Narrow gauge tramways

Chat Moss Narrow Gauge Tramways and Railways.

Just when I thought I had finished this document. I remembered as a teenager working on farms on the moss hearing about trains that brought waste from barges, moored at Boysnope Warf, up onto Chat Moss. Researching on the web, I found a copy of Robert Nicolls’ book: Manchester’s Narrow Gauge Railways Ref 7. This little gem of information answered a lot of questions, not only on railways, but also on the wider history of the area. Here is just a summary of what was to become an extensive railway network.

The history behind the Chat Moss narrow gauge railways is all about land reclamation and waste disposal. There are three different era’s of tramway and railway building on the moss. The first; from around 1816 to 1830, the second; from 1830 to 1888 and the third; from 1888 to 1939. Chat Moss, as we discussed earlier, was a formidable peat bog of some six thousand acres. In 1793 William Roscoe (Roscoe Road) took a ninety-two-year lease from the de Trafford family (who owned the Chat Moss Estate), to drain and reclaim a large part of the bog for agricultural use. His venture failed with his bankruptcy in 1821. The challenge was taken on by Edward Baines, and, as with Roscoe, has a local road named after him, (Baines Avenue).

Robert Stannard's Tramway 1816-1830

Robert Stannard had been employed by Roscoe in 1805; he had worked on the reclamation of Trafford Moss (Trafford Park) Estate. In 1816 he laid an eighteen inch gauge moveable railway, or tramway as they were called, on parts of Chat Moss. The process of recovering the bog started by marling, which is the mixing in of sand or clay into the bog to stabilise it, so that it could withstand the weight of people and horses. The tramway was the key to lowering the cost of transporting the marl. It was later realised that mixing in manure, waste and night-soil made the ground highly fertile. Work was temporarily halted in 1821, due to Roscoe’s bankruptcy, but Robert Stannard was to play a significant role in the first Liverpool-Manchester Railway. Its construction was to further the reclamation of the moss. Construction of the first Liverpool to Manchester Railway started in 1826, and it was Stannard who laid the contractors’ railway. As noted earlier in the text, it was also Stannard who convinced Stephenson to float the Liverpool-Manchester Railway, rather than keep tipping spoil into to what seemed the bottomless pit of the bog.

Barton Grange and Astley Road Tramway. 1830 -1888

In 1823 surveying started for the Liverpool-Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830. The same year, Edward Baines paid for the laying of a more permanent tramway, down what is today Barton Grange Road. It was a more substantial version of Stannard’s 1816 tramway. It ran between the River Irwell at Boysnope, where a wharf had been built on the River Irwell, and Lamb’s Cottage Halt, adjacent to the newly-opened Liverpool-Manchester Line, a distance of two miles. Goods could be exchanged between the two railways by hand, but no interchange sidings were built. The tramway was to be used to transport manure, night-soil and marl The former off-loaded from barges at Boysnope wharf.

Following Roscoe’s bankruptcy, Baines had taken the lease on the eastern end of Chat Moss, leaving a large parcel of land to the western end. John Arthur Borron, a Warrington Glass Maker, and also owner of Little Woolden Hall, obtained this lease, and, seeing how Baines’ Barton Grange Road Tramway had worked, planned a similar scheme on his lands, which lay on either side of what is today Astley Road. In 1833 he laid a tramway from the Liverpool-Manchester Railway at Flow Moss halt.

The station was renamed, having been moved half a mile from Flow Moss Cottage, to the end of the tramway down to the River Mersey to a wharf near Sandywarps Locks. The route went down Astley Road (then named Tramway Road) from Flow Moss Halt, crossing Liverpool Road by way of a level crossing, then down an incline which is still known today as Tramway Road, and on to the River Mersey. Before the Manchester Ship Canal was built in 1894, and the steelworks a while later in 1910, the Rivers Irwell and Mersey met on the flood plain in Lower Irlam, where it meandered in a big loop. A locks, known as Sandywarps, had been build to shorten the Irwell navigation, along with a nearby wharf for off-loading goods.

Today you can still see the tunnel under the Manchester-Liverpool Cheshire Lines railway, realigned (1894), at the bottom of Tramway Road and the old abutments for the original under bridge of the original 1873 route and subsequent Soap Works line, referred to earlier.


The diagram shows the two early tramways on the Chat Moss estate.
Boysnope wharf on the Irwell to Lamb’s Cottage station.
Tramway Road, from Sandywarps on the Mersey to Flow Moss Station

By the 1850, marling had fallen from favour, and the traffic on both tramways was limited to night-soil from the wharfs of the Irwell and Mersey, and coal. By this time, the farming on the moss was being managed by John and Richard Bell, as stewards of the Trafford Estate. The tramway became knows as Bell’s Railway, and the road itself as Tram Road or Wagon Road. They also acquired the leaseholds of the farms around Astley Road, known at the time as Tramway Road. By the 1880’s, both tramways had fallen out of use and were dismantled and covered over in 1888, forming roadways.

Manchester Corporation railway 1888-1939

The building of the Manchester Ship Canal started in1888 isolated both Sandwarps and Boysnope Wharfs. The former being abandonded, and obliterated completely, when the Steel Works was built over it, on the land drained when the canal opened. By the late 1880’s, Manchester was producing an increased amount of waste. Current methods of disposal were inadequate. Manchester Corporation Cleansing Department had acquired over one thousand acres of Carrington Moss in 1885, building a wharf on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation at Carrington. They built a narrow gauge railway form the wharf to the Carrington Estate. The success of the Carrington project, and the planned opening of the Canal, prompted them to negotiate the purchase of the Chat Moss Estate from the De Trafford family on the 2nd August 1895.

Initially it was planned to bring refuse in by rail to the LNWR Station at Barton Moss, and to a site near Irlam Station, but problems with both sites made them turn their attention to bringing waste in by barge to Boysnope, and use the site and line of Bell’s railway to access Chat Moss. Before they could do that, major improvements had to be made costing thirty five thousand pounds.

The old Bell railway had crossed Liverpool Road just to the east of where the Crossfield Estate (Crossfield Farm) is today, by way of level crossing. The proposed increase in volume required the Corporation to construct an under-bridge for Liverpool Road, this was built just to the east of Boysnope Farm.

Manchester Corporation narrow gauge twin track under-bridge A57 at Boysnope

The structure was of such quality it is still in use today, the rail line long gone. The wharf line route and cutting was used in the early 1970’s for the main drain for the M62 to the canal. Today, it’s a roadway under the bridge between the clubhouse and the first tee of Boysnope golf course. From here the twin track rail route ran in a cutting on to the Moss, following a new alignment, roughly sited half way between Barton Grange Road and Barton Moss Road. The railway was to be laid out in a grid with three east-west, lines known as Raspberry Lane, Twelve Yards and Top Road, running as far west crossing Astley Road, and on to the boundary with Cadishead Moss, the extent of the Corporation’s land. There a north-east south-west line would run the full length of the boundary, to what is today the boundary with Wigan in the north, and south to a site near Irlam station, which is today the school playing field.

A further line, running north-east, was laid past Park Hall, on to what is today the site of Barton Airport Temporary tracks would then be laid into the farmers’ fields, and moved as the estate was worked. Farmers’ leases obliged them to take so many tons per acre of waste, a year. Around sixty thousand tons of waste a year was carried on the system from 1899 to 1906. In all, over ten miles of main track were laid, plus sidings.

The wharf line, as it was called, ran as a twin track up and down line as far as the east branch to Park Hall. It was then singled all the way to Top Road. In general, the locos would run clockwise down Raspberry Lane, as far as the Cadishead west boundary, then north to Twelve Yards or Top Road, turning east as far as Barton Airport, turning south, then west, past Park Hall, back to the twin track junction, returning to the wharf.

The extent of the Manchester Corporation Chat Moss railway in 1916 - over ten miles of track

The east-west lines of Raspberry Lane, Twelve Yards and Top Road were four hundred and twenty yards apart. Temporary branches would then be taken off, I suspect, every twelve yards, into the fields. Hence the name Twelve Yards Road. Twelve yards by four hundred and twenty yards is five thousand and twenty square yards - just over an acre (four thousand, four hundred and forty square yards), leaving an allowance for the branch track. Thus the Corporation and the farmer would know how much to tip per acre.

At Boysnope, a new wharf was constructed, engine sheds (1899) and sidings. Five parallel lines were installed and two steam cranes for off loading. The Corporation owned five locos over the period it operated, owning four at any one time. They were all named, either from previous owners, or after officers of the Cleansing and Estates Committees: Hugo Shaw (Windsor), Grantham (Robinson), Richards (Alice), Dixon and Trevor, original names in brackets.

Above and below: Offloading barges at Boysnope wharf onto the narrow gauge railway. The engine sheds in the background.


In 1928 the Air Ministry were looking for a site to locate a new airfield. The Corporation leased them the site, and arranged to extend the railway for construction, three hundred tons of clinker and ash were delivered each week to form the runways. The result was Barton Airfield, one of the oldest in the country, which today has a listed control tower and art deco terminal building.

Barton Airport control tower. Now a listed building.


The original hanger complete with Manchester City coat of arms


Another small branch line was laid in 1906, from Boysnope wharf to Foxhall tip, back along the side of the canal towards Barton. At the time of writing (2010) the site was being reclaimed for the new Salford City Reds Stadium.

The demise of the railway came with the changes in waste management, and the advent of better motorised transport. Once it became cheaper to transfer what, by now, was mainly slaughter-house waste of around ten thousand tons a year, by truck, the end for the railway was near. The last barge delivering waste to Boysnope, was in March 1939. The outbreak of war in 1939, and with it the national need for track and rolling stock, the Ministry of Supply controlled the sale. It’s not easy to work out exactly how many miles of track were laid, as it was moved as the moss was reclaimed. We know that in May 1940, twenty two miles of track were offered for sale, being the remaining track from both the Carrington Estate, which had closed in 1937, and the Chat Moss Estate

Loco Hugo Shaw leaving Boysnope wharf with a full load of manure for the moss