A Model Railway depicting Thurstaston station on the Hooton to West Kirby branch on the Wirral Peninsula

The Route | Thurstaston station | Map| The line now

The Route

The line ran across the Wirral Peninsula, joining Hooton with West Kirby, with the main intermediate stations serving Willaston (the station was named Hadlow Road), Parkgate, Neston, and Heswall.  As well as Thurstaston there were smaller stations at Caldy and Kirby Park, the latter being a halt on the outskirts of West Kirby.

The line was originally planned as a commuter route into Birkenhead and Liverpool, opening up the Dee Coast side of the Wirral Peninsula.  This is the reason that the connection at Hooton faces towards Birkenhead rather than Chester.  When originally opened on the 1st of October 1866, the line terminated at Parkgate.  A later extension completed on the 19th of April 1886 required a new, through station at Parkgate which allowed the line to continue to West Kirby Joint station.

The passenger service settled down to providing a local service to Hooton, with some trains continuing to Birkenhead Woodside to give a direct commuter service to Birkenhead and the ferry connection to Liverpool.  Alternately, passengers could go in the other direction and change onto the Wirral Line at West Kirby. The line was also used for freight, as it provided a more direct route to the western end of Birkenhead docks than running over the dock lines from the Birkenhead end.  This used a freight only connection to the Wirral lines at West Kirby Joint.  After the Cadbury's factory at Moreton opened in 1953, trains of empty vans and slack coal were taken over this connection, however the full vans were routed outwards via Bidston.

The passenger service on the line stopped on the 15th of September 1956, and the line was closed completely on the 7th of May 1962.
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Thurstaston station

Thurstaston station was one of the smaller stations on the route.  One of the major local landowners, Sir Thomas Ismay, founder of the White Star line of Titanic fame, insisted that the railway was routed near the coast to keep it away from his home.  The cutting for the A540 road through the sandstone below Thurstaston Common was also made on his insistence.  The Railway Company did not actually want to build a station at Thurstaston at all, but was forced to by the owner of the land, John Baskervyle-Glegg and later his son, Birkenhead Glegg. The station was originally built with a single platform.  Sometime after 1897 the other, West Kirby bound platform, was added allowing trains to pass.

The station was located a considerable distance from the actual village of Thurstaston, which is nearer the main road.  Other local traffic would have been restricted to visitors to the beach, although there was also a café at the station.  Between 1919 and 1921, Lever Brothers constructed a camp by the station for staff holiday breaks, however this was closed at the start of World War II.  The site was subsequently used for an Anti Aircraft gun battery in 1941, which also happens to be where my father served during the war.

A simple goods yard consisting of a siding with connections at both ends and two dead end sidings, one with an end-loading bay, sufficed for the local traffic. One of the sidings was removed before the end of service. There was some local traffic, in December 1937 a single goods wagon was dispatched from Dumfries loaded with 120 bags of seed potatoes with instructions posted separately detailing the distribution to three local farms and the Nautical Training School at Heswall.

It was also used for odd purposes, as a number of items were transshipped from road to rail, or vice versa there. Often, a large stockpile was made during this process.  The goods are thought to have included stone, iron pyrites, and uranium ore.

I have seen a report that there was a local racehorse trainer who sent them to race meetings from the station.  If so, this would give an interesting operational problem as with the horse being accompanied by a groom in the same vehicle, it could not be taken in the normal goods train and would need to be hauled by a vacuum fitted loco.  I think it unlikely that it could have been shunted and attached to a normal service passenger train so may have been operated as a special working.

Doubtless due to having very few passengers, Thurstaston station closed to passengers on the 1st of February 1954, 2˝ years before the line closed to passengers.
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The following map is a composite scanned from two maps to give the scale with the diagram.  This is taken from the drawings at the time of the extension from Parkgate after 1886.  Note that there is still just a single line through the station.

Map of Thurstaston station area

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The line now

In 1969, 7 years after final closure, the trackbed was purchased by Wirral Borough Council and Cheshire County Council, each taking ownership of that part within their boundary.  In 1973, the trackbed was reopened as a linear park, the Wirral Way Country Park.

Apart from a few sections used for housing development in the intervening period, the entire route is available for walking, with parts also accessible by horse and cycle.  The station at Hadlow Road has been restored to a 1950's appearance, complete with an imported signalbox and track panel.

All the station buildings at Thurstaston have been demolished, but there is a visitor's centre behind the platforms, and the café has been rebuilt and extended.  The goods yard has been converted to a car park and campsite, although the latter is now not available to the general public.  The area between the visitor's centre and the coast has a number of mounds which are the remains of the Anti Aircraft gun locations.

The waiting shelter on the un-restored platform at Hadlow Road shown below is very similar to the one on the West Kirby platform at Thurstaston, where the recess for it can still be identified.

(Photograph courtesy of John Brighton)

Some railway features remain visible at Thurstaston, such as the end loading bay in the car park area, the arch in the platform facing in front of the site of the signal box where the point rodding and signal cables exited.  See The Prototype now for photographs of the station area in 2004.

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