By Andy Hirst

They are thought to be the last of their kind in the UK … and the fear is part of Huddersfield’s railway heritage could be lost forever.

There are 40 Grade II-listed coal chutes next to the railway line on Alder Street in Hillhouse which used to look very imposing but have virtually vanished behind overgrown trees in recent years.

They were built by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) for the Huddersfield Corporation Tramways to take coal direct to mills.

Now Huddersfield Civic Society fears they could be in jeopardy as a temporary station will be built there while the main Huddersfield Railway Station undergoes a radical transformation as part of the £1.5bn project between now and 2029 to rebuild the Huddersfield to Westtown, Dewsbury, section of the Trans-Pennine rail route.

The main station will shut for two 32-day periods in 2024 and 2025 while major work is done to the interior and the station will effectively move to Alder Street between Hillhouse and Fartown where the site is already being prepared for the temporary station.

Network Rail is responsible for the chutes and when planning permission was granted for the temporary station one of the conditions was that they should take measures to protect the coal chutes during the construction phase. They installed a 2.4m-high steel palisade metal fence above the chutes next to the construction site and now say this condition has been met.

But HCS thinks the fence won’t be enough with all the vehicles using the site and the amount of earth-moving and construction going on there and that more should be done to protect the chutes.  

Huddersfield Civic Society thinks the old chutes are such an important part of Huddersfield’s history they should not only be protected, but made into a feature.

HCS spokesman Geoff Hughes said: “We are disappointed at the continuing deterioration of this historic site by a combination of neglect and tree roots and ask that more substantive steps are taken to restore the site to good condition beyond Network Rail just maintaining the existing barrier fence against the new major work site.” 

HCS member Paul Jackson added: “Each chute originally had a geared mechanism operated by a chain or lever to open up the coal store and allow the coal to drop down the chute into a waiting coal tram or wagon and you can still see the tram rails there.

“Many of the wooden frames have collapsed and the mechanisms such as geared wheels, pinions and axles, together with the chutes, have collapsed into the bottom of the construction. Many may have gone to scrap while others hide in the overgrowth. There are, however, a number of the chutes which are currently complete and intact.”

This site is unique in that besides the 40 LNWR coal drops there remain intact the lines of the 1904 to 1934 Huddersfield Corporation coal tramway service.

This service was provided by two special 10-ton coal trams which ran on the Huddersfield Corporation tramlines to three textile mills, including Marsh Mills in Marsh. The coal tram service ended in 1934 when the Outlane tram route was closed and converted to trolleybuses.

In its objection to the planning request from Network Rail, HCS states: “HCS is not aware of any more complete remaining coal chutes anywhere in the UK and notes that a much smaller – and far less complete – set of chutes in Halifax, which are now separate from any surviving rail infrastructure, has recently been afforded more maintenance with a view to long-term preservation by public authorities.

“HCS contends that, while helpful, this fencing alone is by woefully inadequate as a means of protecting a valuable set of historic structures.”

HCS wants:

·         A survey of the current state of all the coal drops by a competent professional authority.

·         Basic maintenance of all the drops – especially removal of trees and roots currently causing local deterioration – during the coming months.

·         Regular checks on the drops during construction of the temporary railway station and full restitution in the event of any damage being found

It adds: “We see the long-term preservation of the coal drops, adjoining tramway and other historic remains as valuable to long-term use of this site long after the railway project completes.

“By the 2030s employees, residents and visitors to the area should be able to see Huddersfield’s historic rail story at this site from the Victorian and Edwardian industry through to the modern railway.”

All images above courtesy of Paul Jackson.

* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting.