IN DECEMBER the Star reported that St Helens Borough Council had drawn up a business case for the creation of a £16m railway station at Carr Mill.

We will have to wait and see whether the council's ambitious plans come to fruition, although one thing is certain - if the new station is built it will not be designed to serve ice-skaters as the original one had been!

That station had closed in 1917 after just twenty-one years of service.

Studying the Ordnance Survey map for 1891 one finds Carr Mill and Laffak a world away from today with its housing estates and busy East Lancs road.

Woodlands and meadows then permeated the district, with the odd farm here and there but few other residences within what must have been a picturesque setting.

Only the railway line running to the east of the Dam appears capable of disturbing the tranquillity when the steam trains thundered past.

St Helens Star:  Article from the Liverpool Daily Post of April 2, 1895 Article from the Liverpool Daily Post of April 2, 1895 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

But during the winter skating season as many as 10,000 persons congregated daily on Carr Mill Dam despite it not being an easy place to reach. And so a railway station was seen as providing a service for such pleasure seekers during the winter, as well as offering rail travel for local farmers all year round.

In fact skating on the frozen waters of Carr Mill Dam goes back hundreds of years, with the earliest newspaper article that I can find that describes a skating contest published in 1818.

That concerned nine skaters competing for a hat and a bottle of gin amidst crowds of spectators.

During Victorian times such contests could attract thousands of sightseers. In 1881 the Liverpool Daily Post wrote about a race between Billinge's John Hill (known locally as "Our Nell's Jack") and a 25-year-old wheelwright called Thomas Gee: "Yesterday afternoon, about half-past three, between thirty and forty thousand people assembled on and around Carr Mill Dam, from the districts of Wigan, St. Helens, and Prescot, to witness a skating match over 300 yards, for £15 a side, between Thomas Gee, of Park-road, a skater of great promise, and John Hill, of Billinge, champion of the district.

The betting was 30 to 20 on Hill. Gee got the start, and kept the lead for a hundred yards, when Hill put on a spurt, and at half distance was a yard ahead. Gee tried hard to regain his position, but Hill shot ahead, and won by seven yards. Great excitement prevailed."

But most of those that went to the Dam when the waters were frozen skated for pleasure or went to watch others more daring than themselves. The Liverpool Evening Express of January 8 1894 described how thick frost had made St Helens a "sort of paradise for skaters", with the Dam taking on the appearance of a fair.

There were stalls and handcarts selling coffee, oranges, potato chips etc. all around the banks of the frozen water.

Their proprietors were said to be doing a "roaring trade" and a "high old time" was reported as taking place on the ice until late at night. It was estimated that if a new railway station was opened at Carr Mill up to 100,000 persons a year might travel into it from St Helens by train.

On January 1 1896 newspapers reported that the new station had finally opened for passenger traffic with two platforms 125 yards long.

However, you cannot run a business on the basis that the winters will always be so cold as to freeze a lake for long periods. In addition you need sufficient revenue all year round to make the proposition viable.

Carr Mill Station appears to have had few passengers from its own locality and from residents of Billinge – where it had been hoped to pick up some commuter trade – and the station closed on January 1 1917.

Stephen Wainwright's latest book The Hidden History Of St Helens Vol 3 is available from the St Helens Book Stop and The World of Glass. Also online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.