Norton in Hales Railway 1870 – 1956

Norton-in-Hales station was built by the North Staffordshire Railway Co. and it stood on the Stoke to Market Drayton Line. The N.S.R. Co was nicknamed the ‘knotty’ because they adopted the Stafford knot as an emblem. This emblem was based on the badge of the de Stafford family and can be still seen on road signs today. In December 1865 a contract was approved by Parliament for work to begin on building the railway that would pass through Norton-in-Hales. The new railway line was to link the fertile agricultural district of North Shropshire to the highly populated Potteries.  In January 1868 a local newspaper referring to Norton-in-Hales reported that “the quiet village has been uninterrupted by a year’s sojourn of the navvies located in it”. On Thursday 27th January 1870 the line from Silverdale to Market Drayton was inspected, the Stoke to Silverdale line already being open, and the line was declared satisfactory and the Directors announced it would open the following week.

On Tuesday 1st February 1870, the first public train ran from Stoke to Market Drayton, although the general public had little notice and found the opening fairly sudden, as it was thought that the line would not be ready for weeks and that work on the sidings would be completed before the opening. It was felt that the suddenness of the opening prevented some of the usual demonstrations of celebration; there were no flags waving, the engines were undecorated and the carriages were neither better nor worse than those normally supplied. There was however, a week later, a ball held to celebrate the event in the Assembly Rooms at the Corbet Arms Hotel, Market Drayton.

It has been recorded in ‘The Stoke to Market Drayton Line’, by C R Lester, that Mr John Eardley, farmer of Norton (Norton Farm), together with 3 kindred spirits, drove by pony and trap to Newcastle in time to catch the very first train to Market Drayton. After suitable refreshment they caught the next train back – and after further refreshment returned home!

The journey

The line is 12½ miles in length to Silverdale station. Starting from Drayton station as though going to Crewe, you pass the signals and then go off to the right by a sharp curve. The first part of the journey is through an open and slightly undulating country. Having run three miles the first station is reached at Norton-in-Hales where the respected rector has taken much interest in the welfare of the navvies employed on the work. The second station is only two-and-a-half miles from Norton, but the Knighton people are very much disappointed it is not one mile nearer. From Pipe Gate the railroad runs through a much more uneven country – it partakes in fact more of the nature of the country through the Potteries, and in summer many spots would be beautiful. Not least so is the part about Keele Road, the third station. This is surrounded with woods standing on steep hills; which make the situation quite picturesque. Two or three minutes ride from Keele Road brings the traveller to the nearest “spur” of the Potteries district at Silverdale. From this place it is three miles to Newcastle, and Stoke is two miles beyond that – making seventeen and a half to Stoke [1].

Train Services

The initial passenger service amounted to four trains in each direction on weekdays and two on Sundays. The very last working timetable issued by the NSR was in operation from 2 October until further notice. In the Up direction, there were six trains from Norton-in-Hales to Stoke on weekdays, with an additional train on Wednesdays only, also an additional late evening train on Saturdays. In the Down direction there were seven arrivals on weekdays from Stoke, an additional train on Wednesdays and a late running evening train on Saturdays, which departed from Stoke at 11.10pm, arriving at Norton-in-Hales at 11.45pm. The trains initially comprised four-wheeled stock, consisting of between six and eight carriages. They were eventually replace by more modern bogie stock. The NSR timetable for goods trains for November 1879 shows two goods and minerals trains in the Down direction, both of which were allowed a few minutes to shunt at the station. In the Up direction, there were also two goods and mineral trains but only the morning train stopped to shunt at Norton-in-Hales. There were no goods trains on Sunday.

In 1879, Norton-in-Hales signal box was open from 7.00am to 9.30pm on weekdays and also at the time when passenger trains were running on Sundays. The line was worked on the absolute block system. A new Down siding was installed in December 1903. During an inspection in 1904 it was noted that an old crossover had been removed and that the signal box had 12 levers, all of which were in use.

How it changed the area

Once the railway was opened the station served the locality with transportation of all kinds of goods especially for farmers and their commodities. There were facilities for the loading and unloading of cattle, cattle foods, coal and machinery.  It was actually found that farmers could make more profit by sending their milk to London and other cities, than selling it locally. A special set of vehicles were put on the first passenger train for this purpose, these vehicles then being transferred to a London express train once they arrived in Stoke.  Livestock being loaded at the station would have been a common sight before the coming of the motor car. The local halls around had their supplies of coal brought to the station, the coal wagon being put into a siding, from where it was transported by horse and cart to the various homes.

Norton-in-Hales soon became a popular location for country outings and Sunday School treats. During the Norton rectory museum’s hay-day, special trains were arranged for the Norton-in-Hales Annual Fete and Flower Show.

There were also football specials laid on a Saturday so that people could attend Stoke football matches. It was also possible at one time to travel to Hanley, see a theatre show and travel back to Norton-in-Hales by a late night train. Mother’s with perambulators could attend Market Drayton or Stoke with their babies, the prams being put in a big parcels van.

The Station Masters

Norton-in-Hales was a busy little station employing a Station Master, two porters and a booking clerk.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1871 census
Norton’s first station master was George Johnson Holbrook who was born at Macclesfield, Cheshire in 1839. He married Emma Lewis at Macclesfield in 1867. On the 1871 census listed are; George Holbrook, aged 32, Railway Clerk in Charge; his wife Emma Holbrook aged 24; daughter Julia Holbrook, aged 2, born at Fenton Staffordshire and son Percival Hooley Holbrook, aged 10months, born at Norton-in-Hales. George and Emma had a third child, Frederick William Holbrook born in 1872 at Norton-in-Hales.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1881 census
James John Pye was born 1850 at Ledbury, Herefordshire. In 1868 James married Elizabeth Pepper of Newcastle, Staffordshire. James John Pye aged 31, Writing Clerk; his wife Elizabeth Pye, aged 28; son Frederick John Pye, aged 12; son Albert Pye, aged 9; son Charles Pye, aged 4 and son John W Pye, aged 11 months.

July 20, 1925; Oregon - Mrs. Elizabeth Pye, 74, wife of James John Pye of this city died July 14 at the home of her daughter Mrs. Florence Loynes, at Forest Grove. She was a native of Hanley, England, but came to Oregon more than 40 years ago and had been a resident of Tillamook and Portland since. She and her husband had been married more than 54 years. She was a member of the Rebekah lodge and the Peninsula Park Lavender club. Besides her husband she is survived by five sons and two daughters, Fred J. Pye of Tillamook, Albert Pye of Troutdale, Charles L. Pye, John W. Pye and Percival C. Pye of Portland, Mrs. Florence Loynes and Mrs. Rose Schindler of Forest Grove. Services and interment will take place at Bay City, Or., at 10 o'clock Thursday morning.
Mr. John Pye, the late station master of Norton-in-Hales, having left the neighbourhood, and the post consequently falling vacant, it has been offered to, and accepted by Mr Oswald Lee, who for some years has creditably filled a similar situation at the Madeley Road Station of the same line of railway. We congratulate Mr Lea on his appointment, and, as in his new sphere he will have much broader scope for the exercise of the essential traits of tact and civility, which from repeated observation we believe he possesses, we may venture to predict for him a bright and prosperous future, and for the Railway Company also an increased general traffic at this particular station. 1882.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1891 census
William Edward Fidler was born 1841 at Islington, London and married Mary Ann Drain in 1871. On the 1891 census listed are; William E Fidler, station master, aged 49; his wife Mary A Fidler, aged 54; daughter Adelaide Fidler, aged 16 and son Stanley Fidler, aged 13.

By 1901 William had retired and the family were living at Trentham. William Edward Fidler died in 1903, he was buried at Norton-in-Hales on 4 Sept 1903.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1901 census
William Walton was born 1863 at Penkhull, he married Annie Mitchell. On the 1901 census listed are; William Walton, station master, aged 37; his wife Annie Walton, aged 37; son Edgar Walton, aged 8; son William Walton, aged 6 and daughter Elsie Walton, aged 4.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1911 census
William Walton, station master, aged 47; Annie Walton, aged 47; son Edgar Walton, clerk, aged 18; son William Walton, clerk, aged 16; daughter Elsie Walton, aged 14 and nephew Stanley Tucker, aged 11.

20 July 1917 - Death of Mr W. Walton. Stationmaster at Norton-in-Hales. We regret to record the death of Mr William Walton, for many years stationmaster at Norton-in-Hales, which occurred on Monday morning. Mr Walton carried out his duties as usual on Sunday, the 8th inst, but upon reaching the house he had a seizure, from which he never recovered. Mr Walton, who was 53 years of age, had seen 40 years’ service with the North Staffordshire Railway Co. He was known by many passengers who travelled on the Stoke and Market Drayton line as a most capable official, and his extreme courtesy gained for him the respect of all with whom he was brought into contact. He was a native of Stoke-on-Trent, and commenced with the North Stafford Railway Company as a telegraph boy at Stoke Station when 13 years of age. He eventually rose to the position of chief balance clerk at Hanley Goods Station, and received promotion to the Norton-in-Hales Station in 1900. The funeral took place at Norton Cemetery on Thursday afternoon. Prior to the interment a service was conducted by the Rev. D. Jones (Rector of Norton-in-Hales) in the Parish Church.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1921 census
Theodore Ardern, railway station agent, aged 45; his wife Mabel Arden, aged 43; daughter Theodora Mabel Arden, aged 14 and daughter Marjorie Arden aged 12.

Station House, Norton-in-Hales, 1939 register
John B Woodcock, born 13 Feb 1915, rail porter and signalman; his wife Edith E Woodcock, born 12 July 1914.


By 1925 Norton-in-Hales was still a passenger, parcel and goods station with facilities for livestock, horse boxes and prize cattle vans. In the early days, milk traffic had been prevalent but it dwindled after the opening of Express Dairies creamery at Pipe Gate, which sent out lorries to collect milk.

Due to the popularisation of the motor car, in the late 1930’s, the line from Silverdale to Market Drayton was singled making the Up platform at Norton-in-Hales redundant. After World War II , petrol rationing ended which led to further growth of car ownership and use, passenger numbers dwindled even further, which meant there were only two trains daily from Stoke to Market Drayton.

The last regular passenger train left Market Drayton at 7.00pm for Stoke on Saturday 5 May 1956, with four coaches behind Stanier 2-6-4T No. 42671. It called at Norton-in-Hales, the very last time a timetabled ordinary passenger train called there. On 2 May 1959, the siding frame housed in the former signal box and all connections were taken out of use. Following the closure, the original land owners were first offered the land on which the line was constructed and in 1968 the line at Norton was taken up by contractors, with the metals going to Sheffield and the wooden sleepers to various places in the country, some of which were sold to local farmers.

The old gates on the road leading to the station can still be seen, and the station has been converted to a private house. The old station master’s house still stands and has recently been modernised.

Sources and Acknowledgements:

[1] Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser Feb 5th 1870
Railway Bylines Magazine.

Mr and Mrs D.W. Parton, M. Davies and Mr and Mrs S. Belfield. Many thanks for your assistance and contributions during my research for this article.