When the 'Barber' rode through Bilton

I MUST confess that the scene captured in this week's photograph was well outside the boundaries of Starbeck and illustrates the two levels of the Bilton coal depot and the locomotive named 'Barber' which belonged to the Harrogate Gas Company and delivered coal from Bilton Junction to the gas works in New Park.

The original intention of the Harrogate Gas Company was to build a gas works adjoining the railway at Starbeck, but this plan was dropped and when the streets of Harrogate were lit by gas lamps for the first time in February 1848 they had been supplied by gas which had been manufactured beside the Ripon Road at New Park.

The gas works were supplied with coal which had to be transported from Starbeck originally by horse and cart and from 1871 by a number of steam road locomotives which were routed through High Harrogate.

This led to a number of complaints made to the gas company arising from the amount of noise and smoke this generated especially when coal was being transported through the night.

To combat this and to alleviate to cost of transporting coal the companies agreed to open a coal yard at Bilton Junction just where the railway to Ripon crossed Bilton Lane.

This was in 1880 and, though the shorter road route helped with both the transport and environmental problems, it was not an ideal solution.

Plans were then made for a narrow gauge railway to carry the coal direct from Bilton Junction to New Park and construction work began in the spring of 1907.

The gas company purchased its first locomotive in 1908 which it named 'Barber' after the chairman of the gas company and the line including a tunnel which carried the tracks under much of New Park and Skipton Road was officially opened in December 1908.

Changes in the way that gas was produced and the fact that even during the 1950s a large proportion of the coal was still being transported by road led to the decision in September 1955 to close the line and the last train passed through the New Park tunnel in July 1956.

By the end of 1965 the Harrogate Gas works had been completely converted to the storage of natural gas and both the narrow gauge railway and the gas production plant it supplied had gone.

Today the scene is somewhat overgrown and the tracks have long been removed but with the use of a little imagination it is still possible to make out the position of the Bilton yard and the two levels where the coal was tipped from the main line into wagons waiting to take it to the New Park gas works.

There is a footpath from there to near by the sewerage works which loosely follows the line of the tracks.