NOT many Darwen folk will remember the two-mile railway line that edged across the moorland from Goosehouse, past the site of the old iron works, across Eccleshill, past Shaws at Waterside and on into the centre of Hoddlesden.

Certainly no-one will remember having had a ride on one of the old steam and diesel engines that performed sterling service for many years.

Local mill and factory owners, businessmen and philanthropists had hoped to upgrade the line to accommodate passengers from the very early days, but it never got off the ground.

Once, however, just once, careful planning seemed to have ensured that there would be one “passenger” to make the journey.

Wealthy businessman William B Ranken was the man all set to break the mould. Not that he would have known much about it!

He had died suddenly on Gibraltar on April 2, 1889 and elaborate plans were quickly made to have the body embalmed and brought home to Darwen via Liverpool and by train along the single-track line for interment at St Paul’s, Hoddlesden.

Carriage on a horse and cart would have been beyond the pale for the illustrious gentleman.

A pal was talking to farmer’s son Bill Wiggans, a retired engineer who knows everything about Waterside and Hoddlesden, and he told the tale.

The track was licensed only for freight, not people – alive or dead – so Mr Ranken’s body was packed into a crate and labelled “Machinery”.

Everything went well until an over-zealous clerk at Darwen, not happy with the dodgy paperwork, halted proceedings.

Ranken was eventually transported over Sett End to his last resting place on a horse and cart with rubber wheels, commonly known in those days as a lurry. The railway company provided it.

Alexander Carus bought his house, The Cottage, from his estate and renamed it Hoddlesden Hall.

The terminus was in the centre of “Oggie” where the garage is now and there was a spur into Joseph Place and Sons’ vast works.

In 1907 Shaws moved from Whitebirk, Blackburn, to be closer to their fireclay and coal pits at Pickup Bank and settled at Waterside alongside the railway line, putting in their own spur to their works.

The line into Hoddlesden closed in the early 50s and the rest of the line went in the mid-60s. Shaws still make the elegant white sinks for which they have long been renowned. The company employs about a hundred.

When Shaws closed their architectural division a few years ago to concentrate on their fireclay sink business, some former employees set up a new business to re-employ skilled craftspeople.

They launched Darwen Terracotta and Faience at Whitebirk, which is where it all started.

One of their concepts was the “wicker” tiling for the wonderful new war memorial in Darwen old cemetery.