Ghost trains

New Holland Pier Station, Lincolnshire (1981)

New Holland Pier Station, Lincolnshire (1981)

When I was an undergraduate at Hull University in the late 1960s, one of our innocent pleasures was to catch the Humber ferry from Hull Corporation Pier to ride across to New Holland and back.  The boats in those days were still, literally, paddle-steamers, Wingfield Castle and Tattershall Castle (both 1934) and Lincoln Castle (1940).  The bar was customarily open once the vessel had left dry land.

The only time I ever set foot on New Holland Pier was a week before the ferry-service ended in 1981.  Here there was a rail service south to Grimsby to join the main railway network.  The New Holland ferry started out in the early nineteenth century as a legally dubious operation, named after Holland’s Gin.  Its latter-day function was as an extension of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (later the Great Central Railway and latterly the LNER and, of course, British Railways).  It was eventually superseded by the opening of the Humber Bridge.

The informative and well-illustrated Disused Stations website [] tells me that the New Holland Pier and its rail-connection still survive as a grain and animal-feed terminal.  Passenger rail services continue between Cleethorpes and Barton-on-Humber.

There is also an intriguing parliamentary service that runs three times a week between Cleethorpes and Sheffield via Gainsborough Central.  Parliamentary trains were originally a bottom-of-the-range penny-a-mile compulsory service intended by the so-called “Gladstone Act” of 1844 to guarantee cheap travel and encourage mobility of labour.  They were satirised by W S Gilbert in The Mikado:

The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window-panes
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
On Parliamentary trains.

Nowadays they are a device which allows railway operators to pretend to provide a service over lines that they no longer wish to operate without going through the cumbersome procedure of legal abandonment.

By modern standards, this parliamentary service is actually quite good:  parliamentary trains in other parts of Britain run once a week, often in one direction only.  Details, some of which may be out of date, can be found at

An article in the Birmingham Press (February 4th 2011) illustrates the reasons for maintaining – at some expense – stations and routes that have little current practical purpose:

A recent account is at

And an example of a parliamentary bus that thinks it’s a train is at Chiltern Railways’ ‘ghost bus’: Is this Britain’s most bizarre route? – BBC News.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 ‘Humber Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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