Acton Grange Wharf

Acton Grange Wharf

Prior to the opening of St John’s Church in Walton, Acton Grange was in the parish and so I feel that it should be included. I am only going to concentrate on the first company based here, Richard Evans and Sons Ltd, although there have been a number of logistics companies on the site in later years.

At the time of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, Richard Evans and Sons already had their wharf in place, a lay bye had been created on the building of the ship canal. The company already had large mining interests in the Newton/Earlestown area just to the north of Warrington with a vast private railway system in place, one connection from this being to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Newton (opened in 1930). Initially the company and previous owners used the Warrington and Newton Railway (opened in 1931) to bring coal down to Dallam and the Bank Quay area of Warrington. The Three Pigeons public house is thought to have been the station buildings for this line. When the Grand Junction Railway opened from Birmingham in 1837 to join on to the Warrington and Newton Railway at Dallam and then the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Richard Evans negotiated running rights on part of the new railway.

Trains travelling from the north to Warrington and then via Walton Sidings and on to the Manchester Ship Canal line could gain direct access to the wharf. This allowed the company to move coal from their collieries in the Newton area for bunkering and onward shipment and to import vital pit props from the Baltic and other countries for their many mines.  The Evans family also had interests in salt production in Winsford and negotiated running powers to transport coal south and salt north along with the pit props from Acton Grange. Before the opening of the ship canal, Evans used their own locomotives on the trains but with the forming of LNWR and then the canal opening, increasingly the major railway operator took over.

The ship canal company took over the building of the canal in its final stages when the main contractor died, this included all the railway stock. Because of this they ended up with a lot of railway rolling stock in their possession. It is thought that a lot of the Manchester Ship Canal Railway, so well described in Don Thorpe’s excellent book, is the residual of the contractor’s railway.

The section that Evans’ used was part of an isolated section that ran from Walton Lock (basically behind the old Naylor’s woodyard and under Chester Road swing bridge), along between Solvay Interox and the canal itself, under the high West Coast Mainline bridge, numbers 1&2 deviation bridges, into Acton Grange Wharf, along to Moore Lane swing bridge, by Bob’s Bridge and Randal’s sluices to Wiggs Works near the Old Quay swing bridge in Runcorn. The MSCCo had sidings at Walton Yard and a short spur came down the slope to turn under the deviation bridge and join the lower line near the wharf. This allowed the easy movement of coal and pit props from the canal side to link in with the main line north and south. The wood yard was extensive with many parallel sidings and a travelling crane.

Sand quarry and wood yard

There was a small sand extraction business on the north side of the railway near to Moore Lane swing bridge. One full wagon of sand was taken out and an empty one replacing it on a daily basis. The opening of Naylor’s wood yard in 1920 helped increase the number of trains along this section of railway as did their expansion into the east and west sites on either side of what is now Chester Road. Warrington Borate Works and Wigg Bros and Steel at Old Quay in Runcorn also made good use of the railway connection to the main line. Laporte Chemicals built an enormous plant after World War 2, now the Solvay site, with MSC locomotives moving wagons within the site and between the works and Walton Sidings. Dupont took over the Acton Grange Wharf site after the import of pit props ceased and used the facility as a container depot. The NCB took over Acton Grange Wharf when our coal mines were nationalised. All railway activities have long since ceased, there being little evidence of most of the railway infrastructure.

Two of the locomotives used by Richard Evans and Sons still survive, ‘Haydock’  is at Beamish Open Air Museum in the north east and the other, Bellerophon, is out of use waiting for an overhaul on the Worth Valley Railway.