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Facit Branch: 'Picture House Saturday Specials

When the LMS fought its competitors

-the remarkable story of 1930s Saturday evening services on the Facit branch

Before the advent of television, town centre cinemas and theatres were major sources of evening entertainment.  In the 1930s the area around Rochdale town centre contained at least eight cinemas and one professional theatre.  These venues attracted thousands into the town, particularly on a Saturday night.  Most visitors from surrounding districts would travel by bus, but there was one area – the Whitworth valley with a population of about 8000 and Bacup (20000) – where the railway stood a reasonable chance of competing with local buses.

In those days the cinemas usually ran their evening sessions with two continuous performances of the main feature film, the “first house” starting between 6 pm and 6.45 pm and the “second house” between 8.30 pm and 9.15 pm.  It was even possible for customers to enter mid-way through the first house and stay in the second house until the same point in the main feature had been reached.

The Facit branch already had an enhanced service on Saturday afternoons, to cater for shoppers and football supporters travelling to and from Rochdale.  The 1939 timetable shows that there were 7 trains from Bacup down the valley between noon and 5 pm on Saturdays whereas the Monday-Friday service offered only 3.  But it was on Saturday evenings that things really took off.  There were no fewer than 10 departures from Bacup between 5.14 pm and 10.45 pm; those at 5.14, 5.50 and 6.07 pm were for the first house, although that at 6.28 gave a faster service to Rochdale by omitting calls at Broadley and Shawclough.  In the return direction there were 13 trains from Rochdale between 5 pm and 11.51 pm.  Departures at 8.45, 9.06, 9.17 and 9.30 pm were clearly designed to take the first house people home.  The 8.45 was timed to spend 9 minutes at Wardleworth station to pick up the returning cinema goers and it then ran non-stop to Whitworth.  The departure at 11.09 pm also omitted calls at Shawclough and Broadley to get passengers home more quickly.

The single line sections between Wardleworth and Broadley, and Broadley and Facit, were operated on a tablet system with tablet exchange taking place at Broadley signal box.  This meant that the Saturday evening service must have been quite complex to organise and operate, bearing in mind that (for example) between 9 pm and 10 pm three trains travelled from Rochdale to Bacup with none in the opposite direction.  The loop at Broadley was only for goods trains, so the passenger trains had to pass each other north of Facit or south of Wardleworth.  The crossing keeper at Tonge End crossing signal box, just south of Facit, must have been kept unusually busy with 23 gate movements between 5 pm and the passage of the last train to Bacup. 

Within weeks of this timetable World War 2 had broken out and it all had to be abandoned.  There was no serious attempt to revive such intensive operation afterwards; the 1947 timetable shows just five services in each direction on Saturdays between 5 pm and the 10.40 pm Rochdale-Bacup.  Eight years after 1939 it was all over, because passenger services were withdrawn from the Facit branch from 16 June 1947.  The six Bacup shed based Stanier 2-6-2 tanks (Nos 190-192, 194, 198 and 199) which had been kept busy on the Facit branch were all reallocated to Southport. 

These events were an ominous foretaste for the loss of Bacup’s intensive railway services.  Bacup’s last train service, the DMU service from Bury which finished on 3 December 1966, still offered a 15 minute interval service on Saturday afternoons right up to the day of closure.  Probably no other branch line closure could offer such an intensive service on the final day.

August 1939 Timetable – Saturday departures after 12 noon

From Bacup: 12.10, 12.43, 1.40, 2.07, 2.30, 3.13, 3.47, 5.14, 5.50, 6.07, 6.28, 7.00, 7.44, 8.30, 9.55, 10.30, 10.45.

From Rochdale: 12.00, 12.37, 1.25, 3.03, 3.35, 4.20, 5.00, 5.38, 6.45, 7.25, 8.15, 8.45, 9.06, 9.17, 9.30, 10.15, 11.09, 11.20, 11.51.

1IHA Hughes LMS 4-6-4 tank starting the climb out of Bacup with a two coach train in the 1930s (Whitworth Historical Society).

2IH Tonge End crossing signalbox celebrating the 1935 Silver Jubilee (Whitworth Historical Society).

3IH Crab 2-6-0 No 42750 taking a weedkilling train over Tonge End crossing is 1963.  By this time the signalbox had been demolished and the gates were operated by on-train railway staff. (R S Greenwood).

4IH A Stanier 2-6-2 tank crossing Healey Dell Viaduct with a Rochdale-Bacup train in the last week of operation in 1947 (W A Camwell).

Ian Holt 2020.

Contact Information

STORM

Meeting Place: Woolworths Social Club
Gipsy Lane
Castleton
Rochdale
OL11 3HA

Meeting times

7.30pm 
2nd Tuesday of each month at Woolworths Club, Gipsy Lane, Castleton, Rochdale OL11 3HA.