Review of ‘Rowsley: A Rural Railway Centre’, by Glynn Waite & Laurence Knighton

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 9th February 2004, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Glynn Waite & Laurence Knighton
ISBN 0-9537486-2-6 (2004)

Describing themselves as career railwaymen, Glynn Waite and Laurence Knighton are, respectively, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Midland Railway Society, publishers of this highly informative book. Both authors have also contributed to the Rowsley Association's magnificent collection of railway photographs, used liberally in Rowsley - A Rural Railway Centre, a book dedicated to 'the railwaymen and railwaywomen of Rowsley who created a spirit that refuses to die'.

At its commercial peak, just after the Second World War, 550 railway staff were employed at Rowsley and many readers will remember the once bustling depot which closed in the 1960s. It is impossible to separate the history of Rowsley from the railway and, remarkably, around 130 people still get together for an annual commemorative reunion.

It was the great George Stephenson who 160 years ago surveyed a route on behalf of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Junction Railway. Running south of Buxton it was to join the Midland Railway at Ambergate via 'the Valleys of the Wye and Derwent to or near Ashford, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Winster, Matlock, and Cromford'. Importantly, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields would be linked to the industrial north via Rowsley.

By 1861 nearly 2,000 men and 140 horses were employed in construction of the line; in the event it was the Midland which achieved the goal of reaching Manchester. Modifications had to be made to the original prospectus, partly to allow for differing ducal opinions which almost denied Bakewell a mainline connection. Joseph Paxton, a director of the MBM & MJR, designed Rowsley's station building, now the attractive centrepiece of Peak Village.

In June 1863 the entire line between Rowsley and Buxton was open to both goods and passenger traffic. The Rowsley depot received valuable revenue from the despatch of local milk churns; textiles from Calver Mills reached the goods yard by road, and stone merchants set up outlets for the easy export of Peakland stone and lime.

Rowsley was the station for Chatsworth and welcomed dignitaries such as Mr & Mrs Gladstone, the Russian Ambassador and members of the British and foreign royal families. In 1908 three hundred MPs disembarked from 'specials' at Rowsley for the funeral of the Duke of Devonshire. Waite and Knighton have tracked down a ticket of 1895 for the Prince of Wales' dog which arrived by train from Sandringham, a telegram relating to the conveyance of a Daimler to the Duke of Devonshire in 1912 and, more prosaically, a memorandum from a signalman to the Station Master - working less than 200 yards away - reporting that 'The Clock in this Box is out of order & will not go'. On one occasion the Station Master was admonished over the one-minute delay of a passenger train!

Absolutely everything had to be documented, providing so many fascinating diversions that this book extends far beyond its inestimable worth to railway enthusiasts. The authors have brought together years of research to produce a permanent record which will be the envy of lost railway centres around the country.

Review by Julie Bunting

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