Supporters of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway have hit back at rival claims that another town was the inspiration for the classic tale The Railway Children.

Since a film of the novel was made in the town more than 30 years ago, Keighley has enjoyed a healthy tourist trade derived from the film.

The new pretender is a previously little heard of Derbyshire town called New Mills, which is holding an exhibition based around the novel next month.

Its librarian, Barbara Matthews, says that following research the town has a good claim to be the inspiration for the home of the story.

She said: "We did find that Edith Nesbit stayed in this area and knew it quite well.

"And there's a cottage called Three Chimneys, where the children stay, a few miles away, which overlooks New Mills - you could see where you could get the idea from. Also there's a canal and several viaducts along the village."

She said the research had started as the result of an approach from the Nesbit Society, based in London, whose members were having a debate about the novel's origins.

Its chairman Nicholas Reed will give a public lecture on May 19 there and throughout May the library is holding an exhibition.

But ex-chairman of the K&WVR, Graham Mitchell, says: "The Railway Children are alive and well and living in Worth Valley. It is all very interesting but irrelevant."

He said what mattered was not the novel's origins but its subsequent cinematic history. What people wanted to see was the filming location of the famous 1970 film.

He said: "There is a far greater attraction in going to see the location. They want to see The Three Chimneys, the locomotives and carriages.

"I don't know what evidence they have got for it - there is no specific location in the book.

"Yorkshire is where the poor people live. You would never have met a certain man who would say 'I dare say' or someone who came in and did the cleaning and the apple pies as we did."

Keighley MP Ann Cryer, who appeared in the film as an extra and whose late husband was a technical advisor, said: "When the film was made in 1970 there were not that many choices and it was an ideal location.

"I wouldn't want to dispute what the New Mill people are saying but the book does not specify anywhere in particular."

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