Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Cavan and Leitrim Railway – A Short History, and a look at Dromod Station

The May 1951 edition of The Railway Magazine carried two articles about narrow gauge railways in the Republic of Ireland. This is the second. The Cavan & Leitrim Railway was a 3ft (914 mm) narrow gauge in the counties of Leitrim and Cavan in the northwest of Ireland. It ran from 1887 through until 1959. It survived as a result of carrying coal from the mine at Arigna. [3]

The line was built primarily to draw that coal out of the mountain in Arigna, as previously only horses and carts were available for this job. Thanks to the Cavan and Leitrim Railway, coal from Arigna was brought to homes and businesses all around Ireland, and especially during the war years, it was a vital means of ensuring that Irish homes were able to get fuel. [9]

It outlived most of the other Irish narrow-gauge lines, giving a further lease of life to some of their redundant engines. [3] In fact, it was the only one of the Irish Narrow Gauge lines to be powered by steam throughout its working life. [9]

Originally the Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon Light Railway and Tramway Co. registered on 3rd February 1883. The first section from Dromod to Belturbet (34 miles) opened on 17th October 1887. The branch from Ballinamore to Arigna was opened on 2nd May 1888 and was often referred to as ‘the tramway’. The Company became the Cavan and Leitrim in 1895. There were 48.5 route miles in 1911. In 1920 it was extended to serve coalmines at Arigna. It was closed on 31st March 1959, the second to last narrow gauge system to go, the last being the West Clare Railway. A section of the line was reopened in 1994. [10]

Patrick Flanagan introduces us to the country through which ths 3ft gauge line was to pass: “Leitrim stretches from the River Shannon at Rooskey to the Atlantic Ocean at Tullaghan on the borders of Donegal. The population of its 600 square miles has de-creased ten per cent in as many years to a record low of 28,000  (in 1966). Lough Allen, the northern-most lake on the Shannon, effectively halves the county, and North Leitrim is both physically and psychologically different from South Leitrim. While barren tracts of mountain are the predominant features north of the lake, the land to the south is marshy and dotted with small lakes. Above all, Leitrim is known as the county of ‘little lakes and little hills’. The area has never been industrially developed and thus the population is scattered about in small agricultural communities. A ‘town’ in Leitrim may well have only 250 inhabitants; the capital, Carrick-on-Shannon, although formerly a Royal Borough, has just over a thousand people. The remaining important towns, Drumshanbo, Ballinamore and Mohill, are all much smaller than Carrick. They are in South Leitrim and there is only one town of any size north of Lough Allen, Manorhamilton.” [1]

One of the most significant things which happened in Irish history commenced in the time of James I, and particularly contined during the regime of Cromwell. During this time, Ireland was systematically ‘planted’. “The area about Leitrim was not excluded and the native tenants found themselves dispossessed by incoming ‘landlords’ of British or Continental origin. Virtually all the land was divided into estates, the best forming the new ‘owners’ demesnes and the rest, often of unspeakably poor quality, being occupied by the native Irish who remained as tenants at will, or for some fixed period.” [1]

In Leitrim (as in west Cavan and north Roscommon) the maiority of the peasant land holdings were under ten and often as low as three acres. The fragmentation was due to sub-letting among, in all probability, the membersof a family. Every inch of land was utilized to the full in order to provide the ever-increasing rents demanded by many of the unreasonable landlords. [1]

In the 1870s the harvests were poor and it is abundantly clearthat the vast majorityof people had no interest in a railway. Their subsistence lifestyles would not have had enough surplus to warrant paying for a train ticket even to the local market.

Time to think about railways was “the prerogative of the landed gentry. It is difficult to assess the reasons for the birth of the idea of a railway. Were the landlords belatedly thinking of the common good or was profit the reason? Although in after-years various treasons for building a railway were advanced, in 1883 the primary one was the existence of the mineral deposits around Lough Allen. Just to the west, in Roscommon, were the coal seams at Arigna, which had been sporadically worked for over a century. On the eastern side of the lake, north of Drumshanbo, was the fabled Slieve an Ierin — the Mountain of Iron. Although very largely unworked, tradition held that the great deposits had been worked in prehistoric times by the mythical smith, Goibniu.” [1]

“This was the ‘chosen land’. Largely undeveloped, it got its first peripheral railway communication in 1862 with the opening of the Longford—Sligo line, followed in 1885 by the construction of the branch line westwards to Belturbet. Now it was hoped that the vast central area would have a railway of its own and that the innumerable hills would echo the sounds of heavy livestock and mineral trains.” [1]

“The earliest form of public transport in Leitrim (apart from the mail coaches) was the canal. In 1817, the Lough Allen Canal had opened joining the vast expanse of the lake to the Shannon Navigation, but after a period of moderate traffic it fell out of use and by the 1850s was choked with weeds. In 1846 construction of the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal began and hopes were high for the improvement of trade in central Leitrim. The final stages of construction were completed in 1859 and the canal opened the following year. Only eight boats are said to have used it and after 1868 it steadily decayed, never carrying further traffic. Meanwhile, the fortunes of the Lough Allen Canal had revived considerably and by 1870 at least two steamboats were in use carrying clay from Spencer Harbour, near Drumkeeran.” [1]

It was 1872 when a railway was first suggested by Leitrim Grand Jury. They wanted a line constructed by the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) to Mohill and Ballinamore. The MGWR was just not interested. Then in 1880 a similar tramway was proposed between Dromod and Mohill. That proposal failed to gain traction. The MGWR, in 1882, proposed a line to Ballinamore by Mohill and Fenagh. That failed through lack of landowner support.

Landowners found the MGWR difficult to deal with and so they organised Chen selves. A final tentative approach was made to the MGWR “asking for assistance towards the preliminary expenses and stating that, in the event of a broad-gauge line being built, substantial financing would be expected.” [2] The MGWR refused to cooperate and the local people decided to press on alone. Lord Kingston took the chair at a public meeting in Ballinamore on 14th September 1883. Definite progress was made and it was resolved: 

That a 3ft-gauge “Light Railway to connect Belturbet, Ballyconnell, Ballinamore, Mohill and Dromod with a steam Tramway upon the road from Ballinamore to Drumshanbo and Boyle, will meet the present requirements of this district and will open up the coal and iron districts of Arigna and Lough Allen. That inasmuch as a considerable outlay will be required for the preliminary expenses, a guarantee fund be formed, those subscribing to have 4.5% guaranteed shares of £10 each in the Company for the amount subscribed, and that a subscription list to same be opened.” [2]

A new company was registered on 3rd December 1883 with a capital of £300,000 in £5 sharesshares. The Cavan, Leitrim & Roscommon Light Railway (the C&L) intended to build 5 lines:

A. From Belturbetin Straheglin to Bellaheady Bridge in Crossmakelagher

B. From Bellaheady Bridge to Tully in Ballinamore.

C. From Tully to the Dromod Station of the MGWR.

D. From Tully to the Arigna Iron Works in the townland of Bodorragha in Co. Roscommon.

E. From the Arigna Iron Works to the Boyle Station of the MGWR.

The company was incorporated under the Tramways & Public Companies (Ireland) Act, 1883, and the promoters were thus relying heavily on financial guarantees from the ratepayers (see below). To whip. up enthusiasm for the project, the pro-visional committee issued a ‘Statement’ (the ‘Pamphlet’, as it was later called) in support of the C & L.

On the basis that the working expenses of the line were likely to be 50% of gross receipts, it was reckoned that the guaranteeing ratepayers of Cavan would have to pay 1.5d -2.5d in the £1, with half this burden on Leitrim and none on Roscommon. It was proposed to ask the Grand Juries concerned for a guarantee on £251,000, the capital of the lines concerned. [2]

The pamphlet included significant details of 8ron Ore flows from various parts of Britain as well as from Arigna. It was hoped that No 5 line would carry ‘a large amount of calcined iron-ore’ to Boyle for shipment to Sligo. “As further window-dressing, long lists of subscribers to the preliminary expenses of the company were appended. However, it seems that the promoters were still none too sure of their ‘customers’ and that, at some stage the ratepayers were asked to sign a preliminary guarantee. Many did so, but it was later claimed that quite a few names were forged.” [2]

Plans were lodged with the various Grand Juries and a baronial guarantee was sought at the 1884 Spring Assizes. The three Grand Juries provided the necessary presentments for a guarantee and the Sligo Grand Jury also approved the scheme for the marginal incursion into its territory. However, a year later the Roscommon Jury changed its mind. This resulted in the abandonment of the line from the Arigna Iron Works to the Boyle Station.

The final capital share issue was for £190,585. Of the amount, “£102,000 was subscribed by the Tramways Capital Guarantee Company and as difficulties were experienced in raising the rest of the money, a loan of about £67,000 on the security of the baronially-guaranteed shares was obtained from the Public Works Loan Commissioners in 1886; this money was repaid when the shares were ‘placed’. In 1886, Leitrim Grand Jury urged the speedy completion of the line to relieve ratepayers who were bearing the guarantee, but the C & L, whose organization was good, was already doing its best, though it could not bargain for unheralded difficulties.” [5]

Difficulties occurred throughout the works. “Work on the foundations of the line began in the autumn of 1885 and labour gangs were employed at Belturbet, and also at Dromod, and at the headquarters site, Ballinamore. By April 1886, some bridges were complete at the Belturbet end and a portion of the ground was ready for rails. No such progress was reported at the Dromod end, although some rails were laid in May.” [6]

However, by June, two miles of track were ready and an engine was in use, and by August rails had been laid almost the whole way from Mohill to Dromod. “Altogether, three contractors’ engines were in use on the line, Express, Victor and Deer Hill. The first two belonged to Collens and their origins are unknown. Indeed the only certain thing about them [was] their bad condition; Express, in particular, was for ever in trouble and Collens were forced to use C & L engines, the hiring continuing for some time into 1888. The third engine, Deer Hill, belonged to Lowrys and had an interesting history. It was one of the earliest three-foot-gauge engines, having been turned out by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds in 1871 (maker’s number 71). It was first used on construction of the Deer Hill Reservoir for Huddersfield Corporation. Later, it was sold to S. Pearson & Sons, and no more is known of its history up to its arrival on the C & L, or of its subsequent fate. The known dimensions of the engine were: cylinders 8 ins x 14 ins; driving wheels 2 ft 9 ins diameter. The fate of Collens’ engines is also uncertain, al-though it is likely that one (probably Express) remained in Ballinamore until 1902, when it was scrapped.” [6]

“By September 1886 the ballast engine was able to reach Mohill town, completion of the line to there having been de-layed by difficulty in getting a foundation for a bridge at Drumard; it was necessary to go down thirty feet into the bog. On the Belturbet side of the line, the stone cuttings were re-ported finished in August, and shortly afterwards the embankments were nearly ready and rail-laying was continuing.” [6]

In October there were problems with significant subsidence on the Belturbet line at Tomassen Lake which took time to rectify and required a realignment of the route. If the problems with construction were relatively limited others were less so. Various objectors sought to delay progress; MGWR resistance intensified as they refused to create a transshipment siding at Dromod, threatened to inaugurate a competitive cart service in the area of the C & L, at every opportunity they demonstrated the churlish attitude for which they were well-known; labour difficulties occurred regularly; litigation over a major accident caused by the reckless driving of one of the contractors’ engines. [7]

Work was almost complete by the beginning of July 1887. It’s first recorded train was an early morning run from Belturbet to Ballinamore on 26th July with representatives from different contractors. The group held a meeting at Ballinamore. [8]

On 17th October 1887 the line was opened for goods traffic and on 24th October 1887 it opened for passenger traffic. Sadly the inaugural service was much delayed by an engine failure and a slow response from a relief locomotive.Patrick Flanagan’s hand-drawn map of the Cavan & Leitrim network. [4]

Throughout the life of the C & L, it was Arigna coal which provided its major source of income and it was the building of the power station in Arigna in 1958 which sounded the death knell for the Cavan and Leitrim Railway since coal would no longer be brought out from Arigna, the power station needing all the coal the mountain could provide.

Locals were devastated at the loss of their railway whose familiar sight and sound had become synonymous with the landscape from Belturbet all the way across to Arigna. [9]

We start our survey of the line at Dromod. Patrick Flanagan notes that,”Although the official C&L direction was ‘down’ from Belturnet to Dromod, even the oldest employees regarded the line to Belturbet as the ‘down road’.” [11] So it makes sense for to follow that convention just as Flanagan chose to do in writing his book.

Dromod railway station serves the village of Dromod in County Leitrim and nearby Roosky in County Roscommon. It is a station on the Dublin Connolly to Sligo intercity service. The station is shared with the short preserved section of the Cavan and Leitrim Railway. [12] The station opened on 3 December 1862 and remains in operation, despite closing for goods services on 3 November 1975. Dromod was also the terminus of the narrow gauge Cavan and Leitrim Railway. It opened on 24 October 1887 and finally closed on 1 April 1959. A short section of narrow gauge line has been reopened at the station as part of preservation efforts. [12]The Cavan &Leitrim station building in 1959. [12]And again but from the forecourt. [21]

Dromod Main Line Station in 1993, © Ben Brookabank. [13]The Cavan & Leitrim station building, taken in 2007, © Sarah777. [14]The same building from what was rail-side, taken in 2010, © John M. [15]Another photograph of the main line station. [16]

A Cavan & Leitrim Railway museum was established in 1993, and is run entirely by volunteers. The museum is located beside the Irish Rail station in Dromod on the grounds of the old Cavan and Leitrim Railway yard. Contact details are: [29]

                    The Cavan & Leitrim Railway, Station Road, Dromod, Leitrim, Ireland

                    Email:          Tel: 00353-71-9638599

Today 0.4 kilometres of narrow gauge line has been restored and remains preserved after its closure in 1959. Following the closure, all that remained in Dromod was the Station House, the engine shed and water tower. Today they have been restored and are been preserved. One of the original locos (No. 2) and one of the original carriages are preserved and on display at the Ulster Folk Park and Transport Museum, Cultra and No. 3 “Lady Edith” is in the United States at the New Jersey Museum of Transportation. The museum has recently been working to restore ‘Nancy’ to steam. Nancy is their second steam engine. The first is ‘Dromad’, a Kerr Stewart 0-4-2ST.‘Dromad’ at Dromod. [17]

Nancy is now back at the railway after refurbishment. Follow one of these links:

There are moves afoot to extend the preservation line to Mohill. [17]

Before setting off on an armchair journey away from Dromod we look at a few images taken prior to the closure of the narrow gauge line.This loco is ex-CB&PR Loco No.12, shown by the water tank at Dromod in 1959, © Roger Joanes. [18] Two more Roger Joanes photos (above) both very atmospheric. The first was taken 18 months after closure of the line. The second was taken some months earlier. The second image is helpful in that it shows, on the right, the proximity of the two station buildings at Dromod. [18] The image immediately above was taken a Dromod in 1955. [20] The picture below shows Dromod sidings in 1959. [22] Those which follow were all taken in 1959. [23][24][25]The National Library of Ireland holds the O’Dea Photograph Collection which has a lot of pictures of the C&L. These next few pictures come from that collection. [26]Train from Ballinamore arrives at Dromod. [26]Shunting the yard at Dromod. [26]Two views of the yard at Dromod. [26]The transhipment sidings at Dromod. [26]Turning the engine at Dromod. [26]The engine shed, water tank and turntable at Dromod. [26]

Patrick Flanagan introduces us to the station: The station was reached a”the yard from the main-line station it consisted of a solid, red-brick, two-storey house on single down-side platform. In common with the other main C&L buildings, it bore a marked resemblance to those on the Clogher Valley line. There were agent’s quarters, waiting-rooms and offices; and, from 1903 to 1917 (while James Agnew was stationmaster) a refreshment-room. In 1923, Michael Wislev reopened the room, renting it from the C&L. He provided varied reading matter in addition to refreshments and maintained the service till the Amalgamation. At the latter time, too, all booking facilities were transferred to the MGWR building and all Dromod was under the care of one station-master.” [27]

“The station had a 24-foot turntable, near which was the small shed holding one engine. … Near the shed was the 4,750-gallon water tank, mounted on a high solid-stone base. … Near the tank was the carriage shed road, which lasted until the end although the shed itself was removed thirty years earlier. The shed was 100 ft long by 12 ft high by 10 ft wide, with timber sides and a corrugated-iron roof; it was built by Rogers of Belfast. Both the engine and carriage roads were off the run-round loop which terminated in a carriage dock (installed 1890) opposite the station buildings. A second loop served the goods store which was built by the C&L as the MGWR would not cooperate, as had been hoped, by allowing the C&L to use its store.” [28]The station plan drawn by Flanagan. [28]

We are now ready to set off to follow the old railway’s route out of Dromod. The old OS Map shows the main line running from top to bottom with the C&L curving away to the East. [19]

But we will leave following the line to the next post in this series.









  1. Patrick J. Flanagan; The Cavan & Leitrim Railway; Pan Books, London, 1972, p1-3.
  2. Ibid., p5-7
  3., accessed on 31st March 2019.
  4. Patrick J. Flanagan; op. cit., p4.
  5. Ibid., p9.
  6. Ibid., p10.
  7. Ibid., p11-13.
  8. Ibid., p13-15.
  9., accessed on 24th April 2019.
  10., accessed on 24th April 2019.
  11. Patrick J. Flanagan; op. cit., p124.
  12., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  13., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  14., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  15., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  16., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  17., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  18., accessed on 1st May 2019.
  19. The Irish OSM Community Map;, accessed on 9th May 2019.
  20., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  21., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  22., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  23., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  24., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  25., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  26.”Leitrim+(County)”, accessed on 9th May 2019.
  27. Patrick J. Flanagan, op. cit., p124.
  28. Ibid., p124-125.
  29., accessed on 19th May 2019, and, accessed on 20th May 2019.

The West Clare Railway – Part 6 – Moyasta to Kilkee

The Line of the West Clare Railway from Moyasta to Kilkee

Moyasta was a junction station. The two lines which left to the south and to the west served Kilrush and Kilkee respectively. The two routes feature on the adjacent map. We will focus first on the line to Kilkee on the Atlantic coast.Before we set off, we note two things about the station. First, the presence, in the 21st century, of a preservation line based at the station; and second, the layout of the junction at Moyasta. Although a direct line was provided to allow trains to travel between Kilkee and Kilrush. In practice it was little used in later years as trains tended to enter Moyasta station from either of the two villages and the set off from the station for the other village. This required some manoeuvrings in the station area!

However, when the pier was in use at Cappagh, “the Loop … was extremely useful for allowing a direct passage to through traffic, especially from Cappagh to Kilkee.” [7]

We will spend a little time looking at the preservation line and then we will allow our two guides, Edmund Lenihan and Patrick Taylor to take us out of the station and its environs and on to Kilkee. The journey will start by looking at the loop line.

The West Clare Railway [3]

It was not until the mid 1990’s that a local committee attempted to revive this treasured historical railway.

Jackie Whelan became involved when a committee for the Restoration of the West Clare Railway was created in the mid 1990’s. He initially carried out all the preparatory works for the tracks of this railway line, including all excavation works, track laying & fencing on a voluntary basis for this committee.

One objective of the committee was to include the “Slieve Callan” steam engine as part of the proposed West Clare Railway restoration project. At that time this steam engine lay dormant and on display at Ennis Railway Station. This project presented an excellent opportunity to preserve and restore this unique locomotive.

A proposal was made to C.I.E. to remove the engine from its plinth in Ennis. For any proposal to be considered it required proving a commitment to the West Clare Railway restoration, and this was obvious by the substantial preparatory work carried out in Moyasta. An agreement for the removal of the “Slieve Callan” steam engine from Ennis to Moyasta was granted to the West Clare Railway company, amid much consternation in Ennis at the time.

Unsurprisingly, the agreement had conditions, including that the engine be substantially improved or rebuilt within 3 years. This would require enormous funding. At this stage the committee involvement ceased. Jackie then became directly responsible for carrying forward and persevering with raising funds to continually update and improve this unique venture to bring to where it is today.

In 2009 the “Slieve Callan” returned, rebuilt and running smoothly, to Moyasta Junction. It now provides visitors and enthusiasts alike with a look into, and experience of, the fascinating railway history of Ireland, and is a fitting tribute to our heritage and to the hard work and efforts of all involved in bringing a steam locomotive back to Moyasta.

Just a few pictures to whet the appetite for more. The first few come from the West Clare Railway website. [3]

The Loop Line

Moyasta has been referred to as, “this railway ‘republic’, this ‘island state of the narrow-. gauge'” [5] Lenihan sought an opportunity, first, to look at the avoiding loop and headed from the station down a littlel laneway towards  the shore. “Almost at once we came to another lane at right angles to it, where stands the last of a row of twelve thatched houses that can be seen in many of the old photographs and which have vanished within the past thirty years. A sign of changing times and improvements in housing, perhaps, but also an indication of the decline in population Moyasta has suffered through the ruin first of its turf trade and finally of the railway. Beyond this lane is the only level crossing on the Loop, called in the railway manuals Moyasta no. 3. The cottage is still in use, but the little platform, on the up side, where so many thousands of Kilkee-bound passengers entrained, looks neglected and forgotten.” [2] The small platform close to Moyasta No. 3 Crossing which is mentioned by Lenihan above. [1]

A sizeable triangular-shaped inlet of the Shannon, 2 miles long by 1.5 wide, it is bounded by Moyasta on the east, Blackweir on the west and Cammoge Point to the south. “Looked at on the 6-inch map, all its shores appear to be bounded by railway, but that appearing on the southern shore is merely the trace of the ill-fated 1860s line on which rails were never laid, though they had actually arrived by ship at Kilrush for the purpose. There are extensive mudfiats at the western end, near Blackweir, and the area is rich in wading and marsh birds. But the one thing noticeably absent is boat traffic on any part of the bay. This is a modern ‘development’, for in the nineteenth century this was one of the main points on the lower Shannon for the shipping of turf upriver, especially to Limerick. [6] It was from this trade that Moyasta first gained prominence. Some of the channels used by the turf boats still exist in Carrowncalla, on the eastern shore of the bay, and extend as far north as the Loop at Moyasta Junction; others have been filled in.” [4]

Lenihan found walking along the loop line in the late 1980s impractical however as soon as they reached the main line, there “was no further difficulty. The way is clear right to Moyasta river bridge — the ‘Red Bridge’ — and beyond. From the long stone-faced embankment leading to the bridge, a fine view of the bay may be had, particularly on a clear day. The metal deck and stone abutments are in good condition, though some large pieces of masonty have been thrown into the water. Not so fortunate has been the stonework of the embankment on the side facing south into the bay. A storm seems to have torn out a section of the limestone blocks, exposing the earthwork near the bridge and causing some subsidence of the top surface.” [7]

Within the Loop, around one hundred yards from the junction with the Kilrush branch Lenihan “noted traces of a second, parallel, line immediately to [the] left. Here also lay a mound of solidified tar, the sole remnant of the sleeper-tarring plant that was once sited here. In all, the Loop is approximately 600 yards in length and was extremely useful for allowing a direct passage to through traffic, especially from Cappagh to Kilkee. A glance at a map will show what a cumbersome operation this might otherwise have been. However, with the decline of steamer traffic on the Shannon after the turn of the century and the consequent eclipse of Cappagh, there was less occasion to use the Loop, and by the last years of the railway it — together with the Kilrush—Cappagh extension — had become redundant.” [7] The siding refered to by Lenihan is not shown on the sketch plan below.

There were four road-crossings at Moyasta, all within a radius of 200 yards of the station-house. By the late 1980s, Lenihan observed that, “as at most other such places, there was nothing, for at Moyasta, just as at Knockdrumniagh, near Ennistymon, road widening has changed utterly the lie of the land.” [7] The plan is taken from Patrick Taylor’s book. [8] 

The presence of the preservation railway means that the locations of these crossings are easier to define in the early 21st century.Moyasta No. 1 Crossing (above).

The adjacent image is taken at Moyasta No. 2 Crossing looking back towards No. 1.

The picture below is also taken  at the No. 2 Crossing looking towards Kilrush. The Shannon estuary can be seen in the distance.Moyasta No. 4 Crossing was on the arm of the railway heading for Kilkee. The preservation railway has installed gates cat tyev approximate location of the crossing in the past. This image shows can view back up the Killee arm of the junction to the station house.Looking towards Kilkee in the 21st century.Moyasta junction with the Kilkee/Kilrush loop on the left. The railcar has left Moyasta Station which is of the extreme right of the picture with a service to Kilrush. As we have already noted, there were few non-stop workings between Kilrush and Kilkee. Trains from one or other village used to enter the relevant platform at Myasta and then propel backwards before using the loop to head on to the other village.

The Line to Kilkee

The most significant structure on the line to Kilkee is the ‘Red Bridge’. Its location was chosen in 1884 because the engineer, Mr. Barrington, was convinced that the foundations would be firm. [10][11] “The understanding at that time was that W.M. Murphy would build the 81/2 miles of line from Kilrush to Kilkee for £40,000 and of that sum £1,800 was to be allocated to Moyasta Bridge. Even today, it seems a ludicrously small sum for such a fine piece of work.” [12]The line of the old railway from Moyasta across the ‘Red Bridge’ is shown in blue. The route of the line to Kilkee will be shown in blue rather than red as I have found a site which shows the route superimposed onto Google Satellite images. [13]A sketch of the ‘Red Bridge’, © M. Lenihan. [14] The bridge appears to have been pictured clear of the estuary water. The image below gives a much different picture early in the 21st century. [3]After the bridge, the journey to Kilkee from Moyasta “may fairly be said to divide neatly into two sections: the first, to Blackweir, being almost totally along the northern shore of Poulnasherry Bay, while the second is more inland. On neither part are there any insurmountable obstacles, though all the usual inconveniences and unpleasantnesses are plentiful. But perhaps the most singular fact about this area is the narrowness of the neck of land that separates Kilkee from the upper reaches of Poulnasherry — no more than a mile and a half at most. Without doubt, a time will come when all of the peninsula from Kilkee westwards will be an island.” [9]

The line ran on a causeway from the bridge firmer ground and the line then curved gradually southward before settling into a westerly trajectory for its 2 mile run to Blackweir.

Patrick Taylor is as succinct as usual in his description of the line to Kilkee. He points out station layout and various items therein and goes on to say: “The line then passed over a culvert adjacent to the level crossing gates, and continued past the loop before crossing over Moyasta or the ‘Red Bridge’ (No.1) under which flowed the waters of Poulnasherry Bay. The bay was to the left of the line, which now took a semicircular course before turning right after passing Purtills accommodation crossing. In the next stretch of partially straight line three level crossings were situated. Moyasta West (No.5) at 43.75 m.p., Baurnmore at 44 m.p. Currane at 44.75 m.p., before Blackweir station at the 45.25 m.p. was reached. The station and platform here were on the down side with level crossing gates provided at the Kilkee end. In the earlier years all trains stopped at this station but at the turn or the century it was reduced to a halt and trains only stopped if required. On leaving Blackweir there was a small bridge (No.5) beyond the level crossing gates and a cattle pass beside Lisdeen bank. There was an up gradient of 1 in 64/58 for a short stretch at this point. On rounding Garveys bend the line continued through treeless turfland past two level crossings, Lisdeen adjacent to 46.75 m.p., and Dough beyond 47 m.p., to Kilkee, 48 miles from Ennis.” [14]

We could, I suppose give the last word to Patrick Taylor and save a lot of time for both you and I, but that rather defeats the object of these posts. So we will continue with a more detailed review of the line.The line curved first to the South and then back onto a westerly route. [13]

Lenihan says that, “there is scarcely anything of interest until a little causeway is reached, close to Moyasta West no. 5 crossing. Up to this point, the surface is at first smooth and firm but then deteriorates gradually into quagmire.” [12]The causeway mentioned by Lenihan is just to the right of centre in this satellite image [13]Moyasta No. 5 Crossing is on the right of this image. [13]The Crossing-Keeper’s cottage at Moyasta No. 5 Crossing has been refurbished. The blue line shows the line of the railway.

Lenihan, writing in the late 1980s commented: “The house is certainly the original building, and little changed on the exterior: The roof beams still protrude from under the eaves as they did in all the others we had seen which had not been altered. An unpleasant scene awaited us west of the road though. From a wide gateway, through which trains once passed, we could see that the large field ahead had been levelled, and that for at least 400 yards there would be no distinguishing features to guide us.” [15]

The next crossing is Bawnmore. In the late 1980s the crossing was ramshackle at best and its grounds over grown. By 2008, Lenihan was reporting that the cottage was an almost total ruin, “its remnants as well as the line here inaccessible in a wilderness of whitethorn.” [16]The location of Bawnmore Crossing is at the right side of this image. [13]The next crossing was at Garraun. Its location appears on the left of this satellite image. Its cottage was already abandoned in the late 1980s [17] and has deteriorated since. [16]Garraun Crossing location also appears on this image, this time on the right. [13]This satellite image shows the next station on the line, Blackweir Station. [13]

The station buildings at Blackweir were on the down side with a road-crossing at the west end of the station platform. As Taylor notes above, at one time this was a regular stopping point onnthebline, but in Later years it became a request stop. At 45.5 miles from Ennis, this was the only halt between Moyasta and Kilkee. Again, in the 1980s, Lenihan comments: “The platform still remains intact, on the down side, and the original station-building, a plain, single-storey structure, also stands, parallel to the line and now restored to its original state with only minor external alterations. A large dwelling house has been added at the Moyasta side, and the two blend together extremely well. The glowing accounts we had been hearing of it along the way were certainly borne out by this very pleasing development. Close by, a handsome five-arched stone bridge spans the upper reaches of the bay, and just off the road at its north-eastern parapet is a small quay, used extensively during the heyday of the turf trade, but now semi-derelict.” [18]Blackweir Station in 1952 (above). Since closure of the railway a house has been built at the end of the old station building closest tomtjhe camera, which enlarges the structure considerably. [19] The colour picture which follows the 1952 image shows the new building from the old crossing location, © C. Cooney. [20]Blackweir Bridge seen from what was the trackbed of the old railway.The trackbed ahead is in use as an access road.

As the journey continues, we can see the location of the halt clearly marked on the next satellite image. Access to the old line beyond this point is sufficiently difficulkt as to mean that I have not been able to find photograph of the next length of the line on the internet.The most striking feature along this length of the old line was its growing proximity to the embankment of what was meant to be the first line in County Clare. Three biue lines appear on the satellite images above. [13] The most northerly of these is the West Clare line on its way to Kilkee. The next line shows the route of one abortive attempt to connect Kilkee and Kilrush in about 1858. These two appear again on the map below, the dotted line onnthe north side of Poulnasherry Bay is the West Clare route as finally built. The more southerly route is the 1858 scheme.

It is worth reminding ourselves at this point of the shenanigans that took place over the possibility of creating a railway in this part of Co. Clare.

In the years after the Famine, railway fever gripped Ireland, much as it did the whole of the UK at the time. There was a tremendous upsurge in scheme proposals and construction work. In 4 decades, 1845 to 1885, a dozen schemes were promulgated for County Clare. Lenihan says that, “All these plans were similar in some vital respects: they all included as their terminus points Ennis, Kilrush and Kilkee. At that time traffic on the Shannon was considerable, and Cappagh pier had to figure large in any route that hoped to be profitable, but how Cappagh might be made accessible was the subject of widely varying proposals. Essentially, though, there were three routes: from Limerick to Foynes by rail, then to Kilrush by steamer; from Ennis via Kildysart, Kamer and Carrigaholt or Querrin to Kilkee; from Ennis via Ennistymon and Miltown Malbay, then southward.” [21]

Taylor says that, “As well as railways, there were schemes to reclaim land, and build embankments across the Poulnasherry Bay, where the Blackweir and other rivers congregate on their way into the River Shannon, and on towards the Atlantic Ocean. There were also a number of schemes for roadside tramways, as opposed to railways.” [22]

“The various plans formulated in the 1840s and 1850s foundered on one common rock: finance, and this largely because they proposed crossing Poulnasherry Bay rather than going round it,” says Lenihan. “Certain progress was made in each of these early schemes but all failed to reach the construction phase. The first to achieve this distinction was the Cappagh—Kilkee line, for which discus Kilnagalliagh sions began in 1858 and on which work actually commenced in 1863. From its remains today it can be seen to have started on the western end at Lisdeen cutting, extended for 400 yards south-eastward before coming to a dead end facing slob-land in a tidal valley approximately 1.25 miles long.” [23]

“It continued on the higher ground in the townland of Termon West, north-east of where Termon school stands today, and ran along the southern shore of the bay through Termon East, Leaheen and, passing through a deep cutting to reach the tide at the mouth of the bay.’ From here it was intended to link the two shores by an embankment, with a bridge in the middle to allow the passage of turf-boats up to Moyasta, Bohaunagower and Blackweir quay. Across the channel on the eastern shore, in Carrowncalla South, the remains at Ilaunalea make it clear that this would have been the main junction of the Ennis—Kilkee and Kilrush—Kilkee lines — in effect, what Moyasta Junction was to become on the 1887 line — had not bad planning and even worse weather intervened to bring to nought the whole venture. For, after repeated stoppages during the mid-1860s, the embankment across the bay was almost completed by the winter of 1868-69, and the two sides had even been linked by a boardwalk. But though it was advised that no more should be done until the bank had solidified and the winter passed, this was not heeded, the various gaps were closed and a violent storm later that winter destroyed much of the earthworks, bringing the whole scheme to a halt not just for the time being, but for nearly twenty years.” [23]

Taylor describes this venture as follows: “Starting in 1858, efforts were made to reclaim waste lands in the estuary of the Poulnasherry Bay, as well as the building of a railway, eight miles, four furlongs, seven chains and 80 links long, extending from Revenue Quay Cappa (spelt Cappagh in all Parliamentary references), to Kilkee, and crossing the estuary by an embankment. There were also powers to reclaim land. The promoters were Robert. F. and Alexander P. Gordon, David J. I IenrY and William Galway, John Leslie Worrell of Dublin being the Company’s Engineer, and the Gordon’s, giving a London address, the contractors. The gauge of the railway was to he 5′ 3″.” [22]

As we have noted already, the map above shows the route of this line as a dotted line on the south side of Poulnasherry Bay. The map below is an extract from the Irish OSM Community Map and the older near the or is can be made out to the south side of the West/South Clare Line and running on the south side of the river estuary. [24]The earthworks associated with the third blue line can be made out curving to the south below the 1858 scheme’s embankment and then entering a narrow north-south band of woodland on the adjacent satellite image. I do not as yet have any details of this line.

Also be noted on the adjacent satellite image are two features: a rod-crossing to the right of the image and a significant cutting to the left of the picture.

The road-crossing was for a minor laneway. The cutting is Lisdeen Cutting and there is a road-crossing towards the West end of the cutting that bears the same name.

Much of the line over which we have travelled to get to Lisdeen crossing is in use in the 21st century as a series of different access tracks. This ceases cat the unnamed crossing mentioned above. Lenihan describes the cutting and the approach to Lisdeen crossing as follows:

“At the top of a slight rise we entered Lisdeen cutting, but were prevented from passing along its floor by the flooded state of the ground. Only a little ledge worn by cattle along the left-hand side enabled us to make our way forward without any detour. It is a long-drawn-out affair, Lisdeen cutting, only coming to an end well beyond the nearby level crossing. We came to the usual palisade of sleepers and a road to nowhere important. But it was important to us. For we had reached the third-last stop of our journey, Lisdeen crossing, 46.75 miles from Ennis. Though the cottage was in good repair, it appeared not to be occupied. Built on the down side, on the edge of a little 5-foot-high cliff, it has no back garden and very little at the front. In this almost wholly treeless flat countryside, it cannot have been the most comfortable of places to be stationed in winter.” [26]The three old rail routes meet. Only the most northerly ever carried passengers and goods! Lisdeen Cutting and Crossing can easily be made out with crossing in the top left of the satellite image. [13] The crossing a keeper’s cottage in the 21st Century. The line runs behind it.Looking back from Lisdeen crossing through the cutting towards Moyasta.Looking ahead towards Kilkee from the crossing. Our destination can be seen on the horizon.After the end of the cutting we encounter one more road-crossing before we enter Kilkee. Shown on the satellite image above, this was Dough Crossing, just over 47 miles from Ennis and 700 yards from the terminus. [27]Looking back along the line from Dough Crossing towards Moyasta.Looking forward towards the location of Kilkee Station from Dough Crossing.These last two satellite images get us to the end of the line in Kilkee. [13]

The adjacent image shows Kilkee Station as it appears fptoday when approached from Moyasta. [25]

The picture below is taken from the West.No. 5, Slieve Callan is shiwn at Kilkee in 1950. No.5 has been restored and runs on the preservation line at Moyasta. [28]

Three further pictures of the station building in the early 21st century follow. [29]

The first monochrome picture below was taken in 1952 and is contained in Lenihan’s book. [30]

Lenihan describes the scene in the late 1980s: “on the up side, was the station-house itself in a well-paved yard, but surrounded by what appeared to be chalets. Old photos show that one siding led to the turntable, which was sited only yards from where we were now standing, in front of the engine shed; a second to a large building (probably the goods’ store) directly east of it; and that the main running road and passing-loop joined near the signal cabin. But, as in every other station, there is nothing to show this today. A quick inspection confirmed for us that of this terminus of the South Clare the only remnants are these two buildings, both constructed in 1891. The water-column, the 3,800-gallon tank, loading-bank, 23-foot-4-inch turntable and goods’ store have gone the way of all the others.” [30] The second and subsequent monochrome pictures of the station in use are taken from Patrick Taylor’s book. [31]

Kilkee Station in 1952, © IRRS. [30]Railcar No. 3387, waiting to leave Kilkee on the 1.45pm to Ennis on 17th June 1954. The train consists of the railcar with a railcar trailer, and one of the ex-Clogher Valley Railway wagon underframes with a Limerick body. This was the standard formation for railcar worked trains, © C.H.A. Townley. [31]Railcar No. 3388, on the turntable outside Kilkee locomotive shed on 17th July 1958, after working the 5.05pm ex Moyasta Junction, © D.F. Russell. [31]A railcar has just arrived at Kilkee in May 1958. The bus connection waits for passengers while the yard is full of wagons. The goods shed, engine shed and water tank are all visible, © A.M. Davies. [31]The East end of the station, looking towards Moyasta with the engine shed on the right and the water tank behind it, © C.L. Fry. [31]An overall view of Kilkee station looking from the East in 1933. This gives a good indication of the length of the platform! © Patrick Taylor. [31] A sketch plan of the station is shown below. [8]Two final things will complete this post. The first, a description of Kilkee provided by Patrick Taylor and then three miscellaneous images of items of motive power or rolling stock from the West Clare Railway. We still have the line from Moyasta to Kilrush to focus on and hopefully too, some more information about rolling stock and motive power on the line.

Of Kilkee, Patrick Taylor has this to say: “Kilkee (Gill Chaoidhe “Church of St. Kee” ) was built around a semicircular bay guarded on both sides by low cliffs and protected from the full force of the Atlantic by the reef called the “Duggerna Rocks”. The scenery is magnificent, three quarters of a mile of sand fronts the town, and there are several coves and rock enclosed pools. On a clear day the Aran Islands, Twelve Bens, the River Shannon and the Kerry Mountains can be seen from Intrinsic Bay, and Look Out Hill which is over 200 feet above sea level. Kilkee station was one of the most beautiful buildings on the system, two storeys high with waiting rooms, offices and living accommodation. The platform and station were built on the up side and a verandah protected the platform portion in front of the buildings. The yard consisted of two large and two small sidings, one leading to the turntable and the other to the loco shed, on the roof of which the water tank (3800 gals.) was supported. The water column was on the up side beside the end of the platform. The goods store and loading bank were on the opposite side. A wall separated the yard from the public road which ran between it and the Convent wall. A large car park was provided between the station and the public street. In the earlier years water had to be supplied to this station from Moyasta Junction, and wagon No.100 was specially reconstructed and fitted with a water tank for this purpose.” [32] The pictures above suggest that the water tank was not in fact placed on top of the engine shed but sited close to it.

Motive Power and Rolling Stock on the West Clare Railway (Miscellaneous Images)

Finally, just a very few images of rolling stock

An Inspection Car, taken in 1953, (c) IRRS. [33]Ex-West Clare Railcar above, converted to a coach by BnM is now stored on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway. [34]

West Clare Drewry Railcar in 3mm Scale made by Mark Fisher. [35]


  1. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p44.
  2. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p226-227.
  3., accessed on 7th May 2019.
  4. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p227.
  5. Irish Times; 1st February 1961.
  6. William Shaw Mason; A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland, Volume 2, p416.
  7. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p228.
  8. Patrick Taylor; op. cit., p48.
  9. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p260.
  10. Irish Builder;15th January 1885, p22, quoted by Lenihan; op. cit., p261-262.
  11. Lenihan; op. cit., p261-262.
  12. Ibid., p 262.
  13., accessed on 6th May 2019.
  14. Patrick Taylor; op. cit., p45.
  15. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p262-263.
  16. Ibid., p303.
  17. Ibid., p268.
  18. Ibid., p272.
  19. Ibid., p269.
  20., accessed on 8th May 2019.
  21. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p17.
  22. Patrick Taylor; op. cit., p10.
  23. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p18.
  24., accessed on 8th May 2019.
  25., accessed on 8th May 2019.
  26. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p276.
  27. Ibid., p277.
  28., accessed on 8th May 2019.
  29., accessed on 9th May 2019.
  30. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p279.
  31. Patrick Taylor; op. cit., p45-47.
  32. Ibid., p45.
  33. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p23.
  34., accessed on 9th April 2019.
  35., accessed on 9th April 2019.

The West Clare Railway – Part 5 – Quilty to Moyasta

The Line of the West Clare Railway from Quilty to Moyasta

Before setting off on the next leg of this journey South along the Atlantic Coast of Co. Clare it seems sensible to have a little look round Quilty village. The adjacent picture shows its Catholic Church and the village tavern is shown below. The village is really quite tiny but is seeing a growthnin holiday trade in the 21st century.In the 2002 census the village had a population of 234. The Co. Clare Library website says: “Quilty is a coastal village in the parish of Kilmurry Ibrickane. The origin of its name is uncertain but it may be a derivation of “coillte”, meaning woods. In this instance the woods referred to would probably have been an underwood of hazel or holly. Local tradition mentions the finding of tree stumps which indicate the existence of large woods here in ancient times. The same word “coillte” could also refer to “ruined or destroyed” and be a reference to a tragedy of long ago. This particular stretch of coast is dangerous for shipping and is constantly being eroded by the sea. Sean Spellissy, historian, believes that the name refers to the devastation caused by the tidal wave that separated Mutton Island from the mainland in 804AD, drowning 1,010 people in the process.  Quilty is set in picturesque surroundings with the Aran Islands on one side, Connemara behind and the Cliffs of Moher on another side. The Kerry mountains are visible in the distance.” [5]Quilty Station in the early 21st century taken from the N67 in Quilty looking South onto the station site.Quilty Station in the late 1950s. The picture was taken from the southern end of the station site. [3]In this 1993 aerial image of the village of Quilty the station is in the centre of the image vans the old railway route can be seen curving away inland to the south (the right side of the picture). [4]

Edmund Lenihan, writing in the late 1980s, gets us moving once again: “In the mile and a quarter to Kilmurry Station the line makes an S-shape through more or less level terrain, first looping west, then gradually east until it comes side by side with the Kilrush road at Kilmurry Bridge, and finally west again to the station gates. We were almost immediately on a raised section of line, and ahead, on the up side, was the earthen storm-bank, several feet wide at its base and tapering towards the top. Before it was built, the line was totally exposed to the elements and it is hard to see how the builders could have failed to appreciate this obvious fact. Very likely none of the men in charge was from the locality or had stood here near the sea at the height of one of the spring storms that so regularly rocked the area. Now that the protection is no longer necessary, the bank is being quarried for road material and is gapped at many points.” [2]

The line passed through a cutting which can be seen in the two adjacent satellite images, and just to the south of the obvious rock face in these images it passed under two accommodation bridges which carried access roads before rising above the surrounding land onto a relatively high embankment. The next obstacles in the way of the line were the Ballymackea River and a minor public highway. Lenihan tells us that the river bridge is Kilmurry Bridge road bridge is called Sullivan’s Bridge. [6] In have not been able to find a photograph of Kilmurry Bridge. It is in the location shown on the first image below.The line continued south on embankment. It curved gradually back round to the Southwest as the adjacent satellite image shows.

The land and the old track-bed rise on their way to Kilmurry Station which can be seen two-thirds of the way down the adjacent image.

The first picture below is taken from the minor road close to Kilmurry Station and looks back along the old line towards Quilty.  The second picture shows Kilmurry Station in the 21st century. The third picture below shows the station in 1952, the fourth in 1960.

Kilmurry Station in 1952, © IRRS. [7]Kilmurry in September 1960, © Roger Joanes. [12]

Three hundred yards beyond Kilmurry Station is Kilmurry No. 2 Crossing which was tended from Kilmurry Station. The next two picture are taken from the location of that crossing. The first looks back towards Kilmurry Station which can be seen in the distance. The second looks ahead down the line. A deep cutting through the hill ahead can be seen on the horizon.The line curves South away from the Crossing and across open fields towards Cloonadrum School and railway cottage. The school was to the West of the line and is probably now a holiday cottage. [8] The Crossing-keeper’s cottage to the East of the line is little changed from the days of the railway. Both buildings appear below.

Edmund Lenihan  tells a story: “On 13 August 1955 an unfortunate railway accident occurred at Cloonadrum. The crossing gate, though it had been opened at the train’s approach, was loosened by the vibrations and swung closed as the guard’s van passed, splintering the planks of the little wooden outshot where Peter O’Brien was sitting and injuring him severely. Only when the train reached Craggaknock Station, a mile and a quarter away, was it noticed that anything was amiss. When he did not appear, the van was searched and he was discovered dying at his post. Two circumstances which made his death all the more tragic were that he was shortly to be married, and that he was not supposed to be on duty that week, but was standing in for a friend who was on leave.” [9]

The crossing, school and cottage all appear in the bottom right of the adjacent satellite image.

The old Cloonadrum School building.The Crossing-keeper’s cottage (above) as it is in the early 21st century. The route of the old railway is shown in red.

Cloonadrum crossing appears once again at the top of the adjacent satellite image. The feature marked ‘1’ is the site of what was the Annageragh Bridge (or Lissyneillan Bridge) over the Annageragh River.

Lenihan says that, as he and his son stood on the river bank under what used to be the bridge, “the full extent of the feat that was Annageragh Bridge instantly impressed itself on us as incomparably the most forceful structure we had yet seen on our 33- mile journey. Almost 40-feet high the stonework stands, stark now, yet beautiful. This was one of the few bridges put out of commission in 1961, when the line was being taken up — hardly surprising when one considers its height. Beside it we looked, and felt, insignificant.” [10]

The 400 yards from Annageragh Bridge to Lissyneillan Crossing (marked ‘2’ above) were initially on a high embankment but otherwise unremarkable.Looking back North from Lissyneillan Crossing towards Cloonadrum. The line of the railway has been severed by the outbuildings of the relatively modern bungalow. The Cloonadrum school and railway cottage can be seen on the horizon, to the left of the row of cottages.Looking south (above) from Lissyneillan Crossing, the line travels away into the distance in the centre of the picture. The adjacent satellite image shows its onward course.

Edmund Lenihan describes this next section: Another culvert … passed by, but 200 yards on was a more substantial road-bridge. It is becoming dangerous, concrete crumbling from the girders at the sides, and though the middle looked safe enough we crossed cautiously. Some distance off … we could see the outline of another bridge spanning a cutting, but no more than that. By the time we reached the cutting the ground was … against us — water, furze and more water. We could probably have negotiated it slowly if we had had time to spare, but we had none and so were content to walk along beside it for as long as we could. It is no mean depth, almost 20 feet in places, and when we crossed onto the little road leading over the bridge to the solitary house on the western side of the line, we could see that it continued for some distance more.” [11]

The next feature on the line was the Crossing and Station at Craggaknock.The view back towards Quilty from the minor road adjacent to Craggaknock Station.

Patrick Taylor is very  economical in his use of words as he describes this length of the line: On the far side of Cloonadrum, “Anaghgeragh Bridge (No. 60) over the river of the same name was reached, before passing through Lisseyneslon level crossing beyond the 33.75 milepoint and into Craggaknock flag station at 34.5 milepoint. Having passed through another set of crossing gates adjacent to the station. A small goods store and platform was provided here on the up side.” [1] Lenihan and Taylor often use alternative spellings for place names.Craggaknock Station was typical of many on the South Clare section of the network. It was situated close to crossing gates on a minor road, © IRRS. [1]Craggaknock Station in September 1960. A view from an Ennis-bound train, © Roger Joanes. [12]

The Craggaknock Station building remains in the 21st century but the line is overgrown. One of the crossing gateposts is still visible, © C. Cooney [13]

The former platform is shown in the adjacent image and the platform entry point is shown in its early 21st century incarnation in the next image below, © C. Cooney [13]

Edmund Lenihan found the station in a better condition than it is in the 21st century! “We walked along the single platform, on the up side, and noticed the stone edging, still intact and just as it must have been when passengers boarded and alighted here. A flower garden now occupies the place of the line. Little besides remains to tell of Craggaknock Flag-Station, 34.5miles from Ennis. But then, there was never very much here except the station-house itself, not even a goods’ store. Anyone with business to transact had to go 2 miles north to Kilmurry Station or to Doonbeg, almost 2 miles south. Yet, surprisingly, in spite of its seeming remoteness, takings from passenger traffic here were as high as at Kilmurry or Quilty.” [14]

Beyond Craggaknock the line headed away into open country. Lenihan comments: “Today [late 1980s] there are few houses within a mile’s radius of it, and only one of these was dignified by being named on our map. This is Craggaknock House, a plain early nineteenth-century dwelling, less than a mile to the east. We were cheered somewhat to see the way clear and straight for a considerable distance before us, and took full advantage of such a hopeful beginning. …  From a distance of a half-mile or so we looked back and realised even more clearly than from closer range how small and isolated this place really was.” [15]

Patrick Taylor describes the route between Craggaknock and Doonbeg succinctly, in one short paragraph: “On the three and a quarter mile journey to Doonbeg the line passed through six level crossings, two situated in the townland of Clohanes and four in the townland of Caherfeenich – they were Clohanes No.1 and No.2, and Caherfeenich Nos. 1-4. Just beyond the last mentioned was Skivileen Bridge (No.63) near the Doughmore sandhills. Less than quarter of a mile on, Doonbeg Station Gates were crossed to enter Doonbeg Station” at the 37.75 mile-point. [1]

The first of a series of Crossings is Clohane crossing No. 1 which can be seen on the satellite image above and in the pictures below.Looking back from Clohanes Crossing No. 1 towards Craggaknock Station.Looking forward from Clohanes Crossing No. 1 towards Doonbeg.

Just 100 yards or so beyond Clohanes Crossing No. 1, Clohanes Crossing No. 2 was encountered. It crossed a lane which at one time was more heavily used than in the 21st Century. It was operated by the crossing keeper at Clohanes No. 1 and can be picked out on the satellite image above to the Southwest of the first crossing.

Beyond that crossing the railway encountered a falling grade as it headed South. Easier on southbound locomotives, this bank – Clahanes Bank – was “a constant trouble spot for laden steam trains from the south. The gradient here is not as obvious as at Willbrook or the Black Hill, yet it was enough to give the place some measure of notoriety.” [16]

Very interestngly on the adjacent satellite image two circles can easily be picked out alongside the line  (one on the East and one on the West) and a fainter larger circle just a little to the East of the line.

These circles are the remains of what appear to be earthen fortifications.

These are Cahers and they are a frequent occurrence in Co. Clare. There appear to have been around 2400 of them in Co. Clare alone. [17] They were homesteads rather than defensive fortifications which were known as Cashels. The name of the village close to these earthworks highlights their status … Caherfeenick. It appears on the adjacent satellite image.

As we have already noted, there are 4 Crossings in the area of Caherfeenick. Caherfeenick Crossing No. 1 was located on a little used lane way northeast of the village. Caherfeenick Crossing No. 2 had a Crossing-Keeper’s Cottage. In the 1980s, when Lenihan walked the route of the line the crossing keeper’s cottage was unaltered since the closure of the line and the last crossing-keeper still lived there. [19] It can be seen above roughly at the centre of the satellite image. In the early 21st century, little has changed. The cottage still stands with only minor changes.Caherfeenick Crossing No. 2. The route of the old line is marked in red and the crossing-keeper’s cottage still stands sentinel at the crossing location. This view looks back towards Crossing No. 1.This picture is taken from the narrow lane at Crossing No. 2 and looks forward along the route of the old line towards Crossing No. 3.Caherfeenick Crossing No. 3, looking back along the line towards Quilty.The N67 is crossed by the old line at Crossing No. 3. This view looks forward towards Doonbeg. The crossing appears at the bottom left of the satellite image above.

Edmund Lenihan describes this crossing which also appears at the top of the adjacent image as follows: “The road at no. 3 is reached through the usual fence of sleepers, and the cottage is 20 yards away, on the down side. It is as though time had stood still here, for the little house is in pristine condition, everything as it was when first it was built. Even the sombre brown paint on all the timber-work looked right, as did the bucket of water on the window sill and the slates mortared at the joints. One would almost expect the rails and sleepers to be lying in their accustomed place before the door, so old-world does it all look, but a fruit garden now occupies the bed of the line. We expected the owner to be an old person, but not so. A relatively young man greeted us, explained that it was his parents who tended the crossing for many years, and recalled for us some of the stories told by his mother about the turbulent days of the early 1920s, when the IRA regularly held up trains in search of mail or useful equipment. More recently, others had been this way, detectives in wellingtons, poking the line in one of their periodic searches for the armaments of the new IRA. It is doubtful whether many of that party would have known that on the road at these gates Captain Lendrum was shot on the morning of 22 September 1920 while travelling to Ennistymon from his home in Kilkee. He was not the only person to die here. An old beggarman also met his end at this spot, through a simple enough acthdent. He had got a lift on the running board of a car that was too crowded to fit him inside, and as the vehicle bumped over the rails he struck the pier of the crossing gate, was knocked off and killed.” [20]

The cottage is much changed in the early 21st century. Lenihan goes on to point out that “Caherfeenick no. 3 has a more recent and cheering claim to fame: it is the home place of Michael O’Halloran, MP for Islington, London, one of the many emigrants who have achieved an eminence abroad that would almost inevitably have been denied them at home.” [20] He was, of course, writing in the late 1980s. The present incumbent of the role of MP for Islington (2019) is the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin.

Caherfeenick Crossing No. 4 was located at the point where the old railway encountered a T-junction of roads at the boundary of two townlands – Caherfeenick North and South. That crossing is evident on bthe adjacent map. The railway continued on to Doonbeg which was no more than a mile ahead. It appears in the bottom left of the adjacent OS Map from the 1940s. On the way there the railway crossed Skivileen Bridge about 300 yards from Caherfeenick No. 4.Cahirfeenick Crossing No. 4, looking back towards No.3.And looking forward towards Doonbeg.

Patrick Taylor says: “Doonbeg (Dunbeag) “The Small Fort” is said to be the longest village in Clare. It is here that the Doonbeg river enters the sea at Doonbeg Bay, and was once a fortress of the McMahons and later O’Briens, where until recent times stood a large stone castle. A short distance on one side lies Baltard Bay and on the other side Doughmore Sandhills. The station at Doonbeg, also a block post, situated on the town side was provided with a platform, car park, loading bank, goods store and a large siding all on the station side, with a two lever ground frame on the opposite side.” [1]Doonbeg in the 1950s looking towards Moyasta. [1]Doonbeg in 1960, © Roger Joanes. [22]Doonbeg Station building in the early 21st century, © C. Cooney. [21]

South of the station platform, the Goods shed was at the head of a passing loop decsribed as a siding. Taylor says: “On leaving Doonbeg yard after a slight curve the three arch Mountrivers bridge (No.64) over the Doonbeg river was crossed, and the line ran parallel with the public road for over a mile. The public road veered to the left at this point and the railway continued on a straight line to Shragh siding.” [1]

As the route of the line meets the Doonbeg River the quality of the satellite images available on Google Earth deteriorates. However, Streetview was able to provide a view of the bridge over the Doonbeg River which is a steel girder bridge, not the three-arched bridge mentioned by Taylor. Lenihan confirms that it is the road bridge which is the three-arched structure. [22]South of the river, the landscape is relatively flat and trains on the old railway would have trundled along in their own sweet way heading for Moyasta Station. The road and railway ran in parallel, as can be seen on the image below. It is taken at the point marked ’30’ on the OS Map and looks back towards Doonbeg.

The following image shows the point at which road and rail diverge. This is evident on the adjacent map.

We see the ongoing journey on the 1940s OS Maps. After leaving the road, the railway continued in a southerly direction before running parallel to another minor road as it travelled passed Moanmore Lough to the west of the line.

The Google Earth satellite image shows the thecreative positions of road (blue line), old raiway (red lines) and the Lough. The old railway track bed has been used in places as the formatiin level for privatecdriveways to properties built over the old line.The line continues to follow (approximately) the line of the road heading to Moyasta.

Moanmore Crossing had can derelict Crossing Cottage when Edmund Lenihan first visited in the 1980s. [23] Later he notes that it had been rebuilt. [24] The next two photographs show the trackbed either side of the crossing.Looking north along the trakbed at Moanmore Crossing.And (above) looking with at the same crossing.

Moyasta Station was a junction station. Here the line separated to serve both Kilrush and Killed and allowance was also made in the form of a triangular junction for through traffic between the two. We will finish this section of the journey here at Moyasta, aware that there will be more to explore than just the history of the line and ready to do so in the next post in this series. A preservation scheme has been in operation for a good number of years in the 21st century and we will in due course explore what has been done.

We finish this post with a few images from the past.Moyasta Station lookin north in September 1950, © James P. O’Dea, National Library of Ireland. [25] Three images of Moyasta Station in 1960, © Roger Joanes. [26]A railcar on the through route from Kilrush to Kilkee in 1953, © Les Hyland. [27]The through connection between Kilkee and Kilrush is on the left. The railcar is leaving Moyasta for Kilrush. There were very few through workings between the two towns that did not also need to call at Moyasta, © A.M. Davies. [27]Branch train meets main line train at Moyasta Junction on 17th July 1947. On the left is No. 11C, with the 9.30am ex Kilrush, making connection with No. 6C, on the right, with the 9.35am from Killed through to Ennis. Interestingly, the main line engine is running bunker first -perhaps the Killed turntable was out of use for some reason. The Kilrush train, after departure of the one to Ennis, would propel back out of the platform, and then via the third side if the triangle, proceed to Kilkee, thus providing a Kilrush to Kilkee service, © C.H.A.Townley. [28]Moyasta Junction in 1952, © IRRS. [29]Engine 5C with a down goods at Moyasta, 5th February 1955, © IRRS. [29]A plan of Moyasta Station before the closure of the West Clare Railway in 1961. [30]


  1. Patrick Taylor; The West Clare Railway; Plateway Press, 1994, p42.
  2. Edmund Lenihan; In the Tracks if the West Clare Railway; Mercier Press, Dec. 2008, p182.
  3., accessed on 30th April 2019.
  4., accessed on 30th April 2019.
  5., accessed on 30th April 2019.
  6. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p184.
  7. Ibid., p187.
  8. Ibid., p193.
  9. Ibid., p194.
  10. Ibid., p195.
  11. Ibid., p196.
  12., accessed on 1st May 2019.
  13., accessed on 3rd May 2019.
  14. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p198.
  15. Ibid., p198-199.
  16. Ibid., p203.
  17. Thomas J. Westropp; The Cahers of County Clare: Their Names, Features, and Bibliography;
    Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1889-1901), The Royal Irish Academy Volume 6, 1900, p415-449;, accessed on 5th May 2019.
  18.—.htm, accessed on 5th May 2019.
  19. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p205.
  20. Ibid., p206.
  21., accessed on 5th May 2019.
  22. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p212.
  23. Ibid., p221-222.
  24. Ibid., p302.
  25. James P O’Dea Collection, National Library of Ireland,, accessed on 5th May 2019.
  26., accessed on 5th May 2019.
  27. Patrick Taylor; op. cit., p44.
  28. Ibid., p68.
  29. Edmund Lenihan; op. cit., p224.
  30. Patrick TaylorTaylor; op. cit., p48.

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway – 4

How a long defunct, relatively small local railway company aimed high and ultimately was responsible for the poor financial state of the Great Central Railway!

I have been a bit of a NIMBY! All of my recent articles have looked far from home. I guess you could say it has been a case of, ‘Not In My Back Yard’.

I thought it best to put this right but I might have hoped for better things than this. …

I have been prompted to do so by reading a copy of BackTrack Magazine from May 1996 (Volume 10 No. 5) [2] which included the article that I have appended to this post at Appendix 1. It is an article about the Great Central which is now long-gone – sadly so, from an enthusiasts point of view. That article was itself a response to an earlier article in BackTrack Volume 9 No. 3 (March 1995) by Messrs. Emblin, Longbone and Jackson. [1]

It brought to mind the connections between Ashton-under-Lyne and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&L) evidenced by the name of its predecessor, the Sheffield, Aston-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway (SA&M). It also reminded me that early in my attempts to write interesting blogs I spent a little time on my present place of residence, Ashton-under-Lyne. I am wary of providing links to these posts, but they do pull together quite a bit of information about the early railway …… these are the links:

I am not sure, with the benefit of hindsight, that the second of the above posts was really necessary. An appendix to the third post would probably have covered the two links mentioned in the second post.

The article which grabbed my attention in the old BackTrack Magazine did so because it seems to root the significant problems of the Great Central Railway (GCR) in, what I could argue, is my local railway company’s own history. Hence the subtitle of this post!

The significant challenges faced by the SA&M Railway in being ahead of the game in providing rails across the northern backbone of the country led to a financial structure which seems to have dictated the future of its successors, the MS&L and, ultimately, the GCR. Heavily reliant, leveraged, on debentures and preferential stock is was difficult for the successive companies to attract ordinary investors.

The whole history of the GCR seems to have been dictated by the way in which the heavy capital expenditure necessary to cross the Pennines/Peaks was financed.The SA&M Railway was one of the first railways to tackle truly formidable and desolate terrain. Nowhere was the challenge more evident than at the West end of the Woodhead tunnels, seen herevst the turn of the 20th century. The SA&M and its successors were encumbered with the twin problems of high construction costs and low receipts from intermediate stations over a long section of line. [2]

It should be noted that Emblin reserved a right of reply and that he chose to do so in a later edition of the BackTrack Magazine. [5]

His principal argument in that article appears to be that things were really not that bad and that the GCR managed its way out of trouble in a very effective fashion. I am not sure that this negates the reasoning of the articles referred to above, and I am sure that it does not address the particular point that the GCR faced ongoing financial problems which had their birth in the companies it succeeded.

Emblin argues strongly that Sir Alexander Henderson managed his way out of trouble by expansion. [5: p711] That seems to have been that practice of his predecessors as well. The result being that the company was highly leveraged and still not the best investment for ordinary shareholders.

It also does not alter my opinion that my local railway company had a great part to play in the issues which has to be managed by the GCR throughout its life.


1. Emblin, Longbone & Jackson; Money Sunk & Lost; BackTrack Magazine Vol. 9 No. 3, p129-136, notes on this article are reproduced below at Appendix 2. [3]

2. Blossom & Hendry; Great Central – The Real Problem; BackTrack Magazine Vol. 10 No. 5, p266-271, reproduced below at Appendix 1. Further notes on this article are provided at Appendix 3. [4]

3., accessed on 4th May 2019.

4., accessed on 4th May 2019.

5. Emblin; An Edwardian Ozymandias; BackTrack Volume 15 No.12, p707-713.


Appendix 1 – BackTrack Magazine Vol. 10 No. 5, p266-271.

Great Central – the real problem. Martin Bloxsom and Robert Hendry.

In their article ‘Money Sunk and Lost’ (BACKTRACK, March 1995), Messrs. Emblin, Longbone and Jackson have rightly exploded the myth that the Great Central was financially “ramshackle”, but, in so doing, have gone to the opposite extreme and created an alternative myth.

Popular writers have written up the Great Central’s financial problems. This is not sur-prising, for even a cursory glance suggests that the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway faced formidable financial difficulties and that its dividend record on its ordinary shares was one of the poorest of the major railway companies. An investor of 1846 putting £100 in LNWR ordinary stock, and the same in the MS&L, would have received little more than £80 in MS&L dividends by 1900. He would have received the same sum from the LNWR by 1860. The Furness Railway, the Great North of Scotland, the Great Eastern or even the South Eastern Railway, despite cut-throat competition with the London, Chatham & Dover, were better investments. Messrs. Emblin, Longbone & Jackson suggest that much of 1 the criticism of the MS&L and GCR is from popular modern writers or academics blessed with hindsight, or using modern investment criteria. Contemporary sources show that informed investors were aware of the problems of the MS&L/GCR, but not necessarily of their origins or exact nature. By the 1890s, a picture of squandermania under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Watkin had found its way into popular fancy and the London Extension was seen as the ultimate megalomania. When the GC dividend record was even worse than the MS&L, there were plenty of voices to say “I told you so”, not least from the railway industry which had not welcomed a rival rail route to London. Predictably, the London Extension was seen as a millstone around the neck of the GC.

Even as well-informed a writer as Lord Monkswell echoed these sentiments, albeit in moderate language, as long ago as 1913. In his important study The Railways of Great Britain he wrote “So now the Great Central has become one of the established main routes from the north to London, but not yet has it recovered from the financial strain which its extension imposed upon it. To effect an entry into London, capital had to be poured out like water, and the increase of traffic, which the new line brought, has been very far from sufficient to pay interest on all that capital. The line, however, being built in the light of modern experience, will be able to cope with the intense traffic, which it will one day be called upon to accommodate, without further costly improvements”. This reflects the popular view, which the GC board was happy to foster, for whilst it offered no jam today, it spoke of jam tomorrow.

For the more sensational writers it became a moral tale in which unchecked ambition gets its just desserts. Given such a splendid story, it is not surprising it has had a long run and it has been bolstered in many ways. Throughout history, there have been writers who have specialised in stirring tales of disaster. The Duke of Wellington’s carefully-managed tactical retreats to the lines of Torres Vedras, or prior to the battle of Waterloo, were written up as British disasters at the time and subsequently! [General C. Mercer, Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, pub. 1870]. Just as some writers see retreat as synonymous with disaster, others apply ‘ramshackle’ or ‘catastrophic’ to the GC. In exploding such myths, Messrs. Emblin & Co. have done us all a service, but moving from the sound grounds that the GCR was not financ:ially ramshackle and that the London Extension was not a disaster, they have been sucked into quicksands of their own making. The reality was in between.

First of all, what makes a good or a bad railway? It depends on one’s perspective. Railway enthusiasts tend to look through rose-tinted glasses at gleaming engines driven by dedicated enginemen, elegant coaching stock and the romance of railways: but the enthusiast has always been in a minority. To the traveller or merchant, the quality of service mattered. To the staff, it was wages and conditions, and to the investor, the stability of the company and its dividends. On the enthusiast rating, the GC scored high: it was stylish, romantic and its engines were mostly elegant and competent. Its services compared well with other railways, so it fared well there, and as an employer it was no better and no worse than other railways. So far, the GC has a high rating and this is not surprising, for contemporary opinion (and later writers) have consistently praised the GC management from the turn of the century through to the grouping.

Alexander Henderson, later Lord Faringdon, was a financier of genius, as George Dow rightly said. Unlike Sir Richard Moon of the LNWR, who erred too far towards parsimony at the expense of necessary improvement, Henderson balanced the needs of economy with the need to develop the line. It was said of Sam Fay that when he was with the impecunious Midland & South Western Junction Railway, he had made an empty sack stand upright. His career with the LSWR was further evidence of his abilities. In J. G. Robinson the GC possessed an outstanding locomotive engineer. Although not a part of the management team, no survey should overlook the employment of Dean & Dawson, perhaps the most innovative travel firm in the country. Taken overall it was one of the best (perhaps the finest) management teams on any railway of its day, yet there is one inescapable fact — the Great Central never paid an ordinary dividend upon its shares. Robert Emblin and his co-authors praise the GC in comparison with stagnation on other lines, yet between 1900 and 1914 when the Great Northern, Great Eastern or Great Western were paying 3 to 4% dividends, and the LNWR, Midland or North Eastern 6% or above, the GC was paying nothing. What had gone wrong?

To many writers, the “London Extension” was to blame. Lord Monkswell speaks of money poured out like water and an inability to service all this capital, though linking it with the jam tomorrow’ concept. Was he correct?

Messrs. Emblin, Longbone and Jackson rightly say “no”. Sadly, in their attempt to redress the balance they overlook the real problems the MS&L and GC faced and, having ignored the question, are not in a position to answer it. The GC carried in its very genes a near fatal illness, inherited from its parent the MS&L, yet the malaise did not even stem from the MS&L but from its parent, the Sheffield, Ashton-under Lyne & Manchester Railway.

The company was incorporated in May 1837, but the line did not open throughout until 1844-45. As Christopher Awdry remarks in his Encyclopedia of British Railway Companies, “Money was short and it was a difficult line to build”. George Dow says the same thing in much greater detail in his three-volume history of the GCR. These are modern writers, so perhaps fall foul of the criticisms launched by Messrs. Emblin and Co. Let us open The Railway Times of 10th September 1842. The SA&M had just held its half-yearly general meeting in Sheffield, at which Michael Ellison presided. It was not a happy meeting, with criticism of the board over an officer who had embezzled £3,000, criticism of lax supervision by the directors and allegations that some of the shares forfeited for non-payment of calls were held by directors who no longer wished to pay the instalments due, as the value of the shares had fallen drastically.

The claims were rejected, but one director,  John Turner, angered at these sweeping claims, retorted that he had not sold any shares, and the shares he had, he had taken at par. He made a contract with the company to take shares for his land; but between that time and the time when his land was required, the shares fell to 50% discount, yet he still took them at par.

When asked about raising fresh capital needed to meet the seemingly inexhaustible demands of the Woodhead route, one director explained that under the standing orders of Parliament, they could not increase their borrowing without a further share issue, but shares could only be issued at their market value at the time. Ellison agreed, adding “The mode of raising the money has not yet been determined upon by∎ the Directors. If the shares rise in value, the money will easily be raised. If not, it will be difficult to raise it.” We are not listening to ‘modem authors’, but to the men at the helm in the 1840s.

This is the genesis of the problem — a costly route, shares falling in value due to doubts about the prospects of the SA&M in particular and troubled industrial and financial conditions generally in the 1840s (including the Chartist labour troubles). A long lead time between raising of capital and full opening, because of the magnitude of the task, weakened confidence, meant that fresh funds were hard to come by. After abortive attempts to lease the line to the Midland Railway or the Manchester & Birmingham (later to become part of the LNWR), the SA&M board decided that expansion through amalgamation was the answer. The Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway came into being in 1846. upon the fusion of the SA&M with the Great Grimsby & Sheffield, the Sheffield & Lincolnshire, the Sheffield & Lincolnshire Extension and the Great Gritnsby Dock companies. Once again, Dow charts the course of events, but avoiding modern authors lest we be misled, let us refer to Tuck’s Railway Shareholders’ Manual of 1847. The SA&M share capital is revealing. It comprised 7,000 shares of £100 with £100 paid, 18,000 shares of £25 with £8 paid, 10,640 shares of £25 fully paid and 41,200 shares of £12.50 of which £5 was paid. A term of the agreement provided for 5% interest on ordinary shares until various parts of the consolidated system opened and then participation in the general income. Provisions for paying interest on capital during construction were not uncommon on projects which would involve expenditure for some years prior to any income, but the interest necessarily came from capital (as the business had little or to earning capacity) it inflated the eventual capital to be serviced.

How did the infant MSLMSL f? For the second half of 1846, it paid 2.5% and in the first full year, 1847, the stipulated 5% . For 1848, it was only able to pay 2.5%, and from then until December 1854 no dividends were paid on the ordinary stock. On the LNWR, the ordinary dividend varied between 5 and 10% during that period. Depressing though that comparison is, the true picture was worse. Again we can discover this from Dow, but let us stick to contemporary. sources. Bradshaw’s Railway Shareholders’ Manual for 1856 explains that £105,807 was available for dividend for the half year to 30th June 1855. Debenture interest and canal annuities (ie payments made to canal proprietors for way leaves or to buy off opposition) took £70,521, the dividend on the £6 preference stock took £23,697. This left £11,589 for remaining preference stocks and ordinary shareholders. Holders of the 10% preference stock were entitled to 6%. They recelved a fifth of their preference dividend. It was cumulative stock, so that arrears in one year had to he made up in future years before any ordinary dividend could he paid. Within less than ten years, the MS&L could not even pay all its preference dividends, let alone an ordinary dividend.

The conclusion, from contemporary records, is inescapable. The MS&L, was in serious difficulty by 1855. A Capital Re-arrangement Act was passed on 16th July 1855. The preamble to the Act is complex, but one section is revealing: “And whereas the Company have for some time been, and still are, in a state of pecuniary embarrassment, and they have not the means for paying off those arrears of dividends, and the arrears of dividends on the £10 Preference Shares have been and are increasing, and in their present state they are unable to pay any dividend on the Sheffield and Manchester Preference Shares, otherwise No. 1 quarters, and the consolidated stock, whereby their credit is damaged, and they are unable to borrow money at the ordinary rate of interest . . .”

The ‘solution’ was to issue a new pre-preference stock, deemed to be fully paid up, and ranking ahead of most other stocks. It would meet the arrears of dividends on the cumtilative preference stocks. In simple terms, arrears of dividends over several years were converted into shares which in turn would earn a dividend. Rights of various existing shares were adjusted. Whilst no money was raised, nor was the earning capacity of the line enhanced, the revised capital structure gave some relief. Between December 1854 – when a dividend of 0.125% was actually declared on the ordinary stock for legal reasons – and 1862, the MS&L was able to pay spasmodic ordinary dividends of up to 1.25%. The LNWR was paying a steady 4 or 5% and even the much-criticised Eastern Counties Railway generally paid between 2 and 3%.

In the 1860s and 1870s. under Edward Watkin, the MS&L made stupendous efforts, to restructure its finances and raise capital for further extensions. Whilst a few public-spirited individuals invested in railways the public good, such as the Duke of Sutherland and the Highland ‘Further North’ line, the majority of investors in the Railway Mania, and after, invested for the same reasons as we do today – dividends and capital growth. A company such as the LNWR, with a sound dividend record, had no difficulty in raising fresh capital. A company with a poor record faced problems. The market value of a share depends on perceptions of capital growth and on its earning capacity. As a crude model, the bank interest rate set the ‘norm’ for what £100 could earn. An £100 share which earned more than £100 invested at the bank would be worth more than £100 and could be issued at a premium. In other words a successful compsny could issue an £100 share above par, say at £110, if the stock exchange value of its £100 shares was about £110. On the other hand, who would put £100 into a company whose existing £100 shares could be bought for £50 because they paid a 2% dividend cwhen the bank rate was 4%? (From 1847 to 1900, bank rate was between 3 and 5% withnperiods of as little as 2% and occasional and usually short-lived fluctuations to as high as 9 or 10%).

Watkin’s approach was upbeat, concentrating upon the improvements from when he became manager in 1854 and chairman ten years later. They are characterised by his comments at the half-yearly shareholders’ meeting, at Manchester in July 1880. “I will take the case of the man, who when I joined the undertaking 26 years ago, bought £10,000 ordinary stock at £20 for the £100, or in total laid out £2,000 … he has had upon that £2,000 annual return of £8 5s 10d for the whole of those years taking the average. He has had his allotments of preference stock, which of course he could sell at a large premium; . . and if he chooses to realise today, he could get all his money back and make a profit of £12,080”. At first sight, it is impressive and no doubt there were stockholders who had bought shares in 1854 when they stood at one fifth of their issue price, but to those who had paid full price it was not so promising and the 8% average return fell to just over 1.5% on the issued face value, or about a quarter of what the LNWR was paying.

Watkin’s most remarkable achievement was in pushing up ‘ordinary’ stock to above par for a time, but this was only accomplished by splitting ordinary stocks into preferred and deferred ordinaty, as well as undivided ordinary. The offer of further quantities of preference stock to existing holders of ordinary stock was another part of a process made even more complicated by the issue of ordinary stock at a discount. These techniques carried the MS&L through the 1870s and 1880s, but the MS&L financial structure was now a labyrinth. The half-yearly accounts for 30th June 1889 list seventeen different types of shares, three being the undivided ordinary, preferred ordinary and deferred ordinary stock. Out of an issued ordinary capital of £5.5m, £346,700 had been issued at a discount of £105,246, which was bad enough, but a further £1.1 m had been issued at a discount of £550,000 or fifty per cent.

Despite Watkin’s comments about restoring share prices to persuade the investor to put £100 into ordinary stock, the MS&L had on occasion been forced to issue £200 in nominal capital and so pay a dividend upon twice the money received. Whilst some investors were attracted to offers which savoured of something for nothing, others were not, and ordinary stock at a massive discount was not sufficient. More preference stock had to he issued and between 1872 and 1881 five issues of 5% preference stock. which totalled more than the whole of the ordinary share capital, reduced the prospects for dividends on ordinary stock still further. By 1889 the MS&L had raised £26.8m in debentures, preference shares and ordinary stock.

We should perhaps explain what these terms mean. Debentures are loans to a company amd can be permanent or redeemable. A debenture holder is not ‘a member’ of the company as a shareholder is. Instead he has loaned money to the company and interest is due upon his loan, whether the company makes at profit or not. It is akin to borrowing money from the bank. You must pay the interest, whether or not your business prospers. lf it does not, the bank will foreclose and seize your assets to repay itself. Debenture holders, whilst their interest is paid, have few rights, but if their interest is in arrears, they can appoint receivers, have the company sold off and recoup themselves out of the proceeds. After they and other secured creditors have been paid out, what is left goes to unsecured creditors and then to the shareholders. A company with substantial debenture stock is vulnerable in the event of a serious fall in profitability.

A preference shareholder only receives his specified dividend if the company makes a profit, and cannot foreclose. Preference dividends on the MS&L varied from the 3.25% of the 1850s stock issued to meet arrears of dividends to 5 or 6% on normal preference stock. Ordinary shareholders only received a dividend when all preference dividends were paid. One might ask why would anyone be an ordinary stock holder? Preference stocks in the more successful companies earned 3-4%, whereas ordinary dividends could be 5, 6 or 7%.

From 1864 to 1892, the LNWR ordinary dividend never dropped below 6%. The ordinary stock offered higher risks but greater income and growth.

By 1889, prior to the London Extension, the MS&L Annual Accounts revealed the fol-lowing capital:

Debentures               £ 7.6m    28%

Preference shares   £13.7m    51%

Ordinary shares       £ 5.5m     21%

An annual report upon railway finances was prepared for the Board of Trade. The 1894 issue shows how railway capital was divided up throughout the British Isles. It stood at £985.4m and was divided thus:

Debentures             £272.5m     27.65%

Preference shares  £352.8m     35.80%

Ordinary shares     £360.1m      36.54%

On average, debentures accounted for 27.65% of capital invested in railways and the MS&L was in line here. Where the MS&L differed markedly was that ordinary capital stood at 21% as against 36.54% nationally. These figures are bad enough, but the 1889 accounts reveal that out of the £5.5m ordinary capital, over £650,000 was at a discount, so that less than £5m had come into the company’s coffers. As some of the preference stock was equally notional, there is little point in recalculating the sums, but the moral is obvious.

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester faced serious financial problems in the 1840s. The creation of the MS&L did not remedy them and by 1855 an MS&L Act spoke of pecuniary embarrassment. The 1855 Act helpedhelped, but did not remove the underlying malaise that too much fixed interest stock had been created to allow reasonable dividends on ordinary shares. Once that had happened, it was difficult to issue additional ordinary stock other than at a discount. This watered the ordinary stock and made its earning capacity even worse. Despite splitting ordinary shares, the only other avenue was more preference stock, which in turn made the ordinary stock still less attractive. It was a vicious circle.

We have taken data from contemporary sources from the 1840s to the 1890s, as Messrs. Emblin & Co. are distrustful of modern authorities. We could adduce details from other years, but it would become tedious. Edward Watkin is sometimes portrayed as the villain of the piece. By 1854, the damage had been done and if blame is to he apportioned to Watkin. it must be that he did not undo that damage. How practicable this was is open to doubt and what Watkin actually did was to create a financial maze which solved current problems, but created long-term difficulties.

Watkin came to power in an era of aggressive railway politics, with new lines being pro-posed to poach traffic. If the MS&L had adopted a negative approach, rejecting exten-sions and eschewing capital expenditure, it would have faced ever-greater competition throughout its territory, so Watkin’s choice was retrenchment and stagnation, or attempting to build his way out of trouble. Temperamentally, Watkin was an aggressive and thrusting executive and, unlike Richard Moon on the LNWR who kept capital projects to a minimum, he went for growth, his final move being the authorisation of the London Extension. With this accomplished, and in his 79th year with his health undermined, he retired as chairman in 1894 although remaining a director.

There is evidence that the operational performance of the MS&L under Watkin was comparable to other companies of a similar size between 1854 and 1894. This has been examined in a paper by T. R. Gourvish The performance of British Railway Management after 1860 — the Railways of Watkin and Forbes” (Journal of Business History 1978 p 186-200) and in research by Dr. Gourvish for the Social Science Research Council (1979), now the Economic & Social Research Council.

Despite the long-term implications, which would become serious with even a modest drop in profitability, Watkin’s policy worked up to 1889-90 and as late as July 1890, a stock exchange list shows the three classes at 126, 83 and 41.25. By September 1895 they had slumped by 40%. What happened?

One major factor was two further issues of 4% preference stock in 1889 and 1891, coming to over £3.7m. They absorbed almost £150,000 in dividends each year and ordinary dividends fell from 3.125% in 1889 to nothing by 1893 and around 1% from 1894 to 1897. The fall could not have come at a worse moment, for the MS&L was now committed to the London Extension. With this background, it was not a good moment to offer more stock on the market. The 19th century railway investor was not the ignoramus some writers would have us believe, for apart from the ordinary daily papers, there was even a specialist investors’ weekly paper, The Railway Times. The editorial for 28th September 1895 is uncompromising: “Almost the only Home Railway stocks which have not improved in value of late are those of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Company. These stocks have, on the contrary fallen considerably”. Preferred ordinaries had fallen from 90 to 75. deferred ordinary from 30 to 28.5 and undivided ordinary from 60.5 to 50.

The editorial spoke of the risks of the London Extension, saying that all was well then, with interest on the extension capital being paid out of capital, “But what will the ordinary dividend look like a few years hence. when net revenue has to be drawn upon to provide the charges on that additional capital? If it takes a microscope to see the ordinary dividends at the present time, we fancy it will require a telescope to find them then”. MS&L Extension ordinaries, £50 paid, stood at £30. Once again it posed a serious problem for the MS&L, with the markets not taking too optimistic a view. The Railway Times revealed a further problem, “The bulk of the capital is assured by the enterprise of the Underwriters, who came to the company’s assistance last July. They hold the new London Extension stocks, for which there is practically no market, and are. we suspect, looking forward with fear and trembling, to the time when interest can no longer be charged to capital account. Even if these bold syndicators got quit of their securities at the present prices there would he a loss on the transaction, but to do so would be no easy matter”. When the line cost double its estimate, recourse had to be made to debentures and preference stock.

It is only if we understand the problems bequeathed to the GC by the MS&L and its predecessors that we can understand the troubles of the GC.

What happened after 1900? From the prelude, we ought to be able to guess. The GCR annual accounts for 1913 tell the story. “The net earnings of the past year … after providing for debenture interest, Rentals and other fixed charges. will admit of the payment in full of the interest upon all preferences down to and including the 4 per cent Preference Stock 1891, and 2 per cent on the 5 per cent Preference stock 1894”. The 1894 preference stock was the most junior preference stock (ie it ranked last for payment amongst the preference stocks), but at £3.1m constituted almost one fifth of the GC contingent preference stocks. By 1913, GC capital had reached £53.7m. The UK average percentages are given for comparison (from the BoT returns.

GCR            GCR         UK Average

Debentures              £22.9m       42.6%      27%

Preference shares   £20.1m      37.4%      36%

Ordinary shares      £10.7m       19.9%      37%

The structure was far worse than in 1889 and to that extent Watkin bears some blame. By 1913, the GC was unable to pay any dividend upon a fifth of its capital, the £10.7m ordinary stock, and could only pay 2% on the most junior £3m preference stock. In 1914 even that ceased and the 1894 preference stock holders received no dividend.

Messrs. Emblin Co. have advanced two facts to show how well the GCR was thought of and how stable it was. They point out that expensive junketings were held at Marylebone to celebrate the opening of the line, which were attended by the Great and the Good. They also refer to a poll carried out by Household Words which voted it “the most forward looking . . . of the country’s rail-ways”. Neither argument is convincing.

The GC needed all the publicity it could get to mark the opening of the London Extension and a lavish opening ceremony was a good way to get plenty of free advertisements; set against the overall cost of the line, it was petty cash. It also introduced the Great and the Good to the GC and hopefully would boost traffic later. The Great and the Good have always attended important events, not least because their presence there shows that they are recognised as being Great and Good; they also got a gargantuan repast of typical Victorian proportions. It is doubtful if many dignitaries sat down and carried out a financial analysis of the prospects of the venture before accepting the invitation. Even the really ramshackle Bishop’s Castle Railway had a gala opening in 1865. [E. Griffiths: The Bishop’s Castle Railway – 1969, p9- 10].

There are two pointers to the difficulties the MS&L/GC was encountering in raising capital in the late 1890s. The passenger and freight stock necessary for the London Extension was actually provided by a separate rolling stock trust, a move which facilitated raising funds as the stock was a security upon which the funds were advanced. It was a device to which only the most impecunious lines resorted. The 1897 Act, which authorised the Banbury to Culworth Junction connection between the London Extension and the GWR, constituted it as a separate undertaking, to be built by the GWR and financed by the GCR. [Bradshaw’s Railway Manual 1902, Annual Report & Accounts, GWR 1913 and GCR 1913]. The construction of the Banbury branch by the GWR, and the development of the GW&GC Joint further south, even led to questions at the Great Western shareholders’ meeting of 1902 as to whether the GWR was planning to take over the GCR [J. N. Morris et al. Edwardian Enterprise – GWR 1987,  p38].

Household Words was a general interest magazine and asked which line was thought to be progressive. The GC was undoubtedly progressive, with one of the finest management teams in the country and, in Fay’s publicity office, some brilliant PR men. With imaginative management and superb PR. the GC projected an excellent image, but public opinion has often been moulded by PR. Everyone knows “Guinness is Good for You”, but the merit of product is not determined by PR. Public perceptionperception and reality can differ markedly. If this were not so, and if a good PR team could not build up confidence, however short-lived, it is doubtful if any politicians would ever be elected to Parliament! 

How did the ‘professionals’ review the GC or the MS&L? An amusing but cruel story’ was recorded in the Jubilee Issue of the Railway News in 1914. A member of the Stock Exchange (sadly anonymous due to rules on publicity) wrote of some 40 years’ experience of the ‘Home Rails’ market and recalled that when George Findlay’s book The Working & Management of an English Railway was published in 1891, some wag had posted up a notice “Companion Volume to Findlay’s book to appear shortly – ‘The Mismanagement of an English Railway’ by Sir Edward Watkin, Baronet”. The comment, though brutal, is indicative of Stock Exchange opinion. They were the professionals who handled railway shares. Public opinion also tended to reflect this, as Gourvish shows [op cit]. Although we are quoting from a modern author, one comment by George Dow is compelling. Col. Robert Williams, a director of the LSWR, on hearing of Fay’s impending appointment as general manager of the GCR in 1902, cautioned against such a move, commenting “The GC will be in tweivership before the year is out. I am their banker”. [Dow Vol 3, p26-27]. Did this quotation come direet from Sam Fay to George Dow, when he was researching his monumental history of the GC? We think it likely, for in Dow’s introduction to Vol. 1 he says “I was able to glean some first-hand knowledge front Sir Sam Fay”. Fay and Dow got on well together, for Fay had promised to write the Foreword to the series, but died in 1953, aged 96.

How did investors value the GC? The shares were quoted on the stock exchange and their value was based upon dividends and potential earnings or growth. The quotations for November 1913 were as follows:

Rhymney Consolidated ordinary               165

LNWR Consolidated ordinary                     126.5

North Eastern Consolidated ordinary       117

South Eastern ordinary                                81

Great Eastern ordinary                                43.25

Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction 34

Great Central Preferred ordinary               27.5

Great Central Deferred ordinary                12.5

Cambrian ordinary (two types) both            1.5

The ‘home rails’ table listed over 100 different companies and it would be tedious to list them all, but the inference is clear. We can find companies which were less well thought of. such as the Cambrian, but amongst the major railway companies. the GC came at the bottom of the table.

The period up to 1913 is seen as the ‘Golden Age’ of railways. but in reality operational costs were rising due to various factors, not least the increase in union bargaining powers, whilst revenue could not be increased because of competition and the surfeit of legislation on railway rates. Many of the major railways contemplated working unions or amalgamations to reduce unnecessary. competition. [G. Alderman The Railway Interest 1973 p192-221]. P. J. Cain has examined rates and amalgamations in “The British Railway Rates Problem 1894-1913- [Journal of Business History 1978 pp87-99). Lest we err through citing modern authors, let us go back to 1908 and see what Sam Day said. “When we approach amalgamation we do so not with a desire to eliminate competition where such is desirable, or proper, but solely with a view to the economical development of our railways upon natural lines, and to so strengthen them financially that they may render the fullest possible benefit &c . . . &c”. [Report of 1908 BoT Conference between railway companies, traders and others, pub. July 1909].

By Edwardian days, the pressure upon all railway shares had become a middle class pre-occupation, as there were some 800,000 stock holdings in the railways of Britain, and perhaps 20 million people were interested in life assur-ance or the mutual funds of friendly societies all influenced by the performance of ‘home rails’. This was even reflected in contemporary literature, such as Howard’s End by E. M. Forster published in 1910, with the delightful comment that shares had “declined with the steady dignity of which only Home Rails are capable”. Emblin, Longbone and Jackson suggest that the GC out-performed other companies, but the reality is that all companies faced growing problems by 1913 and, even without the disruptions of World War I, would have continued their dignified decline, as Forster put it. With a worse financial structure than most large companies, the GC was especially vulner-able. By 1913 it could not pay full dividends on all its preference stock and the problem, far from ameliorating, would have worsened. As it happened, World War 1, Government control and the Grouping intervened.

Contrary to the opinions in the article, the GC shareholders did not fare well at the grouping. In broad terms, the principle adopted by the ‘Big Four’ was that debenture and preference stock holders received an equivalent holding in the new company, based on the earnings of their holdings. For £100 of LNWR 4% debentures, the LMS of offered £100 in LMS 4% debentures, For the Harborne Railway, £100 of 5% debentures received £125 in LMS 4% stock, and £100 of the Highland Railway Dunkeld Lien 6% preference stock received £150 in LMS 4% preference stock. In theory, if you had received £4 before the grouping, you would receive £4 after the grouping. With ordinary stocks, where dividends could fluctuate, it was more complicated. £100 of GC deferred ordinary stock was worth £30 deferred ordinary LNER stock. Of the major constituents of the LNER, the only shares to receive a lower valuation were the Deferred ordinary No.2 shares of the Great North of Scotland Railway. We have already encountered the 1894 GC preference shares, with their patchy dividend record. £100 of 1894 preference stock was worth £100 in LNER preferred ordinary stock. ‘Preferred ordinary’ was the highest ranking ordinary stock, but ranked after all preference stocks. In no other instance did the LNER downgrade a pre-I923 preference stock to ordinary status.

How valuable was LNER deferred ordinary stock? In 1923 and 1924, it received 24%. In 1925 the dividend fell to 1%. There was no deferred ordinary dividend from 1926 and after 1930 preferred ordinary dividends ceased. In 1948, British Railways offered £3 12s 6d in cash for every £100 of LNER deferred ordinary stock. At the Grouping, the LNER had written off many millions of pounds of nominal capital yet even with that benefit, by 1941 the LNER could not pay its 4% second preference dividends in full.

Unlike chronically-ill companies, such as the Garstang & Knott End or East & West Junction Railways which could not pay their debenture interest let alone preference dividends and endured periods of closure, the MS&L/GC was never in that truly ramshackle state, but it was financially weaker than any other major English railway and on a par or worse than the weakest of the major Scottish or Irish lines. It could have survived, given operating conditions in 1913, but as wages rose, motor competition developed and recession bit into trade in the 1920s and 1930s, a line such as the GC – had it remained independent – would have been far weaker than other concerns such as the LNWR or Great Northern. Despite writing off a great deal of capital, the LNER was scarcely in a thriving state by the late 1939s and it was far stronger than the GC could have hoped for.

The financial structure of the MS&L/GCR relied too heavily on debentures or preference shares with fixed dividends and, once this millstone of fixed interest securities existed, the earning capacity was insufficient to pay ordinary dividends. If the GC had possessed a normal capital structure, with a higher proportion of ordinary shares, the 4-5% fixed interest burden would not have been so onerous and a lower proportion of debentures and preference stock would have permitted modest dividends on the ordinary stock. The permutations are immense and the computations too involved for this article, but the authors feel that with a sound capital structure, the GC could have paid ordinary dividends of I to 2% in Edwardian days. This was not comparable with the LNWR, Midland, NER or other highly-successful companies, but was not markedly different to the Great Eastern, the Caledonian, North British or Highland. The problem was not traffic or earning capacity per mile, which was not markedly different from most other companies, but a capital structure which drained all available profits into debenture and preference stocks, leaving nothing for ordinary stockholders. 

Messrs Emblin, Longbone and Jackson are right when they criticise the sensationalists, but they have overstated their case. Even if Alexander Henderson could have waved a magic wand and created the capital structure we have outlined. the GC would not have been a good investment and, with the disruptions of World War 1, it would have faced serious problems. Henderson could not wave that wand, as the preference holders were never going to surrender their benefits for the general good. The GC and Henderson were in the position of the man who asked the apocryphal Irishman how to get somewhere and was told “If I were you, I wouldn’t have started from here”. The GC should never have been where it was to begin with, but once the SA&M and the other con-stituents started down the wrong road, the way back was blocked. Watkin did not solve the problem, but it is doubtful if anyone could have done so. Henderson inherited it and, rather than put forward a spurious gloss of financial stability and progress, we should pay tribute to how he, Fay, and the GC team faced circumstances which must have been almost heart-breaking. One wonders how many man-agers past or present would have done as well. Our view is that it would be very few indeed.

Both authors of this article are admirers of the GCR but, in seeking to be realistic, we would prefer the term “Great Commitment to Recovery” to the “Glorious Catalogue of Renaissance” suggested by Robert Emblin, Bryan Longbone and David Jackson.

Appendix 2 – BackTrack Magazine Vol. 9 No. 3, p129-136 – Notes from the Steam Index website. [3]

Money sunk and lost – The great central myth of the Great Central Railway. Robert Emblin, Bryan Longbone and David Jackson.

The extension of the MSLR from Annesley to London created what the authors describe as a myth, namely that the Great Central Railway was financially crippled by the cost of building it. Many authors have subscribed to that myth: Langley Aldrich’s “The late GCR never paid any dividend on its Ordinary shares”; Hamilton Ellis’s ‘The London Extension was viewed with pessimism at the time of its inception; if MS&L stood for Money Sunk and Lost, GC clearly meant Gone Completely”. Jack Simmons “Great Central never paid an ordinary dividend” and “was financially ramshackle”. Harold Pollins “There were clearly some absurd schemes [including] the building of the last main line, the Great Central, in the 1890s” Michael Bonavia, referring to the grouping criteria used in defining the proto-LNER, adumbrated a poverty-stricken Great Central being carried financially on the back of the prosperous North Eastern.
The perception of GCR penury is a component in another received wisdom; that the LNER’s largest constituent, the NER, had been intended as the financial dynamo for the entire network but that because of the financial weaknesses of the other constituents the LNER finances sank when the virtual collapse of the north-east regional economy in the depressions of the 1920s and 1930s prevented the NER from bankrolling its poverty-stricken fellow constituents. These two orthodoxies provide neat and simple mutually-supporting explanations that agree with what we all know; but “what everyone knows” may not necessarily be true, or it may not be the whole story and half-truths are most effective as mis-information.
The construction costs of the London Extension had certainly been high £11.5 million, almost twice the original estimate and after it opened the GCR did not pay any dividends on its Ordinary shares nor, until 1915, on some of its Preference shares. But not only were these non-paying shares a minority of the total, the opening of the London Extension was followed by thirteen years of considerable expansion. A leading article in the Financial Times of 20th September 1913, analysing the ‘Great Central Position’ and the performance of its shares, referred to the GCR as one of the leading UK railway companies, stating that “the position of the company . . . promises well in the near future . . . traffic returns have shown continued healthy expansion” and praised ‘the exceptional prospects of this undertaking”. There is a wide discrepancy between the modern view and contemporaneous informed assessment. The £10 million for the GCR’s post-1900 expansion programmes (more than was being invested by most of its contemporaries) had to come from somewhere and the debt serviced somehow. Further, the price paid for the GCR at Grouping was marginally greater than that paid for any of the other LNER constituent companies except the NER; there is also the small and hitherto overlooked matter of the evidence on the London Extension profitability that was given by Sir Ralph Lewis Wedgwood, the LNER Chief General Manager, to the Railway Rates Tribunal in 1924/5 when he stated that it was expected that a nominal fifteen years was required for new works to fructify (that is produce a 5% return on investment and when questioned that “that new trunk lines [are] exceptionally slow to mature”. The authors forcefully state that Henderson/Faringdon had been regared as one of the leading railway finaciers
After the London Extension opened, the GCR started a programme of widespread expansion taking over the LDECR and several small railways in North Wales and Lancashire, building a joint line with the GWR to provide a second route to Marylebone.By providing rail access into the Chilterns, the GW/GC and Met /GC joint lines opened the area for property development and generated much commuter traffic. The Wath concentration (or marshalling) yard was built to increase the handling efficiency of the South Yorkshire coal traffic, a new deep-water port was developed on a green-field site at Immingham to compete with the NER’s facilities at Hull and to complement the GCR installations at Grimsby, main line capacities were doubled in some places and new signalling systems were installed. Powerful engines of all types were designed and built to meet the ever-increasing demand for heavier and faster trains.
Most of the capital to pay for those investments was obtained by debenture issues. These are fixed interest loans with guaranteed dividends but without any voting rights. As a method of funding expansion, such issues have the advantage of raising new capital without affecting boardroom control but they incur the cost of mortgaging future earnings. Such a predominant reliance on debenture issues is nowadays considered to be a source of financial weakness, not only because it worsens the asset/debt ratio but also because the mortgage effect increases the need to maintain growth merely to service the increasing debt, thereby reducing the ability to make provision for debt repayment and/or increase dividends. There is some evidence in the share offer details that most of the contingent shares were held by non- contingent shareholders, so it may be that from 1899 on they were taking the long view, cushioned by their non-contingent dividends, in the expectation that the capital investments which the GCR was making would eventually be reflected in higher dividends. Those were the days when investors were accustomed to financing long term projects that were not likely to return a dividend in the short term. Sir Ralph Wedgwood was quite sanguine about a 20 or 30 year period before a major new work would be expected to have ‘fructified’.
In summary, the GCR’s reputation as poverty-stricken and financially ramshackle is a modern fiction, started in error by popular writers who apparently ignored the public record and compounded by academics who discounted the distorting effect of anachronism’s parallax. The facts are that in tranforming itself from a mediocre provincial cross-country goods line into a strategically – important mixed traffic main line, the GCR’s effectiveness in seeking and developing new business was such that by 1913 its revenue and profitability was comparable with that of its proto-LNER peers; the profitability of the London Extension was increasing in line with the expectations of the period; the money market was investing large sums in the GCR; its passenger trains were fast, prompt, clean and reliable; and withal industry and the general public received and positively enjoyed a comprehensive rail transport service that had dash, imagination and style. All this was constructed by Sir Alexander Henderson, Sir Sam Fay, John George Robinson and the rest of the workforce on the foundations of Sir Edward Watkin’s vision. Instead of its post- World War II reputation of Money Sunk and Lost, in the annals of British railway development and financial management the twenty-five year history of the GCR was a Glorious Catalogue of Renaissance! 

Appendix 3 – BackTrack Magazine Vol. 10 No. 5, p266-271 – Notes from the Steam Index website. [4]

Great Central – the real problem. Martin Bloxsom and Robert Hendry.

Between 1900 and 1914 the GNR, GER and GWR were paying 3 to 4% dividends. The LNWR, MR and NER were paying 6% or above. The GCR was paying 0%. The costly original route and the long time to opening were deep-seated problems. In 1846 the fusion of SA&MR with three Lincolnshire companies attempted to remedy this problem, but there were very poor returns between 1848 and 1851, and it could not even pay any dividend on its Preference Shares. The Company was in serious financial difficulty by 1855. See also correspondence by Steve Banksand Keith Horne. (page 387); and on page 634 which mis-spells both of original authors, which re-questions the probable actions to have been taken by Henderson if Grouping had not taken place. KPJ: is it not possible to equate the particular dire financial state with the “misfortune” of it incorporating the GCR?. Emblin & Longbone response on page 698. Martin Bloxsom returns to this theme in a summarizing letter in Volume 16 page 174, which contrasts this approach (the harsh financial realities) with what might be termed a more optimistic line of thought espoused by Emblin (Volume 9 page 129). Emblin returned to the theme of the financial status of the Great Central in Volume 22 page 654 etseq.

The Railways of Orkney – Part 2

So, having discovered that I cannot escape the railway bug here on Orkney. What more can I do but give in?

What more is there to discover? …

Firstly, we had the day on Hoy today (2nd May 2019) as part of a guided tour of the island by ‘Island Tours’. [2] Three of us had the pleasure of visiting much of the island over a period of 6 hours with an expert local guide.

1. Lyness on Hoy

The evidence of wartime activity is nowhere more obvious on Hoy than in Lyness. Usually, we would have been able to visit the Scapa Flow Museum and Visitor Centre but sadly it is closed until 2020 so that it can benefit from a major injection of Lottery funding.

There is a temporary exhibition in the Hoy Hotel but time, on this visit, was not in our side. However, I did get a short time to wander around the site of the Museum and Visitor Centre … and came across a few gems!

In the last post I noted that there was a short length of standard gauge track close to the museum buildings. I was unaware, before this visit, that there were other railway related items on the site. Some pictures follow. A few of my own interspersed with those taken by others. Sadly, although I did see the steam crane, I did not get the chance to photograph it.Standard gauge railway tracks at Lyness (above on 2nd May 2019). Apologies about the light. 

The adjacent photo shows a gathering of railway related items outside the Museum, © Peter Mattock. [3]Two standard gauge short wheel-base flat wagons (2nd May 2019).Another of these wagons at an earlier date on the section of track above, © Graham Adamson. [4]Rail mounted steam crane, © Chris Allen, 2005. At this time the crane needed supporting on blocks but was otherwise in a relatively complete state. [5]This later image shows the same crane without some of its superstructure and with its jib supported on an A-frame. Note the presence of rails in the concrete apron, © John Yellowlees. [1]A closer view, © Damian Entwistle. [6]Two of the cranes which operated around Lyness Pier are pictured here during the war. Behind them are the large barrel-like floats of the boom defences stacked ready for use, © Imperial War Museum. [8]Four more photographs, taken on 2nd May, of narrow gauge wagons at Lyness Museum.

Box Wagon No. 3 (above), © John Yellowlees 2016. [1]

Moving away from the museum a little, one of the old World War One piers is still standing with evidence that it was rail served.

The adjacent picture is mine, and although the image is not great, rails can be seen protruding form the still standing part of the pier, (2nd May 2019). A better picture is provided below.A better view, © Damian Entwistle. Rails can just be seen protruding from the top timber decking above the steel girders. [6]The construction of the World War 1 pier and wharf at Lyness. [8]World War 2 operations at Lyness Pier. Note the steam railway cranes and stationary cranes along the pier length. In 1916, the Worden pier shown above (in the colour pictures) was constructed and land was requisitioned later that year to construct a concrete wharf. As early as 1939 a new wharf was requested at Lyness to meet the growing demands of the Navy. It wasn’t completed until 1944 and became known locally as ‘The Golden Wharf’ on account of the time and money spent on its construction. Part of the wharf now serves as Hoy’s Ro-Ro ferry service. [8] In the interim, three piers were built in Ore Bay in 1941 and 1942.North pier (just visible at ‘5c’ on this map) was rail-served and was used for an inter-isle ferry service and landing of provisions. The remains of the WW1 pier are just visible to its left on the map. West pier was beyond the WW1 pier and is not visible here. It was also rail-served along its full length. The steel South pier was similar in design to the North Pier. It was on the far side of Ore Bay. It was used to transfer stores and particularly for the import of hydrogen for the barrage balloons. It cannot be seen on this map. Some of the rail routes which served HMS Pomona can be seen on this map.[8]

2. The Churchill Barriers

Appendix 1 is taken from the North link Ferries website. [7] It briefly tells the story of the construction of the barriers during and after the Second World War. These barriers formed a protective screen for Scapa Flow in the East durung the war. In the 21st century, they are a vital link between Mainland Orkney and the islands to the East of Scapa Flow.

The construction of the barriers was a mamouth undertaking.  The adjacent picture taken from appendix one illustrates at least three things – the use of railways in the construction, the value of the steam crane, and the scope of the precasting operation which was undertaken. [7]

There are two further images available that I am aware of which illustrate the value of railways in the construction of the barriers. Both are here courtesy of Damian Entwistle and were taken in the temporary exhibition at the Hoy Hotel.The barriers under construction. Note the presence of rails which no doubt facilitated the use of the steam crane. [6]This is a wonderful picture. Note: the dual gauge on the line in use by the steam crane; the blocks being cast in the yard and both the formers used for their construction and the A-frame overhead gantry to used to facilitate that work; and finally, to the left of the image, one of the steam locomotives in use during the construction work! [6]

We visited the barriers on 3rd May 2019 and the Italian chapel which was built by the PoWs that constructed the barriers.


3. A Model Railway Related Business

An excellent example of the way in which the internet is changing the world in which we live, is the way in which small businesses set up in remote communities have been able to vastly extend their reach. One such business is Peedie Models. [9] ‘Peedie’ is an Orcadian word which means ‘little’. Paul Tyer who runs Peedie Models lives and work at his home on Orkney. His business is primarily internet-based and supplies resin-cast and 3D-printed models mainly for the N gauge railway modelling community. His own skills extend into meeting a number of modelling commissions in various scales and genres.

So, not only have we come to a place which had at least 24 different railways in use primarily during the War years, but we are also in a place where cottage industries can thrive and where one particular business supplies the modelling fraternity throughout the Uk and further afield. Paul’s current commission is to build a large model of HMS Royal Oak ready for some of the 100th anniversary commemorations associated with the first world war which take place in Orkney over the summer.

Paul was kind enough to invite us to look round his work studio on 3rd May 2019, and we bought a number of N gauge items from him. I also asked for permission to take some photographs of the studio. …Paul owns 4 different 3D printers. This one prints in 100 micron layers and is the coarsest of his printers.Paul at work on his computer. On this occasion he is printing a bill for the items we bought. Two more of his 3D printers are visible. These print at around 25 microns and models are of a much higher quality when then are procured on the machines. He also owns a 3D laser printer which is hidden behind the cardboard protection next to the other two 3D printers.Some of Paul’s stock ready to sell.Completed resin-cast and 3D-printed items ready for careful preparation before packaging ready for sale.Paul’s current major commissioned project is the building of a model of HMS Royal Oak.

For a little more information about Paul’s business, please see Appendix 2.


  1., accessed on 2nd May 2019.
  2. accessed on 29th April 2019.
  3., accessed on 2nd May 2019.
  4., accessed on 2nd May 2019.
  5., accessed on 2nd May 2019.
  6., accessed on 1st May 2019.
  7. Lyness; Wartime Orkney Leaflet No. 1; The Scala Flow Visitor Centre & Museum, Lyness.
  8. Paul Tyler;, accessed and visited on 3rd May 2019.


Appendix 1 – The Churchill Barriers

The Churchill Barriers are a series of four causeways linking the Orkney Mainland to the islands of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay with a total length of 1.5 miles. They were built in 1940 as naval defences following the sinking of The Royal Oak, but now serve as road links, carrying the A961 road from Kirkwall to Burwick.

In 1914 the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet moved to Scapa Flow as it was one of the largest sheltered harbours in the world and was ideally located to take on a German Fleet based in the Baltic. The narrow passages between the five islands on the eastern side of Scapa Flow were defended by sinking blockships. At the start of WWII further blockships were sunk and submarine nets were deployed, but proved inadequate.

barrier-building-largeOn 14 October 1939, the German U-Boat, U-47, made it’s way past the blockships at high tide and torpedoed HMS Royal Oak which was lying at anchor in Scapa Flow. 833 members of the Royal Oak’s crew were killed. Within a month, Winston Churchill visited Orkney and ordered that work begin on the construction of four permanent barriers.

To form the bases over 250,000 tons of broken rock were dropped from overhead cableways into waters up to 59 feet deep. The bases were then covered with 66,000 concrete blocks in five-tonne and ten-tonne sizes. The five-ton blocks were laid on the core, and the ten-tonne blocks were arranged on the sides in a random pattern to act as wave-breaks. blockworks-largeMaterial was quarried on Orkney, and concrete blocks were cast on an industrial scale on the islands before being brought to the cableways by a network of railways.

Much of the 2,000 strong labour force was provided by over 1300 Italian prisoners of war. The prisoners were divided between three camps, 700 in two camps on Burray and 600 at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm. These men also contructed The Italian Chapelorkney-churchill-barriers-largeAs the use of POW labour for War Effort works is prohibited under the Geneva Convention, the works were justified as ‘improvements to communications’ to the southern Orkney Islands.

The work began in May 1940 and was completed by September 1944. The Churchill Barriers were formally opened by the first Lord of the Admiralty on 12th May 1945, four days after the end of World War II in Europe.

churchill-barrier-number-four-largeThe lasting role of the Chruchill Barriers has not been as a defence for Scapa Flow, but as a series of causeways linking the five islands together. The roads crossing them have been improved over the years and Barrier No 4, no longer looks artificial. Over the years dunes have accumulated on the eastern side to form a lovely sandy beach and as a result Burray and South Ronaldsay are no longer really separate islands.


Appendix 2 – Peedie Models

Peedie Models: Combining Craftmanship and Technology

Paul Tyer Peedie ModelsFor most people a move to Orkney embarks them on a new adventure and this is certainly what happened when Paul Tyer bought a house here complete with a model railway in the loft.

Paul  now has a growing business ‘Peedie Models‘ out in Tankerness and the story of its development illustrates the potential for economic growth in Orkney for small enterprises.

John Stewart’s model railway running the length of the house loft reignited in Paul his passion and skill for model making. From making a few bits and selling them he now has a workshop equipped with the most up to date kit. Peedie Models can do 3D modelling, casting, laser cutting and custom designs. Future planning is for a workshop at Hatston and a ride on model railway out at his property in Tankerness.

You can view another aspect of Paul’s work if you visit the Stromness Museum where his model of HMS Hampshire is on display. Computer modelled from the original specifications it is a wonderful example of skilled craftsmanship coupled with today’s technology.

Paul was also involved recently in the Channel 4 Programme ‘The Biggest Little Railway in the World’. 

“Dick Strawbridge and a team of model railway enthusiasts attempt to build the longest model railway in the world, 71 miles across Scotland, from Fort William to Inverness”

If you haven’t watched it I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I can tell you that Paul had a great time in 12 days of filming.

Peedie Models is a prime example of a small highly skilled business utilising today’s technology to successfully establish and grow in the islands.

To find out more about Peedie Models  Watch: Peedie Models

website: Peedie Models

Facebook page: Peedie Models

Reporter: Fiona Grahame