There was once a tangled network of railway lines in and out of Whitehaven.

There were not just the coastal trains to Carlisle and Barrow that still operate today, but passenger trains to Penrith via Cockermouth and Keswick and others to Cleator, Cleator Moor, Frizington and Kirkland, primarily for transporting coal and iron ore.

The decline in ore and Dr Richard Beeching’s brutal axe ganged up against them. Now the A66 lies where the Penrith trains used to run, and the track to Kirkland has become a cycle path, decorated here and there with sculptures and signage made from the old girders.

But many people still remember them. And a major exhibition this month is expected to jog the memories of older people and alert younger ones to part of the area’s history they mightn’t be aware of.

Called Waggonways to Whitehaven: West Cumbria on Rails, it is at the Beacon museum throughout May and is a joint enterprise between the museum and two other bodies, West Cumberland Railway Museum and the Derwent Railway Society.

Artefacts on show include metal signage plates, tickets, postcards and other documents and a girder from the staircase at Whitehaven’s old Bransty station.

There are also a model railway, a huge map of the old Whitehaven to Kirkland mineral route and video footage of the Penrith to Whitehaven line while it was still operating.

However Alan Irwin, the Beacon's development manager, believes it could just be a starting point.

"We want to inspire people to get out and explore the old routes and engage with local history first hand,” he explains.

“There is so much more to be discovered beyond this exhibition."

The exhibition runs until Sunday, June 3. And each Saturday afternoon between 1pm and 4pm Peter Rooke of the West Cumberland Railway Museum and Allan Beck of the Derwent Railway Society will be on hand to talk about the history of the local routes and locomotives and answer any questions.

“We have had five-year-olds coming in who are experts in model railways, and 85-year-olds who still remember many of the old routes in operation," Allan says. "There really is something for all the family in this wonderful exhibition.”

Peter adds: “It’s nice to see these artefacts back in the public eye in a museum.

“But I equally wish that they were still in public use on our railways.”

The Beacon is open every day except Monday and is free to enter for Copeland residents who hold a Copeland Pass.

For other admission prices and more details about the exhibition go to or call 01946 592302.