Chester Northgate station was the western terminus of the Cheshire Lines Committees (CLC) line from Manchester to Chester via Northwich. The CLC was a joint committee regulated by the Great Northern Railway (GNR), MSLR and the Midland Railway (MR). It was formed in an attempt to break the near monopoly on rail traffic held by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) in the Southern Lancashire and Northern Cheshire areas. The committee became an independent company after 1867 and survived the 1923 Grouping intact. Services were operated by the CLC until nationalisation on 1 January 1948, when the line became part of British Railways London Midland Region. Between 1880 and 1969, CLC trains from Chester via Altrincham terminated at Manchester Central railway station, which was a MSJ&AR station. Manchester Central closed on 4 May 1969 and is now the Manchester Central Conference Centre.
The line opened in four stages: first between Altrincham and Knutsford on 12th May 1862, then to Northwich on 1st January 1863. It was then not until 1st September 1869 that the first goods trains reached Helsby, followed by passenger services on 22nd June 1870, and it took until 2nd November 1874 for the line to reach Chester. The CLC was formed on 5th July 1865 by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). A third partner became involved, the Midland Railway (MR) in 1866, and the CLC was given a corporate identity by an Act of 15th August 1867. The earlier sections of the Manchester to Chester Railway were originally promoted and built by the Cheshire Midland Railway. At first only goods trains ran to Chester but on 1st May 1875 the CLC opened its Chester Northgate station.
Construction work did not start straight away, being delayed by contractual negotiations until 1871. The route was 7 miles 43 chains (12.1 km) of double track with 23 bridges. There were intermediate stations at Tarvin & Barrow and Mickle Trafford. The railways, but not the junction with the Birkenhead Railway, opened for goods traffic on 2 November 1874. The junction at Mickle Trafford was made in 1875 to enable traffic between the CLC and Chester General but it was not used due to a dispute. The CLC ran five trains in each direction daily between Manchester Oxford Road and Chester Northgate.
Situated on Victoria Road a short distance to the northeast of Northgate, it was much more convenient for the city centre and than Chester General (see: Chester Station), which had opened in the 1840s. CLC did not own any more than four locomotives (others were provided by MS&LR, and later GCR) but did build its own coaches. In 1890 a further line was opened to Hawarden Bridge, which connected with the Wrexham, Mold and Connah's Quay railway. Like several of the routes in and out of Northgate this has been the subject of "Railway Simulations". Locomotives and other rolling stock from the other CLC constituent companies could often be seen at Northgate as the CLC tended to use whatever it had available.
Planning the Station
The original plan was by the West Cheshire Railway in 1865. In 1861, the WCR requested powers to construct a line from Northwich to Chester, with a branch to Helsby, but parliamentary approval was received only for a line via Mouldsworth to Helsby. In 1862, the WCR again sought powers for their line to Chester, with connecting branches from Mouldsworth to Helsby and from Cuddington to Winsford. Again, parliamentary approval was restricted, being confined to the line to Helsby and a branch to Winsford. The Cheshire & West Cheshire Junction Railway was incorporated on 5 July 1865 with the intention of seeking parliamentary approval for a railway linking the WCR's line at Mouldsworth Junction to a new station at Chester Northgate. It received authorisation and the company and its powers were transferred to the CLC on 10 August 1866. The very earliest plans appear to have located the station at Kaleyards off Frodsham Street which would have brought the tracks over the canal and into the very heart of the city.
Chester Northgate had a station building and a covered roof for each platform, it had four tracks with two side platforms, the central tracks being used to store carriages. One of the roofs had been removed by 1966. In 1969 a level junction was installed at Mickle Trafford so Manchester trains could be diverted to Chester General. Wrexham & New Brighton services had previously been withdrawn on 9 September 1968. The station closed on 6 October 1969. The site is now occupied by the Northgate Arena. Some of the original railway station railings can still be seen along the modern shop units on Victoria Road opposite the entrance to the Northgate Arena. LIDAR mapping reveals the line of the tracks to the north of the station site.
The station was peculiar in that it housed a model railway. The Chester Model Railway Club, used to meet at the Ermine in Hoole. With the imminent rebuilding of the Ermine Hotel the committee met at Chester Northgate Station on the 8th June 1955 and inspected the refreshment room and canteen in the main station building and it was agreed to rent the premises from British Railways, so to have a home for their model railways which were 48ft x 6ft and featured a fictional main station called "Chestergate". The model railway club stayed there for 13 years, until the station was due for closure. It must be the only instance of a model railway being closed by Beeching.
Although Chester Northgate closed and the line to the station itself lifted, the line north of the station (avoiding Northgate by the Liverpool Road spur) remained for another 25 years. It was used by the Corus steelmaking plant at Shotton until March 1980. Freight continued to pass north of the former station on a double-tracked line until 20 April 1984. Goods services resumed on a single-track line on 31 August 1986 before final closure in October 1992. The Mickle Trafford line was mainly used to bring steel coil in from Ravenscraig steelworks in Scotland and to return the empty wagons. With the closure of Ravenscraig in 1992 there was no further use for the line - the only remaining traffic of timber could be diverted to run via Wrexham. The trackbed is now a footpath and cycle way.
The station was opened on 31 March 1890 by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (which was renamed Great Central Railway in 1897). The station had an island with two adjacent side platforms because it served two routes. Services from North Wales or Seacombe with its ferry connection to Liverpool (using the Great Central Railway) could either terminate at Chester Northgate Station, the Chester terminus of the Cheshire Lines Committee, or continue on the through line to Manchester Central. The through lines, which linked Dee Marsh junction to the CLC route to Manchester, passed to the north of the island platform, whereas the branch lines that ran to Chester Northgate went to the south of the island platform.
Sources and Links
- Chester Northgate: on "Disused Stations";
- Chester Liverpool Eoad: another vanished station;
- Building a model of the station: has many photographs of the original;
- A Virtual Stroll Along the Old Mickle Trafford-Deeside Railway:
- Chester Model Railway Club: despite having their model route closed by Beeching and probably more disasters than any other railway, they are still going;
- More on the Railway Club at Northgate and elsewhere;