Author Archives: rogerfarnworth

Wennington to Morecambe and Heysham (via Lancaster)

Roy Davies has just published (July 2021) an album in the popular Middleton Press series which calls itself the Ultimate Rail Encyclopedia (International). Like many people, I own a number of these volumes which never seem to disappoint.

Roy Davies book focusses on the former Midland line which followed the valley of the River Lune from Wennington to Lancaster and then turned to the Northwest heading for Morecambe and Heysham. [1]

The line was was a pioneer of electrification. The Midland Railway Board decided in 1906 to electrify the Lancaster-Morcambe-Heysham lines which it had acquired on 1st June 1871 when it absorbed the Morecambe Harbour and Railway Company and the ‘little’ North Western Railway (not to be confused with the ‘large’ LNWR).

“Services began using a German 6.6kV 25Hz AC overhead system, powered by the MR’s own generating plant at Heysham with overhead wires carried on a mix of steel and wooden gantries.”

“The service was withdrawn 12th February 1951 as the stock was time expired. …On 17th August 1953 the lines were re-energised … to 25kV 50 Hz AC with power taken from the National Grid.”

“The former Midland route from Lancaster to Morecambe and Heysham was the first single-phase electric railway in the country!”

Davies’ book commences its journey along the line at Wennington Junction Station which sat on the South bank of the River Wennington, close to the village. The Station and the main East-West line between Settle and Carlisle still exist today.

Wennington Railway Station in the 21st century. The line to Lancaster left the Settle to Carnforth line just to the West of the bridge which carried Old Moor Road over the line.

The line from Wennington to Lancaster closed on 3rd January 1966 to passenger traffic and in 1967 to freight. “On 3rd June 1967 the last through train ran from Heysham via Lancaster to the West Riding. … Thereafter, all traffic using the Heysham Harbour branch had to reverse at Morecambe.”

The centre of Lancaster with the old Midland line in the top left of the image. The station in the far top left is Green Ayre Station. The Midland line crossed the River Lune on Greyhound Bridge after passing through the station, and continued on to Morecambe. Lancaster’s MPD and the Midland Goods Yard feature nearer to the camera. This image does not feature in Roy Davies book. [4]

Like other books from Middleton Press, Roy Davies book is made up of a series of photographs and maps of each significant location on the line. These are grouped into chapters of convenient length, covering each section of the line: Wennington to Lancaster; Lancaster to Morecambe, Morecambe to Heysham and a separate section relating to the Morecambe to Heysham line from 1994 until the present.

Copious notes accompany each photo and each map. These highlight salient points on maps and photographs, without which, like sense might be made of the chosen photographs.

The book has been a joy to read!

Morecambe Pavillion Station – the end of the line. The picture was taken from above in 1920 as part of a survey. This picture does not feature in Roy Davies’ book but comes from the website of Britain from Above. [2]

Morecambe Pavillion Station was the end of the line, or, at least, one of the ends of the line. Heysham was the other. I later years, after the closure of the old Midland line, Heysham was accessed only by reversing at Morecambe Pavillion!

Heysham South Quay and railway station in 1929, a version of this image appears in Roy Davies book. [3]

References

  1. Roy Davies; Wennington to Morecambe and Heysham; Middleton Press, Haslemere, Surrey, 2021.
  2. Image Ref: EPW004078, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW004078, accessed on 11th October 2021.
  3. Image Ref: EPW029243, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW029243, accessed on 11th October 2021.
  4. Image Ref: EPW002092, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW002092, accessed on 11th October 2021.

The Forest of Dean Tramways and Railways – An Addendum:

In this addendum to the articles already written about the Forest of Dean, we take a general look at the Forest through the eyes of Humphrey Household. 

While on holiday in the Forest of Dean in September 2021, I picked up a secondhand copy of “Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties” by Humphrey Household. [1]  It consists of a review of the development of the railways in Gloucestershire supported by a series of photographs which were predominantly taken in the 1920s by Humphrey Household. The photos are a significant resource. The text of the book is well-written. Its final two chapters were of real interest to me.

IMG_20210917_171410913~2

The two chapters are entitled “Leckhampton Quarries” and “The Forest of Dean.” I have covered the first of these two chapters elsewhere. The second provides some interesting comments and photographs relating to the Forest.

Household had been fascinated by the Forest of Dean from an early age but did not start to photograph the Forest railways until the late 1940s. Nevertheless, his photographs from that time are illuminating. The first four photographs show the Lydney docks/canal, one, from April 1948, shows one of the coal shipping hoists on a length of the canal. He notes that the wagon turntable on the rail approach bore the date 1873. (p126) Two photographs (p125) were taken in August 1948 and show, first, the canal entrance and then the inner gates and basin with the Alma of Bristol moored. The fourth photograph is undated but shows the loading of coal and a little of the layout of tracks above the coal hoist.

Household also provides photographs of the route of the Bullo Pill Tramway. He notes that “after leaving the Riverside and passing the Bullo Cross Inn it followed a meandering course close to the contour, sometimes on a low embankment, always maintaining a gentle gradient for horses returning with empty wagons. But between Servernside and the valley of the Bideford Brook which the tramway followed from Lower Soudley through Ruspidge to Cinderford, there lay a ridge which had to be pierced. There had been plenty of canal runnels before then, but that at The Haie, 1,100 yards long, was certainly one of the earliest to be driven for a railway.” (p127). [2]

Household comments that “in 1826 a new company, the Forest of Dean Railway, was formed to take over the tramway and complete the wet dock. … The Bullo line, still remembered as the ‘dramroad’, was remarkably simple in operation. The wagons, carrying a ton or two at a time, proceeded at no ‘faster rate than a Horse could walk’, and when two met, the loaded one had right of way, the other perforce returning to the nearest turnout. Through the tunnel, wherein none might ‘carry or use a lighted torch’, the wagons passed in groups, the driver of the rearmost distinguishing it with the branch of a tree and blowing a horn when he emerged at the further end.” (p127-130)

The operation was straightforward. The new tramway company halved the tolls charged for coal and completed the wet dock, enlarging the wharves at the same time. The use of steam locomotives was considered but rejected because of the alignment of the route and the size of the bore of Hair Hill Tunnel. However the arrival of the broad gauge running from Gloucester to Chepstow in 1851 changed things. The Forest of Dean Railway sold out to the South Wales company and Brunel decided to convert the tramway so as to be able to accept steam locomotives. A series of six photographs taken by Household in April 1952 show different part of the alignment of the Bullo Pill Tramway.

Household also mentions an abortive attempt to construct a third tramway midway between the other two. The intended route ran between Purton Pill and Foxes Bridge (on the Littledean-Coleford road – the B4266). He says that “the prospectus bore the grandiose title of the Purton ‘Steam Carriage Road’. [3] Construction began, and at Viney Hill above Blakeney part of the formation can be seen leading in s south-easterly direction from beside the A48 Lydney road, and nearer Purton there is a completed arch intended to carry the railway over the Blakeney-Purton road.” (p130) Household provides two further photographs (p134) to illustrate the two locations that he mentions. Grace’s Guide provides a photograph of the three-span arched viaduct to which, I think, Household refers. It remains today sitting over the road between Purton and Etloe. [4]

References

  1. Humphrey Household; Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties; Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., Gloucester, 1984 (reprinted 1986) ….  the relevant chapter can be found from p124 onwards.
  2. This line and its tunnel are covered in an article which can be found at: https://rogerfarnworth.com/2018/03/13/bullo-pill-and-the-forest-of-dean-tramway
  3. The National Archive holds records associated with this proposed line which can be accessed at Kew. The relevant details can be found on the following links: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7435267, accessed on 17th September 2021. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7435264, accessed on 17th September 2021. Further details are available on Grace’s Guide, https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Purton_Steam_Carriage_Road, accessed on 17th September 2021.
  4. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/File:JD_Purton_2016_01.jpg, accessed on 17th September 2021.

The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad – An Addendum:

The Leckhampton Quarries …

In this addendum to the previous four articles about the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad we return to the head of the line and to the quarries on Leckhampton Hill.

While on holiday in the Forest of Dean in September 2021, I picked up a secondhand copy of “Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties” by Humphrey Household. [1]  It consists of a review of the development of the railways in Gloucestershire supported by a series of photographs which were predominantly taken in the 1920s by Humphrey Household. The photos are a significant resource. The text of the book is well-written. Its final two chapters were of real interest to me.

The chapters are entitled “Leckhampton Quarries” and “The Forest of Dean.” The second of these two chapters warrants discussion elsewhere. The first provides some significant additional material relating to the Tramroad (or should it be called a tramway?) and some important and delightful pictures showing the quarries, their transport links and construction work in the 1920s.

Interestingly, Household highlights the way in which Cheltenham’s street layout has been significantly influenced by the presence of the tramway. He points to the shape or alignment of “Queen’s Road from Lansdown, where the branch left the Gloucester-Cheltenham tramway line close to the Midland Railway station;  the triangular Westall Green in Tivoli, so shaped to accommodate sidings and a depot; the narrow Norwood Street running at a curious angle to meet the Leckhampton Road; a length of sunken pavement on the west side of that road which had been a shallow cutting to ease the gradient; the yard at the foot of the hill where caravans were later built.” (p95-96)

Accompanying the text are a series of photographs taken in both 1911 and 1923 and show the tramway at work. It is clear from the pictures that by 1923 the condition of the tramway was deteriorating and was no longer in constant use. Household comments: “from my very early years the tramways were an unceasing source of interest. From the upper windows of a house in The Park, I could see Top Incline, and the rare occasions when I spotted it in use caused considerable excitement! Bottom Incline was secluded in a privacy jealously preserved … But the steep public footpath alongside the … Middle Incline was one we often used; it emerged amid the junctions on the rough plateau whence Top Incline ascended with awe-inspiring abruptness.” (p97)

Household goes on to express his delight as a young boy when invited, on occasional weekday visits, by a friendly quarryman to ride in a wagon of a horse-drawn train. And once even to being allowed to ride up the incline! An early case of ‘joy-riding’, says Household.

In this chapter, Household provides a relatively detailed description of the operation of the line and each of the inclines. The 1911 photographs were taken by his father, those of 1923, by Household himself.

Household reflects on the fact that by 1923 the tramway had reached very much the end of its value to the quarries. This happened because in the closing months of 1922, a new standard-gauge railway line was constructed. His keen interest in railway matters led to him photographing extensively the progress of the work. His records show that ,”during the two years before the railway and its associated works were finished, [he] took well over a hundred photographs. … Fortunately [he] recorded details on the leaves of the album when [he] mounted the pictures.” (p101)

The new works were prompted by the formation of a new company “to exploit the resources of Leckhampton Hill, primarily in the production of lime, and a prospectus issued in July 1922 enthusiastically stressed the great quantity of stone that was easily accessible and the substantial profit expected to accrue from large scale extraction.” (p101-102)

A single photograph is reproduced below.It was taken in 1924 and illustrates the magnitude of the change which took place in the early 1920s.

Leckhampton Hill: the lime kilns and the standard gauge railway built 1922-1924. Almost the whole course of the line can be traced in this photograph: the incline, the bridge carrying Daisy Bank Road, the passing loop, the incline foot, the track curving from it past Southfield Farm to the level crossing of Sandy Lane (whose white gate posts are just visible between two groups of treetops), the grey line of cutting stretching almost to Charlton Kings GWR station. To the left of the kilns are the winding drum used to lower tip wagons while the embankment was being built, and the shed covering the machinery at the head of the old tramway’s Middle Incline.” (p102)

Household goes on to say that

The steepness of the ascent from the Leckhampton Road, and the impossibility of making connection with the main railways through the built up area of the town, meant that an entirely new route had to be found, and the promoters decided on a line some one-and-a-quarter miles long descending to the Great Western’s Banbury & Cheltenham Railway at Charlton Kings, part of which was to be a cable-worked incline two-thirds of a mile in length to overcome a fall of nearly 400 feet.” (p102) 

Household provides details of the kind of contractor’s wagons used on the project and details of the process of building the necessary embankment for the new line, complemented by his own photographs. The contractors were Caffin & Co. of London and they made extensive use of manual labour supported by a government loan to the project to support local employment.

The construction of the embankment took the best part of a year! While this work was progressing slowly a cutting was being excavated between Sandy Lane and Charlton Kings GWR station. Household provides pictures of the Ruston steam navy at work and of the contractor’s locomotive, 0-6-0ST Fashoda, built by Manning Wardle & Co. of Leeds in 1898. He also provides a detailed commentary on the works as they progressed. Fascinating photographs back up the text of the chapter.

As part of the work, “A footbridge had to be built for a field path close to the junction at Charlton Kings, and an overbridge to carry Daisy Bank Road across the track just over half way up. Both were formed of steel girders between abutments of neat stone walling.” (p110)

It may also be of interest to note that the new incline was not to be a simple self-acting incline. Power was required, “supplied by an eighty horse-power electric motor geared to the winding drum, and electricity was generated by a plant installed at Southfield Farm. Here,” says Household, “there were duplicate sets, each consisting of a Sandycroft 440 volt, 262 ampere alternator driven by s four-cylinder Premier Gas Engine developing 250 to 300 horse-power, fed by a Crosslet suction gas plant. Transformers stepped up the voltage to 2,200 for transmission to the top of the hill where it was reduced before being distributed via the switchboard to the winding motor, the lighting circuits and the fans at the kilns.” (p114-116)

The new kilns, 4 in number, were 77ft tall and became dominant features on the hill. They were “supplied by Priest Furnaces and erected on a stone-revetted platform so that lime could be fed by gravity into railway wagons alongside, and the kilns themselves were also fed by gravity from narrow gauge tip-trucks run out across a bridge from the quarry gallery.” (p116)

A 0-4-0ST locomotive Lightmoor built by Peckett & Co. in 1902 was purchased by the company to work between the foot of the new incline and the sidings which had been constructed at Charlton Kings.

Household reports that, while blasting had long been practised in the quarries it had been on a small scale, the need both to produce construction stone and much smaller pieces for burning meant that blasting was vastly increased. He notes that, “thunderous reverberations disturbed the town and were particularly distressing to the well-to-do and influential inhabitants. … When to the annoyance there was added the danger of windows broken by concussion and flying fragments, complaints were voiced in the local press, an action committee was formed, and there was threat of an application for an injunction.” (p123)

In fact, the project was foundering anyway, profit projections had not been realised, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The national treasury appointed receivers and ultimately work ceased in November 1926, only a couple of years after completion of the incline, kilns and infrastructure.

The project had cost £270,000. At auction, in August 1927, only £8,000 was raised when material and plant was sold. Ultimately, the town council was able to buy the land at a very cheap price and the Hill became an open space available to all!

References

  1. Humphrey Household; Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties; Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., Gloucester, 1984 (reprinted 1986) ….  the relevant chapters can be found from p93 onwards.

Railways in Iran – An Addendum.

Two shortish items in one post!

Firstly, the recollections of a locomotive driver and fireman on his time in Iran in the early 1940s. And, secondly, a short note about the involvement of the GWR in sourcing oil-fired locos for us in Iran in the 1930s.

1. Vic Cripps in Iran

During World War II a vital role was played by the Army’s railway operating units in theatres of war in the Middle East and Europe. A sapper in the Royal Engineers, Vic Cripps, shared his recollections via Paul Joyce in the November 2000 edition of BackTrack magazine. [1]

The featured image is one carried in the BackTrack article and shows two WD 2-8-0 locomotives passing in the gentler foot hills of the Iranian mountains.

Vic Cripps spent time in the early 1940s in Iran. His memories of that time are related in the journal by Paul Joyce. [1] After being ordered to Malaya and Singapore and a long sea journey, he arrived off the coast of Singapore just as the island was falling to the Japanese in February 1942. His orders were changed and he was sent to Ceylon before being transferred to Iran. His roles while in Iran centred on the Trans-Persian Railway, later the Trans-Iranian Railway. The railway was operated by the Royal Engineers alongside local staff.

The Persian system was operated by two Railway Operating Companies. The northern section from Derood to Tehran was in the hands of Vic’s, … the 153rd, whilst southwards to the Gulf was by the 190th. Both their respective lines were then further broken down into four working sections. A Sergeant Major was based at each of the latter, whilst  the Staff Sergeant would oversee the whole of the areas.” (p644)

Vic was based at Qum and remembered a fine commanding officer who had been a railway controller in pre-war times, Colonel Brash. He says that as the Sergeants were all ex-railway men, “familiarity was the norm, first names, not titles of rank, being used when solving a problem.” (p644)

Paul Joyce continues:

The ground troops were the 10th Indian Division, which had a mixture of Sikhs and Gurkhas within its ranks. This was to be one of the first Colonial Divisions to have Indian officers in command. Most trains would have eight of these Indian soldiers with their rifles riding on them as guards, mainly to keep the Kurds at bay.

The accommodation at Qum was purpose-built in the local traditional way. A large hole was dug into which soil, straw and water were added, then thoroughly mixed. The ‘gunge’ was then slopped between wooden planks and left to dry, before being cut into blocks. The roofs were of wooden slats covered in mud and when the snow came, natives had the job of sweeping them before the weight became too great for the structure to stand. Qum had a locomotive depot and so when working trains forwards a new locomotive would come onto the train. Most workings were to Ahwaz, which necessitated staying overnight in the primitive shack-like building provided for that purpose. There were no canteens, so crews took 24 hours-worth of rations with them. Their only help would be a friendly call to awaken, one hour before they were due to go back on duty.” (p644) The picture below shows a typical billet  in Iran in 1942. The primitive roof is clearly visible. (p644)

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“The Trans-Persian locomotives consisted of some powerful 54,400lb Beyer Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4s for working the northern section from Tehran to the Caspian Sea. Also supplied by Beyer, Peacock were some 2-8-0s, while added to these were 77 Swedish and German 2-8-0, 2-10-0 and 2-8-2 locomotives. Unfortunately by the time the British Army had arrived most were unserviceable, having been thrashed to pieces. With no engineering background, so to speak, the Persians had never been able to maintain and overhaul them properly. The British troops at Tehran came into contact with one serviceable Beyer Garratt; based at Tehran shed, it was, for most of the unit, their first experience with one of these large complicated engines. Just like a Midland Compound, to the uninitiated, a driver was never too sure whether it was in forward or reverse gear when he opened the regulator. At least once, Vic recalled rumours of part of this long locomotive with some of its wheels hanging over a wrongly-set turntable!” (p644)

Vic remembered dramatic scenery, high mountain ranges with deep ravines, a ruling grade of 1 in 67 and substantial structures. He particularly noted two sections of the line both of 10 miles in length: “the first had eighteen tunnels, constituting 41% of its length, whilst the second had twenty, equalling 50%. At one point the line was lifted 157ft by a spiral of two loops, both 2 miles in length, which at one point were 328 yards apart in a straight line but in railway terms were ten times that distance.” (p645)

One surprising comment relates to the availability of water. Vic remembers there being no problems accessing good clean water. In previous articles in this series about Iran, I have noted a concern expressed about using steam on the route. The lack of easily available water supplies was considered to be a significant factor in the decision to use diesel power on the line after US forces took over the management of the line from the British Army.

Paul Joyce recounts Vic’s memories: “Water for the engines was never a problem, fortunately. Most of the mountains towering high above the line were per manently covered in snow and everywhere were streams descending with pure water, as there was no vegetation this high up. At frequent intervals some streams were culverted with concrete sides and diverted to pass adjacent to the track. Alongside were stationed Merryweather pumps; it was just a case of putting the basket (the large filter at the end of the hose) into the water, inserting the output hose into the tender tank, then firing the pump and just waiting while a couple of thousand gallons were taken on.” (p645)

Vic also commented that the steam engines being oil-fired made his job as a fireman on some of the strenuous climbs so much easier, even more so on the descents, although the WD Stanier locomotive benefited from a small amount of steam in the cylinders on a descent so to avoid knocking echoing around the valleys! Vic could not remember any of the locomotives having been coal-fired when first in the country.

One of Vic’s surprises was the large number of Polish troops carried southwards on the line having escaped the German advance across Poland, only to be detained by the Russians. Eventually they joined Polish units active with British forces in the North African Campaign.

Good quality British open wagons were used for a lot of the traffic and suffered undertaking such arduous journeys in rakes that were not continuously braked. Their lifespan was as a result relatively short.

The standard freight locomotives were WD Staniier 8F 2-8-0s. 50 were supplied from stock by the LMS, others were supplied new by the North British Locomotive Company and Beyer, Peacock and Company. In all, 143 of these locomotives served in Iran. The bulk of these locos arrived in 1942.

In addition to the WD 2-8-0s, Vic remembered firing a number of fine German engines. He also remembered a number of problems with the Kurds sabotaging locomotives. Sabotage could include placing oil on the rails of the mainline, or splitting air brake pipes. On one occasion when Kurds slit a train’s air pipes, “all seemed well to the crew as they departed northwards. Unfortunately the line entered a series of sharp curves … and as the train started to snake around the bends, so the pipes opened up, causing the train to block the single running line.” (p646)

During its time in Iran, the 153rd Railway Operating Company did not lose a single man to enemy action, disease was the greatest threat. “Such were the dangers of infections that Vic’s pay book recorded 30 preventative injections!” (p646)

As we discovered in earlier articles in this series about the railways of Iran, the United States of America replaced the British on the southern section of the line. As a result, Vic was transferred out of country and then prepared to join the campaign in the South of Europe.

2. The GWR and Iran

Also in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, in an article by Michael Rutherford, [2] there is a short section about the GWR and Iran.

While reflecting on Swindon’s involvement with oil-fired locos, Rutherford says: “the next step in Swindon’s oil-fired steam saga was an unusual one. During the late 1920s and 1930, Reza Shah the ruler of Persia, decided that a railway was needed from Persian-owned ports on the Arabian Gulf to the Caspian Sea: Bandar Shahpur on the Gulf and Bandar Shar on the Caspian. … The Shah became impatient with slow progress on the work and cancelled the original contract. A new one was agreed with a Scandinavian consortium in April 1933 in which work was to be completed by May 1939. There were many sub-contractors including British ones and the line was completed ahead of schedule, resulting in extensions and branches being authorised. … The first locomotive orders for the new (1933) contract, rather than being supervised by conventional consulting engineers, were put in the hands of the GWR and C. B. Collett’s Outdoor Assistant (ie in charge of locomotive running), F. C. Hall was sent out to Persia in 1933 as an adviser to the Persian government.

Locomotive specifications were drawn up by Hall firstly for five 2-8-0s (delivered in 1934) and then for four massive 4-8-2/2-8-4T Garratts (delivered in 1936). All were oil-fired and detailed design and construction was carried out by Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester.” [3]

It seems that Collett was able to position the GWR as a expert in the supply and ordering of locomotives without having a great deal of effective departmental experience in oil-fired locos. F.C. Hall’s involvement as a consultant resulted in the GWR design office gaining its first experience of oil-burning equipment. Rutherford cites this as a significant factor (alongside others) which led to the GWR ameliorating its agnostic stance on the use of oil.

References

  1. Paul Joyce; Memories of the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Corps: 1939-46; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p643-646.
  2. Michael Rutherford; Crisis? What Crisis?Coal, Oil and Austerity; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 11, November 2000, p665-673.
  3. Locomotives for Iran; in Great Western Railway Magazine Vol. 48, May 1936, p225.

The Micklehurst Loop once more. …….

Extract from EAW010807 (c) BritainfromAbove

While on holiday in September 2021, I was reading older copies of the magazine BackTrack from the turn of the millennium, from, at that time, Atlantic Publishers. (More recent editions are published by Pendragon Publishing.)

Volume 14 No. 3, March 2000 included an article by Jeffrey Wells [1] about the Micklehurst Loop (p142ff). Wells highlighted the congestion which led to the development of the LNWR line between Huddersfield and Stalybridge which was opened in 1849. The single-line ‘Nicholson Tunnel’ was the first impediment to the free flow of traffic. This was rectified with the construction by 1870 of the ‘Nelson Tunnel’. “Both tunnels were in use by 24th April 1871 following a period extending from the previous February when only the ‘Nelson Tunnel’ was in use during repairs to the ‘Nicholson Tunnel’.” ( p142)

Wells goes on to explain that ongoing problems with congestion between Stalybridge and Diggle led to alleviating alternatives being considered. Quadrupling of the line was ruled out on grounds of inadequate space.

The LNWR first addressed the length of line to the West of Stalybridge when it opened (in 1876) a line from Heaton Norris to Guide Bridge. It then decided that the construction of an alleviating relief line between Stalybridge and Diggle was the only feasible solution to congestion. The Act authorising the construction of the relief line received authorisation on 3rd July 1879. The route was in two parts – Railway No. 1 was the Hooley Hill Line “which left Denton Junction and joined the MSLR at Dukinfield Junction and Railway No. 2, the Micklehurst Loop Line stretching from Diggle to Stalybridge.” (p143)

Later, the LNWR opened its Stalybridge Junction Railway (1st August 1893) which provided a first link from Heaton Norris to Stalybridge.

The cost of the Micklehurst Loop was estimated at £213,000. The successful tender from Messrs. Taylor and Thomson of Manchester was £177,949 8s 2d. The work was completed and the line opened on 1st May 1886.

Wells talks of three utilities being connected to the Loop. …

The first was a 3ft gauge tramway which served the construction of high level reservoirs. Exchange sidings and the tramway were completed in 1908, “six contractor’s locomotives plied between the sidings at Roaches and a suitable stopping place short of the site.” (p146)

The second was the allocation, in 1916, of 26 acres of land between Stalybridge and Mossley for the construction of a power station. The plant finally opened in January 1927 and Millbrook Sidings were enlarged to accommodate a number of sidings. In addition, “In the 1930s the coal was moved from the sidings by a conveyor which passed under the line. This was later followed by an overhead steel-braced conveyor which stood on tall concrete piers.” (p146) In the summer of 2021 part of the conveyor structure remains standing as does the cavernous goods she’d which graced the sidings. In 2021, the sidings area at Millbrook was heavily overgrown with substantial trees having colonised the site. Plans were afoot for redevelopment of the area and some clearance and regrading had taken place.

The final utility which Wells points out was connected to the Loop was Mossley Corporation Gas Works. “The Works had its own internal rail layout and a complement of small standard gauge locomotives.” (p146) Movements in and out of the site were controlled by Friesland Gas Sidings signal box.

Some excellent monochrome photographs accompany the article, one of which is included here.

This excellent black and white study shows a Fowler 0-8-0 7F tender locomotive proceeding tender first towards Stalybridge. The caption above misidentifies the location. The goods shed visible on the right of the image is actually Micklehurst goods shed. It remains visible today on the site of a pallet works which occupies the old railway sidings. Two of these large goods sheds remain standing, this at Micklehurst and the one referred to in the caption above at Millbrook. As noted by Wells, the Millbrook shed was in a parlous state in 2021.

The article is also accompanied by two diagrammatic representations of the Loop line and the other lines referred to in the text. One of these maps is included here.

In a letter to BackTrack magazine carried in the June 2000 edition Vernon Heron points out that the reservoir tramway shown meeting the Loop line North of the Gas Works actually served exchange sidings near to half a mile South of the Gas Works. [2]

To finish his article, Wells points out that the Loop line suffered a gradual demise with passenger stations closing in the years prior to the end of the Great War. Rumours of final closure attended every significant maintenance problem on the line as the condition of the line’s brick bridges and viaducts began to deteriorate. The last train was to run on Sunday 30th October 1966 with the line gradually being dismantled in the following ten years. The final portion closed when Hartshead Power Station closed. That portion was dismantled in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Jeffrey Wells completed his study of the line in the next edition of the magazine with a short series of pictures of Diggle Station which stood at the Western end of the Standedge tunnels. [3]

References

  1. Jeffrey Wells; The Micklehurst Loop Line; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 3, Atlantic Transport Publishers, March 2000, p142ff.
  2. Vernon Heron; The Micklehurst Loop; in Readers’ Forum in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 6, Atlantic Transport Publishers, June 2000, p370.
  3. Jeffrey Wells; Through the Lens at Diggle; in BackTrack Vol. 14 No. 4, Atlantic Transport Publishers, April 2000, p235ff.

Holiday Reading Again!

Two more books which are worth taking with you on holiday.

Chris Arnot; Small Island by Little Train; ISBN 978-0-7495-7849-7.

Tom Chesshyre; Slow Trains to Venice; ISBN 978-1-78783-299-2.

The first of these two books, by Chris Arnot, is the story of a meandering journey round some of the narrow-gauge railways of the UK. It is published by the AA in hardback. The dust jacket says: “From stalwart little locomotives of topographical necessity to the maverick engines of one man’s whimsy. Britain’s narrow-gauge steam trains run on tracks a world apart from it regimented mainlines. They were built to carry anything from slate to milk churns, and go where mainline trains could not go – around sharp bends, up steep gradients, or rolling downhill for miles all the way to the sea. And they have not just survived against the odds, but thrived.”

Chris Arnot has been a freelance journalist and Author for around 30 years, writing for the Guardian on everything from arts and travel to education and social issues. His material has also appeared in most of the other broadsheets and he has written a number of books of his own. In this book he provides a delightful, gently observed commentary on his own journeys along narrow-gauge lines around the UK. The most northerly line he visits is the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway in Lanarkshire, the most southerly, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Five chapters cover lines in Wales. A short chapter covers a day visit to Graham Lee’s amazing private 2ft/2ft 6 inch dual gauge line, the Statfold Barn Railway, with his extensive collection of narrow-gauge locomotives.

Two long-lost favourites warrant a chapter each – the Leek and Manifold Railway and the Lynton and Barnstaple. As do the South Tyndale Railway, the Bure Valley Railway (Wroxham to Aylsham in Norfolk) and the Southwold Railway.

The Bure Valley Railway is in private ownership and now returns a significant profit. The Southwold Railway continues to look forward to a day when a line can be relaid between Southwold and Halesworth but has managed to create Steamworks, a Visitor Centre building with cafe, shop, toilets, museum and engine shed, a 7¼ inch gauge miniature railway plus 11 chains of three foot gauge track, including a run parallel and close to the site of the original track as it approached Southwold Station. [1]

Map of the Southwold Railway drawn by John Bennett. [2]

Arnot comments: it is easy to think “that the UK is becoming more uniform. But trundling around its more remote parts has proved to be a way of reminding myself that … This small island was anything but uniform. It remained a place of infinite variety, and its contrasts, from Devil’s Bridge to Dungeness, Wroxham to Ravenglass, were best savoured through the window of a sedately paced narrow-gauge railway.” (p251)

Arnot further reflects: “I’d seen a desire to get close to those [narrow-gauge] engines among many who’d visited these railways, and not just among those old enough to remember when steam trains ran on the main line. … [I] met people of all ages and both sexes who’d become fascinated by a precious part of our history. And while I may have sometimes cursed the lengthy journeys to visit those lines, I’d revelled in meeting most of their passengers as well as the volunteers and indeed the paid staff who kept them running. … Just as enjoyable had been sitting back to savour the scenery beyond the windows confirmation that, when viewed from a little train, this small island still has breathtaking variations in landscape, a marked contrast to the corporate and municipal uniformity that has taken hold of large parts of our towns and cities. But then, unlike so many of our towns and cities, rural landscapes have remained largely unscathed. … And those parts of the landscape that were ‘scathed’, particularly by mining, have largely blended back into their natural surroundings, adding layers of fascinating industrial history in the process. Those contrasts in landscape … struck me forcibly. … Were we still on the same small island?

In the second of these two books, Tom Chesshyre heads abroad, seeking to wander his way through Europe to Venice with his route dictated by whim and the availability of trains. This ends up being a 4,000 mile adventure. “Escaping the rat race for a few happy weeks, … [he] indulges in the freedom of the tracks. From France ( dogged by rail-worker strikes), through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, he travels as far east as Odessa by the Black Sea in Ukraine.” He then heads back, “via Hungary, the Balkans and Austria. Along the way Tom enjoys many an encounter, befriending fellow travellers as well as a conductor or two.”

Simon Calder (The Independent) says that Tom, “relishes the joys of slow travel and seizes every opportunity that a journey presents: drifting as a flaneur in Lille, following in the tracks of James Joyce in a literary exploration of Ljubljana, cosseted in luxury on a trans-Ukranian express, all decorated with a wealth of detail and intrigue.”

I enjoyed his humourous reflections on his encounters. I found the manifest nationalism (if that is the right word) of some countries enlightening. Most of all, however, I found that I discovered a sense of freedom in following his meandering tale. An entirely appropriate thing while on holiday myself!

And finally. …. One short section of the book took me back to a holiday in Slovenia quite a few years ago. We were staying in Bled, not far from Lake Bled which Tom Chesshyre missed out on. We travelled a few times to Ljubljana. On one of those occasions, we found our way to the Railway Museum of Slovenian Railways which Tom Chesshyre also stumbles across. We arrived at the gates of the museum, which happened to be open even though the museum seemed closed, and decided to try our luck and ambled in. After a short while, we came across someone who invited us to wander round the whole site. We managed to get through every door that we tried but we did not get chance to speak to the Professor!

Some reflections on Slovenia can be found at:

References

  1. https://www.southwoldrailway.co.uk/trust-projects/southwold-station, accessed on 8th September 2021.
  2. https://www.southwoldrailway.co.uk, accessed on 8th September 2021.

Holiday Reading!

Two great paperbacks!

Michael Williams; The Trains Now DepartedSixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways; ISBN 978-0-099-59058-3.

Tom Chesshyre; Ticket to Ride – Around the World on 49 Unusual Train Journeys; ISBN 978-1-84953-826-8.

Two excellent paperback books for an enjoyable read on holiday! I picked up both second-hand at very reasonable prices.

Tom Chesshyre starts, seemingly, from a lack of knowledge about the railways and finds that it does not take too much effort to begin to enjoy speaking with railway enthusiasts. Tom is a journalist who is on a quest to find out why people seem to love trains so much. His idea, as the back cover of his book explains, was to find the answer, “by experiencing the world through train travel – on both epic and everyday rail routes, aboard every type of ride, from steam locomotives to bullet trains, meeting a cast of memorable characters who share a passion for train travel.”

So, Tom embarks on a whistle-stop tour around the world. His adventures are recounted in a humorous and entertaining way. The different chapters are held together by the common theme of the railways an people that he encounters. Beginning at Crewe, his journeys take him to: Kosovo and Macedonia; Sri Lanka, India and China; Turkey and Iran; Finland and Russia; Australia and America; North Korea, Italy, Poland, Peru, Switzerland and Spain; Kaliningrad and Lithuania. After such a smörgåsbord of different railway experiences he returns to three UK railways to complete the book – two lines in Scotland, the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line and the Mallaig to Glasgow line, and finally the Kent and East Sussex line in England.

Reading this book in early Summer 2021, interested me in exploring some of Tom Chesshyre’s other books. Perhaps further reviews will follow.

Michael Williams’ approach is similarly eclectic, although he restricts his perambulations to the United Kingdom. Thoroughly absorbing chapters focus on a variety of different railway-related loses. The Spectator says that ‘‘Williams celebrates the best of what is gone from our railways in 16 vivid, highly-readable chapters.’’

It was a delight to read of specific lines long-closed, such as Somerset & Dorset; the Stainmore line over the Pennines; the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway; the Lynton & Barnstaple; the Withered Arm; the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway*; the Liverpool Overhead Railway; and the Waverley route. Among these was a saunter through Metro-land to what was the furthest outpost of the line from Baker Street. Verney Junction was, what Williams refers to as the Shangri-La of the Metro-land paradise, invoked by the skilled advertising gurus of the Metropolitan Railway.

William’s reflections on long-lost lines are supplemented by chapters on other great losses: the Night Ferry from Victoria to the Continent; the myriad of named trains which used to invoke a sense of glamour, speed and luxury; the dining car; the destruction, in a spate of wanton vandalism, of some of the architectural gems of railway heritage.

He includes reflections on: Parliamentary trains; engineering marvels sent for scrap; seaside specials which carried millions from industrial centres to holidays on the coast.

Williams introduces his book by talking of ‘‘the ghosts of trains now departed – lines prematurely axed often with gripping and colourful tales to tell, marvels of locomotive engineering prematurely sent to the scrapyard, and architecturally magnificent stations felled by the wrecker’s ball,’’ and ‘‘the lost delights of train travel.’’

C. Hamilton-Ellis, in concluding his book, The Trains We Loved, says:

‘‘These were the trains we loved; grand, elegant and full of grace. We knew them and they belonged to the days … when the steam locomotive, unchallenged, bestrode the world like a friendly giant.’’

Williams’s book does not pretend that everything was perfect in those nostalgic days of yore, but it does invoke the ‘essential flavour of the railways of the past,’ and draws the reader back into that world which, in some inexplicable way, seems to define the British spirit even in these days of websites, apps, air-conditioning, speed and frequent rail services.

*The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway features in short series of articles on this website which can be found on the following links:

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2019/05/18/the-shropshire-and-montgomeryshire-light-railway-and-the-nesscliffe-mod-training-area-and-depot-part-1

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2019/07/21/gazelle

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2019/07/27/gazelles-trailers

https://rogerfarnworth.com/?p=21699

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2019/08/12/the-shropshire-and-montgomeryshire-light-railway-and-the-nesscliffe-mod-training-area-and-depot-part-2

Coalport Incline – Ironbridge – Addendum 2021

The Hay Inclined Plane at Coalport, Shropshire – a 2021 addendum. …

In March 2021, Tony Jervis, an on-line acquaintance, sent me some photographs from visits that he made over the years to the inclined plane at Coalport. These are shared below with his kind permission. [1]

Tony comments: “The site has been tidied up somewhat since I was first there, with more clearance of overgrowth at the summit, but has there been a landslip pushing the tracks sideways partway down?  The Gorge area has been prone to landslips for years. ….. Much work has been done in recent years to landscape and stablilise the area.”

The pictures are shown annotated as Tony sent them to me.

1974

278-08 Old Shropshire Canal, The Hay Inclined Plane top, 29-May-1974 MediumA    278-08    19-285    29 May 1974    SJ 695028 ESE    Ruins of engine house and chimney at top of The Hay Inclined Plane, Old Shropshire Canal

278-09 Old Shropshire Canal, The Hay Inclined Plane summit, 29-May-1974 MediumA    278-09    19-286    29 May 1974    SJ 695028 NE    Summit of The Hay Inclined Plane, Old Shropshire Canal

1979

555-11 Old Shropshire Canal, Hay Inclined Plane top, 16-Sep-1979555-11    42-112    16 Sep 1979    SJ 695028 NE    Top of Hay Inclined Plane, Old Shropshire Canal, Ironbridge Gorge Museum

555-12 The Hay Inclined Plane, re-laid tracks, 16-Sep-1979 Medium555-12    42-113    16 Sep 1979    SJ 695028 SSW    The Hay Inclined Plane, with re-laid tracks, Old Shropshire Canal, Ironbridge Gorge Museum

555-13 The Hay Inclined Plane, re-laid tracks, 16-Sep-1979 Medium555-13    42-114    16 Sep 1979    SJ 695027 SSW    The Hay Inclined Plane, with re-laid tracks, Old Shropshire Canal, Ironbridge Gorge Museum

2005

ASH-22 Coalport Canal, foot of Hay Incline Plane, 1-Apr-2005ASH-22    39-264    1 Apr 2005    SJ 693025 SE    Coalport Canal at bottom of Hay Inclined Plane

ASH-23 Hay Incline Plane, Coalport High St bridge, 1-Apr-2005ASH-23    39-267    1 Apr 2005    SJ 694025 NNE    Coalport High Street bridge over Coalport Canal at foot of Hay Inclined Plane

ASI-20 Coalport East (west of), Hay Incline bridge, 4-Apr-2005ASI-20    15-093    4 Apr 2005    SJ 694026 NNW    Hay Incline bridge over ex-L&NWR line west of Coalport

   References

    1. Email dated 19th March 2021

The Owencarrow Viaduct Accident in 1925. ….

The featured image above shows the Viaduct in good condition. [7]

In the February 1963 edition of The Railway Magazine there was a letter from L. Hudlass which said: “The accident on the Owencarrow Viaduct, on the Letterkenny & Burtonport line, Ireland, of January 30, 1925, involved a westbound train running from Londonderry to Burtonport, on the Burtonport extension of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway. The 380 yd.-long viaduct, sited between Kilmacrenan and Creeslough in County Tirconaill is in wild and open country and, on the day in question, a gale of 100mph caught the train broadside on and one carriage plunged through the parapet, pulling another with it. The couplings held and neither of the vehicles fell into the valley, but roof destruction caused several passengers to be thrown out, three people being killed outright, a fourth dying later in hospital. Being situated on a north-south section of the line, the 30ft.-high viaduct, across Glen Lough and over the Owencarrow River, caught the full force of the westerly gales. When the line was in operation a wind velocity of 60mph meant the exclusion of open wagons from the train, while a wind speed of 80mph caused the suspension of all traffic. The breach in the viaduct parapet was still visible in 1949. Other derailments due to gales gave been recorded on the west coast of Ireland.” [1]

One day, I will get round to covering the route of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (L&LSR) which ran from Derry to Burtonport through some of the wildest of Co. Donegal scenery.

This article is by way of a taster and focusses on an incident at Owencarrow Viaduct in the 1920s.

The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway ran from Derry to Burtonport via Letterkenny. [2]

The Owencarrow Viaduct was sited between Barnes Gap and Creeslough and was, other than earthworks, the major civil engineering structure on the L&LSR.

The Owencarrow Viaduct with a Burtonport train crossing. From an old postcard. The photographer is not known. [8]
 

The Google Maps satellite image and Google Street view images below show what remains of the structure in the 21st century.

The Owencarrow Viaduct in Co. Donegal. [Google Maps]
The remains of the Owencarrow Viaduct, seen from the Northwest on the L1332. [Google Streetview]
The remains of the Owencarrow Viaduct seen from the West on the L1332. [Google Streetview]

Wikipedia/Wikiwand covers the accident in a single paragraph: “Disaster occurred on the night of 30 January 1925 at around 8pm at the Owencarrow Viaduct, County Donegal. Winds of up to 120 mph derailed carriages of the train off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. The roof of a carriage was ripped off throwing four people to their deaths. The four killed were: Philip Boyle and his wife Sarah from Arranmore Island, Una Mulligan from Falcarragh and Neil Duggan from Meenbunowen, Creeslough. Five people were seriously injured. The remains of the viaduct can today be seen from the road (N56) which carries on from the Barnes Gap on the road to Creeslough.” [2]

The scene of the accident. This picture was taken on 31st January 1925, the day after the disaster. The photographer is not known. [3]

There are a number of accounts of the accident available online which provide a bit more detail of the tragic events of 30th January 1925.

Walking Donegal looks at the event through the eyes of fireman John Hannigan who was on the footplate that day. [4] Long after that day Hannigan recalled “vividly the events of the night, the passing years ha[d] not erased the memory of the harrowing scenes or stilled the sound of the screams of agony. He still relive[d] the feeling of hopelessness he endured as he surveyed the scene of desolation in the fleeting moments, oblivious to his own danger, he scrambled over the wreck-strewn terrain to run the two odd miles to Creeslough to raise the alarm.” [4]

Hannigan was interviewed in 1984. [5] He was 85 when he gave that interview, a few years before he died in 1987 at the age of 88. Much of the text of the interview was reproduced in a Donegal Daily news item on 14th November 2019 and was extracted from a Christmas Annual published by Letterkenny Community Centre in the 1980s.

Hannigan spoke eloquently of his experience of working on the railway, first joining the staff of the L&LSR when he was just 15 years old, he was just 26 the night the train left the rails in the storm. After years of efficient service on the footplate, he realised his youthful ambition and was promoted to the position of driver the following year.

John Hannigan. [5]

Speaking of the first part of the journey from Derry, Hannigan said, “We left Derry that evening around 5.15pm, we had two wagons of bread next to the engine. They were sent out from Derry by Stevensons and Brewsters Bakeries. After that was three carriages, a first, a second and a third class, behind that were six wagons of general merchandise and the guards’ van at the end. Neilly Boyle was in charge as guardsmen who was from Burtonport, who later was a conductor on the buses.” [5]

When the train reached Letterkenny a bit of shunting was required to remove the six wagons and replace them with others. Hannigan remembered that they were using locomotive No. 14 which was a 4-6-2T and is shown below.

Locomotive 4-6-2T No 14 seen here at Pennyburn, Derry, 1931. Donegal Railway Heritage Centre (DRHC) Collection. [8]

By the time that they reached Kilmacrennan Station the wind was starting to blow hard and Hannigan and the train driver, Bob McGuinness, consulted about the state of the weather, wondering about whether it would be safe to go ahead.  Hannigan commented: “I had often gone over the viaduct in a smaller engine. We decided to proceed. Bob slowed down to a snails pace and as we crossed the bridge we did not think that the storm was all that bad.”

From Hannigan’s recollection of the evening it seems as though a freak gust of wind hit the train close to the end of the viaduct. He said:  “The carriage behind the two bread wagons was raised up on the line, it was like a hump on its back. It then fell against the parapet and the roof was smashed, two passengers were thrown out, Phil Boyle was killed, his wife was injured and died afterwards.” [5]

“A Mrs Mulligan also lost her life, they had fallen through the roof and into the river below. Another man, Andy Doogan, was found dead near the viaduct, he must have also been on the train.” [5]

As the minutes ticked by, the wind continued increasing in strength, the hostility of the gale made it hard for voices to be heard. Hannigan remembered managing to stumble across the bridge to the end of the train to free Neilly Boyle jammed against the bridge railing. He then trekked the two miles to Cresslough Station for help. “Between running, walking and falling I finally made it. On the way, I called at the homes of the two-level crossing men and brought them with me. We told John Gallagher the Station Master what had happened. Next we alerted the local guards and doctors. I got a lift back to the scene. It was about quarter to eight. A young priest, Fr. Gallagher was attending to the dead and injured.” [5]

The ‘Why Donegal?’ Facebook page carries a less personal account of events. [6] The train apparently left Letterkenny at 7:05PM. The journey to Kilmacrennan was uneventful, but “by the time they reached Barnes Gap, the driver remarked that the wind was bad. As the train approached the Owencarrow viaduct a strong gale was blowing. He slowed down to 10m.p.h. and was a few dozen yards from the Creeslough side of the viaduct and almost clear of it, when a sudden gust came so strong that it blew the carriage nearest to the engine off the rails. Two were derailed in all. One somersaulted and the roof was smashed. The four occupants of the coach were thrown through the roof into the rocky ravine forty feet below. The victims were Philip and Sarah Boyle from Arranmore Inland, Una Mulligan from Falcarragh and Neil Duggan from Meenbunowen, Creeslough. Duggan’s home was only a stones throw from the crash.” [6]

“Six of the injured were taken to Letterkenny General Hospital. Of the 14 passengers, just one was unhurt, a young woman who was flung from the upturned carriage and landed on the soft boggy soil.” [6]

The ‘Why Donegal’ Facebook page includes a few photographs of the viaduct as it remains today which were taken by Jacqui Reed.

The Owencarrow Viaduct in the 21st century (c) Jacqui Reed. [6]
The Owencarrow Viaduct in the 21st century (c) Jacqui Reed. [6]

References

  1. L. Hudlass; Owencarrow Viaduct Accident; a letter in The Railway Magazine, February 1963, p148-149.
  2. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Londonderry_and_Lough_Swilly_Railway, accessed on 30th May 2021.
  3. https://www.monreaghulsterscotscentre.com/owencarrow-viaduct, accessed on 30th May 2021.
  4. http://www.walkingdonegal.net/owencarrow-viaduct-disaster-by-john-hannigan
  5. https://www.donegaldaily.com/2019/11/14/dd-motoring-brian-mcdaid-recalls-the-owencarrow-viaduct-disaster, accessed on 30th May 2021.
  6. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=416203555247099&id=358197231047732, accessed on 30th May 2021.
  7. https://twitter.com/Donegalcomuseum/status/956480040069488640?s=09, accessed on 30th May 2021.
  8. https://donegalheritage.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/the-owencarrow-viaduct-disaster, accessed on 30th May 2021.

A Steam Tram at Heywood, Middleton, Manchester (UK)

The February 1963 edition of the Railway Magazine included a photograph of a Steam Tram which used to serve Heywood. [1] Until coming across the image above, I had no idea that steam trams served boroughs in the Manchester conurbation.

This postcard by an unknown publisher shows the final days of the Heywood Corporation steam tramway in 1905. Just behind is Rochdale Corporation electric car 29 at the borough boundary south-west of Rochdale at the Sudden terminus where Rochdale Road and Bolton Road meet.The postcard bears the title “For Auld Lang Syne”, thereby clearly indicating the imminent demise of the steam tram service. [2]

Heywood, sits about 8 miles north of Manchester, 3 miles east of Bury and 4 miles south-west of Rochdale, and only a couple of miles from where I served my curacy in Middleton.

John R. Prentice says that “the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Co. Ltd. (MBRO, founded c.1883) became the second largest steam tramway operator in Britain with over 90 tram engines, 80 double-deck passenger trailers and 30 miles of routes. Of all these, two-thirds of stock and track were narrow gauge (3ft 6ins), including the section between Bury and Rochdale, through Heywood.

The MBRO system was split into three areas: “standard gauge southwards from Bury (to Whitefield, Prestwich and Kersal) and from Royton (to Oldham and Hathershaw), but everything else between these points (i.e, nearly all the lines in Bury, Rochdale and their environs) built to a gauge of 3ft 6ins.” [3]

By 1896, “it was clear that several of the local authorities intended to build municipal electric tramways, and that the company’s days were numbered.” [3]

Ashley Birch says that, “Oldham took control of its lines (which it had always owned) in June 1902, and a year later, in June 1903, initial agreement was reached between the remaining various local authorities and the company on a sale. … The parties eventually signed a binding agreement on the 24th February 1904, so that work on electrification could progress, with a price being set by an independent referee.” [3]

The last steam tram ran “in Royton … on the 30th May 1904, the last tram in Bury on the 10th July 1904, and the last tram in Rochdale, probably on the day before the company’s assets were sold … 12th October 1904.” [3]

After nearly 20 years of operation, the MBRO network was no more. The withdrawal of steam tram services generally coincided with the electrification of the lines and the inauguration of an electric tram service. This was true for the Bury Corporation service to Heap Bridge (west of Heywood) But when Rochdale Corporation replaced its steam trams with standard gauge electric cars, it only did so “as far as the district of Sudden, a three-quarters of a mile walk to and from the Heywood borough boundary and the steam tram terminus. In December 1904, Heywood Corporation decided to run its own steam tram service by buying 13 tram engines and 10 trailers (by then, 20 years old) from the former MBRO company when it closed down.” [2]

Peter Gould says that, “On the 20th December 1904 the main line across Heywood was re-opened to the steam trams. On the 22nd December the service on the Hopwood branch was re-instated. … The locos and trailers retained their former brown and cream livery and fleet numbers, although from 24th March 1905, the legend ‘Heywood Corporation Tramways’ began to appear on the sides of locos.” [4]

Gould continues: “The initiative was not a great success and began to flounder when Rochdale initially refused permission for the trams to use the stretch of line between the Heywood boundary and Sudden, where their electric trams currently terminated, leaving a gap of around 1 mile for weary passengers to trudge. … Although Rochdale later relented, the conditions they sought to impose were unacceptable to Heywood and the steam trams continued to terminate at the Heywood boundary.” [4]

However, by April 1905, “Rochdale extended its electric service at Sudden to the Heywood boundary in Bolton Road to establish a direct transfer to the Heywood steam trams. Later the same year, on September 20th 1905, the last steam tram ran and the through service was converted to standard gauge electric operation using Rochdale and Bury cars. Thus, as a tram operating municipality, Heywood Corporation Tramways was very short-lived and lasted less than a year; something of a record in British tramway history.” [2]

References

  1. Alan P. Voce; A Relic of the Steam Tram Era; Letter in The Railway Magazine, February 1963, p137
  2. John R. Prentice; Heywood Corporation Steam Tram Engine 63; https://www.tramwayinfo.com/Tramframe.htm?https://www.tramwayinfo.com/trampostcards/Postc188.htm, accessed on 29th May 2021.
  3. Ashley Birch; Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways (from 1888, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways); http://www.tramwaybadgesandbuttons.com/page148/styled-79/page312/page312.html, accessed on 29th May 2021.
  4. Peter Gould; Heywood Corporation Tramways 1904-1905; https://petergould.co.uk/fleetlists/tramways/heywood1, accessed on 29th May 2021.