Book review: Victorian Preston and the Whittingham Hospital Railway by David Hindle

A commemorative Preston Guild Special is coming down the line and it would be a shame to miss a nostalgic journey back through time!

In this historic year for the city, local author David Hindle uses an array of fascinating pictures and images from the past to explore the social, cultural and economic background to Preston during the Industrial Revolution, primarily to see if life then lived up to the affectionate claim that they were the ‘good old days.’

At the same time, he takes a look at the foundations of the Victorian music hall industry, a source of entertainment and diversion for the working classes during a period of social unrest and economic strife.

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Charles Dickens visited Preston at the beginning of the infamous cotton famine in 1861 and, as always, the great man’s literary eye was focused on ‘the underdog’ and the ‘hard times’ that they had to endure during massive industrial change.

Hindle’s extensive research suggests that the level of squalor, prostitution, pauperism and unwanted pregnancies contributed to poor health and the need for the penniless and mentally ill to be fully institutionalised in the established workhouse or the new asylums such as Whittingham, which was served by its own private railway.

The Whittingham Hospital Railway (WHR), known colloquially as the nurses’ special, was primarily intended for hospital staff working shifts and living in Preston and the surrounding villages of Grimsargh, Longridge, Chipping and Ribchester.

The railway was built between 1887 and 1889 as a mineral line to convey coal and provisions to the new Whittingham Hospital. It linked the hospital with the joint London & North Western and Lancashire & Yorkshire’s Preston to Longridge branch line at Grimsargh.

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Passengers soon followed and private stations were built at either end of the almost two-mile long, standard gauge line at Whittingham and Grimsargh.

Hindle’s book is packed with facts and photographs, and provides a superb insight into the social history of Preston linked to that most Victorian anachronism, the Whittingham Hospital Railway.

(Amberley, paperback, £15.99)