The first line to be opened through the Vale of Pickering was the Pilmoor Junction to Malton line which was opened in 1853, only 28 years after the Darlington and Stockton Railway. There was a monopoly in this area by the North Eastern Railway. An attempt was made by the Leeds, North Yorkshire and Durham Railway Company to break this monopoly by proposing to build another line through Ampleforth College grounds to Helmsley and to Pickering. However the College people were not very pleased about having an embankment through their land and did not support the venture. So the NER built the line from Gilling to Pickering over the years 1871 to 1875. Thus Gilling became a junction with a service to Malton and a service to Pickering.

In addition to the new line to Pickering and in order to give the College better rail connections a special siding was built to accommodate the narrow gauge line which served the college gas works. There is no doubt that this facility was in the main intended to supply gas coal to the gas works. I understand that this narrow gauge railway was not pulled by an engine but by horsepower. When it came to the point where the line turned up to the College there was a turntable to turn the trucks through 90 degrees. I have also heard that the line was used to transport stone across the valley to be used on Abbey buildings. This line was built in 1894.

The Malton – Gilling branch closed to passenger traffic in 1931, but the Pickering branch survived until 1953. The whole system closed on 10th August 1964.

Gilling being the junction was the hub of the system. There are many interesting items in the occurrence book, which was a diary of incidents. Ironically it records the first petrol driven car, which passed through Gilling on May 11th 1908. On 9th August 1904 a faulty points lever caused the 5.28 Pickering to York train to run into a siding and one coach was overturned. In 1906 the Thirsk and Malton goods trains collided in the College siding and the Thirsk engine was derailed. On 31st July 1961 a crossing keeper was killed at Fryton crossing. On the Duchess of Kent's wedding day an engine was derailed at Helmsley. This wedding caused some disruption on the line.

During the Second World War enemy action was not experienced until August 1940. Bombs were dropped in the area on several occasions, presumably aimed at local airfields such as Wombleton. On April 16th 1941 the 7.20a.m. Pickering to York train fell into a bomb crater near Coxwold. [Ed: “My friend’s father Fred Wright was the signal man at Coxwold then, and when the train hadn’t arrived he went to look and it had gone down the embankment. Neither the driver nor the fireman worked again. The engine went down the embankment and my friend thinks there were two trucks next which also went down, but behind them the carriages with passengers stayed upright at the top of the bank. The bomb had exploded under the line – it must have been in the embankment – and weakened it.” (pers. comm.)]

It happened that most of the damage incurred during the war was inflicted by our own people. The crossing gates were damaged by an army lorry and then by a tank in September 1942. Winston Churchill passed through Gilling on one of his secret journeys round Britain, and the King passed through on March 22nd 1944.

Being at the base of a broad valley, the weather did not cause too many operating headaches, though on 21st May 1910 a violent storm broke the telephone wire near Hovingham and washed away the track at Huttons Ambo on the nearby York – Scarborough line. Trains between those stations had to be worked via Gilling. On 17th January 1941 a snowplough had to clear the line from Malton to Sunbeck and up to Pickering. Snow again caused problems on December 20th 1955, when platelayers were called out at 6.35a.m. to clear snow for the passage of two special trains for the Ampleforth boys returning home. A preceding stone train got through but frozen points at York stopped the specials. The boys had to be persuaded, nearly 1000 of them, to leave the shelter of the various station buildings and return to the College. They were taken to York the next day by bus and thence to their various destinations.

In the final years up to eight trains between Scotland and Scarborough travelled by Gilling each summer Saturday, and many were the lineside fires that marked their passage in dry weather. Two trains were needed at the end of school terms for the Ampleforth boys, one being a through train to King's Cross. In 1962 one of these became a through train to Shorncliffe in Kent, carrying cadets to camp. The journey lasted nine and a half hours.

Extracts from “The School will reassemble” by Bernard S..ston, Moors Line Magazine, Autumn 1979, no.49.

Three times a year, school reports arrived and with them came a list of trains from all over the country which would converge on York. What would nowadays be seen as two rare railtours originating at Leeds and London, were then detailed to take the returning pupils to Gilling. The railtour image continued with a touch of mystery...would the train reach Gilling via Malton or Pilmoor, and on arrival, on to which of the long line of, even then, very ancient buses would one squeeze in order to reach Ampleforth College? Before the tramway from Gilling to the College was closed in 1922, coal trucks, suitably lined with sacks, used to carry the younger boys, the older ones walking the mile and a half from the station.

It was not until we reached the upper forms that we were able to investigate the railway at all. The 1940 timetable offered three trains each way between York and Pickering via Gilling. There was an additional service from Pickering to Helmsley at 3.30p.m., returning from there at 4.25p.m. By 1947 this was not shown in the timetables though it was still run for schoolchildren.

The end of the service (local passenger) was by no means the end of trains run for the villagers. Every year in May, June or July British Rail ran a train from Husthwaite Gate and all the stations to Malton as a day excursion to Scarborough, for this was the one and only trip to the seaside in the summer. On 25th May 1961 this ran on the same day as an excursion from Kirkbymoorside to Largs. Leaving Kirkby at 4.40a.m. the latter carried a party of W.I. members who arrived back from Scotland the following day at 3.30a.m. From time to time trains ran on the branch for ramblers while private excursions went to such varied destinations as North Queens Ferry, King’s Lynn and Chester.

The closure of the Malton shed in 1963 resulted in extra engine movements from York to deal with the thrice yearly luggage trains from Ampleforth College. Normally composed of five vans, two for London and one each for York, Leeds and Banbury.

The last regular steam-hauled train (freight) ran on Thursday 11th April 1963 and thereafter diesel shunters ran the pickup goods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The very last Kirkby goods ran on 7th August 1964. 1963 saw a railtour for American personnel from Fylingdales Early Warning Station.

Text of a note found inside a bottle in the steps leading up to the footbridge at Gilling East Station, Ryedale.

The bottle was found by Mr and Mrs L. McLane while demolishing the bridge.


The erection of this bridge (which was brought from Craven Road Crossing, Southcoates, Hull) was commenced at Gilling in the month of December 1894. Building operations were stopped by frosts and snow storms of eight weeks duration.

The following were the staff and employees, at or about Gilling, in service of the North Eastern Railway, viz.

Frank WoodStation Master
Edward PearsonChief Clerk
George Coopersecond do.
John Welford MegginsonSignal Porter
Ransom Daleditto
Thomas J. EwingSignal Man
Robert SkeltonForeman platelayer
William SeedamFog signalling and platelayer
pumping engine

The winter service of trains were 28 ordinary passenger, 3 goods in and out. 6.46a.m. to 6.19p.m. Summer 3 goods and 34 ordinary passenger trains in and out 6.46a.m. to 8.19p.m. The signal cabin at this time contained 17 working levers and one spare. 2 single needle telegraph instruments on circuits, viz.:

No. 1 York to Pickering via Knaresborough, Pilmoor and GILLING.
No. 2 GILLING to Malton, and Driffield.

Also 3 block telegraph (and 3 bells) instruments to Ampleforth, Hovingham and Nunnington.

March 1895

On the back of the document is a map, in diagrammatic form, of the station. It shows the signal box in its original position. (Note: whenever, in the above text, the name GILLING appears in capitals, it was done by a rubber stamp.)

Further notice from the Malton Gazette, Saturday 15th July 1895. “An iron bridge with stone steps has been erected at Gilling Railway Station for the use of passengers going from one platform to the other; and it will soon, we believe, be completed. As the use of it will be somewhat laborious, and the old way cannot be closed, we doubt whether the new structure will be much used, dangerous as the crossing of the rails is.”

Comment from Ken Hoole: Craven Street was a level crossing until the 1890s, and one of the busiest places in Hull. It was the centre of an X, with lines from the west from Paragon and Victoria Dock, and to the east to Withernsea and later King George Dock. Adjacent to the crossing the Hull and Barnsley Railway passed over on a bridge. A bridge replaced the crossing and, as far as I know, it is still there.

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