Fond memories of railways and steamships around Morecambe Bay

Peter Sunderland.
Peter Sunderland.

A West Yorkshire photographer’s love of railways and steamships around Morecambe Bay has been commemorated in a new album of rare colour photographs.

Peter Sunderland, who died earlier this year aged 85, made his first sea crossing from Heysham to Belfast in 1947 when he accompanied his parents on a part business, part holiday trip to Northern Ireland. Peter was already acquainted with railway excursions to Morecambe from his native Keighley.

He was an avid photographer whose high quality black and white images were well known among fellow railway and shipping enthusiasts but it was only when his house started to be cleared that the extent of his colour material became apparent.

This amazing find prompted his friend, Leeds-based author Martin Bairstow, to put together a selection of Peter’s colour images of trains and ships, which provide the foundation for Midland Railway Outpost: Lancaster-Morecambe-Heysham (Willowherb Publishing, £21.95).

Building on Peter`s material, contributions have also come from other sources to give a comprehensive review of the railway scene - and that of the Heysham Harbour maritime operations - from the mid-1950s until recent times.

The book starts at Wennington and follows the original route of the Midland Railway through Caton, Halton, Lancaster and Morecambe to reach Heysham Harbour. There is extensive coverage of the area’s pioneer electric trains, which were a proving ground for subsequent main line electrification but were themselves withdrawn for scrap in 1966.

In the book, the vintage electrics are seen crossing the River Lune by the Greyhound Bridge which is now a road. Also featured is the now demolished station and engine shed at Lancaster Green Ayre, while Morecambe Promenade station plays host to steam, diesel and electric trains, long before the surviving building was turned into a leisure facility.

At Heysham, the covered island platform station which had direct access to the Belfast steamer is shown in all its glory and that is where Peter`s photo coverage begins to excel. He captured the Duke of Lancaster and Duke of Rothesay, two of the 1928 passenger steamers before their replacement by vessels of the same names in 1956. The latter also feature, both before and after their 1970 conversion to car ferries. Of course, Heysham was also a port for the Isle of Man sailings and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s Snaefell is seen setting out.

In 1966, the trains were diverted via Carnforth when the old Midland route via Lancaster Green Ayre was closed to passengers.

The final part of the book follows the less direct, present day route through Hest Bank to a diminutive new station at Morecambe and a much changed Heysham Harbour which is busier than ever before but with hardly any of its traffic arriving or departing by rail. Part of the original railway route between Wennington, Lancaster and Morecambe is now a footpath and cycle track.

The 112-page hardback book has been produced by Willowherb Publishing, whose two Directors, Alan Whitaker and Jan

Rapacz, were also friends of Peter Sunderland.

It will be launched on Saturday November 9 at the Carnforth Bookshop, where Martin Bairstow will be present to sign copies and discuss any aspects of the railway and shipping story of Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham.