For a railway to celebrate 150 years of operation is noteworthy but not especially unique. However, for a railway to celebrate 150 years of operation, be in near-original condition and be able to celebrate four other significant anniversaries in the same year is worth more than a second glance. This is Ecclesbourne 150: a celebration of five anniversaries in 2017 than in themselves tell the story of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.
Here you can find the history of the railway in two parts, from opening to nationalisation and from the birth of British Railways, through the line’s decline and near-death and then its resurgence over a period of twenty-five years.
In 2017 there are five anniversaries to celebrate and here is why they are special.
Anniversary Number 1: 1867
To begin, the big celebration is the 150th anniversary of the line’s opening on 1st October 1867. Built as no more than a commercial tactic in a game of power between two railway companies, the line to Wirksworth very nearly became the main line to Manchester: in the end, it became a branch line with an uncertain future that morphed into a successful line for agricultural and mineral traffic. However, even today there is much evidence to show the Wirksworth Branch’s intended role as a main line railway.
Anniversary Number 2: 1947
The second anniversary is the 70th anniversary of passenger services being suspended by the London Midland and Scottish Railway during a period of post-war austerity and coal shortages. The last train ran on 14th June 1947 and apart from occasional excursions and enthusiasts’ special trains, many through this would be the end. As things turned out, the railway wasn’t dead to passengers, just sleeping – for 64 years.
Anniversary Number 3: 1967
The third anniversary was indirectly related to the Wirksworth Branch but served to secure the line’s future at a time when branch lines were disappearing fast. On 30th April 1967, the Cromford & High Peak Railway, itself an early pioneer opening as early as 1825, closed between Friden and Cromford. Famous for its steep inclines and virtual isolation from the main line network, the line’s closure led to the Wirksworth Branch becoming the principal conduit for limestone traffic out of the southern White Peak.
The fourth and fifth anniversaries represent the line’s recent history and rebirth.
Anniversary Number 4: 1992
On 1st October 1992, within a few weeks of this depressing snippet in ‘Rail’ Magazine, a company called WyvernRail Limited was incorporated. Founded by two former directors of Peak Rail, the company was formed to explore using Wirksworth as the base for the operation of a train service taking advantage of opportunities arising from the then forthcoming privatisation of the railways. It took another eight years for the plans to begin to bear fruit and in a form quite different to what had first been envisaged.
Anniversary Number 5: 1997
Our final anniversary is a mere twenty years old, commemorating the evening of 2nd October 1997 when a public meeting was held to promote what was then called the Derby and Wirksworth Railway Association. In its current guise as the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway Association, it acts as the partner to WyvernRail in restoring, maintaining and operating the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.