Until the turnpike to Pickering was opened in 1759, Whitby was better connected to the rest of the country by sea than it was by land; even then the difficult climb over the high moors was still an obstacle. Stage Coach services did not start until 1795 and Mail Coaches (thrice weekly) until 1823.
With the success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (which had a number of Whitby backers) attention switched to the possibility of a railway from Whitby to either Stockton or Pickering, many pamphlets being issued for or against the various proposal; copies of some of them can be found in the library of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society . Finally in 1832 it was decided to ask George Stephenson to report on the rival routes. Stephenson's report was in favour of a horse worked railway to Pickering and his conclusion was accepted at a meeting held in Whitby on 14 September 1832. A committee was formed to start things moving and the Whitby and Pickering Railway bill received the royal assent, from William IV, on 6 May 1833.
The directors of the W&P Company mainly came from Whitby or the immediate area and represented a fair cross section of the business community, including bankers, solicitors, shipbuilders and ship owners. The shareholders came from a wider area, some from as far away as London but those from the immediate area predominated.
The W&P directors did not delay and by August 1833 were inviting the first tenders for the construction of the railway, 3 miles at the Whitby end. It was only thirteen months later that in October 1834 that Tenders for the final 8.5 miles (the 'central division' of the railway) were invited. This tender was awarded to the firm of Hamer and Pratt, who had just finished their work on the Leeds and Selby Railway.
There was always an intention to link the W&P to York and beyond; a meeting held in York in September 1834 to further the proposed railway from York to Leeds was attended by a W&P delegation accompanied by their Engineer, George Stephenson, to lobby for a link to Pickering.
This meeting may have been the occasion of the first meeting of those two great railway giants George Stephenson and George Hudson and borne fruit in many other directions, even though the York to Leeds line did not appear for some years.
The Whitby and Pickering Railway (W&P), was one of the first railways in Yorkshire, when it opening throughout in 1836 as a single track horse worked railway.
The railway's Engineer (George Stephenson) solved the problem of ascending from the valley of the Murk Esk at Beckhole to the high moors at Goathland by means of a 1500 yard long rope worked incline at an average gradient of 1 in 15. He crossed Fen Bog, near the summit of the line, using the same method (hurdles and fascines) that he had previously used to cross Chat Moss on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
The track consisted of wrought iron fish-bellied rails in 15ft lengths with five 'bellies' to each length. Cast Iron chair supported the rail between each 'belly', special double chairs supported the joints between lengths of rail. The chairs were fastened to locally quarried stone blocks using iron pins. A length of original track is displayed at Pickering Station.
The W&P obtained materials by tender and suppliers were from many parts of the country; the rails, chairs and pins (which were in short supply at the time, partly due to heavy demand) were obtained from a number of well-known suppliers including:
These supplies largely traveled by water. The surviving W&P minute books (in the National Archives) show that those from the midlands traveled by narrow boat to Gainsborough, where they were transshipped to coasters for forwarding to Whitby, others traveled by boat to Malton (on the Derwent Navigation) and were then forwarded to Pickering by ox-cart.
Although the W&P had been promoted for its goods carrying capabilities (including coal, stone, timber and limestone), it was intended to carry passengers from the start and three coaches were obtained (the first, at least, from Beeston & Melling of Manchester) which were basically Stage coaches adopted for use on a railway, in addition a number of cheaper open ‘market coaches’ were obtained, probably locally. The first class coaches were named Premier, Transit and Lady Hilda.
The W&P was never a particularly well off company and the directors were anxious to start carrying passengers and goods at the earliest opportunity. So on Monday 8 June 1835 the line between Whitby and the Tunnel Inn (now Grosmont) was opened, and the Companies First Class Coach 'Premier' left Whitby at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, returning about 8 o'clock. They subsequently ran two return journeys per day (except on Sundays).
In early July 1835, for Ruswarp Fair the company provided a special coach that ran sixteen trips during the day (presumably from Whitby), this proved very popular some passengers travelling repeatedly because of the novelty.
With the opening of the whole line on 26 May 1836 the W&P operated a regular passenger service, which connected at Pickering with the stagecoach to York and thus the rest of the developing railway network. This connection was of practical use; there is a recorded instance of a ship from the Baltic docking at Whitby and its captain finding orders awaiting him to proceed to Liverpool. He took the W&P coach to Pickering connecting to York where he boarded a train for Manchester (connecting by coach over the incomplete part of the Leeds and Manchester Railway) and completed his journey to Liverpool by train – the whole journey only took hours, whereas it could have taken many days only a few years earlier.
Whilst the introduction of new railways (steam or horse powered) generally spelt the end of existing coach services on directly competing routes, it also provided new opportunities for feeder coach services as shown on the adjacent advertisement for 'The Queen' coach put on between Scarborough, Pickering and Helmsley only two months after the W&P opened.
The conversion of the line from horse to steam power took place in stages; the first steam train service between Pickering and Levisham (only) started on 1 Sep 1846 using a single track. By the following year a second track had been laid and was passed for use by Her Majesties Railway Inspector Captain RE Coddington in a report dated 8 Jun 1847 following an inspection three days earlier. The same report did not approve opening the line between Levisham and the 'top of the Incline' (at Goathland ) as 'over this portion the rails were ill adjusted, the sleepers irregular, the ballasting incomplete & some pairs of Contractors joints & shifting Rails remaining'. Approval was however given for opening the line from the bottom of the Incline to Whitby but allowed the use of only a single engine.
A further report dated 30 Jun 1847 following a second inspection on the previous day, found a much improved state of affairs, one track was complete and the second within a day of completion. Captain Coddington summed up that 'I am of opinion that the line may be opened with safety on the 1st Inst according to the wish of the Company'. It is clear from Capt. Coddington's reports that the horse drawn coaches continued to run until replaced by steam trains.
The wooden sleepers required for the rebuilding of the line appear to have been imported from the Baltic to Whitby, details of several shiploads of sleepers are held in the National Archives.
Following the discovery of apparent finiancial irregularities by George Hudson, the Y&NM appointed a Committee of Investigation, their four printed reports includes severe criticism of the purchase and conversion of the W&P:.
Your Committee have no precise information with respect to the manner in which this purchase was brought about, but it would seem that the proposal came in the first instance from the directors of the Whitby & Pickering Company. The powers to make the branch line from the Scarbro’ Railway to connect it with the Whitby & Pickering Railway at Pickering, were included in the Bill for the Scarborough Line, and in January 1844, a Special Meeting of the Shareholders of the Whitby & Pickering Railway was held to give their formal asssent to the proposed terminus of this company’s line at Pickering. At that meeting, the directors informed the shareholders that they had been in communcation with Mr.Hudson for the sale of the line to the York & North Midland Railway Company and requested their authority to continue the negotiation, which was given.
The original cost of the railway was £135,000, but at the time of the negotiation it was scarcely paying the expenses of working it; £30,000 was the extreme market value of the entire concern, so that the prospective increased value must have been estimated at £50,000. The line itself, it will be seen, does not pay the interest on the purchase money alone, and the enormous outlay in converting it from a Horse to an Engine line is entirely unproductive.Elsewhere in the reports the Committee of Investigation summarise the costs (to date) for the Whitby branch:Your Committee cannot sufficiently condemn this most improvident bargain, and the unjustified extravagance in the subsequent outlay.
To purchase of Whitby & Pickering (horse) Railway, 23½ miles (£80,000) and reconstruct it for locomotives. Authorized share and loan capital £180,000. Estimated expenditure to 30th June 1849: £468,000.They also summarise the operating income and expenditure (in an extract from details covering the whole Y&NM):
Total traffic for year 1848 Whitby & Pickering £11,323 Working charges including depreciation, duty & rates £8,172 Net Receipts £3,151
In 1948 all the major railway companies in Great Britain were nationalised forming British Railways.
In 1967 the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Preservation Society was formed with the aim of preserving the line between Grosmont and Pickering and re-opening it as a Heritage Steam Railway.
The NYMRPS became a charitable trust, the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust Ltd. and succeeded in re-opening the line as the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 1973. Thus the route of the W&P survived, if under two different ownerships.
In 2007 the NYMR succeeded in obtaining the necessary powers and agreements to operate steam trains over the Network Rail line from Grosmont to Whitby (and as far as Battersby), being the first UK heritage railway to do so; so steam trains are once again running between Whitby and Pickering.