Helmthwaite is now at the end of a short branch of the LMS in industrial West Yorkshire. There was once a through connection to the ex-LNWR line at Staincliffe, but economics forced the closure of the through connection in the early 1930s. What survives now, in the dark days just before the war, is a single platform passenger station notable for its elegant stairway descending from the booking office on Station Road, and a busy little goods yard which serves the needs of the still thriving industries of the West Riding. The same limited geographical space is shared with a high level LNER (ex-GNR) coal yard, Chapel Lane.
In a remarkably early example of co-operative working, and because there was no space in the cramped town to provide a gradient route between the two levels, an inclined hydraulic wagon hoist was built to facilitate the movement of coal wagons from the LNER’s high level sidings to the LMS goods facility below. This wonder of hydraulic engineering was built by The Hydraulic Company of Chester to the same design as the one installed on the Midland Railway at Leytonstone in Essex.
There is some truth in the above paragraphs, but it is mixed with an even greater quantity of imagination. St Neots Model Railway Club’s last O gauge exhibition layout was sold some years ago to make way for this new layout. A design evolved for a two level model in which the fiddle yard of each layer was hidden behind the scenic sections of the other. What we have built is effectively two independent layouts, one on top of the other.
The dominating features are the two large industrial buildings, Osborn Engineering and Helmthwaite Mills at the Helmthwaite end of the layout, and the fully operational wagon hoist at the Chapel Lane end. The whole is backed by stonework arches typical of the area.
Passenger traffic into Helmthwaite is the workforce coming and going to and from the industries and a few local residents; for some reason the LMS continues a high intensity service throughout the day. The LMS good yard is always busy with general merchandise and the materials consumed or produced by the local industry, while thirty feet above bustling LNER locos haul full coal wagons into Chapel Lane yard.
Construction has not been fast; all the trackwork has been hand-built from C&L components and all the structures (except the Helmthwaite goods shed) are scratch-built. The layout is wired for analogue DC, or DCC operation, but we usually run with Lenz DCC.