Straddling the River Wharfe in Tadcaster is a relic of a railway line between Leeds and York that was never built.
During the Railway Mania boom in the 1840s, a scheme called the Leeds and York Railway was promoted. Although there was already a link between the cities, this alternative route would have been six miles shorter than 'railway king' George Hudson's York and North Midland Railway line. It would have crossed the River Wharfe at Thorp Arch.
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The plans fell through thanks to Hudson's extensive influence. One of the new line's backers was the Manchester and Leeds Railway, who took up shares on condition that the route used the company's existing station in Leeds. Another route from York to Hull was planned at the same time, which would provide competition for Hudson's East Yorkshire lines.
However, in 1845 the Manchester and Leeds entered into a non-competition agreement with Hudson's York and North Midland Railway concerning the leasing of the Hull and Selby Railway. The Manchester and Leeds had to withdraw their support for the York - Leeds and York - Hull lines as part of the deal. Their shares were not returned, and they were compelled to buy 5,000 of them at £25 each.
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With their rivals out of the way, Hudson's company applied to build a similar route between Leeds and York that would connect with their existing mainline. They planned to run via Copmanthorpe, near York, to Cross Gates on the outskirts of Leeds, through Tadcaster, where they could link to their branch line between Harrogate and Church Fenton. They were granted government permission to construct the line at the expense of the Leeds and York Railway backers.
Contractors began to lay the northern section of the track and a viaduct at Tadcaster was completed before the Railway Mania bubble burst and the project was suddenly abandoned.
The York and North Midland told their shareholders in 1849 that they had been forced to build the route to protect themselves from competition. Over £30,000 had already been spent on it.
Tadcaster Viaduct still stands and is known as the Virgin Bridge. It has 11 arches. From 1882 until 1955, it was in use as a private siding to supply corn and later coal to a flour mill on the east bank of the river. The branch closed in 1959 and the structure was acquired by the town council in 1980, and listed five years later.
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The failure to complete the Copmanthorpe - Cross Gates route meant that Tadcaster's alignment on the rail network was always awkward, with no direct connections to either Leeds or York. It was on the Harrogate to Church Fenton line, and passengers had to change at Wetherby to reach larger urban centres. By the 1950s, there were few passenger services, and most of the traffic was made up of special trains serving Tadcaster Grammar School and the local villages. It was always a busy goods station, as there were sidings built for the breweries and flour mills that were the town's main industries. The station closed in 1964, and has since been demolished to make way for new housing. The entire Harrogate to Church Fenton line was shut during the Beeching cuts.