Author Dave Richardson is researching a new book about life on tracks of one of Lancashire’s smallest railway lines
The Pilling Pig or, to give it its correct name, the Garstang and Knott End Railway, had a very chequered history indeed. Built to take the agricultural produce of Over Wyre to the local markets at Garstang and Preston, much of the money to fund the line was provided by local farmers and landowners.
During construction, the first contractor went bankrupt and the job was taken over by the company secretary and two of the directors. However, funds ran out quite early on and these gentlemen dipped into their pockets and paid for much of the construction themselves. Eventually it was decided to save money by building the line only as far as Pilling.
The line was heavily in debt even before it was opened and had no money to buy an engine, carriages or wagons. So two groups of farmers and local businessmen clubbed together to purchase these and lease them to the railway company. When the line opened in 1870, a single locomotive provided the entire service until in finally it broke down. The money to repair the engine could not be scraped together and the line was closed.
However, some sources say the engine was seized because the railway had not kept up with the hire payments. Eventually another engine was provided by the shareholders and the line was able to reopen for traffic.
Although the route was run to a timetable, passenger trains usually had several goods wagons attached and services were frequently delayed while the engine shunted these at the stations.
To save time wagons would often be tacked on to the front of the train and pushed to their destination. Although there were stations at Garstang, Nateby and Pilling it is said that if you wished to be picked up anywhere along the line you need only stick out your hand and the train would stop for you.
The line ran mostly across the flat countryside of Over Wyre which is sometimes subject to gales blowing in from the Irish Sea. On stormy nights it was not unknown for wagons to be blown out of the sidings at Pilling station and along the line towards Garstang.
On a couple of occasions these careered along the line, gathering speed and demolishing several sets of level crossing gates before being brought to a standstill.
Pilling is famous for its potatoes and in the early days the line was at its busiest during the potato harvest. There was usually a shortage of wagons and it was an unwritten rule that if you could jump on to a wagon as it was being shunted into the goods yard it was yours to load with your own produce. At the turn of the century the line came under the influence of wealthy business interests from the Blackpool area. They wanted to complete the line out to Knott End and to use it to take holidaymakers from the Fylde coast out into the countryside of Over Wyre. At one point it was even proposed to electrify it as an extension of the Blackpool to Fleetwood tramway system.
However, in 1908 the last section of the line to Knott End was finally opened, 43 years after construction first started. The older part of the line was modernised and new locomotives and American style carriages brought in. During the holiday season, and especially at bank holidays, the line was very busy with day trippers coming over from Fleetwood on the ferry. The contractor for the final section to Knott End, was Robert Worthington, of Dublin. Because of a shortage of funds he was paid mostly in shares instead of cash and at one point he came to virtually own the line. He brought two of his sons, Erroll and Noel, over from Ireland to manage the railway.
During the First World War they both joined the army and unfortunately the younger brother, Noel, was a casualty at Gallipoli and died from his wounds. His name appears on Garstang’s war memorial.
At one time, there was a salt mine at Preesall and rock salt was carried over the line to be taken to chemical works in Widnes and St Helens.
But why was it called the Pilling Pig? It seems one of the early engines had a particularly piercing whistle which reminded locals of the sound made by a pig when it was being slaughtered!
l Author Dave Richardson is writing a history of the line to be published next year. He is keen to hear from anyone who has documents, photos or memories of the line. Dave can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org