On the track of Horncastle’s rail heritage

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Today, you can buy tyres, exhausts, batteries and even have your suspension checked.

One hundred years ago, it was a different scenario.

Steam trains hissed, hustled and bustled into Horncastle’s railway station.

Some trains ferried passengers, the majority carried goods.

In addition to a substantial two-storey station house, there was a goods depot, various warehouses, livestock pens and a signal box.

Although Horncastle was hardly the hub of Lincolnshire’s railway infra-structure, it was a thriving and successful business, particularly whenever the town’s annual horse fair took place.

Horncastle was the terminus of a single track branch line that started at Kirkstead.

There, it connected with the much important Lincoln to Boston line which 
was owned by the mighty Great Northern Railway Company.

The branch line was opened on August 17 1855 after what reports revealed was a “reasonably straightforward” construction process.

There were “only” two serious accidents - one involving a runaway wagon and the other a cutting collapse.

The official opening did suffer something of a hitch as heavy rain 24 hours earlier meant engines could not travel along the track.

The only other station on the branch line was at Woodhall Spa.

It had some famous visitors, including members of the royal family who regularly stopped at Woodhall Spa to take advantage of the medicinal waters.

In fact, Woodhall Spa was so popular with Londoners, a daily carriage was added to the Kings Cross to Grimsby train and then detached at either Peterborough or Boston to provide a direct service.

The landed gentry, 
it seems, did not like changing trains.

Not that Horncastle was forgotten,

Although the rolling stock was provided by Great Northern Railways, the Horncastle Railway Company went from strength to strength. It paid shareholders dividends of between six and nine per cent - a handsome return in the late 1800s.

The demise started in the 1920s.

A plan to extend the branch line beyond Horncastle to Spilsby and the East Coast was dropped.

Instead, a line via Coningsby was favoured. In terms of passenger numbers, Horncastle became something of a backwater.

At the same time, the Horncastle Railway Company was taken over by the London and North Eastern Railway. The new owners decided to end most of the goods’ operations at Horncastle and transfer them to Boston.

Those two setbacks, combined with the arrival of regular bus services and increased use of cars, meant Horncastle failed to survive to even the era of the infamous Beeching cuts.

In July, 1952 the Railway Executive announced the withdrawal of passenger services although a lengthy campaign by residents led to two year stay of execution.

The last passenger service was an A5 Pacific tank No 69803 that left Horncastle at 7.57pm on September 11, 1954.

An eight-coach enthusiasts’ special - pulled by a Stanier Black Five 4-6-0 engine number 44918 - did call at Horncastle in September, 1964.

Diesel shunters continued to operate goods services until April 6, 1971.

It was, literally, the end of the line.

The rails were taken up in 1972 and three years later, 
the trackbed was bought 
by Lincolnshire County Council to convert into the Spa Trail.

Horncastle’s historic station house survived until 1985 when it was demolished.

The ‘old’ warehouse still stands, surrounded by new houses... a reminder of the past but a sing of the times.