Local Railway History

Leeds and Selby Railway

At the beginning of the 19th century the manufacturers of Leeds were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the route to the North Sea ports via the Aire and Calder Navigation. Not only were the charges high but also there had been problems with the water supply in summer. By 1814 this led to a discussion in the local papers of the merits of a railway similar to the Middleton Colliery railway which had starting using steam locomotives at that time. The first proposal was put forward in 1821 and in 1824 the Leeds & Hull Railroad Company was formed and the route surveyed by George Stephenson, assisted by Joseph Locke, later also recognised as one of the greatest railway engineers. Their proposal was for level sections where steam locomotives or horses would be used linked by inclines where the wagons would be hauled by stationary steam engines. The case for progressing this proposal was undermined in 1826 when the Knottingley to Goole canal opened together with a new port at Goole providing a viable alternative to the port of Hull.

A revised proposal emerged for the line to be built only as far as Selby. This would enable coal and goods to be loaded to barges on to the Ouse at Selby and passengers to continue their journey to Hull by Steam Packet. The Leeds and Selby Railway Company was formed in 1929.

London based civil engineering partnership of James Walker and Alfred Burges were engaged to review the proposal and suggested a preferable route which eliminated the inclines. They also proposed the terminus in Leeds should be at Marsh Lane which would involve a tunnel through Richmond Hill. Although locomotives had developed considerably following the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway there were still some reservations and the proposal was to lay the rails on stone blocks in some places so that horses could still be used to haul the heavier loads. The proposal was for 2 tracks but the land was acquired and the bridges built wide enough for 4 tracks. Included amongst the directors of the company was Richard Oliver Gascoigne of Parlington who owned a lot of the land on the route and was keen that the route could serve his collieries and quarries. The Parliamentary Bill received Royal Assent in 1830. 

Two contractors, Messrs. Nowell & Sons and Messrs. Hamer & Pratt, were chosen to carry out the construction of the line. Nowell began construction of the 2 miles (3.2 km) out of Leeds on 1 October 1830, and Hamer & Pratt began work in February 1831 on the remaining 18 miles (29 km) to Selby. Two of the most significant works of civil engineering were the cutting through the limestone ridge at Newthorpe and the 1.5 mile long embankment between South Milford and Gascoigne Wood. In 1832 these were significant works largely undertaken by hand, employing over 500 men in total on the contract.

By the autumn of 1834 all the civil engineering works were complete and one track had been laid. 

On the 22nd September the line opened with a party of directors and friends travelling from Leeds to Selby and back in a special train hauled by the locomotive ‘Nelson’. A regular service opened to passengers with trains running twice a day in each direction with a journey time of 65 minutes. By 15th December the second track had been completed and freight traffic began. The steepest gradient was on the Milford embankment and in the early years the heavier trains had to be assisted with a banking engine to help them up this gradient.

The Leeds and Selby was amongst the very early railways, only 9 years after the Stockton Darlington opened as the world’s first passenger and freight railway. As such it was isolated with no connections with other lines. In its first year it carried over100,000 passengers between Leeds and Selby, many times the number previously carried by stage coach.

The route was completed on to Hull in 1840. Passenger services were suspended between 1840 and 1850 as explained later.

Stations on the Leeds and Selby

Originally there were stations at Cross Gates, Garforth, Roman Road, Micklefield, Milford, and Hambleton.

Roman Road station was somewhere close to where the railway crossed the Ridge road at Peckfield. It is not clear exactly where it was given the difference in level between the railway and the Roman road. However, it was one of the shortest lived stations in the UK being open for only 2 months from September to November 1834.

Hambleton survived until 1959 for passengers and 1964 for goods.

The original station at Selby was very large for the time, with by1845 a three bay train shed capable of housing 98 carriages and wagons. Trains would pass through the station to a jetty by the waterside where passengers would alight the train and walk across the road to the connecting boat on the river. This site was just behind the current station site.

Information on Micklefield Station can be found at http://www.railwayarchitecture.org.uk/Location/Micklefield/Micklefield.htm

See separate page for South Milford Station.

York & North Midland Railway

In 1835 the York & North Midland Railway Company was formed to build a line to link York with the North Midland Railway at Normanton which would connect York to London via Derby. The chairman was railway entrepreneur George Hudson and the Act of Parliament was passed in 1836. 

The first section of the line was opened in May 1839 from York to the point where it met the Leeds Selby line at Milford and a North-East chord was built between the two lines enabling trains to run between York and Selby (and on to Hull) as they still do today. Trains could also run between Leeds and York by reversing at an interchange station built at the eastern end of the chord on the Leeds-Selby called York Junction.

By May 1840 the line was extended south to Burton Salmon and a South-East chord from the Leeds Selby line was added. By June 1840 the line was completed to join the the North Midland at Altofts and thereby provide a direct line to London from York. On 1st July the first service left York at 07.30 and took 14 hours to reach London. On 27th July a curve was completed at Methley to allow services to Leeds.

From the summer of 1840 therefore Milford Junction became a major intersection on the developing railway network where the east-west route between Liverpool and Hull met the main north-south route between London and Scotland.


There was now potential competition for services between Leeds and York and George Hudson took decisive action by taking a lease on the Leeds Selby and closed the route to passengers from 1840. This forced passengers to use the North Midland line via Methley which, although it was 4 miles longer, had the advantage of avoiding reversing at York Junction. The line terminated at Leeds Hunslet Lane but from 1844 the line was extended to Wellington Street station with connections onwards rather than the dead end at Marsh Lane here the Leeds Selby terminated.

From November 1840 until 1850 all services from Leeds to Selby and Hull also used the route via Methley and Milford Junction where a new interchange station for services from Hull was built. In 1844 this arrangement was confirmed by an Act of Parliament which formally merged the two companies.

Use of the route was further strengthened in 1848 by the construction of a line between Burton Salmon, Knottingley and on to Doncaster which provided a quicker route to London. At much the same time a line was built from Church Fenton to Harrogate via Tadcaster and Wetherby allowing travel from London to Harrogate.

In 1869 the line between Micklefield and Church Fenton was built to allow faster direct services between Leeds and York.


In 1869 services between Hull and the South were diverted to a new line which ran from Staddlethorpe on the Selby Hull lane to Thorne near Doncaster and then in 1871 another new line was built south of York to Doncaster via Selby which diverted trains on to this shorter, faster route to the South.  This heralded the decline of the York and North Midland route and, in particular, the importance of Milford Junction as an interchange.

There was a revival when in 1902 the great Northern Railway started running express services from Kings Cross to Harrogate via Church Fenton with 3 daily trains in each direction including the prestigious Harrogate Pullman. These ran until 1947.

In 1879 the Swinton & Knottingley Joint Railway opened providing a more direct route between York and Sheffield via Sherburn, Ferrybridge and Pontefract. Local services on this route still run today (albeit infrequently).

Stations on the Y & NM Railway

Stations were opened in 1839 at Copmanthorpe, Bolton Percy, Ulleskelf, Church Fenton and Sherburn.

Milford Junction and Burton Salmon stations were opened in May 1840. 

Milford Junction 

Milford Junction was known as Junction until 1850, then Milford Junction until 1893 and Milford until its closure in 1904. It was built as a main interchange station with large waiting and refreshment rooms for travellers changing trains and substantial toilet facilities.  The station buildings were located between the running tracks. It had its own small gasworks for lighting and water tanks for the many locomotives that stopped there. The railway company built a number of houses for its workers, some of which survive to day as Hampton Row. 

It was possible to travel directly to London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool  as well as locally to York, Leeds, Selby and Hull.

It was due to this connectivity that the Post Office chose South Milford as the postal centre for the district instead of Sherburn which had been the centre for mail distribution during the stage coach era.

The importance of Milford junction as an interchange declined with the building of a new more direct line from Hull to the south in 1869 and again in 1871 when the route between York and Doncaster via Selby was completed. It closed in 1904 to be replaced by Monk Fryston, 1mile to the south, which itself closed in 1959 together with Burton Salmon. 

Sherburn Station as with other stations on the line was designed by George Townsend Andrews with station house and offices, later demolished. Originally all the platforms on the line were only 6 inches high and passengers had to climb ladders fixed to the side of the carriages. Houses for employees were built by the railway company establishing a railway community. The station was called Sherburn in Elmet after 1903 and was closed in1965 but after public pressure reopened in1984.


Church Fenton was an important interchange station up until the 1940s and a full history of the station and the branch line to Tadcaster, Wetherby and Harrogate can be found at the following link:


Economic and Social Development

Railways brought significant economic growth to an area that was largely agricultural. By 1911 working for the railways had become the second largest form of employment after agriculture in the Sherburn and South Milford census areas. Small railway communities had been created in railway cottages, still there today, at Sherburn station, South Milford and Milford Junction but many other families in both villages relied on the railways for their income.

In  Sherburn and South Milford  in 1911 there were 146 people working on the railways out of a total of 1080 people in employment. In 1881 there were 81 people living at Milford Junction and 30 at Gascoigne Wood Junction. 

Working on the railway provided a secure and respectable job and it was common for sons to follow fathers in the railway service. Here are many examples of this but perhaps the best is William Baker (1854 – 1915) who was an inspector at Milford Junction and was followed by all of his 7 sons in railway employment.

The Selby Diversion

In 1983 the UK’s first purpose built High Speed railway was opened to divert the East Coast Main Line (ECML) away from the newly developed Selby Coalfield. The coal seams being opened up passed under the railway between York and Doncaster via Selby and the resulting subsidence would have rendered the line unsafe for a main line route. The alternative to diverting the railway would have been leaving a mile wide bed of coal unmined under the line at a much higher cost. Accordingly the National Coal Board agreed to fund the diversion at a cost of £60 million. 

The diversion was built between new junctions at Colton, south of York, and Temple Hirst, North of Doncaster, running close to Ryther, skirting Bishop’s Wood and crossing the Leeds Selby Line at Hambleton. This left Selby no longer on the ECML and the line between York and Selby was closed and converted into a cycle path. The new line shortened journey times between York and Doncaster, and hence London, as it allows trains to run at 125mph throughout and avoided the speed restrictions at Selby over the swing bridge.