Railways of the North Pennines: The Rise and Fall of the Railways Serving the North Pennine Orefield

Railways of the North Pennines: The Rise and Fall of the Railways Serving the North Pennine Orefield

by Dr Tom Bell


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This illustrated history describes how the two pioneering railways of northern England, the Stockton and Darlington and the Newcastle and Carlisle railways, developed from unsuccessful canal proposals and how they, with the ill-fated Stanhope and Tyne Railway, initiated the development of the railway system that served the North Pennine Orefield. It reveals the public and private railways as well as proposed lines, and the recovery and extensions of the Stockton and Darlington Railway until the North Eastern Railway took over in the early 1900s. Dr. Tom Bell’s impressive research also explores the subsequent slow but continuous decline, as the minerals became exhausted, to the situation today when all that is left are three different tourist lines, one of which is trying to revive the mineral traffic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750960953
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Dr. Tom Bell began his career as a lecturer in Bacteriology, before leading the Imperial Cancer Research Fund African Project in Uganda for six years. He took early retirement in 1986 and has spent his retirement helping to run the South Tynedale Railway, as a director of the Alston Moor Partnership, as a trustee of the Cumbria Council for Voluntary Services, and researching the history of transport in the North Pennines since the early 1700s.

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Railways of the North Pennines

The Rise and Fall of the Railways Serving the North Pennine Ore-field

By Tom Bell

The History Press

Copyright © 2015 Tom Bell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-6350-3



While the most northerly counties of England will always be known as the birthplace of the modern railway system, they also have the less enviable distinction of being the only major area of the British Isles whose natural waterways were neither developed to provide safe, non-tidal, inland trading routes, nor connected by a network of navigable canals. There was no shortage of proposals for river improvements and canals but, for a variety of reasons, very little came of these efforts. All that the innumerable surveys and countless meetings managed to achieve was the construction of a small number of completely separate canals, one in the east and three in the west, together with the improvement of navigation over the tidal stretches of the major rivers in the east. Even much of the latter work did not occur until after the establishment of the basic railway network. It was only the northern extension of the Lancaster Canal to Kendal which came close to being connected to the main English inland waterway network and although the Millennium Fund financed a connection known as the Ribble Link it has no bearing on this history, while the short Carlisle Canal, and the even shorter Ulverston Canal, simply connected the towns of their titles to the sea.

At the time when canal networks were being established further south and in Scotland, the coal owners of north-east England were building primitive waggonways to take the output from their collieries to staithes near the river mouths for onward shipping. These early and distinctly rudimentary railways were not only relatively short, but were used solely by the colliery owners for the carriage of their coal to the river staithes and sometimes, in the reverse direction, to transport materials required in their mines. However, on 19 April 1821 the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) Company was authorised by an Act of Parliament to construct a public railway, which allowed the Company to carry all manner of goods in addition to coal. A second act, granted on 23 May 1823, authorised the railway not only to carry passengers, but also to use steam locomotives. The S&DR is generally recognised as the forerunner of the railway system as we know it today, and the original proposals developed out of one of the early, but unsuccessful, canal schemes. The second of the pioneering public railways in northern England also started life as a waterway scheme, being the only major canal proposal in the northern counties which came anywhere near to fruition. The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (N&CR) was authorised on 22 May 1829 to connect the river Tyne at Newcastle with the canal basin in Carlisle. The line was opened in sections between 1834 and 1839, by which time the S&DR had started its expansion from the Auckland coalfield into the upper valleys of the North Pennines.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, the transport of lead ore from the numerous mines in the North Pennines had attracted the attention of the promoters of the unsuccessful Newcastle and Maryport Canal, and this potentially rich traffic continued to entice the railway builders half a century later. Therefore, it is no surprise to find, in 1845, both the N&CR and the Wear Valley Railway (WVR), which was a subsidiary of the S&DR, seeking parliamentary approval for a railway to serve the mines of Allendale and Alston Moor. In the end, it was the Newcastle Company which obtained its Act of Parliament for a line to Alston Moor on 26 August 1846, while three years later a second act was granted, on 13 July 1849, allowing the company to make major alterations to the route. In 1871, nineteen years after the railway finally reached Alston, the Cumberland and Cleveland Junction Railway (C&CJR) Company was promoted to build a line from Alston to the northern terminus of the Tees Valley Railway (TVR) at Middleton-in-Teesdale. Despite further major efforts a decade later, this railway also failed to materialise. Several further attempts to revive the westward extension of the WVR, which would have continued the iron road from the valley of the river Wear through the Pennines to Alston Moor, also failed.

If all the railways surveyed between 1845 and 1871, and for which plans were deposited with the local Justices of the Peace, had actually been built, Alston would have become the focal point of a group of lines serving the entire North Pennine ore-field. Railways would have radiated from Alston in almost every direction as shown on the enclosed maps (Figure 1).

First, a line would have run northwards for 8 miles to Lambley where it would have divided. One branch would have continued down the South Tyne Valley to join the N&CR at Haltwhistle. Another would have turned west and joined the same railway near Brampton, in the valley of the River Irthing, with the Eden Valley and Carlisle close to hand. A second line would have run eastwards, passing through the mining community of Nenthead before tunnelling under Killhope Fell into Weardale, where two branches were to leave before it made an end-on junction with the Wear Valley section of the S&DR. The first branch would have crossed the mountain divide into Allendale where it would later have been joined by the Hexham and Allendale Railway (H&AR), while the second was to connect with the former Stanhope and Tyne section of the S&DR. The third major line would have run southwards over the watershed dividing South Tynedale from Teesdale to connect Alston with the Middleton-in-Teesdale Railway. Further east, a line was proposed to connect Newcastle with the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, making the connected route into a main line from Merseyside to Newcastle.

The promoters of these unsuccessful canal and railway schemes have left behind a mountain of plans, letters, reports and other papers, the very earliest of which show how little was known of the topography of the more remote parts of Great Britain only a little over 200 years ago, and how the pioneering canal and railway engineers sought to overcome their difficulties. Not only do these documents allow one to visualise the railway network that was originally planned but they also shed considerable light on the economics and local politics of the area.

This history is not intended to be a fully comprehensive account of all the railways of the North Pennines, but mainly to demonstrate the network of railways that could have developed to connect Alston Moor with the neighbouring centres of commerce and industry. In order to place the unsuccessful lines in context, it is necessary to describe those that were actually built, together with the relationship between them and the routes which failed to materialise, even some which would have come nowhere near Alston Moor, including those well to the south of the area normally known as the North Pennines, and the line that would have given the London and North Western Railway direct access to Newcastle.

The original railway plans were prepared in great detail, making it relatively easy to follow the proposed routes on modern maps, thereby showing their relationships to the road and river systems. The original plans were prepared by different surveyors using a variety of scales, and the overall map which has been prepared for this work has been drawn from these surveys. The railways shown on this map include all those for which detailed plans have been found, including all those which were actually built. In addition to the routes to be followed, these plans also give details of the expected gradients, the sizes and positions of cuttings and embankments, the heights and lengths of any viaducts and the more important bridges, including road crossings and, in some cases, the proposed sites for stations. No scales are shown on any of the maps reproduced from original plans as the size of each illustration has been determined by a combination of the space available and what is intended to be illustrated. However, on most of the original plans the distance is marked on the surveyed line of each railway in miles and furlongs, usually as a for miles and a bar + across the line of the route for furlongs.

All the heights, widths and distances on the original plans are given in the Imperial units of inches, feet, yards, chains, furlongs and miles. After careful consideration, it has been decided to give all the figures in the Imperial units used throughout the nineteenth century, but with the metric equivalents following in brackets. The relationship of the Imperial units with each other, and with their metric equivalents, is given in Appendix A. In general, place names have been given their current spelling throughout this work.

Most of the documents referred to are to be found in the local record offices and libraries, and fall into a range of different categories. For this work the most important are the plans which were deposited, mainly between 1844 and 1871, with the local Justices of the Peace in compliance with parliamentary procedures. The majority have been preserved in excellent order and are available for study in the record offices of Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear. Plans for the earlier canal schemes are rather fewer in number, but this lack is more than made up for by the wealth of reports prepared by the various engineers commissioned by the different promoters. These can also be found scattered throughout the record offices and libraries in northern England, but the most important are the bound collections in the library of the Literary & Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Central Library of the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The record offices also house collections of personal papers, and those in the Cumbria Record Office in Carlisle and the Durham Record Office have provided extensive information. Finally, there is a wealth of information in the pages of the contemporary newspapers, collections of which are to be found in both the libraries and record offices, as well as in the newspaper offices themselves.

As this account is intended to be read by anyone who has an interest in the subject, the authors and titles of the various pamphlets, letters, etc., have not been included in the main body of the text, apart from the names of those who actually carried out the surveys, or who played a major role in the individual projects. Actual quotations from these documents are indicated by quotation marks, while small superscript numbers indicate the references, details of which are given in a separate section at the end of the text. Most of the acts of Parliament referred to have been studied in detail, while the location of the copies quoted are given in the reference list. The modern photographs have been taken to indicate where some of the more interesting features of the unbuilt railways would have occurred, and to attempt to show the scale of the works that would have been required to carry the iron road through the highest parts of the North Pennines, as well as representative views of the remains of the lines actually built. Appendix B gives the names and commonly used abbreviations of all the railways mentioned in this history. For those who wish to trace the courses of the proposed, or abandoned, railways on the ground, this history should be used in conjunction with modern large-scale Ordnance Survey maps. Although it is possible to follow the routes on the 1:50,000 Landranger Series, the 1:25,000 Explorer and Outdoor Leisure Series provide a much clearer picture of the land through which the lines were planned to pass.

At the time of writing, 2013, the following are the relevant numbers of the 1:25,000 series required to follow each of the proposed railways:

• Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, Nenthead branch of 1845 and Alston branch of 1849 – Explorer OL31 and OL43.

• Newcastle & Carlisle Railway, Allenheads branch proposals – Explorer OL31 and OL43.

• Bishop Auckland and Weardale, and Wear Valley railways – Explorer 305.

• Wear Valley Extension Railway of 1845, main line – Explorer OL31 and OL43.

• Wear Valley Extension Railway of 1845, Allendale branch – Explorer OL31 and OL43.

• Wear and Derwent Junction, and Weardale Iron Company railways – Explorer 305 and 307.

• Hexham and Allendale Railway – Explorer OL43.

• Darlington and Barnard Castle, and South Durham and Lancashire Union railways – Explorer 304.

• Cumberland and Cleveland Junction Railway – Explorer OL31 and OL43.

• Wear Valley Extension Railway of 1892 – Explorer OL31.



In the second half of the eighteenth century, proposals were put forward for two canals which would have tapped the North Pennines ore-field and, although neither was built, both eventually resulted in the construction of the railways which became the main players in the provision of transport in the area. The first ideas for a canal which would have reached the edge of the North Pennines were discussed in Darlington during October 1767 and a firm proposal was made at a meeting held on 9 November 1767. At a further meeting, held at the Post House in Darlington on 1 December 1767, a committee was set up to carry the proposal forward. James Brindley was asked to provide a surveyor to investigate a suitable line for a canal to extend the navigation of the river Tees. On 19 September 1768 Robert Whitworth was sent to survey the area towards the inland coalfield and by 24 October 1768 he had completed his survey for a canal just under 27 miles in length, starting at the river Tees in Stockton and rising 328ft (100m) to terminate beside the turnpike road near Winston, a point which was within easy access of the coalfield (p. 22). The cost of constructing the canal and three short branches was estimated at £63,722 by James Brindley and Robert Whitworth, who reported back to the committee on 19 July 1769, but nothing further was done at the time.

The idea of a canal from Winston to Stockton was revived in the 1790s, but this time with two branches, one running northwards to join the proposed Durham Canal and the second running south from Croft Bridge on the river Tees to Boroughbridge on the river Ure. Ralph Dodd painted a bright picture for this canal in a report in 1796. Again nothing came of these proposals, but in 1808 an act was obtained to improve the navigation of the river Tees between Stockton and the sea, including the cutting of a canal through a neck of land near Portrack. The improvements were completed in 1810 and at a dinner to celebrate the opening of the 'New Cut' in Stockton on 18 September 1810 a committee was formed to 'inquire into the practicability and advantage of a railway or canal from Stockton, by Darlington and Winston'. Further canal proposals were made after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and in 1818 plans were produced and a bill presented to Parliament for a canal running from Stockton to Fighting Cocks with a railway continuing to the coalfield. The bill failed and later in 1818 George Overton was asked to make a survey for a railway. On 13 November 1818, a meeting was held in Darlington Town Hall which decided in favour of a railway, and thus the Stockton and Darlington Railway was born.

By the last decade of the eighteenth century, greater quantities of lead were being extracted from the North Pennine ore-field than from any other region in the world, and the town of Alston had become firmly established as the commercial centre of the most important of the mining areas. It was at this time that a group of citizens of Newcastle-upon-Tyne invited Ralph Dodd 'to make superficially a survey' to determine whether it would be practical to build a canal between 'the East and the West Sea'.

Although Dodd had just completed a survey for the River Wear Commissioners, and the contemporary North of England press was fulsome with its praise, his experience and abilities as a canal engineer were exceedingly limited. At public meetings held in Newcastle on 1 November and 15 November 1794, Dodd indicated that his superficial survey had shown that a canal through Hexham and Carlisle was practical, and he was then asked to make a detailed survey of the route and its probable cost. In addition to the main line, Dodd suggested that several branches would be beneficial, giving as an example 'one that would go nearly to Alston Moor' to accommodate the lead traffic.

At a meeting held in Carlisle on 29 November 1794 to recruit subscribers in Cumberland to the survey for the canal, Dodd's appointment as engineer was confirmed, yet on 27 December the Northumberland Committee decided to request William Chapman, a much more experienced canal engineer, 'to report on the measures to be attended to in the Survey of a line of Navigation, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the Irish Channel'. Exactly a week later the Cumberland Committee not only confirmed Chapman's appointment but also the request of the Northumberland Committee that both he and Dodd deliver their reports to a joint meeting of the Northumberland and Cumberland Committees to be held at Hexham on 12 January. Only Chapman delivered his report, and the meeting authorised its publication and asked two other experienced canal engineers, Messrs Jessop and Whitworth, to join with Chapman 'to examine and report their opinion of the best line for a navigation from the River Tyne to the Irish Channel by Hexham and Carlisle ...'. In the event, Jessop and Whitworth left Chapman to carry out the actual survey on his own, making their comments later in the light of his detailed report.


Excerpted from Railways of the North Pennines by Tom Bell. Copyright © 2015 Tom Bell. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

Foreword Andrew Scott CBE 6

Preface 7

1 Introduction 11

2 Canal Proposals, Roads and the Early Railways 21

3 The Railway Mania in the North Pennines 43

4 The Main Line of the Proposed Wear Valley Extension Railway of 1845 63

5 The 1845 Proposals for the Allen Valley 76

6 The Alston Branch of the N&CR 85

7 Amalgamation and Financial Restructuring Within the Stockton and Darlington Group of Railways 118

8 Improvements to the Wear and Derwent Junction Railway 131

9 Rookhope, Stanhope and Westgate 152

10 The Hexham and Allendale Railway 165

11 Barnard Castle and the Tees Valley Railway 182

12 The Cumberland and Cleveland Junction Railway 198

13 The Final Attempts to Reach Alston from the Valleys of the Tees and Wear Including the Wear Valley Extension Railway of 1892 215

14 The Long Decline 234

15 The Tourist Railways 244

Appendix A Relationship of Metric to Imperial Units 250

Appendix B Railway Companies 251

References 253

Index 280

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