Celebrations underway for the 175th birthday of the Lakes Line in south Cumbria

Celebrations include a plaque unveiling Credit: ITV News

The final celebrations for the 175th birthday of the Lakes Line saw a celebration at Windermere Station with a plaque unveiling.

Local people with a history with the line have been sharing their experiences of the line that is largely thought to have brought tourism to the Lake District in 1847.

Back then, 175 years ago, thousands came here to celebrate their new railway.

Ken Harper, who worked as a Railway Operations Manager for 40 years told ITV Border Windermere wasn't very well known in the 1800s until the Lancaster and Carlisle railway was built to be open in 1846.

He said: "Immediately there was a branch built off it from Oxenholme to Kendal, which was then the following year in 1847 extended to Windermere."

Windermere was then the little village of Birthwaite and Ken says the railway transformed it, building the town and the area up and bringing millions of tourists into the area.

Ian Conway has spent the last two years masterminding the celebrations as Chairman of 175th Anniversary Committere. He says the Victorians' strong desire for tourism was the driving force behind starting the line.

He said: "All the cities were clogged up with fumes from coal so people wanted to get out of the cities and then the Lakes week's holidays started up with all these big mill factories so people came up to Blackpool, Morecambe and up to the Lake District."

The line was also used for industry. Roger Martindale's grandparents and great grandfather worked on the line.

He told ITV Border: "They were railway people. His mother ran the railway crossings and his grandfather was on the station and that's what they did.

"He was on the shunting so he would be a fireman on the engines that pushed them over Shap and shunted backwards and forwards to Windermere, because all the coal came into Windermere and everything, because that was the end of the line."

Back then it was steam trains; now the trains are diesel. 

What was once the height of Victorian engineering has had to change a lot, but it's not been without controversy.

Even when the line was brought in, the famous poet William Wordsworth was one of the key objectors saying it would destroy the landscape, even though he himself was eventually one of the key reasons visitors wanted to come here. 

The trains that are used now are diesel Credit: ITV News

In 1973 the double track was made a single track to save money.

There have long been calls for the line to be electrified to link it better with the West Coast mainline and Manchester and then in 1994 a breakthrough came: direct trains put on to Manchester Airport.

In recent years there's been more criticism but there is still strong love and support for this key part of our rail history.

There was once 35 staff at Windermere station, which wasn't built until 1986.

Windermere Town Councillor Jennifer Borer was a key instigator then to make the station a warm (and dry) welcome for those arriving in an area famed for its rain.

She told ITV Border: "When they showed us what was going to be actually put for a station it was just about the size of a ticket office.

"It was just too small and I actually managed to raise the princely sum of £15,000 - which was a lot of money in those days - and we were able to then build a station, which then had a waiting room and a small left luggage office."

Area Station Manager for Northern Rail Jane Murray says the line is often visitor's first experience of the stunning Lake District landscape and they love the history of the line.

She told us: "We greet so many people from all over the world. They like to have their photographs taken with the drivers and conductors. It's an experience for them just to arrive here."

Northern trains' Regional Director Chris Jackson says after the pandemic the line is especially important since 80% of passengers are travelling for leisure.

He said: "Leisure demand is bouncing back much more strongly than commuters, which is why lines like this into the heart of the Lake District are going to be so key to the success of the rail industry in the future and its long-term sustainability."

Windermere changed drastically when the railway came in 1847. The line transformed a small village into a holiday destination that is now visited by millions of people every year.