The Charnwood Forest Railway

The Charnwood Forest Railway

Thringstone is very fortunate in that it retains an extensive section of railway embankment passing through glorious woodland, much of which now forms a footpath.

The Charnwood Forest Railway was opened on 16th April 1883, and ran between Coalville and Loughborough, as a continuation of the Shakerstone to Coalville branch of the Ashby and Nuneaton Railway. Noted for its scenic delights, the line became known as 'the Bluebell Line' - the woods at Gracedieu yielding vast blue carpets in spring. The route followed very closely the course of the old Charnwood Forest Canal, crossing its bed many times, and passed through Whitwick, Thringstone, Gracedieu and Shepshed.

According to Hadfield, in 1828 the owners of the disused canal turned down an approach by Leicestershire coal owners for permission to lay rails along the now dry canal bed. The idea was to bring coal by this rail route from Whitwick and Swannington to Loughborough where it could then be transferred on to boats which would bring the coal into Leicester at West Bridge Wharf. Not to be deterred, the thwarted coal owners then promoted a Bill in 1829 which resulted in the construction of the Leicester and Swannington Railway, opened in 1832 - Leicestershire's first railway.

The railway bridge across the A512, c.1940

One of the many bridges built along the route of the Bluebell Line, this particular one crossed the A512 road near Gracedieu ruins and was built of red brick. Sadly, the bridge was the scene of a dreadful road accident in 1962, when four young people lost their lives in a car which crashed into it. The bridge was demolished in 1967.

(Photo supplied by Ron Goacher)

Stop Press (25.03.04)....
Recent correspondence from Mr Paul Springthorpe has cast doubt on the identity of the above bridge. Paul (a researcher of the Railway for thirty years) has pointed out that in the photograph, it looks like the track goes under the bridge. Moreover, the bridge over the Ashby Road is known to have been a 'flat' three arch viaduct, whereas the bridge depicted above is convex...... another mystery !

Solution to the mystery? - email received from Mr Kirk Walker, (06.02.07): Hello,
I would like to help (if I may) identify the mystery Bridge on your Charnwood Forest Railway page. My father worked on Blackbrook Farm and recognised the bridge as the one situated on the road between the Ashby road at Crossways garage, to Belton, the bridge is still there but with a little more greenery around it.
Hope this helps
Kind Regards
Kirk Walker

The Charnwood Forest Railway was among the later railway promotions in the country and never very prosperous. Although built and owned by the independent Charnwood Forest Railway Company, the LNWR invested heavily in the line during its planning stage and ran the line from its opening until 1923.

The first turf was cut on the rainy day of 31st August 1881 by Lady Packe of Prestwold Hall. Squire de Lisle wheeled the first barrow load of soil over a plank provided for it but, owing to the rain, he slipped off and tipped the lot up!

Construction of the line, some 10 1/4 miles long, was rather difficult because of the Gracedieu Brook, over which were built seven bridges, in addition to twenty-two road bridges and cattle arches. At Thringstone, there was a rock face of twenty yards to go through and in order to swing the line round the curve at Gracedieu, a cant of 6" was required, which is very severe.

In 1885, just two years after it's opening, the railway was declared bankrupt and put in the hands of the receiver, where it remained until 1909. It was remarked that the dividends of the Charnwood Forest Railway Company were similar to the passengers - very scarce ! In 1906, the Company came up with the first of two initiatives designed to improve profitability. Cheap-to-run motor rail services were introduced between Loughborough and Shakerstone, and on 2nd April 1907 three halts were opened for use with these vehicles.

Cattle arch nr Gracedieu Priory, 2000

Above: Gracedieu Priory seen through the Cattle Arch under the railway embankment.
(Photo by Steve Badcock, 2000)

The halts - at Thringstone, Gracedieu and Snells Nook - were a desperate attempt to attract passengers and enable effective competition with new omnibus services. All of the halts were merely platforms, six feet wide, thirty-three inches high and sixty feet long, and made up of old sleepers. Waiting huts were added later. Originally, passengers boarding at the halts paid on the train, but when the huts were provided the guard issued the tickets from the huts. It was also the guard's duty to tend the oil lamps at the platforms.

Thringstone halt was located only three quarters of a mile from the Station at Whitwick, in a cutting on the south side of the Gracedieu Road Bridge. The short platform was on the village side of the line and reached by steps down from the road. In 1914, some seven years after the halt had been opened, a hut was provided at the back of the platform following several requests by local residents. This was a standard LNWR 'portable' type, 16ft x 18ft, of timber construction and with a plain pitched roof.

Thringstone, Looking toward Loughborough, 1952

Above: Thringstone Halt - looking toward Loughborough, 1952
(photo by Alec Ford; From an article by Andy Lowe, LNWR Society Journal.)

Site of Thringstone Halt, C Simmons

Above: Location of the Thringstone Halt (photo by C Simmons)

Following its closure in 1931, the hut was rented by a Mr Ottey of Bauble Yard, Thringstone, for use as a Cobbler's shop. This arrangement probably continued until about the early 1950s. The embankment where the halt stood has subsequently been lowered to form the garden of a bungalow.
I note that in a recently published book about Leicestershire's stations, Thringstone is one of the few places without a photograph, an "artist's impression" having to suffice. Similarly, the station is not represented on the Railway Station Database website (designed and maintained by Clive Williams), where it is listed under the category, "Stations known to be missing." But there may yet be hope: I have a good Thringstone friend who remembers having seen a photo of the halt some years ago. If any reader knows the whereabouts of such an image, PLEASE email us !

The Six Arches Viaduct leading to Gracedieu Manor.

(Photo supplied by Ron Goacher)

Undoubtedly, the most impressive remaining feature along the route is the Six Arches Viaduct in Gracedieu Wood. This is forty yards long, with 3'x 15" coping stones from nearby Mountsorrel.

The Six Arches Viaduct leading to Gracedieu Manor.

The Charnwood Forest Railway Company was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company in 1923. Regular passenger services ended in 1931, the last passenger services of all (not including enthusiast's specials) taking place in 1939 for holiday excursions. The last goods train ran in 1955 and the line finally closed in 1963.

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Click here for an interesting webpage I found on the viaduct

Page on the Bluebell Line by Chris Simmons

Acknowledgement: Mr Paul Springthorpe