COMPLAINTS of late Lakeland trains, missed connections, under-investment, and poor financial returns were just as common in the 1840s as in this festive season of increased strike action on the railways.

As the 2022 train wheels grind mostly to a halt, reviewer Bill Myers looks back 175 years to the difficult birth and short independent life of a key 10-mile route linking Windermere, Staveley, Burneside, and both ends of Kendal to the wider world.

The Kendal and Windermere Railway, by Dick Smith, neatly forms the final piece in a series of events, which have included exhibitions and a train naming ceremony to mark the anniversary of a line that has survived as the last part of the national railway network into the heart of the Lake District.

This new and much-enlarged edition, for the Cumbrian Railways Association, brings together the latest in research and archive material in 104 pages packed with photographs, maps, and plans showing how the line has moved generations of people and all kinds of commercial and industrial products.

Copies cost £16.50, including postage, and details can be found on the Cumbrian Railways Association website at

The complex politics behind the railway's creation can be seen as a form of "levelling up" with the majority in Kendal wanting to join the railway age - despite an environmental lobby.

Kendal folk remembered the broken promises and long delays to get a canal link with Lancaster and as early as spring 1839 civic leaders feared the town would miss the full economic benefits of a major railway linking England and Scotland.

None of the rival routes would pass directly through Kendal.

A Cumbrian coast plan came nowhere near but lines through the Lune Gorge, via Shap, or through Longsleddale, towards Haweswater, offered hope.

A group led by Cornwelius Nicholson sought support to get the railway into Kendal while in the shadows the canal company offered £50,000 in a bold attempt to keep it out.

The Westmorland Gazette said then: "Of all the attempts which we have seen to hoodwink Parliament and cheat the public, this is certainly the most gross and iniquitous."

News of a direct route from Kendal to Windermere, to join the new main line at Oxenholme, broke in August 1844 but by October the promoters faced an opposition group under the leadership of Professor John Wilson and with the support of the poet William Wordsworth.

In the Morning Post, Wordsworth wrote: "Good is not to be obtained by transferring at once uneducated persons in large bodies to particular spots."

Despite this, Royal Assent was given to the project on June 30 in 1845 and building work started on July 16 at a cost of around £16,000 a mile.

By September 1846 you could ride the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway to Oxenholme and change for the short trip to Kendal's town station and on April 20 in 1847 the full route was opened in style with a first train pulling 16 carriages from Kendal to Windermere, soon after 10 am, pulled by three locomotives.

It did well in attracting trade from daytrippers and wealthy city merchants and industrialists with homes in the Lake District but the profits were kept low by hiring locomotives and there were rows with its bigger neighbour over costs, freight fees - and especially late trains.

There was talk of amalgamation from the first year of operation and what started as a few complaints grew until the line was held up to ridicule in local newspapers.

The railway directors cut costs in 1852 by buying its own locomotives, however, terms for an amalgamation were reached by the end of August in 1857.

It was all change again just two years later when the Lancaster and Carlisle became part of the London and North Western Railway.

Buses, road freight and growing car ownership gradually took a toll and by 1969 there were no longer any through trains from Windermere to Manchester.

The author noted: "When the Penrith-Keswick line closed in March 1972, the Windermere branch became the last line running into the Lake District. but also its own future looked anything but secure."

In January 1973 it was announced that the branch would be downgraded to a single line but supporters remained and in early 1984 the first campaign by the Lakes Line Action Group was to seek a new and larger station at Windermere. 

It opened on April 17 in 1986, showing the line still had a future and not just an illustrious past.