaret Sharp [9] records that the line from Ox Pit to Brake Head and down the incline was last used in 1920 when the lease expired on 29 February 1920. Sharp records that negotiations for a sale started in January 1920 and in June the section of the tramway between Armytage Road and Wakefield Road in Brighouse was sold to Ramsden Camm & Co. An old stable block on Wakefield Road sold for £10.

Edmund died in 1855 and Benjamin apparently surrendered the mining lease. The mines were subsequently worked by the Low Moor Iron Company, who acquired them in 1860-61[9], and the Low Moor tracks reached Ox Pit in 1886

The 1834 date means that Clifton is a contemporary of the horse-worked Ffestiniog Railway that obtained its Act of Parliament on 23 May 1832. A few years earlier the Nantlle Railway (sometimes known as the Nantlle Tramway) received its Act of Parliament in 1825 and was constructed by Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson. It opened in 1828 using horse power. The line - remarkably - not only survived in its original form but also, when it closed in until 1963, was a part of the nationalised British Railways operation. It is the last recorded use of horses by BR, and closed only when the branch line it was connected to closed. Also of note in North Wales is the Penrhyn Railway,

Schematic route map of the Low Moor Mineral Railway and Clifton Colliery Railways as shown on OS mapping c. 1900

There are also similarities with the Penrhyn Quarry Railway which dates from 1801 and linked the Penrhyn slate quarries at Bethesda with Port Penrhyn, a distance of some six miles. The railway consisted of four level plains divided by three inclines. Track featured iron edge rails three feet long and supported on slate and stone blocks. The railway was operated by horses working between the inclines pulling up to around twenty loaded waggons.

These three early railways set the scene for what was created at Clifton. The surviving stone block 'sleepers' in the boundary walls with their single hole drilled centrally suggest a trackage very similar to that described for the Penryhn. However, Clifton may have had the edge on these three early systems by employing rope haulage on the level sections from the start.

An early eyewitness report records the strange, and slightly unnerving, sight of a of raft of couves moving across the landscape without obvious means of propulsion.   

Coal was conveyed from the Clifton Colliery and Clifton New Colliery (later Ox Pit) and ran down the hill, running parallel to Clifton Common, and passed beneath the road and down to Brighouse canal basin. In 1886, after Clifton Colliery had been taken over by the Low Moor Iron Company, the railway was connected to their tramway system and which then took coal northwards to their works.

The waggons were hauled by ropes, driven by a series of winding houses located at strategic points. A small tunnel carried the tramway beneath Birkby Lane (the A649), the site now marked by a short brick wall on the southern side of the road. Later, there were branch lines to Pheasant Pit, Hartshead, Whitaker Pits, Clifton, and Three Nuns Pit, Hartshead [1905].

The Clifton Colliery tracks were laid to 3 foot gauge, whilst the Low Moor system proper was 3 foot 10½ inches. The tramway from Low Moor had reached Ox Pit and the Clifton Colliery lines by 1886 [9]. The Brighouse - Ox Pit section was subsequently fitted with a third rail to accommodate couves of both gauges [9].

The map below, extracted from the 1854 Ordnance Survey County Series, shows the tramway in its early form - the map until recently hung in Ox Close. Brighouse Gas Works was strategically built next to the Calder & Hebble canal basin, and at the end of the tramway. Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion records that the Mill Lane Gas Works opened in 1857, and became a part of the North Eastern Gas Board after nationalisation of the gas industry in 1949. Production stopped on 14 April 1954. The 1900 mapping shows two turntables that allowed waggons to be turned so that they could be pushed into the Works. It is suggested that coal continued to be trucked down to the Gas Works until the last pit closed in 1928. The title deeds record that the housing (the modern Ox Close) at Ox Pit was sold off on 1 November 1922. 

The tramway started at the Brighouse canal basin and crossed the end-on junction of Mill Lane/Armytage Road on the level before cutting diagonally across the block formed by Grove Street and George Street before crossing Wakefield Road to the foot of the incline. This rose from the northern side of Wakefield Road through the site of what is now the 'Home Improvements' warehouse before entering a stone lined cutting. This led directly to a tunnel under Clifton Road/Common, which is now bricked up. At the northern side the tunnel ended close to the arches of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's Pickle Bridge line viaduct, which it passed through on its way to the winding house at Brake Head, as shown on the 1900 Ordnance Survey mapping, but spelt Breakhead on Low Moor Company mapping. The Colliery Railway pre-dated the Pickle Bridge line, as can be seen from the map extract below.

Extract from early map showing the Clifton Colliery Railway when it terminated at Ox Pit.

From the top of the incline the line then crossed Clifton Common on a low embankment formed with stone walling on either side (in the manner of the Ffestiniog or Cromford & High Peak). It passed Clifton Colliery before terminating at Clifton New Colliery/Ox Pit on what is now Jay House Lane. The three cottages that formed part of the colliery complex survive to the present day and form the current Ox Close. Until relatively recently a one-story brick-built 'barn' survived next to the road directly opposite Ox Close, and the brickwork is still evident by the roadside (December 2016). Part of the building had stalls for horses, and it may well have stabled the tramway's shunting horse.

In its original form, the tramway split to form a wide 'Y' as it approached Ox Pit, with the arms passing either side of Ox Close and terminating by the road. Chris Helme in the Brighouse Echo [10] notes that Ox Pit is one of a number of pits in the Clifton area that figures on a map of 1851 as working mines, but notes "a number of them had closed due to either water problems or them having been worked out or become unviable". Of relevance to the Low Moor railways, Helm also notes that the 'Selections of Strata of the Coal Measures of Yorkshire', published in 1927, shows the only working mines as Battyeford (Three Nuns 1882 - 1928); Coates Pit opened in 1872 and Highmoor Lane opened in 1865. Accompanying the article is a map showing 'The Fields of Clifton 1788', which shows 'Ox Close' as an irregular shaped field on what was then called Thornhill Lane, but is now the modern 'Jay House Lane'.

Extract from early map showing the Clifton Colliery Railway when it terminated at Ox Pit.

Alec Oldroyd writes that his first house was on Wakefield Road, Brighouse and that from the upstairs you could see into a hidden space behind a factory and a narrow tunnel under Clifton Road.

Clifton Colliery Tramway bricked-up tunnel mouth under Clifton Road, Brighouse, West Yorkshire. 3 December  2016

Photographer & Copyright: J K Wallace

Clifton Colliery Tramway approach cutting to the bricked-up tunnel mouth under Clifton Road, Brighouse, West Yorkshire. 3 December  2016

Photographer & Copyright: J K Wallace

A friend of Alec's lived at Brakehead Farm higher up the hill, where there had been a large drum brake here to control the co-acting incline. Alec reports that from Wakefield Road, an alley ran at an angle to the canal basin where rails were visible 20 years ago (1996).

The demolition of the L&YR viaduct appears to have buried the remains of the uphill tunnel entrance. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner has a full set of photos by Stuart Black showing the L&YR viaduct prior and during demolition in late February 1974. Unfortunately, the arch under which the incline passed is not shown in detail, and the incline is therefore not visible.

The incline passed up behind the houses on Clifton Common, and its course in the image below is from bottom left to centre right, the muddy path marking the alignment.

Clifton Colliery Railway incline from Clifton Common, 3 December 2016.

Photographer & Copyright: J K Wallace

The shot below was taken using a drone, and shows the tubtrack on its low embankment approaching the site of Ox Pit from the south. Margaret Sharp [8] records that shallow pits yielded coal between Cock Walk and Thornhills from the 18th Century, and in the 19th Century deeper pits had been sunk in the fields alongside High Moor Lane. She adds that the track for the mineral tramway was laid across Cock Walk farm land. In 1842 the Walker brothers obtained a lease from Sir George Armytage to sink a mine in Old Field, to the north of the Green Farm farmhouse, subsequently known as Clifton Colliery. Later they sank a second pit at Ox Close and by 1849. In the 1861 Census residents of Green Farm were given, amongst others, as Colliery Manager Thomas Bottomley (age 42); Engine tenders [minders] George Riley and Anthony Colbeck and Platelayer Charles Senior. Margaret writes that the coal was moved in tubs or corves linked together and attached to a moving rope of chain or wire. The empty tubs were returned on adjacent rails, and it appeared as an almost endless train. It is not known on what this observation is based on, as the available Ordnance Survey show only a single line of rails. The system did feature passing loops, particularly at Flatts Pit Junction, and this doubling of the tracks is shown. Having said that, the image below shows the track heading from Ox Pit towards Brake Head and the formation is clearly wide enough to accommodate a pair of 3' gauge tracks. Photographic evidence of the tramway in operation is required to verify the method of operation.

The waste heap from the original Clifton Colliery can be seen behind the electricity pylon, with the tubtrack branch trailing into the mainline in the middle distance. The formal garden behind the garage and the rough ground to the right marks the site of Ox Pit's colliery yard. When the tracks from Low Moor finally arrived, they crossed the road and passed through the metal farm gate in the bottom right hand corner of the photo. These were of a wider gauge at 3 foot 10.5 inches, and for a time coal would have passed down the 3 foot tubtrack to Brighouse Gas Works or northwards on the 3 foot 10.5 inch gauge to Low Moor steel works. It is also suggested that the incline was dual gauged, with an extra set of rails laid to allow the Low Moor couves to be lowered down into Brighouse. The couves used on this section were of smaller capacity, as there where issues with the height of the tunnel under Clifton Common. It follows that when the lease for the line to Brighouse expired that these couves would have been withdrawn and scrapped, as their smaller capacity would have reduced the efficiency of the main line - which was questionable anyway.

This photo also shows the site of one of the systems level-crossing, the mapping suggesting that two tracks crossing at this point. The 'main line' crossed the lane through the right hand gate. Ian Wood has suggested that in the 1960s there was evidence of waggon-turntables at the entrance to the waggon repair shed ( by the left hand gate) but this has been picked-up in the drone photo.

The Clifton Colliery Railway embankment approaching the site of Ox Pit from the south, October 2016.

Copyright Rick Hewland, c. 2016

Birds-eye view of Ox Pit 2017

Copyright Rick Hewland, c. 2016

Eventually, Ox Pit was the junction for a number of branches. Using the various mapping sources, it has been possible to superimpose the various tracks on a modern photograph.

The tracks from the left merge to form a single line of rails towards Brighouse and Brake Head. The track appearing from the wood at the top of the picture is the .main line' to Low Moor. The tracks disappearing to the right head up short incline to the site of High Moor Lane Pit, which is now between and under the northern slip-roads for Hartshead Moor Services on the modern M62 motorway. The tracks exiting bottom right ran to Flatts Pit (just short of the modern motorway), with a short extension to the Green Lane Pumping Engine, which on the 1900 mapping is marked s disused. Just before the pit, a further branch headed in an easterly direction to Hartshead Pit, and then southwards to Three Nuns Pit, where it terminated. This latter pit was very close to Cooper Bridge Station on the L&YR Calder Valley mainline between Heaton Lodge and Bradley Wood Junctions, and represents the most southerly point on the system.

The chord between the line from Low Moor that swings round to join the line to High Moor Lane Pit appears to have been laid to speed coal being routed northwards to Low Moor. However, this was a relatively short-lived development, as a direct branch in the direction of Low Moor was constructed from a junction adjacent to Hare Field Farm on Halifax Road at Hartshead Field Top. Once this was completed, the chord was lifted to leave a short siding off the main line.

Clifton Colliery Railway showing track payout and kunctions superimposed on a modern phtograph of the Ox Pit site

Copyright Rick Hewland

In 2012 the field north of Jay House Lane was ploughed, and the course of the Low Moor Tramway heading north towards Whitaker Pits Wood can be clearly seen. Of even greater interest is the track of the south-to-east chord that initially allowed direct running from High Moor Lane Pit to Low Moor can be seen directly above the rubble of the smithy.

Photographer & Copyright: Anne Hewland

Drone photo showing trackbed north of Ox Pit and Jay House Lane, Clifton in 2016.

Copyright Rick Hewland

The system appears to have closed with the closure of the Low Moor Steel Works, and the Ox Close title deeds show the buildings being sold off on 1 November 1922. Although unconfirmed, it would appear that the land comprising the colliery yard was never sold, not belonging either to the modern Ox Close, or the adjacent farm.

Clifton Colliery Railway - plan of houses and trackbed as sold on 1 November 1922.

It will noted in this sale that the land at one time formed the first tramway connection to High Moor Lane Pit has been sold on 1 November 1922, but that the alignment of the later 'main line' to Hartshead and Three Nuns Pit (which can be seen projecting in a south-easterly direction) was retained, and therefore traffic was still able to pass to Low Moor after this date. As the lease of the line to Brighouse gasworks had expired on 29 February 1920, Ox Pit was no-longer a junction. On a visit to Ox Close in 1994 Roy Black [11] suggested that Ox Pit mine was disused by 1907. The Northern Mining Research Society Website shows Three Nuns operated from 1897 to November 1928, so this section of the tramway survived to the end of operations..

The title deeds make reference to the Last Will & Testament of Sir George John Armytage Baronet, and the retention of the mineral rights by his estate. This document also protects the pillar of coal that Ox Close sits on.

The three cottages on the southern side of the road were part of the mining complex. Across the road, as shown on the title deeds above, was a large oblong brick-built building. This reputedly housed the blacksmith, with stabling for the horses at the eastern end. It is understood that the blacksmith continued his trade from the building after the tramway was demolished in 1928. In Margaret Sharp's 'Down the Acres' [8] Pat Tattersall, when talking about her childhood at Jay House Farm in the 1950s, notes: "...most of the farm machinery was stored in the the old engine shed at Ox Pit, separate room at the end was used for potato storage" (my italics). The reference to it being an engine shed is interesting, as there is no evidence of locomotives being used south of Cow Close Lane, and the mapping examined covering for the period 1854 - 1922 fails to show any direct rail connection to the building, although rails ran past the western end at right angles to the building. The building was demolished in 2008, and I am grateful to Anne Hewland for these shots illustrating various aspects of the building before its demise. The potato room can be glimpsed in final photo of the demolition.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

These two shots record the demise of the building.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

A photograph of the Green Lane Pumping station and part of its reservoir appears in Margaret Sharps 'Down the Acres' [8]. The photo shows two brick built buildings very much in the stile of Low Moor pit head buildings elsewhere, with a substantial square brick built chimney to the right of them. In the background are two further buildings, the nearer one of wooded construction. Above the reservoir wall four corves can be seen standing together.

Low Moor Mineral Railways

The Centenary of the Lowmoor Iron Works was celebrated in 1891, and it is noted in "A record of the origin and progress of Lowmoor Iron Works from 1791 to 1906" [12] that the inception of the works dates from 1789, when the Manors of Royds, Hall and Wibsey were purchased from the assignees of one Squire Leedes who, having lived beyond his means, had come to grief the previous year. The entire estate, with its various rights and accessories, came into the possession of the firm of 'Hird, Dawson & Hardy'. 

Oxford academic Charles Dodsworth provided a comprehensive review of the Low Moor Ironworks in the May 1971 issue of 'Industrial Archaeology', and these notes draw of this article [6]. Dodsworth records that in 179 the Low Moor estate was sold to John Hardy (solicitor), Richard Hird, John Jarratt ad the Reverend Josephh Dawson. Dawson was acquainted with Joseph Priestley, and a Unitarian Minister. at Idle, near Bradford, in 1768. Dawson was interested in science and opened pits beside his chapel, paying his miners on the Sabbeth before services started. The Bowling mines and tramways were started on the next-door lot in 1788.

Dodsworth notes that an 1811 maps shows waggonways running into the old foundry, and one, with two spurs, serving the coking area. The main line ran along New Works Road and was an iron plateway. This forled to Wibsey Slack and the other to Little Horton via ButtersA638 to a pit near Bierley ironworks.haw. It still existed in 1805. It is not known when the first rails were laid outside the works.

In 1831 a line ran from near the blast furnaces round the northern side of the works and across the present. This was the site of a latter mixed gauge line with a spur to Low Moor LYR station. It would appear that the extensive network of standard and narrow gauge lines surviving the mining field to the south dates from 1831.

An 1826-27 visit by Prussian engineers noted that the rails were rectangular bars of cast iron which had cast-on lugs for attachment to sleepers which were the usual stone pattern. Star shaped holes were made in the blocks for the rail fastenings. (As I write these notes in January 2017, the Ffestiniog has just revealed a long line of sleeper blocks still 'in situ' on the Cob at Porthmadog under the modern track).

Production ceased at the Shelf works in 1849 and the connection with the Low Moor rail system was taken out.The 1847 1st edition of the 6 inch Ordnance Survey records the development of the narrow gauge railway and tramroads linking the iron works with their mines. The Standard Gauge railways had reached Low Moor, and both sections of the works had connections to the WestRiding Union Railway via Low Moor Station. Shortly afterwards the Manchester & Leeds Railway was opened via a tunnel under the Royds Hall estate. The OS map shows that tracks had reached mines in Wyke, close to the A58 main road. In 1854 Low Moor acquired Bierley ironworks, which remained connected and in use until 1905.

Peak ironsone was 785,628 tons in 1868. In 1850 Low Moor had some 38 pits and by 1861 51, including 16 'open work'. By 1852 ow Moor had acquired collieries near Brighouse in 1852, and was mining their by 1862. Margaret Sharp [9] records that leases were signed for Hartshead and Clifton with the Armytage Estate on 28 June and 26 August 1861, these also covering assets in Cleckheaton. Another lease was signed with Jones Priestley of Lapton on 14 April 1869. The duration of the leases is not given.

The connection with the Clifton Colliery Tramway was achieved by 1886. There were various gauges in use, and sizes of waggons. Haulage was partially loco and partially assisted by 9 stationary engines. Some lines, like that joining the old and new works were mixed gauge. Dodsworth notes that Low Moor's own 3' 10.5", the Clifton 3' and Brierley (unknown) gauges were all in use up until 1928. The full extent of the system can be seen as applied to modern OS mapping here.

Locos were first used on the Low Moor lines in 1854, thought to be Standard Gauge. It will be recalled that Narrow Gauge locos at this times were still something of a novelty, although were available to power the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn Railways in 1863 and 1865 respectively. It was recommended that locos be used throughout except in the Norwood Green area but his was never done, locos only working to the yard at Cow Close Lane. Such a conversion would have required the various tunnels under the roads south of Cow Close to be rebuilt, and certain inclines, such as Clifton Common, would have been too steep for adhesion working. The Cromford & High Peak famously converted Hpton Incline, a 1-in-14 grade, to loco haulage which was much sought out by enthusiasts to watch a small steam loco blasting up this grade with very small trains. Hopton, however, had a run-up, and it is highly unlikely that Clifton Common with its 1-in-13 grade, and cold start from the Wakefield Road in Brighouse could have been successfully converted.

In 1928 Low Moor was purchased from the Receiver by Thom. W Ward, and very shortly afterwards all the Low Moor mines at Bradford, Wyke and Leeds were closed, and most then dismantled. The 36 miles of narrow gauge tramway were scraped, including the 3' 1" serving the New and Old Works, as were the standing engines. It is recalled that the last trains to run were to demolish the system. Rail haulage in the works finally ceased in 1957.

Since that period the mining operations extended a considerable distance from the Works, and ultimately covered an area of about 8,000 acres, lying in the districts of Low Moor, Bierley, Cleckheaton, Scholes, and several other adjoining hamlets, all of which were connected by a network of tramways 22 miles long (Boyes suggests a final mileage of 36 [1]), and in direct communication with the Works [12]. The company also owned ironstone mines in the townships of Beeston, Churwell, Hunslet, Osmondthorpe, and other districts around Leeds. They had 73 miles of underground roads laid with rails, and employed some 2,000 people.

In its later years Low Moor failed to update its equipment, both in the two Works and out on the tramway. Rather predictably, a large number of pits were sunk rather haphazardly across the landscape in the vicinity of the Works, and the Ordnance Survey from 1850 onwards records the rapid rise and fall of these pits and their connecting tramways. This meant that the tramway system was always been modified to suit the immediate needs of the coal and ironstone mining operations, and was never planned with the longer-term in mind. A study of the system shows long, straight runs south of Cow Close Lane, but the main line zig-zagging northwards towards the works, reflecting the older, abandoned pits that it used to serve.

The recommendation to adopt loco working throughout would have required some capital outlay but would have significantly reduced working expenses. The difficulty of a rope worked system such as Low Moor - with its 9 winding engines - is that to move a loaded train from Three Nuns to Cow Close Lane would have required four stationary engines to have been fired up and crewed, along with the ground staff required to hook on and hook off the raft of corves from the various ropes as the train progressed northwards. Finally, having arrived at Cow Close, a steam loco would have also had to have been fired up and despatched to bring the corves into the Works. Contrast that with only steaming a single loco, and which, on many industrial systems, might have only had a driver/stoker, so 'single manning' with a vengeance.

Locomotives & Rolling Stock

Cover of "The Locomotives Built by Manning Wardle & Company, Volume 1: Narrow Gauge", published by Century Locoprints
Published by Century Locoprints

The Low Moor System had ten standard gauge locos and three 3'-10½" gauge ones. The narrow gauge locos were mainly confined to the Old and New Ironworks sites, and down to the exchange sidings (with the rope worked section) at Cow Close Lane.

A works photo of the last of the three narrow gauge locos supplied is on the cover of "The Locomotives built by Manning Wardle & Company - Volume 1 Narrow Gauge", as shown. These were chunky looking 0-4-2 saddle tanks. A side elevation of the first loco and side and end elevations of the second are on page 30 of the same publication.

Very large dumb sprung buffers offset to the right and double coupling hooks were fitted indicating that the locos would have been used to shunt standard gauge wagons on mixed gauge track.

Norman Boyes joined the Low Moor foundry in 1930 and records the last years of the narrow gauge steam fleet within the foundry [1].  

Boyes records the three Manning Wardle-built locos as:

'Lamplugh Wickham'  Wks No. 1660/05   Cylinders 6.25" x 9"    Driving wheels: 1'8"
'Henry Woodcock'      Wks No. 1717/05   Cylinders 9.5" x 15"    Driving wheels: 2'6"
'Charles Hardy'          Wks No.  1924/17  Cylinders 10.5" x 15"  Driving wheels: unknown

Boyes notes that the initial livery was Crimson Lake, lined red and black, and observed that 'Lamplugh Wickham' was really too small for the work offered, and could barely tackle the gradients in the Foundry yard. The Works Numbers suggest that, being the first, it was under specified, and the initial inadequacies were remedied in the second loco ordered later in the same year.

Visiting the Foundry in 1930, Boyes found the locos were very rusty, and already 'Lamplugh Wickham' was dumped at the end of a siding, and 'Charles Hardy' was out of use in the small engine shed, despite only being 13 years old. In 1934 the loco shed was converted into a garage for a lorry, and 'Charles Hardy' was relegated to a disused gantry until it and 'Lamplugh Wickham' were cut up in 1937. 'Henry Woodcock', however, continued at work until it failed  boiler inspection in 1939, being cut-up in 1948. Given Ward's predilection for scrapping anything deemed surplus to requirements and the WW2 scrap drive, this was doubly odd.

In the beginning the Low Moor and Clifton tramways were separate enterprises, and it therefore follows that their fleets of waggons (corves) would have been similar but not identical. It is also known that Clifton Common tunnel had a restricted loading gauge, and therefore the Clifton Colliery corves would have been smaller, with reduced capacity. When the systems were joined up, and traffic from Three Nuns started to be routed to Brighouse via the washery at Hartshead, a fleet of smaller capacity corves was created, presumably to the same basic Low Moor design and to the Low Moor track gauge, although the scarcity of photographs of the Clifton trackage in use makes confirmation difficult.

Mention has been made of horses to move the waggons along the level sections. It is assumed that horses were used, for instance, on the Brake Head - Ox Pit section (Clifton Colliery). There was a winding engine at both ends, but the level nature of the trackbed makes this section unsuitable for conventional winding. This therefore begs the question how and when were horses provided? Just as today, the Company could have owned its own horses (and associated stabling); contracted such workings to a contractor; or hired in the horses it needed on an 'as required' basis from the neighbouring farms. The contemporaneous Ffestinog Railway is known to have contracted out its operations [20]. 

Jones and Dennis in their review of Ffestiniog Railway motive power [20] note that for the opening of the FR in 1836 permenant staff were employed to operate the trains, before deciding that it would be more economical or less bureaucratic to let their operations out to contract. In this early phase contracts appear to have been let to farmers, who presumably already owned suitable animals, and had the infrastructure available to service their needs. The Ffestiniog was using horse power for all its uphill traffic, with the exception of a pair of inclined planes at Moelwyn. So a steady supply of horse would have been required, which would have worked dedicated 'stages' of the railway, so a horse pulling a raft of empty waggons for five miles or so of the 13 mile route, before being replaced. The horse so retired would then be placed in  a dandy waggon at the rear of a loaded downhill train and so be returned and rested before brining another rake uphill.

However, as the 'main line' was always cable worked, there would never have been the need for horses to work trains for any significant distance, except, as noted, the short sections that were on the level, and for local shunting movements. As the system was worked pretty much continuously, there would have been an on-going requirement for horse power, which could have been equally well serviced with either direct or contracted labour.

The occupants of Ox Close prior to the demolition of the 'Waggon Repair Shop' on Jay House Lane, Clifton, believed that they could see a stable formed in the eastern end by an internal partition wall by pearing through the ventilation bricks inserted in the gable end. They also believe that there was a door on the northern side of the building (so not the road side) which would have allowed entry to the stable, so lending support to the view that horses were kept at Ox Pit. There was also a small window in the eastern gable end which resembled a pay window, in the fashion of railway booking office, which was later bricked-up.

'A Record of the Origin & Progress of Lowmoor Ironworks from 1791 to 1906' [12] contains a number of shots featuring the 50cwt. corves, and it is possible to extract side and end views of the larger capacity corves. These had slopped sides and hopper doors at the bottom to allow their loads to be discharged on the gantries.

End Products

The iron was prized for its uniform and brilliant grain, commanding premium prices. The quality seemed to be due in part to the nature of the ore and coal and in part to the manufacturing process. There are - remarkably - still Low Moor made items still in frontline service, and this photo taken on 26 December 2016 shows the upper part of the firebox interior of the Ffestiniog Railway's 'Linda', fitted in June 1937.

Interior of firebox of the Ffestiniog Railway's 'Linda' as photographed on 26 December 2016.

Photographer & copyright: JK Wallace

Also, Sharp Stewart & Co. (Builder's number 3518) for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, B Class No. 19 (778 under the all-India number scheme) was acquired by Adrian Shooter for his private 2' gauge Beeches Light Railway in Oxfordshire. She retains her original Low Moor wrought iron boiler of 1879, the exceptions being the copper inner firebox and a small patch on the barrel. Mary Twentyman notes that the tyres on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway's 'Lion' are also from Low Moor.

The Company

Charles Dodsworth, in the May 1971 copy of 'Industrial Archaeology', noted that the company started to run into difficulty in the late 1880s, as its mines were increasingly scattered and expensive. The rail network had a variety of gauges and used a mix of stationary engines and locomotives. After the First World War the future demand for wrought iron was uncertain.

The company was taken over by Robert Heath & Sons of Staffordshire, creating a new company called Robert Heath And Low Moor Ltd. Efforts were made to reduce costs, although this affected quality. Attempts to use high-sulphur coal created serious problems and destroyed the reputation of the works as a supplier of high quality iron, while a slump in heavy industry in the 1920s further reduced demand. 

In 1928 the company was declared bankrupt, and the Low Moor assets bought by Thos. W. Ward Ltd. Many of the mines, tracks and plant were closed or dismantled. Wrought iron production finally ended in 1957. As of 1971 new owners were producing alloy steel, making about 350 tons per week.

The period the various branches were in operation was determined by the opening and closing dates of the various mines. Some mine shaft were retained for drainage purposes after closure, such as the shaft at Crowd Hill retained to drain Flathers Pit. One of the problems of having mines in close proximity is that should one mine close - and cease pumping - then its neighbour is directly impacted, as it has to pump more to keep the workings clear. Consequently the second pit now finds that its costs have risen sharply, and it too closes. The Low Moor company in that respect seems to have kept a number of such 'pumping stations' to protect the remaining pits. Here is a list, extracted from the Northern Mines Research Society's interactive map, showing the opening and closing of the Low Moor mines connected to the tramway c. 1900. The properties to the east of Low Moor were not connected at this time.

Low Moor Tramway pit closure dates to 1928

 Source: Northern Mining Research Society

High Moor Lane colliery, Hartshead, taken from 'A Record of the Origin & Progress of Lowmoor Ironworks from 1791 to 1906'

Of note, no dates are provided for Ox Pit. The south-eastern properties, namely Hartshead and Three Nuns remained viable until the end, so ensuring that the tramway operated over its fullest extent until the acquisition by Wards.

Surviving Infrastructure

The mineral railway passed under the Halifax Road, at Hartshead Moor (the A649) in a short tunnel. The southern portal still exists and can be entered, although is on private land and prior permission is required. This is how it appeared in June 2010 on a Calderdale Historical walk. The portal and lining appear to have been whitewashed, and it is not clear whether this is an original feature, or whether it was applied later. The use of the tunnel after closure is unknown, although many old bridges have been used for livestock storage. A view of the tunnel taken by Malcolm Bull on the same organized walk appears in Malcom Bull's Calderdale Companion.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright of the Estate of Pete Hewland

Photographer & copyright of the Estate of Pete Hewland

Photoshop alert! The original image was captured on an organised walk by Calderdale Heritage. The original, unmodified image is shown in the inset. However, in the fashion of a 'spot the ball' competition, with a few clicks they have been removed to show the full width of the tunnel mouth. Crucially the presence of the figures allows a stab at the width of the tunnel, and therefore to calculate whether the tramway was single or double track. Assuming the original figures were an average 5' 8", then the tunnel mouth scales out at 7.5 feet. Given this was never part of the Clifton system, the track gauge here would have always been 3'10.5". This therefore suggests that there would have been a single track at this point, and not double track. Technically if loaded rafts of waggons are required to pass on an incline plain then the tracks can be interlaced, so that they part at the mid-point to allow an upward-bound raft to pass the downward-bound raft, and as this tunnel is on the upper part of the incline, such an arrangement remains a possibility.  

At times of the year, particularly during the summer months of hot years, the trackbed re-emerges. This is the view north from Birkby Lane from the tunnel.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Whilst not strictly the Low Moor tramway as such, this c. 1962 photograph shows the scene immediately below the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's 69 yard New Furnace Tunnel over which the tramway passed between the two foundry sites. The photographer would have been standing on the approximate site of one of the tramway lines. A branch swung off the tramway's main line and passed behind the buildings on the left hand side of the photograph on the top of the cutting side before dropping down into the LYR exchange sidings in the middle distance beyond the over bridge.

Low Moor No. 1 signal box and tunnel mouth

A photo taken looking the other way shows the short New Foundry Tunnel over which passed two Low Moor tramway track.

Low Moor No 1 Signal Box c. 1962 with a 2-car Class 110 unit passing towards Bradford showing the LNWR-style gallows signal.

Low Moor No 1 Signal Box c. 1962 with a 3-car Class 110 unit passing towards Bradford showing the LNWR-style gallows signal. The tramway passed over the top of the tunnel.

Finally, a post card view showing a standard gauge loco hauling a train of narrow gauge waggons having just crossed Chapel Road in Low Moor, with First and Second Street in the background. The train is running from the Old to the New Works.

Postcard of Low Moor showing standard gauge loco pulling a train of narrow gauge waggons

And for comparison, the modern view thanks to Google Streetview.

First and Second Street, Low Moor, showing site of tramway level crossing on Chapel Street

Image copyright: Google Streetview

Mapping showing location of train between New and Old Works, Low Moor

Image: National Libray of Scotland; https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/#zoom=18&lat=53.7530&lon=-1.7580&layers=168&right=BingHyb


Once Thomas W Ward acquired the Low Moor Ironworks and Tramways little time was lost in disposing of the assets deemed redundant. It follows that there is going to be very little left of a tramway which is being demolished which terminates in a blast furnace. However, a section of rail and its chair did survive at Ox Close until earlier this year, as the image taken in 2007 below shows.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

This is presumed to be Low Moor rail, and would have replaced the earlier Clifton Colliery track. Photos of the Low Moor tramway within the works shows such rail in use. The chair would have been needed to fix the rail to the stone blocks. It is presumed that this aspect of the tramway was not updated south of Cow Lane, as this section remained rope worked to the end.

Low Moor Ironworks Tramway chair as seen at Ox Close, Clifton March 2017

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Tramway chair as found at Ox Close, Clifton, in March 2017. This differs significantly from the chair recorded by B Thorp [19] further north. Given this was found at Ox Pit, where the Clifton and Low Moor tramways met, then this might be a Clifton chair, reflecting a different rail section, so possibly 'T' section rather than the later double- or bull-head type, or even a flat-bottom type, as found as a fence post near by (see below).

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

It us unclear whether this is a piece of Clifton Colliery rail or a piece of angle iron, but it forms a pence post on the site of Ox Pit.

Photographer & copyright: Anne Hewland

Inclined Planes

Right from the very start, railways had to negotiate hills and valleys. Before 1804 the primary means of propulsion was the horse, and so the early engineers attempted to create a level track so that the horse could pull a reasonable maximum load. When there was no alternative, the engineer would create a long, steep incline with some form of mechanism at the top to either haul or regulate the passage of waggons up and down. This was the 'dry' equivalent of the then current 'wet' canal technology, with the level sections following the contour lines where possible, with any significant gradients tackled in one 'rise' or incline, in the fashion of a 'rise' of canal locks. Indeed, the early canal surveyors had become well-practiced at their art, and so the relative ease with which these early tramways were surveyed should come as no surprise.

In his study of the tramway, B Thorp [19] suggests that the Clifton Colliery incline was self-acting. 

In November 1824 Josias Jessop was setting out the results of the Survey he had undertaken for the promoters of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, some 10 years before the Clifton Colliery line was being laid out.

In his document, Jessop makes the case for a railway with inclined planes and stationery engines. He wrote:

"The old system of forming railways , was to make them a with a regular inclination, adapted to the natural declivity of the country through which they passed; so that a horse had to perform the labour of ascending as well as overcome the friction of the carriages, (for beyond a very small rise, a locomotive Engine will no work to advantage,) the improvement has been to separate as far as possible, the Mechanical Power from the friction, concentrating the power at fixed points, where by means of stationery Steam Engines applied to Inclined Planes, the ascents are overcome at once, leaving only the friction and the distance to be done by the horse or the locomotive Engines. A Railway on this system is therefore equally suited to a mountainous or level country, and either Horses or Locomotive Engines may be used upon it (though not both with advantage at the same time from their difference in velocity,) the waggons been drawn along by the Locomotive Engine, which derives its motion from the contact and friction of the wheels against the rails, the wheels being attached directly to the Steam Engine." [15]

This sets out the case for a railway worked by stationery engines. The issue for Low Moor was that it had few, if any, obvious level sections for horse and/or steam engine working, and in the end, employed all three. Whilst Jessop is stressing the division of friction and velocity, it also clear that working a series of inclines is anything but quick, with loads limited to what the rope could reasonably cope with. But in the context of Low Moor, if one thinks of the tramway as a type of conveyor belt then so long as a steady flow of coal and limestone sufficient to maintain the work rates at the furnaces, the actual transit times of individual loads is therefore not so critical.  

In 1800 work started on the first Penryn Quarry Railway. Two aspects of the this operation are worthy of note. Firstly, the loads were from the quarries high in the Welsh mountains down to the Port, so the gradient favoured the traffic flow. Secondly, the primary traffic was finished slate and related products, so any coal required to work steam engines or similar would have to be laboriously and expensively drawn up the hillside. The Welsh solution adopted in the Penryhn, Dinorwic, Festiniog and Nantlle quarries was a double track incline (so two separate tracks) laid side-by-side with a large drum at the top, with a brake fitted to it. Then a rope was fastened to the empty waggons at the bottom of the incline, and then fed up the track over a series of rollers laid in between the rails, and then was wrapped a few times round the drum at the top before being attached to the loaded waggons standing on the second track waiting to be let down.

Operation was now simple. The loaded waggons were pushed over the edge (the 'crimp') and then their downward speed checked by application of the drum brake. The attraction of this operation is that it did not require any external power to be applied, so once set-up, except for the manpower and maintenance involved, was cheap to run.

It will be apparent that if one set of waggons is passing down the incline at the same time another set is ascending, that give or take a few inches, they will pass at the mid-point of the incline. Engineers soon realised there was a more economical way of setting out the incline, with just three rails instead of four. But in this arrangement, the middle rail is shared between the two tracks, and only at the mid-point do they separate to allow the up-bound load to pass the downward load. This saves both on the quantity of rail needed and the land take for the incline. Again, this lends itself to the using gravity as the means of propulsion.

Finally, neither of these arrangement are possible, then a single line of rails can be used. The lowering down is simple enough, but the winding up needs a power source. With a colliery system - where loaded waggons of coal pass the incline head on a daily basis - it is possible to install a steam engine that provides the power for winding loads to the top of the incline. For completeness, water power could also be used, as happened on the early Ffestiniog at Moelwyn before the original tunnel was cut. In that particular example, loaded waggons were being hauled to a summit, before being let down the other side in a more conventional arrangement. Even in the Ffestiniog's horse-worked days this arrangement created a severe bottleneck, and a tunnel was driven to allow the passage of horse-drawn trains. When the railway was subsequently converted to steam locos, this tunnel then proved to be a new bottleneck, and consequently the Ffestiniog always had a reputation for having a very tight loading gauge in the tunnel. This was only finally resolved when the Ffestiniog was forced to build a new route and tunnel in the 1980s.  

Various sources suggested the incline into Brighouse was co-acting (so loads passing each other). Other sources refer to the Brake Head engine, suggesting a powered incline. The available mapping (all OS map examined in the period 1848 - 1920) show a single line of rails and no intermediate pass-by or crossing loop. 

However B Thorp [19] suggests that the Brighouse incline drew on the technology being developed in the North East around Newcastle. He suggests that the incline had two tracks in the upper section which used a common (middle) rail, and then opened out into two tracks to form a passing loop in the middle of the incline at Cock Walk Farm, before merging to form a single track down to Brighouse.

The incline and the Brighouse branch was formally abandoned on 29 February 1920, when the leases expired. The land in Brighouse was then offered for sale, so clearly as far as the Armytage estate was concerned, operations over the tramway had permanently ceased and there was no prospect of traffic resuming at some future time. Given the poor financial state of the Low Moor Company at this time, and the various surveys and reports that had highlighted the high cost of running the system, it is very probable that the incline winding gear - particularly if steam powered - now needed updating and replacing after 86 years of continuous operation. The early pits that had supplied Brighouse at Clifton and Ox Pit had been closed by 1907, and coal for Brighouse was now coming up from Three Nuns. But because of the loading gauge restriction in Clifton Common road tunnel, loads were having to be transhipped into the smaller capacity corves, so a further nail in this particular coffin.    

The Low Moor system 'proper' was rope worked, with engine houses dotted along the route performing two operations: pulling loads towards the engine house, or lowering them down the other side. It follows that for more efficient operation, the engine house need to be located on a summit to perform these two types of operation.  It also follows that level crossings on busy roads are going to be problematical, as from time-to-time there will be a rope - sometimes moving - crossing the highway. In this respect, it is a shame no one thought to photograph the bottom of the Clifton Common incline, which exited directly onto the Wakefield Road in Brighouse.

There are three clear problems with this arrangement:

1. in the event of a runaway, there is nothing to stop the waggons sweeping everything before them directly into the public highway at the bottom
2. the mechanics of attaching and unattaching the haulage rope would have seriously delayed traffic into and out of Brighouse
3. should the waggons have been run across the road still attached to the rope, the latter would have been a serious inconvenience to road users. 

Also operational in this area were 'tubs' on a continuous rope. This arrangement was less severely graded but involved small tub waggons being tied to a rope roughly 10 foot apart, so that a waggon would pass the loading or unloading point once every 30 seconds. B Thorp [19] believes that the single track incline from Hartshead to Three Nunns operated on this principle. At the end of the section the rope would pass around a wheel allowing the tubs to return on the other track. The writer has seen a photograph of this arrangement in the Low Moor area but does not know where it was located.


I am very grateful to Mary Twentyman and Anne Hewland for the guidance, information and materials provided whilst compiling these notes.


1. The Narrow Gauge Number 205
Memories of the Narrow Gauge at Low Moor: Norman Boyes p. 3-5
Norman Boyes joined the Low Moor foundry in1930 and records the last years of the narrow gauge within the foundry. 3 half tones.

2. The Narrow Gauge Number 207
Low Moor Noel Donnelly 1 page. Noel provided five photographs, one of which shows the mixed gauge track crossing the road prior to entering the Old Works.

3. The Development of the Mineral Tramway System in Bradford
Reverend John Wilding. 20 pages

4. "Pennine Journey"
by William B Stocks 1958. Printed and Published by THE ADVERTISER PRESS LTD., Huddersfield.
"The Low Moor Colliery Tramway"   Pages 57 and 58.

5. A Study of the Railways built to Convey Coal and Iron Ore to Low Moor Iron Works
J. Dickinson  13 pages

6. Industrial Archaeology: The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology
Voume 8, Number 2, May 1971
The Low Moor Ironworks, Bradford. Charles Dodsworth Pages 122-164

7. The Low Moor Company: Report on Iron and Coal Mines, addressed to Lawrence Hardy, Manager by Sir M T Lewis, 1886

8. Down the Acres: The History of the Farms, Inns and Halls of Clifton, a West Yorkshire Village
Margaret Sharp. Bighouse and District Historical Society 2012

9."I Didn't Know That": Glimpses of the History of Clifton, a West Yorkshire Village
Margaret Sharp. Self-Published 2009

10. Brighouse Echo article Spring 1994 Chris Helme

11. Verbatim notes taken on a visit by Roy Black to Ox Close, 13 March 1994

12. A Record of the Origin & Progress of Lowmoor Iron Works from 1791 to 1906
A Google facsimile can be downloaded

13. The Locomotives built by Manning Wardle & Company - Volume 1 Narrow Gauge
       Century Locoprints: Fred W Harman

14. Pennine Journey - Being the History of the Railways, Tramways and Canals in Huddersfield and District
       by William B Stocks 1958, The Advertiser Press, Huddersfield p 57 - 58

15. The Cromford & High Peak Railway, published by Martin Bairstow
       John Marshall, 1996

16. The Penrhyn Railway, published by the Welsh Highland Railway (1964) Ltd.
       Charles E. Lee, 1972

17. A History of the Middleton Railway Leeds published by The Middleton Railway Trust Museum 2004

18. How Ffestiniog got its Railway published by The Railway & Canal Historical Society, Caterham 
       M.J.T. Lewis 1968

19. A Study of the Railway built to Convey Coal and Ironstone to Low Moor Ironworks, from notes by J Dickinson and edited and amplified by B Thorp

20. Little Giants: A History of the Ffestiniog Railway's Pre-Revival Locomotives; Their Mentors, Manufacture and Maintenance Chris Jones and Peter Dennis



One might think that Low Moor missed a trick. Just 13 miles away (and a 19 minute drive by the modern M62 motorway) is the Middleton Railway, which occupies a hugely significant place in early railway development.

In many ways, the Middleton was less significant than Low Moor, as it modestly connected the mines in Middleton with the coal staithes down in Leeds. However it has a special place in locomotive development. As 'The Rocket' was to the 1832 Liverpool and Manchester, then 'the sprocket' was to the Middleton. For in 1812 Engineer Murray designed a modest looking locomotive that was able to move loads significantly greater than its size might suggest, as the design incorporated a large cog on the side (the sprocket) which then engaged with teeth cast into the outer face of the rails. The Middleton is also credited as being the first railway to have a fleet of locos built to the same design; the first to appoint a man specifically to drive the said locomotives; and the first to build a dedicated shed to house the loco fleet in.

Given that Low Moor was famous for making locomotive boilers, fireboxes, etc. of high quality, it seems that a golden opportunity was missed, as it was another 42 years before Low Moor acquired a locomotive, which was then confined to the northern parts of the system in, and around, the actual Iron Works. Dodsworth [6] in particular suggests that latterly the Low Moor was very conservative with its iron making technology, sticking to what it knew.

Birkby Lane Tunnel south mouth showing participants in Malcom Bull historic guided tour before being photoshopped out of the main picture