Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Brief History of Landswood Park Farm

Landswood Park was one of the large estates of Cheshire. Home of the Marshall family for several generations, the Hall dates from the 18th century, and makes a grand impression as approached from the surrounding parkland. About half a mile to the South of the Hall lies the Home Farm, one of several farms owned by the estate and closest to the Hall, but Home Farm (also known as Landswood Park Farm) was managed directly rather than being let to tenants. It was predominantly a livestock farm, with pigs, cows (mostly dairy), and chickens, however it also grew vegetables such as potatoes in fair quantities.

At some point in the 19th century a hand-worked rail system had been installed in the farmyard for making the job of carting animal feed around the cobbled yard easier, this was considered the height of technology for farmyards at the time! However some of the farmworkers returned from the Great War having seen what railways could do over muddy ground, and wondered if the same technology could be of use in their farm.

So the farm manager, Edmund Blackadder (who had reached the rank of Captain on the Western Front) put a proposal to Sir George Marshall, the lord of the manor at that time, who happened to be keen on modern developments, and permission was granted to purchase second-hand 2' gauge track and stock from the war department, including a petrol locomotive. The farm workers laid the track and it was operational by the winter of 1920.

Initially the line served the Landswood Park Farm yard with lines into some of the surrounding fields, however by 1922 it had been extended as far as the yard of the nearest Cheshire Lines Committee station, a distance of around 3 miles entirely over Marshall land, other than a road crossing by arrangement with the council. By 1927 it had reached it's full extent, with around 6-7 route miles of permanent track, serving two other farms on the estate, a wood yard in the forest, and a branch to the service yard of the big house to bring in coal and other goods from the station. Temporary tracks were laid into the fields for harvesting the vegetables.

Traffic included animal feed from the station to the farm stores, then to the various barns and fields, plus of course mucking out of barns and stables - the contents went to the potato fields. Bagged fertiliser and seeds were also transported. Coal was taken from the station to the Hall, the farm dairy, and for traction engine and domestic use across the estate. Out-bound traffic included potato and other vegetable crops, and timber. Occasionally even livestock (piglets and chickens) were transported, and in later years a pair of wagons were modified to carry fuel for the growing fleet of tractors and lorries. Some wagons were converted to carry passengers, probably labourers for the fields at harvest, but this was of course unofficial!

The initial purchase of stock was soon inadequate and worn out. Generally the estate bought off-the-shelf items from Robert Hudson of Leeds, including track parts and wagons, note that 4-wheel wagons seem to have been preferred - possibly due to the tight curves and uneven, lightweight track. Records of the locos used are patchy, and as Sir George and his Farm Manager were canny at persuading potential suppliers to loan locos for trial periods, photographic evidence is confusing. It seems that there were up to 3 or 4 locos at one time, possibly not all in use at once, but we do know that a Lister RT Railtruck was popular for use around the farms due to it's light weight. Trains were generally short as the loco's struggled for traction in places (the track tended to follow the lie of the land!), so the in-service loco spent all day pottering around the estate.

By the mid 1930's the estate was experimenting with tractors and road lorries, and domestic traffic became rare on the line. However WWII and the demand for farm produce kept the line busy, and even as tractors were introduced they didn't replace the railway. Since most goods at that time came via the station the railway was still economic. By the 1950's though most goods were being sent by road lorry, the railway line was worn out and deemed uneconomic because of double-handling, it is believed that it last operated in 1960.

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