Railway Children star backs Keighley heritage railway campaign as film turns 50

It’s a story cherished by many and has gone down as a defining moment of Yorkshire on screen.

Jenny Agutter. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Jenny Agutter. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

This year mark's the 50th anniversary of The Railway Children hitting the big screen.

The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, which operates the line and stations which featured in the film, had planned events to coincide with the milestone – before the coronavirus pandemic plunged the organisation’s future into uncertainty.

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Jenny Agutter, who shot to fame following her appearance as Bobby in the 1970 film, has encouraged people to donate to the Worth Saving appeal, to ensure the line’s continued operation.

KWVR volunteer Joseph Lockyer cleaning the station sign at Oakworth Station, where many scenes from the Railway Children were filmed. Events are planned in August for the 50th anniversary but the organisation's future is uncertain. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

She said: “I have many fond memories of working at Haworth and Oakworth and along that wonderful railway line.

“Like many others I find that steam trains hold a fascination for me.

“Since the filming, I have returned for visits and love seeing the beautifully restored and cared-for engines and travelling in the old carriages.

“Because of the present situation, people have been unable to visit the Worth Valley Railway. Now without support, this treasure of a place may not survive.

“After all the care and hard work, much of it voluntary, that has gone towards making this such a special place it would be a loss for us, for our children and for future generations, if it were to close.

“Fifty years on I am waving my red flannel petticoat, metaphorically, hoping it will make people aware of the need to give support now, so we can look forward to returning to the Worth Valley Railway in the years to come”.

Her sentiments are shared by Christopher Witty who played Jim, the boy runner the children rescued in the railway tunnel.

He said: “We were all so looking forward to coming back to Oakworth this summer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the making of the film but due to the current situation we all find ourselves in, that cannot be possible.

“We hope that when life returns to normal, and everyone both young and old are safe and well, we can return to help promote all that is good with the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and the film that has been so successful and endearing to our lives.”

The railway has said that sustained closure for months on end “threatens our very existence” and is trying to raise £200,000 to keep afloat “in the form you enjoyed it”.

So far, £140,000 has been raised. Matt Stroh, KWVR Society chairman, said: ‘These are unprecedented times for the Bronte Country line.

“The Worth Saving appeal has been launched to ask for donations from the railway’s supporters and those from far and wide who love steam locomotives and want to be able to relive the past into the future.”

He added: “We have had a good response and are now over half way to our target, but we desperately need a final push.”

As part of the film’s 50th anniversary celebrations at the railway, the newly-restored ‘957’ Green Dragon and carriages that appeared in the movie were due to be on show over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Keighley station was meant to host an outdoor cinema showing of the film, while Oakworth station was to allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter on the Railway Children walk.

There were also due to be re-enactments of scenes as well as interactive items and film displays.

Noel Hartley, KWVR operations manager, said “We hope to re-open this year and we are encouraged with the progress in the UK on slowing the spread of coronavirus.

“We are however very aware of long term impacts of this crisis on our business with reduced capacity on trains and associated issues.

He added: “Without support in donations we may not make it through until such time as we can operate normally again.”

The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway closed temporarily on March 20 amid restrictions put in place to deal with coronavirus.

A little over a week later, the Worth Saving campaign was announced by the organisation, which is a charity operated predominantly by more than 700 volunteers.

In its appeal, it said: “Without income, cash reserves are disappearing fast. The railway needs help to survive as the fantastic example of living history that it is today.”

The organisation is appealing for anyone who can afford to help to visit kwvr.co.uk/donate/ for more information or to contribute.