5 things you should know about Carnforth

"Underneath an old fashioned railway station clock, specifically the iconic clock on Carnforth stati

Underneath the iconic clock on Carnforth station in England, made famous in the 1945 romantic film drama Brief Encounter - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The market town and civil parish in the City of Lancaster has a rich industrial and railway history, with a link to fine Georgian furniture. But it is best known to many as the home of Brief Encounter, the beautifully bittersweet 1945 David Lean classic film.

What’s in a name?

There are two theories of how Carnforth got its name. The first is that it comes from its position at the ford of the river Keer, and over time Keer-ford became the modern Carnforth. Or, it could be that its name derives from Chreneforde, which is Anglo-Saxon in origin. This is the opinion in the Victoria county history of Lancashire.

An other unusually-named landmark Morphy's Mill, in Oxford Street, once a major employer of women in the town. Contrary to its name it was never a mill, but a tailoring factory, making blouses and other garments from 1920 until the 1980s.

Industrial history

The town grew up around its ironworks. Huge deposits of limestone, used for the smelting process, in the local area made Carnforth an ideal place for an ironworks. In 1846 the Carnforth Ironworks Company opened, near the railway station. Many workers were moved up from the Earl of Dudley Ironworks in Worcestershire, living in the company village, imaginatively christened Dudley, but now called Millhead. After various incarnations, the site made iron until 1929. The site was taken over by the War Department as an ordnance depot and remained as such until the 1960s. It is now an industrial estate, and home to a collection of locally-owned businesses.

Railway heritage

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During Victorian times, Carnforth grew from a small village into an important town when it became the junction of three major railways. 

It was a centre for steam trains, and was one of the last to retain an allocation of steam locomotives in its Carnforth motive power depot until 1968. The buildings are now occupied by West Coast Railways, who still maintain steam engines there.

But, where it had been popular for steam trains, it did not fare so well in the modern era. Station facilities were reduced and the mainline platforms were closed in May 1970, then removed when the line was electrified two years later. As a result, no express services on the West Coast Main Line call at the town, although it is used by trains running from Lancaster to Barrow and Leeds.

Leighton Hall

Home of the Gillow furniture family, Leighton Hall is still lived in today and is far from a stuffy museum. It is open to the public, with a chance to see how it has changed over almost 800 years, from an agricultural estate in mediaeval times to a grand country house.

Every room from the chapel to the dining room is still used every day, together with the collection of Gillow furniture, so prestigious it was referenced in literature by Jane Austen, WM Thackeray and the first Lord Lytton. There are also formal gardens, a woodland walk and a busy wedding and party hire business.


Brief Encounter

We couldn’t talk about Carnforth and not mention its most famous moment, in the classic 1945 film of love and longing, directed by David Lean and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Considered to be one of the best British films of all time, Brief Encounter saw cameras running and film lights illuminating the winter nights on platform one in the last months of the second world war.

Now home to an award-winning heritage centre, lovingly restored in 2003, with vintage suitcases and railway posters, it celebrates the era when steam trains frequently passed through. It is now staffed by volunteers and entry is free.


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