For their first 70 or 80 years the railways of Cumbria provided all the elements which now fascinate the enthusiast and historian.They were an intriguing mixture of local investment and control, development and exploitation by absentee landowners and railway power politics.Perhaps the only factor almost totally missing from the railway picture of the county was the purely rural branch built to connect the small market town to the main line.In later years, by the mid-20th century, several lines came to present this last image but they had originally been built for industrial or strategic transport purposes.
Cumbria has been fortunate for the resulting variety and interest of its railways. With the glamour of the two Anglo-Scottish main lines passing through mountainous country, the area has long had an attraction for railway enthusiasts, not least for the special appeal of Carlisle, where seven separate companies worked into one station up to 1923.
Inevitably the glamorous and popular has received most attention and for many years relatively little had been researched and recorded of the less popular and less accessible aspects, particularly the industrial lines in the west of the county. Even in pre-grouping times more than a few photographers lugged their heavy cameras and glass plates to Carlisle, Oxenholme, and even Tebay and Shap. Only a tiny handful steeled themselves to explore away from the West Coast Main Line. Despite almost universal motorisation and miniaturisation this is still partly true, except for the work of local enthusiasts. In consequence, much of the variety and interest of West Cumbria and Furness before 1950 would have disappeared almost totally unrecorded if it had not been for the likes of Richard Pattinson of Whitehaven, whose photographic negatives are now in the hand of the Cumbrian Railways Association. Even the more mundane, but more accessible suffered too: how many pre-1950s photos have you seen of the Windermere branch or the Grange-Kendal local service which disappeared in 1943?
This section of our website seeks to present a brief introduction to the history of all the railways in Cumbria, grouped roughly by function and location. For more detailed information refer to the bibliography page, and particularly for the overall story to "A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, volume 14 The Lake Counties", by David Joy. Though published in 1983 by David and Charles, it is unrivalled as a general history, though much detail has been filled in by more recent publications, including those from the Association itself, and by a multitude of articles in Cumbrian Railways, our Journal, which has now been running for over 30 years.
Further sections of this section of our website include: