Middleton, Leeds – Railway, Park and St Mary’s (outside)

Our daughter Hannah was doing a morning’s on-call at her surgery, which isn’t far from the Middleton Railway in Leeds. We drove up the M1 and met her there about 1 – then she and Julie went off shopping leaving me to have a train ride. It is several years since I last went – Theo (my son) and I had a day here, so that must be 15 years ago. They have an excellent museum, and it was a good train ride – http://www.middletonrailway.org.uk

The line was built to transport coal into Leeds. William Grammary, Lord of Middleton, was described as a “coal owner” in 1202. In 1697 Ralph Brandling, a member of a coal-mining family in Newcastle, married Anne Legh, heiress to the Middleton Estate. By 1728 he had two coal-loading staithes on the River Aire, and in 1758 an Act of Parliament was passed to build a waggon way. The rails were originally of wood, but it was relayed with iron rails in the early 1800s.

By this stage the mine owner was Charles Brandling – a Newcastle based man, see www.northernvicar.co.uk/2012/02/02/gosforth-st-nicholas-windows-and-outside/. His son, Charles John Brandling, expanded the coal mines in the area. In 1808 John Blenkinsopp arrived at Middleton. He was born in Felling, County Durham, and was apprenticed to the overseer of the colliery there before he was brought south. He surveyed the pits, and made plans for a new wagonway. He also designed a locomotive with a rack and pinion mechanism – this meant a lighter loco could pull the load required (a heavier loco would break the track). Matthew Murray, originally from Tyneside, had a workshop at Holbeck, and the loco Salamanca was completed in 1812. The world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. This is an 1814 aquatint by Robert Havell, called The Collier.

The museum has a good collection of locos – I liked Harry and the NER tank, and the rather fun notices asking you not to climb on board.

The weather was on-and-off – sunshine and hail. I was having a soup in the café, and heard the radio say “Guard here, we’ve got 100 people on this train. It’s started to hail, so they’ll all be on their way for tea.” The volunteers handled it very well – let’s celebrate the volunteers!. Fascinating steam crane and I liked the bench too.

I had a ride up, under the motorway, to the terminus at the Park. I then watched the loco run round and the train depart.


I thought I would walk through the park and find St Mary’s church – first I found a stunning array of bluebells. How many bluebell photos do you want?

I walked passed the Visitors’ Centre and down to St Mary’s church – sadly it was locked. It has a website at www.parishofmiddleton.co.uk/ and elsewhere I found out the church was built in 1845, on land given by R.H. Brandling. The Incorporated Society for promoting the Enlargement, Building and Repairing of Churches and Chapels made a grant of £350 towards the cost of building the church, on condition that all the seats were declared free, and public subscriptions raised more than £1,000. There is a tradition that Middleton
miners gave either a week’s wages or a week’s work towards the cost of the building. The church was built in the Early English style to designs by R. D. Chantrell, who also designed Leeds Parish Church, in 1846. The church was consecrated on 22 September 1846 by Bishop Longley of Ripon. Inside is some glass by William Wailes of Newcastle.

Leeds has been in the Diocese of Ripon for years. Then there was a reorganisation and Ripon, Wakefield and Bradford came together as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. Then it got renamed again – now it’s the Diocese of  Leeds. They have very palatial City centre offices in Leeds, and you can see where the money has been invested. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if a Diocesan re-branding had included noticeboards that make it look as if we still cared for our parish churches? One assumes the diocese has graveyard regulations too (but they obviously haven’t been enforced for decades, and I know how difficult it is to do that). I decided I was happier with the bluebells and steam trains.

I walked back to the Visitors’ Centre, had a tea, and picked up some leaflets. There are some interesting walks round the park, so I must come back and have a proper explore. I walked back to the station, photoed the train coming in, then rode back. I photoed the Balm Road branch, which is the rarely used link from the main line down to British Rail. Theo and I did that on our visit – my son may have died before his second birthday, but he had coloured some rare lines in on his Rail Atlas during his short life! Back to Roundhay – and I washed up for my favourite daughter (she had cooked for us).

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