Category Archives: Comment

A Time for Change?

There seems to be a growing feeling within the Church of England that it is time for change. There is increasing evidence that many, both clergy and laity, see a need for change over the Church’s position on human sexuality. [13]

Three Church of England Bishops now say that Church of England clergy should be able to conduct and bless gay marriages. The Bishop of Oxford, The Right Reverend Dr. Steven Croft, wrote an essay in the late Autumn where he apologised for his views being “slow to change” and any hurt he had caused. [14] He was joined by the Bishops of Worcester and Dudley, the Right Reverend Dr. John Inge, and Right Reverend Martin Gorick respectively.

In his essay, titled Together in Love and Faith, Croft writes that gay clergy should also be able to marry partners. He identifies the debate around same-sex marriage as “what seems to me to be the most pressing question requiring resolution”. [20]

The increasing sense that change is needed is a cause of much angst for those arguing for the traditional position on human sexuality to remain the Church’s commitment and doctrine.

Over the winter of 2022/2023, the Bishops in the UK continued their discussions which have followed on from the latest listening exercise ‘Living in Love and Faith’. But the structures of the Church of England mean that decisions over this kind of issue are made by the General Synod advised by the Bishops, not, ultimately, by the Bishops themselves. In February 2023, the Bishops plan to bring the discussion back to the General Synod for debate.

It seems somewhat invidious to try to talk about the issues involved in an objective, theological way. As, ultimately, this is a discussion about people’s lived experience and about their very being.

I have, however, recently been drawn into discussion about human sexuality. I am all too aware of the strength of feeling among those who are committed to the traditional position and I have been seeking to revisit the debate in the light of ‘Living in Love and Faith‘, which is the current relevant discussion material produced by the Church of England. This has been a time for reconsidering the conclusions I have reached, in a less structured way, in the past. 

‘Inclusion’ or ‘Exclusion’? ‘Affirmation’ or ‘Rejection’? These are the essential dynamics of the debate, at least as I understand they are perceived by those who are members of LGBTQI+ communities. Within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, the issues generally revolve around fealty to the Bible and the inherited traditions of the Church. The ‘orthodox’ position and whether it is reasonable to revisit it.

In February 2017, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced a decision to begin a project that would become Living in Love and Faith, they coined a powerful and controversial phrase. “The work that they were proposing on sexuality and marriage would, they said, reflect a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in Scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.” [11]

That proposal begs the question of what ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ might mean. The call to a ‘holy life’ could lead to forms of exclusion. A tension between inclusion and exclusion is evident in the pages of the Old Testament. Moabites, for instance are unambiguously excluded from God’s people (Deuteronomy 23:3-6), yet Ruth, the Moabite, is included and becomes the great-grandmother of King David. Two distinct voices exist in the Old Testament and it is no stretch to argue that the story “of Ruth stands closer to the overall moral and spiritual heart of the Old Testament, and of the faith rooted in it, than does the paragraph in Deuteronomy 23.3-6. It lines up, for instance, with the prophecy in Isaiah, in which God promises to bring foreign peoples ‘to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer …. for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ (Isaiah 56.7). The judgement that Christians should privilege Ruth over the paragraph in Deuteronomy looks to be in line with the priorities of the Old Testament itself, quite apart from that of the New Testament.” [12: p225]

The question then perhaps arises whether, if the law in Deuteronomy 23 is relativized in the book of Ruth, there might be a similar relativizing or deprivileging of the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse? Or does the absence of any texts commending what Leviticus condemns challenge such relativization?” [12: p225]

It is worth noting that “Exclusion in the New Testament is not about policing the boundary around a community that consistently achieves and maintains some standard of excellence. Rather, exclusion is reserved for those who reject and work against the Church’s calling, and who persist in that despite all attempts to win them round (Matthew 18.15-18; 1 Corinthians 5.3-6,11-13; 2 Thessalonians 3.6; Titus 3.9-11). The Church is a community called to stand against those forces in the wider world that reject and betray the love of God. It is called to recognize those forces and tendencies, to speak out against them, and to call its neighbours away from them. It is called to keep itself from falling into them – and to ask God’s forgiveness and help whenever it fails. … There is therefore, an unavoidable negotiation of inclusion and exclusion in the life of the Church of England which has often handled this negotiation very badly. It has all too often taken to policing its boundaries – refusing people welcome unless they measure up. It has often practised exclusion in ways that line up all too well with the forms of marginalization and oppression that mar the wider world.” [12: p226]

The church has sometimes made those whose marriages end in divorce feel unwelcome, and has often made LGBTI+ people feel that they don’t and can’t belong, simply because of who they are. We have, all too often, defined inclusion and exclusion by some standard other than the holiness, glory and love of God.” [12: p226]

Some believe that “the Church has failed to live up to its calling to inclusion, that it is being challenged to do much better by voices both from within and from wider society, and that it needs to rethink the images of sin and holiness that it proclaims, recognizing the ways in which they have been used to exclude. They believe that the Church needs to be much more inclusive, to better reflect the loving holiness of God. Others, while agreeing that there are undoubtedly issues of injustice and wrongful discrimination that call for repentance and redress, believe that the Church is called to uphold a distinctive way of life in the areas of sexuality and gender. They believe the Church is called to uphold forms of holy living that cut across many of our society’s understandings of what is permissible or desirable – and that might well conflict with understandings of inclusion widespread in our society. They believe that this distinctive way of life is profoundly good for human beings, and that upholding it is itself a way of displaying the love of God.” [12: p227]

Christians … agree that the Church ought to be a community where everyone is welcome. No one should be made to feel excluded simply because of who they are. The Church is meant to be a community that welcomes the poor, the marginalized, the excluded and the deprecated. We agree that the Church often fails in this calling and needs to repent of those failings. The Church is a community of people all of whom fail to follow God’s way consistently. We misunderstand. We harm ourselves and one another. We don’t live up to the standards that we proclaim. The Church should be a community of mercy. It should be a place where the weakness of our wills and the failures of our understanding can be acknowledged. It should be a community where we can face up to the harm that we have done and are doing, as well as recognizing the harm that has been done to us. The Church should be a community of grace. It should enable us to confess our sins to God, in confidence of forgiveness. It should help us to repent – to turn, and to keep on turning, towards the life God has called us into. It should be a community in which every person is enabled to follow this pattern of acknowledgement, confession and repentance, and to keep on following it.” [12: p228]

In the areas of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, however, we disagree about the patterns of behaviour that are consistent with this community’s calling. We disagree, therefore, about the kinds of change called for from the people who are welcomed into this community. We disagree about what it would look like for someone to work persistently against the life to which this community is called.” [12: p228]

‘Identity’ complicates matters. When we say to people whose very identity is that of a trans man or who have experience great liberation when they transitioned or a lesbian in a long and faithful relationship, ‘You are welcome, but we think that the way that you describe yourself is seriously mistaken, while you continue to live this way your involvement will be limited and you certainly will not be able to exercise leadership in this community’ How can we really expect them to agree that the Church is actually willing to welcome them as the person they believe themselves to be. Our welcome is very likely to be experienced as rejection and exclusion, “especially if [they] notice that no such questions about sexual activity are asked of [their] straight friends, and that nobody criticizes those friends when they say how central those relationships are to their identity and their well-being.” [12: p229]

Yet for those of us who do believe sexual relationships between people of the same sex are sinful, or that transitioning gender is a rejection of God’s good intention for us, the making of distinctions like this is unavoidable. It is a normal and necessary feature of the welcome that the Church extends to all. If the Church is understood as the community of those who follow the way of Christ, and if that way truly is incompatible with these behaviours, then it is necessary at some point to communicate that such ways of life are sinful and subject to God’s judgement. That means communicating God’s call to repentance as the means of being fully included in the life and ministry of the Church.” [12: p229]

Others of us disagree. We believe that there is nothing about same-sex sexual relationships, or about transitioning, that is incompatible with the life of Christ’s body. We therefore believe that placing limits on people’s full involvement in the life of the Church because of these things is a betrayal of the Church’s calling and identity. If the Church is the community of those who follow the way of Christ, and if that way truly is incompatible with this kind of exclusion, then people need to be challenged to leave behind behaviour that perpetuates these exclusions.” [12: p229]

How are Christians to discern what is compatible, and what is incompatible, with the life of Christ’s body? How are we to discern what is holy – what embodies and communicates the loving kindness of God?” [12: p229]

How is the Church of England to handle deep disagreements about these matters – disagreements about which forms of life are to be commended as holy and fitting for those in Christ, and which named as sins from which one needs to seek God’s grace and power to turn away?” [12: p229]

As part of the debate the Church of England has sought to listen to those for whom the matters being discussed are their lived experience and to those who seek to follow Christ as people in same-sex relationships, or who have transitioned from one gender identity to another.

I have discovered an illuminating book, written by Marcus Green and published by Kevin Mathew, entitled, “The Possibility of Difference: A biblical affirmation of inclusivity.” He is gay and I am not, but his words give me a sense of hope. I pray that there might be more who express similar views from both a traditionalist and a progressive perspective in the Anglican Communion as the months and years unfold. His position, it seems to me, is at one with the history of the Anglican Communion when it has been at its very best – a place where difference is acknowledged and talked about and where every effort is made to remain united as one family.

Green says: “As an evangelical and as a gay man, I want to be able to open my Bible and talk to others with open Bibles without there being no-go areas. I want to be able to disagree with traditionalist, conservative takes on sexuality without calling other people homophobes and without them doubting my commitment to Christ. I don’t want or need everyone to agree with me; though that would be nice for them… And I really don’t want the Church I belong to and love to split because people who are actually my friends think I’m worth splitting the Church over.Seriously, I’m not worth splitting the Church over. … So I want to find a way of looking at the Scriptures that is fair and biblical, and which lets those who disagree with me understand that we have the same heart and follow the same Lord. We just disagree. Sometimes quite strongly. But hope we’re trying (in Archbishop Justin Welby’s wonderful phrase) to disagree well.” [5: p65]

Green’s expressed hope remains out of reach. Our disagreements are probably just not amenable to that kind of discussion, however much we want them to be. Some disagreements are just too divisive. Living in Love and Faith is helpful in enabling us to understand more about the those disagreements. [12: p230-234] It suggests that it is helpful to think in terms of there being three broad types of disagreement:

  • First, there are disagreements in which each group believes the other to be advocating something simply incompatible with the good news of Jesus. They think the other group is teaching something that amounts to a rejection of Jesus’ call on one’s life. Some will say that the people involved are no longer serious about living as Jesus’ disciples, and that they cannot be considered Christians in any meaningful sense. Others will say that the people involved might still be Christians, but that their teaching is not- and perhaps that they are putting their own and others’ eternal salvation at risk.” [12: p231]
  • Second, there are disagreements that don’t cut right to the heart of our understanding of the gospel In this way, but that do undermine our ability to live and work together as one church. They make it hard to worship together, to share sacraments, to have a single structure of ministry, oversight and governance. A lot of ecumenical disagreements take this form. We recognize one another’s communities as Christian churches, teaching the gospel, but we disagree about matters that impair our ability to live and work together as one church.” [12: p231]
  • Third, there are disagreements that don’t make us think that those who disagree with us are rejecting the gospel, and that don’t prevent us working together as one church, even though we do think them wrong about something that matters.” [12: p231]

It seems that in the arguments over homosexuality, different parties understand their differences in very different ways. If I am to be honest, I probably want to place this issue in the third category above. I know, however, that for many others, these issues fall in the first category.

For some of us, the Church of England’s received teaching that the only proper place for intimate sexual activity is marriage between a man and woman is an integral part of Christian discipleship. Those who not only doubt that teaching but encourage other people in the name of the church to disregard it are advocating a path that leads away from following Christ.” [12: p232]

For others of us, a refusal to include LGBTI+ people in the life and ministry of a because of their sexual activity is itself incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ. Those who not only. persist in thinking this way themselves, but who are determined to perpetuate this exclusion in the authoritative actions of a church, cannot be recognized any longer as teachers of Christ’s gospel. They have betrayed the bonds of love and put themselves out of Christ’s company.” [12: p232]

Change?

A preliminary question might be: What constitutes ‘legitimate’ change in the Church?

Why should one kind of change not represent a fundamental betrayal of the gospel, when another kind does? Some people have tried to outline explicit criteria to evaluate legitimate developments – Cardinal Newman … was one – but the problem with most attempts to do so is that they depend on a prior discussion of arguments that have already taken place in the Church. It is much more difficult to stretch them to accommodate a completely unforeseen development in knowledge or understanding. That problem is particularly acute in questions of sexual morality, because the rapidity with which our knowledge of human physiology and psychology has developed in the last hundred years or so has completely outpaced many of the traditional lines of Christian moral reflection. But it is important, nevertheless, to hold on to a base distinction between what we regard as the essence of the gospel, and more secondary or derivative questions.” [7: p56]

Logically, this would seem to be a sensible way through this debate, but, sadly, it is also something which, in the context of this debate, is of limited assistance. The debate actually takes us directly into questions about what issues are central to the Gospel. One side of the debate, in all integrity, is convinced that the the issues in this debate are about the essence of the Gospel and cannot be treated as ‘secondary or derivative’. If this were not the case, there would be considerable room for what we call “reconciled diversity” below.

It seems to me that four questions must be considered as part of a debate on any matter of substance. These are:

  1. The interpretation of key Bible passages and the wider emphasis of scripture;
  2. The place of experience (and modern knowledge);
  3. The guidance of the Holy Spirit; and
  4. Jesus prayer for unity in John 17 that we ‘will be one as he and the father are one’.

The first of the matters listed above is a hermeneutical question and is answered with great integrity by different groups of people in the UK, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion in very different ways.

The answer to the second depends on our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the world today and the hermeneutical process. There have been examples throughout history of increasing knowledge and experience challenging traditional understandings of issues and ultimately being accepted by the church. The one highlighted most clearly in the New Testament is the controversy over Gentiles being accepted into the church family without first being circumcised as Jews. [Acts 10 – 15] Peter calls into question what was an accepted position, primarily though his own encounter with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit then falling on Cornelius’ household. Paul later brings the issue to the Council of Jerusalem. God is seen to be at work among the Gentiles and the then commonly accepted understanding of God’s will is challenged, renewed and, thankfully for us in the Gentile world, changed significantly.

The third depends on what we believe Jesus meant when he talked in John’s Gospel of ‘the Spirit leading us into all truth’. Is he talking of the Spirit as a guardian of historic truths, or as a creative improviser who takes what has been revealed and reinterprets it anew in each generation?

The fourth factor is, I believe, pivotal. It is the nature of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we ‘will be one as he and the father are one’. I have already written about this. The article can be found here. [1]

Jesus’ prayer suggests that the unity of the Church is of supreme importance. It is not “a merely practical arrangement. It is not just a question of finding mechanisms or rules that will enable us to hold together – though those things are often important in themselves. The unity of the Church is a moral unity, a unity that calls us out of our particular preoccupations, our tendencies to assume egoistically that we are entirely correct, and invites us to recognize our fellowship in Christ with all those who also seek to follow him.” [7: p57]

Because of Jesus’ prayer, we cannot rest in our own inner certainty that we are right, whether we hold a traditional position, or are convinced that we have discovered a new perspective on the implications of Christian faith. “We are bidden – if we take Christ’s call to unity seriously – to interpret the unity of the Church as a unity of charity, a unity that holds on as much as it can to the respect and love of our fellow Christians even when we are convinced that they are profoundly wrong.” [7: p57]

1. The interpretation of key Bible passages and the wider emphasis of scripture.

In a speech at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Justin Welby encouraged those on all sides of the debate about human sexuality to recognise the integrity and fidelity to Scripture of the other participants in the discussion.

He spoke of “profoundly different perspectives within the Anglican Communion about equal marriage, each the fruit of patient and faithful wrestling with scripture: ‘For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence. …….. For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.'” [3]

Justin Welby was recognising that both a traditional approach to the issue of human sexuality and thinking which challenges and questions the traditional position have strong claims to fidelity to Scripture. The critical question is hermeneutical, it is about interpretation, about how we approach the Scriptures with integrity, valuing them for what they are, the Word of God.

Ted Grimsrud, in an essay devoted to reviewing different perspectives on the debate about ‘Homosexuality’, makes a similar, very valid, point. In the conclusion to that essay, he asserts that, “to the extent that the controversy over sexuality lends itself to rational resolution, we would do well to devote more energy to trying to find common ground in relation to biblical interpretation. I do not believe the differences are so much based on different understandings of biblical authority as they are simply on different people finding different meanings in the texts. Hence, in theory we should be able to progress toward some common ground.” [4]

He goes on to say that, “to do so, we need to take each other’s good faith attempts to grapple with the Bible seriously. Perhaps our biggest challenge is to make the effort to understand one another before launching into our critique. Rather than treating this controversy as an argument to win or lose, we would do much better to think more in terms of a puzzle to solve – and that we all have a contribution to make to such a solution. No one is benefiting from the acrimony of the current impasses in which the churches find themselves.” [4]

The difficulty with both Justin Welby’s statement and the suggestion made by Ted Grimsrud is, it seems to me, that those who have the strongest commitment to the views that they espouse are apparently not happy with seeking common ground. Ultimately, they believe, with great integrity, as Justin Welby suggests, that they are being faithful to Scripture and to the God of the Bible and that anyone holding a different position cannot be being faithful to Scripture or to God’s intentions for his people.

Having read through a number of different arguments, I can see the case for both readings of the texts concerned and for both approaches to the wider biblical resource. This leaves me feeling that both sets of arguments are culturally conditioned in some way. The problem is not the text of Scripture itself, but our fallible efforts at interpretation.

There is a strong case for a literal reading of the text of the Scriptures. It rests on the eternal applicability of the words written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That case, however, demands something significant from those who argue it. It requires a consistent approach to the text of the Scriptures. Unless that approach is consistent then what is accepted as having eternal applicability becomes culturally determined. Essentially it becomes a matter for the interpreter to determine which texts have eternal applicability as written and which, while still being God’s Word, spoke primarily to the culture of the day and which need interpretation before seeking to apply them to new situations.

It seems to me that the stronger hermeneutic is one which accepts, first of all, that all scripture was written in a particular culture and that its application within that culture needs first to be understood. This requires the greatest possible attention to the cultures within which the bible was written. It then requires us to understand the message to that culture and only then to apply that message to our own. That same hermeneutic asks us to look first at the major themes of the Scriptures and then to place individual texts within those themes.

I have sought elsewhere to consider both what are considered the important proof texts for a traditional view on same-sex sex and what is said in Scripture as a whole that might also relate to this matter. You can find some discussion of the biblical material here. [6]

If we all accept that our interpretation of the text of the Bible is just that, an interpretation, then we are on better grounds to consider the meaning of the text and it’s interpretation for today. Our discussion and our arguments are then about different interpretations of the text, rather than being about loyalty to the revealed Word of God or the rejection of its message.

This brings me back to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 which calls on us to accept the good faith of all parties in the debate. And it leaves me asking whether there are possibly other approaches which might enable us to grapple with these matters.

The discussion below highlights one way to consider these matters which is faithful to Scripture. It relies on the events which are portrayed for us in the middle chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. ….

2. The place of experience (and modern knowledge).

The use of this title probably seems, at least at first, to be a step away from the Scriptural debate. But I don’t believe that it is. I believe that it is about taking seriously the story brought to us in the middle of the Acts of the Apostles a story which is about the Gospel being set free to speak clearly in the Gentile world.

Perhaps first we should set the scene. …..

In the early chapters of Acts we see a new movement within Judaism developing rapidly. It clearly begins to include Hellenic Jews within its scope and we become aware of tensions which existed within this new community. It becomes necessary for the Apostles to appoint deacons to ensure a fair distribution of the community’s resources.

We also see the Holy Spirit at work in including Jews from the diaspora within this new community of faith. Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch leads to the Gospel reaching far beyond the immediate confines of the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. (Incidentally, it is the first introduction into the New Testament story of someone who had an uncertain sexual status and who was welcomed into the new community of faith.)

These things seem gently to push at accepted boundaries. The more significant changes are still to come.

The Holy Spirit intervenes once again. This time in the story of Peter’s stay in Joppa. This is, first of all, a personal encounter for Peter in the form of a dream/vision which encourages him to think beyond the confines of his inherited beliefs and the traditional guidance of his Jewish scriptures. He wakes with these words ringing in his ears, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” [Acts 10:15] and as he does so there is a shout from the front door of the house where emissaries from Cornelius (a Roman centurion) stand waiting to take him to Caesarea, to Cornelius’ home.

As Peter speaks at Cornelius’ house, the Holy Spirit preempts any possible appeal by Peter and falls on all those present. We are told that, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” [Acts 10:44-46]

Peter, and those with him, were taken beyond the provisions of their own traditional understanding of their scriptures. They saw God at work among people that they thought God would not accept without them first becoming Jews.

In Acts 11, Peter explains to the gathered church in Jerusalem and we then read these words: “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” [Acts 11:18]

Apparently, this was not enough to resolve the matter, because in Acts 15 we read that, “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ [Acts 15:1]

Paul and Barnabas challenge this teaching and a Council is convened in Jerusalem to consider the case. The result is a confirmation that Gentile believers do not need first to become Jews before they can encounter the grace and love of God in their lives. [Acts 15:1-35]

The result of a Council set up in Jerusalem was a recognition that traditional understandings needed to be set aside when challenged by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people who came to faith through the witness of those who loved Jesus.

Peter, Paul and Barnabas are named, but others too, experienced God at work and as a result changed their inherited theological position and their understanding of the way God worked in the world.

The convincing factor was not a detailed treatise on the words of their scriptures, known to us as the Old Testament. The convincing factor was the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others who once were outside of the community of faith but who were now members of that community.

This process in Acts seems to offer us a biblical model for the resolution of major issues, a model which relies on the experience of God’s work in the world.

I have suggested elsewhere that this is, in fact, essentially the way the church makes decisions of this nature. Light is shed on a significant issue which seems to call into question cherished thinking and the Church then has to return to the Scriptures and review its theology. You can find some further discussion of this here. [6]

3. The guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Part of change and continuity is the way in which the Church has to rely on the Holy Spirit as its guide in all things. The Spirit will lead us into all truth:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” [John 16:13]

One of the ways in which we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us is through listening to the stories of others: “Listening in this way also allows us to begin to perceive where the Spirit is at work in those different from us, much as the early church listened to Peter and others in the controversies at the heart of the stories in the Acts of the Apostles.” [12: p49]

Part of any process of discernment must include listening to the stories of those whose lived experience is being discussed. This involves both to listening to their stories and allowing them to participate in any debate. Stories help us to “to step out of ourselves, out of our own world and concerns into those of another. They invite us to listen actively and attentively, laying down for a moment our own anxieties and fears in order to be present to another. In so doing we create a space for the work of God’s Spirit in us. We are exercising faith in the reality of Christ in each person, and in the possibility of Christ addressing us through the life of another. By paying attention to the stories of people who have different, and even opposing, understandings of abundant life, we are taking a first step towards something that we do not yet see and cannot perhaps even imagine: a community of believers whose love for one another testifies to the living Christ.” [12: p48]

This kind of attentive listening is an act of holy love through which the Holy Spirit can speak. It requires of us a willingness to examine ourselves to understand how and why we react to what we hear.  Pastoral Principles of Living Well Together gives some guidance “which will help us to discern together what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Rev. 2.11,17,29; 3.6,13,22).” [10: p4] Examining ourselves will help us to: address areas of our own ignorance; acknowledge prejudice (by welcoming people as they are, loving them unconditionally, seeking to see Christ in them and nurturing respect between people who disagree); admit hypocrisy (by not condemning certain behaviours and attitudes while turning a blind eye to others, remembering that we are all fallible, broken and equally in need of God’s grace are all are weak); cast out fear (by consciously demonstrating and living out what it means for perfect love to cast out fear even in situations of disagreement and by modelling openness and vulnerability as each of us wrestles prayerfully with the costliness of Christian discipleship); speak into silence (by remembering that we are the Body of Christ, called to relate deeply and openly with one another, sharing what is on our hearts as well as in our minds, and by practising deep listening, without a hidden agenda, that encourages conversations about questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage); pay attention to power (by being alert to attempts to control others, remembering that God’s Spirit alone can bring transformation into our lives and the lives of others, and through following Christ’s example of service and compassion as we accompany one another in following the way of the cross). [12: p4-5][cf. 10]

This kind of listening is Spirit-filled and, through it, each of one of us can be changed by God’s Holy Spirit.

4. Jesus prayer for unity in John 17.

This fourth matter is of paramount significance for the Church. It is part of our primary calling. It is something that the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion has always sought to honour. It has been a ‘cultural’ position within the Church of England, part of its DNA, and seems to have governed our discussions on many issues throughout the centuries. It was deliberate policy in the production of the King James Bible. A translation which was deliberately placed in the hands of a range of scholars representing a range of positions within the Church of England and which  was intended to provide a ‘scriptural umbrella’ under which all could shelter. [8] Most recently it has given rise to the ‘mutual flourishing’ intended by steps forward first to the ordination of women to the priesthood and then again to their ordination to the episcopate.

However, that innate intention to remain as one seems now to be threatened. “The question of homosexuality does seem to strike at the very foundation of church unity. There’s something asymmetrical about the arguments within the Church. The problem is that homosexuality seems to overturn the moral witness of the whole of scripture. On the traditional view, homosexual behaviour is a sin, and the Church cannot compromise with sin. In effect it is a renunciation of the gospel. On that basis there can be no compromise on the question, because any admission that Christians could afford to disagree on this matter (or rather could afford to diverge in moral practice) would be to cancel out the Church itself, to abolish the Church.” [7: p57] This view, to some, seems narrow, but it is being loyal to centuries of practice and belief.

Those who favour change do not accept that homosexual behaviour is in itself sinful. They do accept “that there can be many sinful forms of homosexual behaviour, just as there can be of heterosexual behaviour. They do not on the whole deny their opponents their moral legitimacy, though of course they presuppose that their own understanding is the superior one. They do plead for a broader, more generous and inclusive interpretation of scripture. But generally they presume that the argument can be sustained at a reasoned, moderate level in the Church. One side cannot compromise with a sin; the other side assumes sin is not the issue.” [7: p58]

Given these asymmetric positions, the hope that we can all agree to differ within a kind of “reconciled diversity” [7: p58] is seemingly unsustainable.

Change?

So what can we say about a way forward, in this particular case, that accepts that unity is Christ’s prayer for us?

We have to accept that the question of the Church’s acceptance of everyone as a fundamental issue for the Gospel. Both sides in the debate are actually saying that this is the fundamental issue, even if they try to ameliorate their stance with generous words about each other’s attempts to be faithful to the Gospel.  Traditionalists see inclusion/exclusion of sexually active same-sex partners as fundamental to the Gospel, a Communion-breaking issue. But so too do those with more liberal views, they might want to talk about a broad church but this is also for them an issue which is fundamental to the Gospel. Both can argue their positions from Scripture.

This will mean that the two sides are essentially arguing over the same thing – a fundamental understanding about the Gospel of Christ.

Although attempting to be pragmatic will be very unlikely, at least in this case, to provide a way for those who most strongly argue their positions to be drawn together sufficiently to accept ‘reconciled diversity’ in the generous, Christ-like way that would be a sign of God’s grace and love to our world.

The unity that Christ prays for, ultimately, cannot be sacrificed because all who follow Christ are actually (ontologically, if you like) united. We believe that the word’s spoken by God achieve the purpose for which they were spoken. So we are united. Despite everything that the Church has done down the years to try to negate this, despite appalling battles between denominations and integrities, despite us burning each other at the stake, despite one side’s belief that its doctrines are superior to the other. We are still one. We share the same DNA as followers of Christ, no matter how ugly our difference get, no matter how much we shun or exclude each other. We are still one. No matter how little we love each other. We are still one.

This is true within our denominations and Communions, and it is true across those denominations. We are one. Our behaviour might not look as though this is the case, and to all intents and purposes we may be completely estranged and so appear disunited, but we are still one. Jesus prayer for us is that the unity for which he prays will become evident in our shared lives and the lives of our denominations. He prays that we will live the truth of our ‘oneness’ and that people will be amazed by how much we love each other even when the divisions we face are so great.

I would like us to be able to say, as the statement from ‘Integrity‘ says: “We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.” [9] I’d like us not to have to qualify this in any way. But I know that this is extremely unlikely to happen.

We are just not there yet. We are in a very different place. We are still at loggerheads and are unable to generously recognise that those who most strongly argue against us have integrity and are, like us, seeking God’s best for us all.

I suspect that the only thing that could possibly, hopefully, happen across the whole Anglican Communion in the medium-term is for there to be a grace-filled acceptance that different provinces must be free to make their own decisions which apply the Gospel as faithfully as they can within their own cultures. This will probably mean that there are dramatic differences between different parts of the Anglican Communion. There would need to be a way of regularising the intrusions of episcopal oversight into other provinces. There would need to be a generous willingness on the part of those travelling between different provinces to accept the oversight of the relevant Archbishop and Bishops. There would also need to be a generous willingness to accept the ministry of those who journey to be with us. It might be necessary in conservative provinces to provide some form of alternative oversight for churches/Christians who struggle with the prevailing position of the province just as there may need to be provision for alternative oversight for more conservative churches/Christians in more liberal provinces.

This will, however, require very significant change for both those who most strongly affirm inclusion, and for those who argue the traditional position. In the short-term its seems unlikely, if not impossible.

If it were to occur, there would continue to need to be an international forum (or forums) where these substantive issues are debated in depth, sometimes in anger, but at all times accepting that in God’s eyes we are one.  This will need to be a place (or will need to be places) which is/are seen to be able to hold our disagreements in tension and where our common status as loved and fallen children of God is strenuously affirmed. Because to deny our unity is, in itself, to deny our Lord.

That same level of active listening and debate would probably also need to be held, honoured as a safe place, in every province of the Anglican Communion. Living in Love and Faith provides a model for that ongoing listening and discussion

In Living in Love and Faith, The Archbishops of Canterbury and York say that: “Our vision must be that which Jesus prays for in John 17.21, ‘that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me!’ Being one is not in the sense of being the same, but being one in love and obedience and holiness, so that the world may find the knowledge of Christ as Saviour and the peace of God in the experience of God’s Kingdom. There will probably never be a time when we all agree exactly what that looks like, but our prayer for the Church through this work is that collectively we demonstrate the same love to one another that we have experienced from God; the grace that includes everyone whom Jesus Christ is calling to follow him; the holiness that changes the world and the unity that calls others to faith in Christ. The gift of that kind of love for God, for each other, and even for those who oppose us, is, in the words of 1 Peter, a love that covers a multitude of sins and thus leads us to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 4.8 and 1.16).” [2: pX]

It seems that all of us will need to be willing to accept that the core arguments will not be solved in the short or medium term. We will need to pray continually that the Holy Spirit will increase a generous sense of love, unity and trust in us as time goes by, leading us into all truth. [John 16:13]

But, and this is a big ‘but’, this is not a matter that can be parked for as long as it takes. This is about people’s lives. The Church of England has made some very significant pragmatic and pastoral moves. Essentially it has accepted that, while it currently continues to hold an orthodox position on sexuality and same-sex marriage, it can be pastorally more sensitive.

In February 2014, in their letter introducing the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote that “the gospel demands that we all listen, speak and act with integrity, self discipline and grace, acknowledging that as yet our knowledge and understanding are partial.” [15]

They went on to say that the Bishops were all, “conscious that within both Church and society there are men and women seeking to live faithfully in covenanted same sex relationships. … The proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute.  Same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity…., two of the virtues which the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage.  The Church of England seeks to see those virtues maximised in society.” [15]

In the House of Bishops’ Guidance reference was made to Issues in Human Sexuality where the House of Bishops’ “affirmed that, while the same standards of conduct applied to all, the Church of England should not exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and who, instead, chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship.” [16]

Consistent with that, the House of Bishops’ said in their “2005 pastoral statement that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion, or being welcomed into the life of the local worshipping community more generally.” [17]

They also reinforced guidance that “the clergy could not lawfully refuse to baptize children on account of the family structure or lifestyle of those caring for them, so long as they and the godparents were willing to make the requisite baptismal promises following a period of instruction. [an recognised] many reasons why couples wish their relationships to have a formal status: … the joys of exclusive commitment and … the importance of legal recognition of the relationship. To that end, civil partnership continues to be available for same sex couples. Those same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments.” [17]

More recently, the House of Bishops’ has issued guidance on ‘Pastoral Principles of Living Well Together‘ [10] which encourages careful thought about how we relate when we disagree and how we acknowledge our own prejudices, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and abuse of power. 

None of this addresses the underlying and, for some, overwhelming sense of rejection, that the formal position of the Church continues to engender.

One of the books that I have been reading is a collection of essays entitled, ‘An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church‘. [18] It raises the question of whether it is fair and reasonable that doctrinal development and a reconsideration of the issues should be allowed to continue without some clear sense of a real horizon ahead. “As things stand at the moment, the Church if England is asking of gay men and women an immense sacrifice. Is it an acceptable sacrifice?” [19: p7]

References

  1. https://rogerfarnworth.com/2022/11/19/john-17-a-pivotal-passage-in-scripture-and-its-implications-for-current-debates-in-the-church.
  2. Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell; Forward; in House of Bishops of the Church of England; Living in Love and Faith; Church House Publishing, 2020, pvii-x.
  3. Quoted by Revd Dr William Lamb, Vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, an Associate Member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College; A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life: A Reprise; https://viamedia.news, accessed on 30th October 2022.
  4. Ted Grimsrud; The “Homosexuality” Debate: Two Streams of Biblical Interpretation; https://peacetheology.net/homosexuality/the-homosexuality-debate-two-streams-of-biblical-interpretation, accessed on 31st October 2022. Versions of this essay were published in C. Norman Kraus, To Continue the Dialogue (Cascadia Publishing House), and in Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation, Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality (Herald Press).
  5. Marcus Green; The Possibility of Difference: A biblical affirmation of inclusivity; Kevin Mathew, Stowmarket, Suffolk, 2018.
  6. https://rogerfarnworth.com/2023/01/06/can-we-be-faithful-to-scripture-and-affirm-faithful-monogamous-same-sex-relationships.
  7. Jeremy Morris; The church and change: tradition and development; in Duncan Dormor & Jeremy Morris .eds; An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church; SPCK, London, 2007, p46-61.
  8. Adam Nicolson; Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible; HarperCollins, London, 2003.
  9. https://www.inclusive-church.org/the-ic-statement, accessed on 21st December 2022.
  10. Church of England; Pastoral Principles of Living Well Together; Church House Publishing, London, 2019 and available at https://www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance/general-synod/bishops/pastoral-advisory-group/pastoral-principle, accessed on 20th December 2022.
  11. Justin Welby and John Sentamu; Letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York following General Synod (Church of England, 2017); available at https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-media/news-and-statements/letter-archbishops-canterbury-and-york-following-general-synod, accessed on 24th December 2022.
  12. House of Bishops of the Church of England; Living in Love and Faith; Church House Publishing, 2020.
  13. https://www.attitude.co.uk/news/church-of-england-bishops-support-gay-marriage-417523, accessed on 5th January 2023.
  14. https://oxford.anglican.org/news/same-sex-marriage-in-cofe.php, accessed on 5th January 2023.
  15. https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-media/news-and-statements/house-bishops-pastoral-guidance-same-sex-marriage, accessed on 5th January 2023.
  16. House of Bishops of the Church of England; Issues in Human Sexuality; Church House Publishing, 1991.
  17. House of Bishops of the Church of England; Civil Partnerships: A Pastoral Statement; Church House Publishing, 2005.
  18. Duncan Dormor & Jeremy Morris .eds; An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church; SPCK, London, 2007.
  19. Duncan Dormor & Jeremy Morris; Introduction; in Duncan Dormor & Jeremy Morris .eds; An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church; SPCK, London, 2007.
  20. https://anglican.ink/2022/11/03/together-in-love-and-faith-the-bishop-of-oxfords-case-for-gay-marriage, accessed on 5th January 2023.

Can we be faithful to Scripture and affirm faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships?

There are many who believe that this cannot possibly be the case in the light of a number of specific texts in both the New and the Old Testament which appear to be conclusive.

Others argue that a careful reading of the Scriptures will lead anyone with an open mind to the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships.

While so many in the Anglican Communion agree about so much and even when we disagree we seem generally to be able to hear other people’s perspectives. This is the one issue that we make into the contemporary test of orthodoxy and seem unable to make room for difference. It is an issue which “is not in any early church statement of faith, and it is absent from the Reformers’ great debates. Luther did not make any great play on this. Calvin didn’t seem to care. The Westminster Shorter Catechism forgot to focus here. …” [1: p19] But this has become the touchstone in our assessment of each other.

It seems that neither side in the debate finds it easy, or even possible, to acknowledge the integrity and scriptural loyalty of the other. So, we sit at a crossroads with different parts of the church pulling in different directions, and, no doubt, many in the church looking back and forward between the two, not sure which way to turn.

Somewhere between the extremes of these polarized sentiments probably lie the vast majority of churchgoers, with people uncertain what to make of it all, or people opposed to a change or supportive of it, who nevertheless do not regard it as a church-breaking issue.” [2: p1]

In the light of this ‘stalemate’ it seems likely, to me at least, that there will be a significant and possibly permanent split in the Anglican Communion unless things change significantly.

Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris comment that “the possibility of a permanent split [hangs] over the Anglican Communion. … These divisions are not of course confined to Anglicanism. They can be found in Methodism, in churches of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, and in Roman Catholicism. But they have perhaps never been as bitter there, or as destructive, as they have in Anglicanism. Advocates of a change in the Church’s policy towards homosexuality and their opponents have traded insults and claimed the moral high ground.” [2: p1]

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the Lambeth Conference 2022 included a reminder of the reality of the current situation, and the need to care for each other: “So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.” [3]

My linked article (below) tries to address, carefully, the question raised in the title to this short blog. It shows that it is possible, depending on your approach to Scripture to argue with integrity for both the traditional position and the progressive position when approaching Scripture. It highlights the importance of listening to modern knowledge, experience and culture and then returning to the text of Scripture with an open mind. When we do this we engage in a similar process to that which Peter and the early Church encountered, led by the Holy Spirit which we have received in the middle chapters of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament

I do believe that it is possible to remain faithful to Scripture and affirm faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships.

However, I also believe that this should not be an issue over which the Church of England should allow itself to become divided. This is a matter of interpretation of Scripture, rather than one about loyalty to Scripture.

We are called to be ‘one’ (John 17), whether or not we agree. The Anglican Communion is deeply divided, but we are called to unity and we are called to truth. Integrity and Unity. It is our love for each other, even in the midst of the greatest disagreement, that will draw others to faith. At least that seems to be what Jesus believed!

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

I offer the linked article below as a careful wide-ranging discussion of the arguments which surround this important question. It is not a light read.

I greatly appreciate the way in which Living in Love and Faith [4] has been presented. Of the different books that I have read recently, this is the one which best allowed me to engage openly with the issues.

I feel happier with where my instincts have lead me over recent years. I feel affirmed in my desire for a fully inclusive Church which is truly so, accepting and valuing each other even when we strongly disagree.

So, this is who I am. This is what I believe. Inclusion is a Gospel imperative. If we fail to include all, we fail in following our Lord. Even then God’s grace is sufficient, he still loves and accepts us when we struggle to be inclusive. God includes all, everyone, within the scope of God’s love.

Being inclusive is the very embodiment of the Gospel. We are all sinful and we all sin, we all struggle to love as God loves us, we are all defensive at times, we are all selfish at times. Often unconsciously, we can all be biased against someone different from us. We are all called to grow more into the character and nature of our Lord.

Towards the end of Living in Love and Faith, there is a series of encounters with different churches in the UK. The examples used are actually all attractive in their own way, but the one that I warm to most is St. Mildred, Upper Mallowpool:

St Mildred’s Church serves the small town of Upper Mallowpool with a population of nearly 15,000. Six parishioners had gathered at the back of the church to take part in the conversation: Richard, the vicar; Duncan and Miriam, an older couple who also attend a Baptist church; Jenny, a lesbian woman in a partnership; Owen, a gay youth worker; and Noah, a heterosexual married man. In the background a group was clearing up after the midweek coffee and craft session.

Richard got the conversation going. ‘So, my theology has changed over time. As an evangelical, I’m quite clear on the need for the Scriptures to lead the way. But my thinking has changed. Being divorced and remarried, the theology I take for myself on divorce is that divorce is not God’s ideal plan but that when I read the Scriptures, it’s allowable. And when I look at the Scriptures’ teaching on sexuality, the conclusion I’ve come to is that same-sex relationships are not God’s ideal plan, but that they are allowed. And so, I feel like I’m in a position to say that because I’m willing to criticize myself over divorce and remarriage. That has enabled me to reach out so we have gay people involved in positions of responsibility within our church family. We have to find a way, though, of including those who see it differently. Noah chipped in, ‘It’s interesting, we’re not out for overt inclusion. But we welcome anybody. and we don’t exclude anybody.’

It soon became apparent that not only did everyone agree that being truly inclusive meant including people with opposing views, but this little group embodied this very reality. Although Duncan and Miriam were clear that same-sex marriage was not an option, they were happy to join in the conversation – a conversation that combined deep and overt affection with spontaneous honesty.

Owen pitched in with his story: ‘As someone who is gay, my theology has been left, right and centre. I’ve gone, is abstinence the correct way? But then, come to the conclusion that if God is love, then it says, “Whoever does not love, does not know God.” And therefore, I must be able to love, to know God. But yeah, I can understand both sides, because my theology has gone all the way round. I love this sort of conversation.’

Jenny spoke movingly about how difficult she had found it to cross the threshold of the church eight years ago and what it meant for her to be welcomed in by Richard. She had been thrown out of her Christian family home at the age of 16 when she came out. Even now, only one sister is willing to be in touch with her.

But the conversation kept coming back to how each of them had come to their convictions. ‘Is there actually any gender in the afterlife, in heaven? Is gender only a concept for a tiny fraction of our existence? And that, maybe, puts it a little bit in perspective,’ said Noah. ‘By trying to say that we know all of the rights and wrongs, I’d say we’re putting ourselves almost in the position of God over humanity. God tells us to let him judge, because it’s in our nature to get things wrong.’ Richard agreed: ‘But he will judge, and, therefore, it’s important that if we become convinced that something we thought before wasn’t right, then we must change. As long as we’re open to the possibility that we might be wrong, then I think that’s what will qualify us, when we meet God.’“[4: p417-418]

References

  1. Marcus Green; The Possibility of Difference: A biblical affirmation of inclusivity; Kevin Mathew, Stowmarket, Suffolk, 2018.
  2. Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris; Introduction; in Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris (eds); An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church; SPCK, London, 2007.
  3. Quoted by Prof. Helen King; Over to the bishops? Finding ways to respect differences; https://www.inclusive-church.org/2022/10/19/over-to-the-bishops-finding-ways-to-respect-differences, accessed on 30th October 2022.
  4. House of Bishops of the Church of England; Living in Love and Faith; Church House Publishing, 2020.

John 17: A Pivotal Passage in Scripture, … and its implications for current debates in the Church

I have long felt that, in understanding God’s call on our lives, the pivotal passage in the New Testament of the Christian Bible is John 17.

I have discovered more recently, in early retirement, just how significant that chapter of the Bible is for me personally. In discussions around difficult issues I have found myself returning to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. The call for unity embodied in that prayer pulls at my heart strings and provokes a surprisingly strong emotional response. …

Professor David Ford seems to have a similar sense of the profound importance of that chapter to the overall message of John’s Gospel, and, as a consequence, to the whole New Testament story. He speaks of John 17 as the point at which John’s Gospel, “sounds its greatest depths, reaches its greatest heights, opens up its innermost secret of intimate mutual indwelling, and orients the desires of readers toward union with the ultimate desire of Jesus.” [1: p9]

If we are to take Jesus’ prayer in John 17 seriously, that ‘we will be one, as he and the Father are one’, we have to take our differences over many issues seriously, address them and, in the midst of our disagreement, then seek unity — that is the challenge of John 17.

In this respect, Loveday Alexander writes that: “We shall need (as Pilling frequently reminds us in the report about human sexuality, [2]) ‘a complex process of theological discernment, a process that begins with the discipline of listening, which requires the ability to move outside the limitations of our own experience to pay attention to what God is doing in the experience of others.’” [3: p48]

Let’s take this particular issue as an example of the challenge posed by the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Loveday Alexander was writing in 2014 about the ongoing debate within the Church of England over human sexuality. We are now, at the time of writing, in 2022, and that process of listening in relation to human sexuality has been going on in the Church of England over the past 8 years.

We are probably more aware of the issues, in this particular context, than we ever were, but as far as I can see, we are no closer to a way forward that will hold us all together in unity and that will satisfy, not only those with different views within the Church of England, but also those in the wider Anglican Communion.

Indeed, a number of us in the wider Anglican Communion still see the very process of listening to be too great a compromise. For some of us, Scripture is clear, the matter is determined by the text of Scripture and the traditional teaching of the church. There must be no equivocation over the issues involved. The firm belief of parts of the Anglican Communion is that the Church of England and a number of other provinces in the Anglican Communion need to repent and return to the tenets of Scripture. That view, held with great integrity and commitment, says that unity is just not possible while parts of the Communion are so manifestly in error.

Others of us cannot accept that position. For us, a careful study of Scripture and the cultures in which it was written and our own lived experience lead us to a very different conclusion. Many in this other part of our church family are just as resolute as those in the first group.

In reality, we are not united but divided, and it seems that we hold each other to account as responsible for that division.

And yet, in this particular context, we are not so very far apart. We see many of the of the possible perversions in all sexual relationships as sinful. We are not happy to condone engagement in physical sexual acts outside of committed, faithful, monogamous relationships. We strongly condemn abuse in all its forms whether inside or outside of a marriage and family life. We see no place for promiscuity, no place for selfishness. I hope we also have a strong commitment to mutuality in marriage and in relationships.

But, we do not agree on one key issue relating to who can participate in a committed, faithful, monogamous sexual relationship. And for so many of us, on whichever side of the argument we sit, this matter is essentially insurmountable, either because of our view of about what scripture says, or because of our essential identity as human beings. It seems as though neither side in the debate can see any grounds for hope and both seem to agree that this issue takes us beyond the remit of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.

As I have already said, that prayer in John 17 is, for me, a pivotal point in scripture. And it provides the context for Jesus’ later commission in John 20:21-22. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”’ (John 20:21-22)

As we have noted, Professor David Ford (the author of a new (in 2022) commentary on St. John’s Gospel [1]) agrees with this assessment. He talks of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 being “the most profound and far-reaching chapter in the Bible” [4]. Jesus “prays (John 17:18) about what he later does in the pivotal verse John 20:21, and pours out his ultimate desire for all of us later believers: that we be united in love with each other and with him, ‘as’ he is united in love with his Father, and that this might overflow into the world God loves (John 17:20-26). It is a mission of inspired loving, for the sake of the whole world, including (since Jesus is the one through whom ‘all things came into being’ – John 1:3) the whole of creation.” [4]

All through John’s Gospel readers have been prepared for the death of Jesus (beginning with John 1:29), and for the resurrection of Jesus (beginning with John 2:22), and for the giving of the Holy Spirit (beginning with John 1:33). Now, climactically [in John 20:21-22], the crucified and resurrected Jesus actually gives the Holy Spirit. The words that accompany this give all of us Christians our core vocation and mission. We are sent ‘as’ Jesus was sent.” [4]

But,” says Ford, “theas’ does not mean exact repetition. We are not in first century Palestine. His Spirit is breathed into us so that we can both learn from how he was sent and also improvise endlessly upon it. We are to be inspired in our learning together (the Holy Spirit guides us into ‘all the truth’ – John 16:13, so our learning is never to stop), in our loving like Jesus, and in our praying like Jesus (try praying the Lord’s Prayer in the light of John 17!).” [4]

In his commentary, Ford says that the thrust of John’s Gospel is towards “doing life-giving signs for all who are in need, daringly crossing deep divisions, seeking more and more truth, engaging critically and constructively with the civilization of which it is a part, prophetically challenging the pathologies of power, modeling servant leadership, and building communities of prayer, love, and friendship that serve God’s love for all people and all creation, seeking to be part of the fulfillment of the desire of Jesus in his final prayer.” [1: p11]

“The essentials,” he says, “are summed up in John 20:21-22. Jesus gives us the deep ‘peace’ of knowing we are utterly loved, at home abiding in the love at the heart of all reality; the deep purpose of being ‘sent’ to love as he was sent by his Father; and, amazingly, the ‘Holy Spirit’—breathed into us minute by minute as he lives in us, we live in him, and we are energised and inspired to learn, pray, love, and serve as never before.” [4]

One significant element of John’s gospel message is the way in which “it nurtures in readers a global horizon that can unite them with the desire of Jesus for an ultimate unity of all people and all creation in love and peace.” [1: p11]

This means, as we have already noted, that we are to be inspired in our learning together, in our loving like Jesus, and in our praying like Jesus. … Jesus prayer is pivotal to our corporate life as his Church.

As Professor David Ford says: we are to be inspired by Jesus’ prayer in John 17 which calls us to a unity with each other which reflects the unity of the Godhead. We are called to reflect in our relationships the “innermost secret of intimate mutual indwelling,” [1: p9] that characterises the relationship between the three members of the Trinity. Indeed, Ford entitles the chapter in his commentary which focusses on John 17, ‘The Summit of Love’.

Our missionary calling as disciples of Jesus is a call, primarily, to unity. This is to be one of our ultimate values, it is to define us as followers of Jesus. It is to be at the very core of who we are. For me, this increasingly means an emotional, almost visceral, commitment to unity.

Whatever our differences in theology and practice, whatever different denominations we might form, we are called first and foremost to a loving unity which surmounts all barriers. We are to be ‘like Jesus’ who prayed, with what was close to his dying breath, that we would be one ‘as he and the Father are one’.

John’s gospel is indeed irrefutable in its clear, concise and transparent yearning for authentic Christlike discipleship today and always, to exemplify human love one for another, unconditionally, non-selectively, non-judgementally – just as Jesus did, so also should we do similarly.” [5: p24]

While commenting on John 1:29, Ford offers us a definition of sin: “This also is a pointer to the meaning of the sin of the world. [John 1:29] The basic sin indicated in the Gospel of John is lack of faith/trust/belief, inevitably involving lack of love. The desire/will of God is for a love inseparable from trust. The ultimate desire of Jesus, expressed above all in his climactic prayer in John 17, is for people to be united in trust and love with God and one another through him, a unity in which the whole of creation is embraced. This is the “summit of love,” the joy, the “eternal life,” the peace, for which people are created and into which they are invited, and whatever prevents or distorts or falsifies or opposes this is sin.” [1: p48-49]

Essentially, nothing pertaining to our faith should be allowed to take us outside of the scope of Jesus’ prayer for unity. Historically, the Church has allowed many things to take priority over that prayer. In doing so, each time, it places itself outside of Jesus’ desire for it.

At the moment, I find it nigh impossible to envisage the reconciliation of people holding divergent views on human sexuality within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am grateful that others are ultimately responsible as the guardians of our unity and our faithfulness to the canon of scripture. My fervent prayer is that the Spirit will continue to lead us into all truth and that we will be able to fully accept our differences and fully embrace the unity for which Jesus prayed.

References

  1. Professor David Ford; The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary; Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2021.
  2. The Pilling Report was published by Church House publishing on 28/11/2013. Its full title is The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality.
  3. Revd Canon Professor Loveday Alexander; Homosexuality and the Bible: Reflections of a Biblical Scholar; in Grace and Disagreement: Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality; The Archbishops’ Council, 2014, p24-51.
  4. Professor David Ford; Improvising in the Spirit: Lessons from the Gospel of John; Re-Source Wednesday Lecture; Re-Source Autumn Newsletter 2022, Scargill House, p10-11; https://www.resource-arm.net/files/uploads/Autumn%202022%20Newsletter%20(Online).pdf, accessed on 4th November 2022.
  5. Jenny Plane Te Paa; Theology and the Politics of Exclusion: An Indigenous Woman’s Perspective; in Terry Brown .ed; Other Voices, Other Worlds; Church Publishing, New York, 2006, p15ff.

Muhabura – Wisdom from Uganda – A thought for the day!

It is only days now before I am back in Uganda again. It will be three short weeks and Jo, my wife, will not be with me as she has to continue to work in the UK. I have just been thinking back to my first visit to Uganda in 1994. …….

Proverbs 8: 1-3 (ESV)

Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries aloud.

Mt. Muhabura

When I first went to Uganda in 1994, I travelled by train from Mombasa. A beautiful journey travelled at a snail’s pace in some ancient but well kept carriages and with silver service for meals and attendants who made up beds for passengers. The journey took for ever and included an unscheduled stop in Jinga because of a freight train derailment closer to Kampala. Our train waited 6 hours in Jinga!

On the last leg of the journey to Kampala, I was reading from Proverbs 8 – the passage above. It was as we came into the suburbs of Kampala that I looked up from reading to notice on the skyline a number of different religious buildings. I remember seeing two cathedrals, a Bahai temple and a mosque (I think). Here were various claims to wisdom calling out from the heights, ‘Listen to me!’

Kampala is a city of many hills and it seemed to me, on that first day that I saw it, to have a religious building on the top of each one.

I travelled down in a car from Kampala to Kisoro, a long journey, really long. Half way through the last leg of the journey, travelling over dirt roads, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Muhabura. It was the dry season and the dust in the air meant that I did not see it again until leaving Kisoro when I travelled back over the same road to Kabale.

Mount Muhabura, also known as Mount Muhavura, is an inactive volcano in the Virunga Mountains on the border between Rwanda and Uganda. At 4,127 metres (13,540 ft) Muhabura is the third highest of the eight major mountains of the mountain range, which is a part of the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. Its summit contains a small crater lake. The limited evidence for this volcano suggests that it last erupted some time in the Holocene, but the exact date is not known. Muhabura is partly in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and partly in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda. [1]

Anyone from Kisoro will tell you what the name of the mountain means and hence why the Diocese is named after it. Muhabura is ‘the guide’, the ‘one who leads me home’ – a mountain visible for miles around calling the people back to their homeland.

It strikes me again now, as it did back in 1994, that ‘Muhabura’ is an excellent name for a diocese. It is our Christian calling to be people who call others back to faith, back to where they belong. The wisdom of the Christian faith is not primarily intellectual, it is not ‘clever’, per see. Christian wisdom is primarily about relationship, about knowing God.

Someone is truly wise in God’s eyes when they are one of his people, in relationship with him, listening to his word, and full of his all-embracing inclusive love. When we gather together as Christians we aspire to be those in whom God’s wisdom dwells, to be a community faithfully drawing those around us back home, back to God. So we should be like Mt. Muhabura, a true and faithful guide, in an uncertain world.

Proverbs 8:1-3 has more for us than this. … Wisdom stands at the crossroads; …….. beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries aloud.

100_6105

Proverbs 8:1-3 also encourages us to count on God’s wisdom at the crossroads, at the place of decision, the place where we have to make choices. And it encourages us to seek wisdom in the gates of the city. The place of business for any community in Old Testament times was the gates of the city. It was where the village elders met, it was often the market place. God’s wisdom is not just spiritual wisdom but practical wisdom, and available to us as we go about the daily business, decusion-making and transactions of our working lives.

References

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Muhabura, accessed on 30th September 2022.

Ancient Tramroads near Telford – Part 5 – Newdale Bridge

The featured image above shows Newdale Bridge after some path work improvements were undertaken. [1]

The location of Newdale Bridge on Google Maps.

Newdale Bridge is one extant remnant of the old tramway which probably ran between Ketley and Horsehay. The images below show its location. The bridge is recorded by Historic England as a Grade II listed structure (No. 1025096). It was listed on 8th April 1983. [5]

The Wrekin Local Studies Forum records this bridge in these words: “An extensive network of tramways was built, with horses pulling small waggons laden with coal, firclay and other minerals, connecting various mines to foundry sites. Pioneered by Abraham Darby II, Newdale Tram Bridge, crossing over Ketley Dingle, was built in 1759 around the same time [as] Darby’s revolutionary idea for the first purpose-built workers’ village, New Dale, with a small foundry, various cottages and the impressive long row consisting of 17 back-to-back dwellings.” [6]

Newdale Village has long-gone but the tramway bridge has been retained.

This first image shows the immediate vicinity of the Bridge in the 21st century. The blue line represents the line of the tramway. The redline represents the Wellington to Severn Junction Branch of the GWR which is now a part of the Ironbridge Way public footpath. Newdale Bridge is sited just to the West of the route of the old railway. It is clear that the tramway ran across the line of the old railway, perhaps going under a low bridge, although it did predate the railway and may have been cut by the construction work for the standard-gauge line. [2]
An extract from the 6″ OS Mapping of 1882 which was published in 1887. Newdale Bridge crossed the stream just to the West of the standard-gauge line and to the East of Newdale. Without further research it is difficult to be sure of the tramway alignment away from the immediate vicinity of the Bridge. The mapping suggests that the tramway and the road on the East side of Newdale was cut by the building of the railway. In all probability the tramway used to run North-South alongside what was to be the route of the new railway as shown below. However, by the time of the 1882 survey the tramway rails had been lifted. [3]
21st century housing to the West of Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Ironbridge Way, the old Wellington to Severn Junction Railway, looking North from close to Newdale Bridge towards the M54. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Ironbridge Way, the old Wellington to Severn Junction Railway, looking South from close to Newdale Bridge towards Morrison’s Supermarket which has been built over the line of the old railway. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking West from the Ironbridge Way over Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking East along the spandrel walls of the two arched Newdale Bridge. [My photographs, 9th June 2022]
Looking West at low level along the spandrel walls of Newdale Bridge. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking South towards Newdale Bridge from the adjacent footpath. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]
Looking East at low level along the spandrel walls of Newdale Bridge. You will note that all the low level pictures of the bridge are taken from the North side. The southern side is inaccessible because of thick undergrowth. [My photograph, 9th June 2022]

References

  1. https://lawleyoverdale-pc.gov.uk/2016/01/12/new-access-path-and-bridge-at-newdale-dingle, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  2. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=17&lat=52.68305&lon=-2.48177&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  3. https://maps.nls.uk/view/101594296, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  4. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/find/#zoom=16&lat=52.68537&lon=-2.48139&layers=102&b=1&z=0&point=52.68014,-2.47846, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  5. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1025096, accessed on 17th June 2022.
  6. http://www.wlsf.org.uk/local-history-month/lhm-lawley/lawley6, accessed on 17th June 2022.

Railways of Khartoum – Part 1 – The 3ft 6in (1067mm) Gauge

The featured image above is a 1946 photo of War Department steam locomotive No. 2807 (later Sudan Railways No. 243) at Abu Hamed Railway Station. [44]

Wikipedia tells us that “Sudan has 4,725 kilometres of narrow-gauge, single-track railways. The main line runs from Wadi Halfa on the Egyptian border to Khartoum and southwest to El-Obeid via Sannar and Kosti, Sudan, with extensions to Nyala in Southern Darfur and Wau in Western Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan. Other lines connect Atbarah and Sannar with Port Sudan, and Sannar with Ad Damazin. A 1,400-kilometre line serves the al Gezira cotton-growing region. There are plans to rehabilitate rail transport to reverse decades of neglect and declining efficiency. Service on some lines may be interrupted during the rainy season.” [7]

It seems as though much of the network still exists although it is in need of major maintenance work. In July 2021, Global Construction Review informed us that Sudan was planning a $640m scheme to bring its rail network back into use. [8]

The African Development Bank (ADB) offered a $75m grant towards the cost, and China State Construction Engineering and several Gulf firms were interested in becoming involved with the project. The first action will be to undertake around $17m of emergency repairs to lines that are in use. This would then be followed by renewing abandoned lines, most of which are in the south of the country. The intention would be to reconnect the cities of Madani, Kosti and Sennar, as well as Nyala in Darfur. It will also establish a cross-border connection to Wau in the Republic of South Sudan. [8]

Sudan’s railway network. [7]

However, Sudan already had a fleet of modern train-sets. A service was started which linked Port Sudan to Khartoum in 2014 using sleek new modern units. The Nile Train runs between Port Sudan, Atbara and the capital, Khartoum. China lent Sudan nearly $1.1 billion toward the $1.5 billion project. [9] These new trains run on the old 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge rails which have been improved where required.

In 2014 Sudan inaugurated a new train service from Port Sudan via Atbara to Khartoum. These trains also now run on a number of other lines throughout the country. The train to Nyala, in what was war-torn Darfur, goes every two weeks, while another makes a weekly trip north of Atbara to Wadi Halfa near the Egyptian border. [9][11]

A new standard gauge railway between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Khartoum is planned said the International Rail Journal (IRJ). In 2020, the African Development Bank (ADB) awarded a $US 1.2m grant to the government of Ethiopia, covering 34% of the study’s $US 3.4m cost. The NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility (Nepad-IPPF) will provide $US 2m with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan each set provide $US 100,000 to cover the remaining cost. [10]

The agreed route between the two capitals includes a branch to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The study will assess the project’s technical, economic, environmental and social viability as well as possible alternative financing arrangements, including the use of public-private partnerships (PPP). [10]

The first railway in Sudan

There was a number of false dawns in the bringing of steam power (both river and rail) to Sudan. [12: p1-1] The appointment of Sir John Fowler as engineering consultant to Khedive Isma’il was probably highly significant. It was Fowler who, in a report about surmounting the First Cataract on the Nile in 1873, first recommended the 3ft 6in gauge (1067mm) for railways in Sudan. [12: p11] Fowler was appointed consulting engineer for the railway. His work began in Egypt, addressing the surmounting of the First Cataract by constructing an incline to carry ships past the obstruction. As part of the construction work he built a section of railway which he expected would become part of a much longer system. That section of railway was built “in 1874 from the foreshore at Aswan to el-Shellal, a distance of 14.5 kilometres. … Work on the building of a railway depot and track began at ‘Anqash, a site slightly north of the old village of Wadi Halfa, in 1870.” [12: p12] More about this section of line later. …

The Sudan Railway was inaugurated on 15th February 1875 in the midst of a dust storm at Wadi Halfa, just south of the present border between Egypt and Sudan. [12: p12] By 10th April 1875, 8 kilometres of embankment had been built and railway headquarters buildings were completed. Administrative and financial difficulties meant that the railhead reached Saras, only 54 kilometres from Wadi Halfa, with the preliminary works of embankments and cuttings a further 47 kilometres ahead before General Gordon was appointed Govenor General of Sudan. [12: p12-13]

The first railway headquarters at Wadi Halfa [12: Plate 3]

Gordon disliked the railway because the cost burden primarily fell on Sudan. He suggested alternatives which were considerably cheaper. [12: p14]

Ultimately, this short section of railway was a commercial failure. “With its southern terminus at Saras hemmed in by the cataracts of Hannik and Kajbar it scarcely skimmed the Nile Valley traffic between Egypt and the Dongola and Kordofan Provinces. The ‘Ababda contractors continued to carry the bulk of the Sudan Nile Valley traffic over the Korosko-Berber desert road until the fall of Berber in 1884 to the Mahdist forces.” [12: p16] Heavy troop movements in connection with the Mahdist revolt produced only paper credits and, by 1883, Mahdist raids ultimately meant that any movement outside the defended perimeter of Halfa Camp ceased and revenue dropped to nothing. [12: p17]

The Railway Depot at Wadi Halfa in 1887. [12: Plate 4]

The next development was the construction of a military railway which consisted of “the original Wadi Halfa-Saras line of 1875 with two extensions: the first from Saras to ‘AKasha in 1884-85, and the second from ‘Akasha to Kerma in 1896-97.” [12: p18] This work extended the length of the line to 327 kilometres. Given that it was the only transport link available, the authorities ran a public service until 1905 when the line was abandoned. Writing in 1965, Hill said that the only traces remaining of the railway were “some of the sand embankments, some cuttings through the granite rock, a few stone bridge abutments and some lengths of twisted rail.” [12: p18]

During this time, much thought was given to possible future arrangements, and particularly to the gauge of the line. There was a debate about the various benefits of metre-gauge against the 3ft 6 in gauge. Kitchener favoured the 3ft 6in gauge. His biographers suggest that this was because he wanted to support the Cape-to-Cairo project. More prosaically, his position on gauge related to the availability of rolling stock at ‘Akasha. [12: p20-21]

The second of the two extensions above was well-planned and construction saw the railhead extending at a rate of over a kilometre a day! [12: p22]

Returning to that 14.5 kilometres of line which John Fowler built close to the First Cateract. Although Fowler advocated a 3ft 6 in line for the route along the Nile, Hill says that he built that short section to standard-gauge. [12: p23] In 1881, it was converted to dual gauge ” by the simple expedient of laying a third rail to enable engines borrowed from the 3ft 6ins gauge railway at Wadi Halfa to draw standard gauge wagons.” [12: p23]

The short section of dual gauge track was replaced by 3ft. 6in track when the Upper Egyptian Railway reached Aswan in 1895. But was relaid again in 1926 when the Upper Egyptian Railway was converted to standard-gauge as far as Aswan. [12: p23]

Kitchener eventually decided a route for his military railway which ran directly across the desert from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamad – at this time the route along the Nile was abandoned. [12: p24] The ‘direct’ line was laid under miltary protection and “at the utmost possible speed and with the utmost economy of means.” [12: p24] The summit of the line was reached in July (166 kilometres from Wadi Halfa) and by November the line was back by the Nile at Abu Hamad. The next stretch to the mouth of the Atbara river was completed by July 1898. [12: p25]

In October 1898, after the battle of Omdurman, the railway crossed the river Atbara, initially by means of a temporary bridge which was replaced within a matter of months by a permanent structure. The railhead reached Shendi in June 1899 and arrived at the Blue Nile opposite Khartoum at the end of 1899. This was the location of the terminus and has become known as Khartoum North Station.

As an aside, Hill also relates the tale of the Suakin-Berber Railway (running East-West from the Red Sea) which had been considered for many years but only saw a serious attempt at its construction when the Mahdist revolution occurred. In June 1884 the British Government took some preliminary steps to facilitate the construction of the railway. Some minor work was undertaken and worked commenced and then ceased on an 18in. gauge line. In 1885, the British War Office decided to pursue the construction of the line. Initially a metre-gauge line was considered. This was adapted in favour of a standard-gauge line. [12: p34-38]

The contractors worked on supplying the planned works and a large amount of materials were on site at Suakin on the Red Sea coast by the end of the first quarter of 1885. By 20th March the line had crossed the causeway from the depot to the mainland and was nearing the outer fortifications. Despite regulars Mahdist raids, by mid-April the railhead was progressing at around a mile a day and 8 miles of mainline had been constructed. Logistics became a serious problem as the railhead move forward. Raids became more frequent and it became increasingly difficult to defend the line. In the end, it was pressures elsewhere in the world which meant that the British Government needed the troops for other campaigns and on 22nd April 1885 it decided to halt all work on the line. It was not until 2nd May 1885, when the railway had reached Otao, that work finally ceased. General Graham inspected the work and commented that it was roughly laid and the first shower would destroy large sections of it. The coming of the rains proved him right. [12: p41-44] The whole endeavour was ill-conceived and badly managed.

The Suakin-Berber Railway: The first train to reach Handoub Station on the ill-fated line to Otao. (Sketch by Walter Paget) [12: Plate 22]

Khartoum North

The line to Khartoum North took a number of years to turn a profit (1913 was the first year in which receipts exceeded expenditure). In 1906 railway headquarters and workshops were transferred from Wadi Halfa to Atbara. The growing Sudanese economy revealed that existing rolling stock and track was unequal to demand. As the railway network was expanding, opportunities were taken to lay heavier duty rails (75lb rail began to be used) and parts of the original line to Kahtoum had 50ib rail replaced with 75lb rail.

A postcard view of Khartoum North Railway Station from the North. [15]
Sudan Railways - Khartoum train station (vintage postcard)
Another view from the North of Khartoum North Station. [18]
A view of the inside of the train shed at Khartoum North Station, the terminus of the line, in 1904. [12: Plate 26] The modern railway station serving Khartoum North is no longer on the site of the first terminus.

Early in the life of the line, the journey from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum took 55 hours. This was improved to 34 hours. By 1912, two express luxury trains were running twice-weekly between the two terminals. [12: p50-53]

On the whole, the railway map between Wadi Hailfa and Khartoum has changed little over the years. A section of track which was troubled by drifting sand was re-laid closer to the Nile in 1902 (close to the Fifth Cateract). [12: p57] And, as we have noted above, Khartoum North Railway Station is long-gone. A replacement station has been provided on the line running South to the Blue Nile Bridge (Bahri Railway Station).

The Red Sea Railway and the founding of Port Sudan

The economic development of the Sudan was hindered at every turn by the tortuous routing of its imports and exports. Goods consigned by rail from an Egyptian port to Khartoum required no less than four transshipments on the way: at the port of entry, at Luxor and el-Shellal and again at Wadi Halfa. ” [12: p67]

Initially the British Government thought that Suakin was the solution to these and other problems and started to work on the basis of a line which led from there into the interior. Just 50 km down the coast, there was a far superior location for a harbour. In time this was realised to be the better option. The preliminary construction work and depot at Suakin was to have a significant and valuable role in the construction of a new line, but that line was first planned to run along the coast to Mersa Shaykh which was to be come Port Sudan and from there inland through Sinkat to join the Sudan Military Railway at Atbara. That route was not used either. Surveyor eventually recommended a route which ran through the Kamob Sanha Gorge and Tehamiyam to Atbara. It had the easiest gradients of the options considered did not require tunneling and only had one particular section which was difficult for construction (a cutting through 1,000 metres of granite at Kamob Sanha). Added benefits were the ease of making a connection to Kassala and a juction on the Nile Valley line closer to Khartoum. [12: p70]

Railways at Suakin [12: p35]

The first train from Khartoum steamed into Suakin on 16th October 1905 to a new terminus at Graham’s Point. By the end of the year a connection had been completed to the site of what was to be Port Sudan. [12: p71]

A view of the railhead camp on the Red Sea Railway in 1905. [12: Plate 39]

Back to Khartoum

First an early plan from 1905, showing the 3ft 6in gauge line and its terminus on the North bank of the Blue Nile. …

Khartoum in 1905 [14]

Next a plan showing Khartoum in 1910. …

In 1910, the railway line from the North is being extended round the South of the city to a new station. A line is being built to the Southeast of that new station and a line is projected beyond the new Station to the West, heading Northwest. [41]

Next, a plan from 1914 showing the enlarged network of 3ft 6in gauge railways in the city. At this time Khartoum North Station is still in use. …

A map of Khartoum and Omdurman dated 1914, very kindly provided by Iain Logie. The line providing access to the Central Station left the old military line North of the city and crossed the Blue Nile on the Blue Nile Bridge which can be seen in pictures below. The line to the West of Central Station has been extended towards the Blue Nile and that to the Southeast has been extended beyond the confines of the city and tracks the Blue Nile to the Southeast. [42]
An enlarged extract showing the 3’6″ railways of Khartoum North. The terminus station is immediately above the ‘E’ of ‘BLUE’. the line leaving the top of this extract through the ‘K’ of Khartum was a branchline to Omdurman Station which was on the East bank of the Nile, opposite that city. [From the plan provided by Iain Logie above]
Khartoum in 1914, showing the location of the Central Station. [From the plan provide by Iain Logie above]
A mid-20th century map of Khartoum on which the railways feature prominently. It would appear that, by the time this map was drafted, Khartoum North was no longer in used as a railway station. It is not visible on the map on the North side of the Blue Nile. It is also wroth noting that Central station has a railway junction at each end of the site. [16]

Khartoum Central Station

We will start our ‘then & now’ review of the railway lines in Khartoum with a look at Central Station. …

A map of the central area of Khartoum which shows Khartoum Central Station and the route of the railway line. [Mapcarta][6]

Some very early images of Khartoum Central Station. Each image is embedded and links directly to the site from which it was sourced. …

Khartoum Central Station. [1]
Khartoum Central Station. [2]
Khartoum Central Station. [3]
Khartoum Central Station. [4]
This image comes from an article in Railway Wonders of the World entitled, “Through Desert and Jungle
Modernity That Disturbs the Silence of Age-old Temples.” the cation on the picture reads: “KHARTOUM STATION, with its wide platforms pleasantly laid out with trees, is a refreshing charts to the traveller after his 250-mile trip across the Nubian desert. Although situated on the banks of the Nile, the town lies 1,200 ft above sea-level, and its station is the most important on the Sudan main line,” © Railway Wonders of the World. [20]

Some modern images of Khartoum Central Station. …

Khartoum Central Station. [22]
A satellite image showing the broad extent of the site of Khartoum Central Station. Central Station was not the first railway station in Khartoum. The first was North of the River Blue Nile and is known as Khartoum North Railway Station. Just about visible in this overall image are two modern train-sets sitting in the depot, [Google Earth]
The Google satellite imagery used throughout this article is dated 28th January 2021. On that date two modern train-sets sit in the yard at Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
Two further train-sets sit alongside the platforms in Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
Goods train running through Khartoum Central Station adjacent to the flats shown centre right on the satellite image of the station site, (c) Amro Zakaria Abdu. [19]
Sundan Railways Offices at Khartoum Central Station. [Google Maps]
Sudan Railways offices at Khartoum Central Station, © Andy Browning. [35]
Khartoum Central Station in 2021 [21]
Khartoum Central Station, also in 2021. [23]
Carriages stored on the South side of the Central Station site, © Andy Browning. [35]
Sunset in Khartoum – looking West along the railway tracks in late January 1983 showing former British signalbox and signals. (Photo by Rail Photo/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images) [36]

These next images show the route of the line between Central Station and the Blue Nile Bridge. All the satellite images are extracts from Google Earth. The line runs Northeast towards the Blue Nile.

This next sequence of three extracts from Google Earth takes us North to the Blue Nile Bridge. [Google Earth]
The railway bridge over Gamma Avenue – University Subway. The bridge can be seen on the satellite images immediately above, at the top of the central image and the bottom of the righthand image. [24]

Blue Nile Bridge

Satellite images from 28th January 2021 showing the two end spans of the Blue Nile Bridge. The North end is on the left and the image shows the lifting section of the bridge. The South end is on the right. This clearly shows the 3’6″ gauge railway which runs on the East side of the road carriageway. [Google Maps]
The Blue Nile Bridge, apparently under construction in 1910. [17]
A postcard view of the Blue Nile Bridge from the West. [5]
Blue Nile Road and Railway Bridge – Ministry of Oil and Gas barge on the Blue Nile river – view from Nile Avenue towards North Khartoum. [13]
Looking North along the footway which cantilevers out from the West side of Blue Nile Bridge. [25]
Looking North along Blue Nile Bridge. [26]
Looking North along the railway track on the East side of the Blue Nile Bridge, (c) Tariq Al-Khaleel, March 2020. [28]
The route of the railway between the Blue Nile Bridge and Bahri Railway Station. [Google Earth]

Bahri Station (Khartoum North)

Bahri Station (Khartoum North) [27]
Bahri Railway Station Platform in 2016, (c) Mohamed Gaafar. [29]
Bahri Railway Station Platform in 2017, (c) Siedahmed Abdallah. [29]
Bahri Railway Station Building seen from the station Yard. [30]

The main station buildings at Bahri Station. The station yard runs North alongside Al-Inqaz Street. to the next road junction and beyond [Google Maps]
The next length of the yard travelling North [Google Maps]
And again, further to the North. [Google Maps]
And, once more, further to the North. [Google Maps]

North towards Atbara

Bahri Railway Station (Khartoum North) was, in 2014, the terminus for the new Nile Train service. The service runs from Port Sudan to Khartoum by way of Atbara and is provided by four-car DMU trainsets. I have struggled to date to identify technical details for these units. They are supplied by Chinese manufacturers. The first sets arrived in 2014, further sets arrived in 2018. [31]

North of Bahri Railway Station the 3ft 6in gauge line travels North towards Atbara. Train speeds are low and the journey as far as Atbara takes about twice the time a bus needs to complete the journey, but trains are comfortable, safe, air-conditioned and cheaper than the buses. … “Every Nile Train service is almost full with an average passenger load of around 280. … Passenger Hannah Ali Mohammed, 35, said, ‘I think most people travelling between Khartoum and Atbara will stop using buses and change to this … train.’ … Student Ahmed Al-Haj Omer, 23, said … ‘It’s safer. There are a lot of bus accidents on the road between Khartoum and Atbara.’ … A bus ticket also costs about 50 per cent more than the £4 train trip. [32]

The condition of the rails is not necessarily as good as might be hoped, and there is little to no segregation between the trakcs and the wider world. This satellite image illustrates the kind of problems which have still, in 2022, to be addressed. The mainline can be made out running close to and parallel with Ai-Inqaz Street. The northern access to the goods yard at Bahri Station runs a little further to the east. Both are crowded by other uses at this location. [Google Maps]
Suburban Railway Station in Khartoum North. [Google Maps]
A further suburban station alongside Al-Inqaz Street, this time at its junction with Al Baraha Street. [Google Maps]
The next suburban station is close to Ibrahim Shams Aldeen Mosque. [Google Maps]

Slightly more significant facilities appear at Alkadroo [Google Maps]

Centred on the smae location as the satellite image above. This image shows that we are running parallel to the Rive Nile, perhaps about 3 km from the main stream. The modern railway still runs on the formation of the British Military line which secured the territory after the Mahdist revolution. [Google Maps]
Both road and rail need to bridge dry river beds which flow fast when it rains. [Google Maps]
The next station is at El-Kabashi. We are now running about 1.5km to the East of the River Nile. [Google Earth]
Another station, this time on the East side of the town of Al-Sagai. [Google Maps]

Further stations follow on the journey North. El-Gaili is the last before open desert. Further north the station buildings which remain are older, for example that at Ed Dowyab, as shown below.

The old station at Ed Dowyab, Shendi. [Google Maps]

Shendi is reached just a little further along the banks of the Nile.

Shendi Railway Station is more modern and sits at the heart of the conurbation. The Nile can be seen in the top left corner of this satellite image. The station site runs from middle-bottom to top-right of the image. [Google Maps]

Given that our focus is meant to be on the railways of Khartoum. it is at this point, just over 200km from Khartoum, that we leave the line heading North to Atbara.

Lines South from Khartoum Central Station

Historically there were junctions at either end of Khartoum Central Station. At the East End a line branched away to the Southeast following the West bank of the Blue Nile to Wadi Madani and beyond. The route of that line is shown below by a thin red line. In the 21st century, its route is beneath one of the main arterial roads into and out of Khartoum (Africa Street).

South and Central Khartoum in the 2st century. [Google Earth]

The ‘live’ line which leave Khartoum Central Station heading South West along side the White Nile, eventually crosses the southern suburbs of the city to rejoin the line heading Southeast close to the Blue Nile. This line can be seen marked on the satellite image above.

The Blue Nile Bridge was built when General Sir Francis Wingate [34] was Governor-General of Sudan. It was decided to “bring the railway over the Blue Nile … and to build it along the West Bank of the river to Sennar. Here the line would turn West, cross the White Nile at Qoz Abu Jum’a and head for el-Obeid. … The Sudan Government signed a contract with the Cleveland Bridge& Engineering Com[pany … for the building of a bridge to carry road and rail together … with a rollinglift span for the passage of river craft and seven spans of 218ft each. … Work on the bridge began in 1907. … Passenger and goods stations, a locomotive and carriage and wagon depot and marshalling yards were laid out at what were then the southern limits of the city, and opened in 1910.” [12: p79]

Hill stated in 1965, that it was “only recently that Khartoum Central [had] become a through station. In 1964, the section of the Gezira line between Khartoum Centra; and Soba via the airport was pulled up releasing valuable land for urban development.” [12: p80] Trains from the South now run along a line built from the West end of Khartoum Central through the marshalling yard South to Shagara Station and eastward to Soba.

Hill notes that the Cleveland Bridge Company also constructed the bridge over the White Nile at Qoz Abu Jum’a. The railhead rached that bridge in 1910 and the first train crossed the White Nile at that location on 24th December 1910. [12: p80] This line allowed the economic potential of the Gezira (cotton) and Kordofan (gum arabic) to be exploited.

Consideration of this line and others in the South will have to be left for a future article. … We return to looking at the railways on the South side of Khartoum City Centre. The plan immediately below schematically represents the key elements of the network as it was at the end of the Second World War. Two short lines ran from the West end of the Station, to Abu Se’id on the West side of the White Nile and beyond El Lamab on the East bank of the White Nile.

An extract from a British Survey of Sudan from 1945 which shows lines leaving the West end of Central Station, one leading down the White Nile to just beyond El Lamab, the other crossing the White Nile to Abu Se’id. [33]
This satellite image shows Khartoum Central Station and the engine, carriage and wagon works/depot to the West. [Google Earth]
The Sunday Railways maintenance depot and marshalling yard to the West of Khartoum Central Station. [Google Earth]
A closer view of the maintenance facilities. [Google Earth]
A modern goods train at the West end of the Central Station site. A signal box and semaphor signals can be seen in the distance. The picture is taken looking East, (c) Sameh Fathi. [37]

The line to Abu Se’id

The short line to Abu Se’id which is shown on the extract from the British Survey of Sudan from 1945 suggests that the line crossed the White Nile but was not extended any further. Looking back through available maps we can see that the line from Central station had been extended to the vicinity of the Blue Nile close to the confluence of the two rivers.

Khartoum and Omdurman in 1914. The 3’6″ gauge line has been extended round the West of Khartoum towards the Blue Nile. This map also shows the line of a steam tramway which will feature in a future article. That line is shown running from Morgan Point (where it connected with a ferry service to Omdurman), through Mongera and on into the centre of Khartoum closer to the Blue Nile than Central Station. [42]

The Old White Nile Bridge (also known as the Redemption Bridge or the Omdurman Bridge) is a steel truss bridge in Sudan on the road connecting Khartoum on the White Nile to Omdurman. The bridge was built between 1924 and 1926 by Dorman Long from Teesside, England: it is 613 metres long and is supported by seven pairs of round columns. [43] If the 1945 map extract is to be believed the 3’6″ line was extended from its position on the map immediately above this paragraph to cross the White Nile at the bridge.

However, we already know that provision was made for an electric tramway to replace an earlier steam railway and that this new electric system was in use in the 1930s. It seems as though the line shown on the 1945 map is probably a minor cartographical error. Please see later articles about Khartoum’s railways and trams.

We do know that later in the 20th century the route of the 3’6″ railway Northwest of Central Station was revised and even later abandoned. In the next image, the area is shown on a 1950s map of Khartoum. …

Khartoum in the 1950s. The line Northwest from Central Station is seen terminating just short of the Blue Nile but at a pint further West from that shown in the 1914 map above. Interestingly a connection is shown from this line to what is most probably the 3’6″ electric tramway running parallel to the river, through a series of sidings at the river side. At present, I can only speculate as to the purpose of these sidings. [16]
The thin red line imposed on this satellite image shows the route of the railway Northwest of Central Station. That route is now occupied by one of Khartoum’s major roads – Army Road which leads to Nile Street by the Blue Nile. A further new road has been constructed which leads from Army Road to the new Victory Bridge over the White Nile [Google Earth]
The White Nile Bridge at Khartoum/Omdurman in the 1930s looking along its full length and showing (if my reasoning is correct) the electric tramway tracks crossing the bridge. This is supported by evidence of a catenary system above the tramway tracks. [38]
The Old White Nile Bridge (Omdurman Bridge) seen from the river bank. It is possible that the image shows the catenary for the electric tramway and so cannot be dated before the 1930s. [39]
The Old White Nile Bridge in the 21st century (c) Khalid Hassan [40]

The line to the White Nile beyond El Lamab

Satellite imagery bears little resemblance to the 1945 British Survey of Sudan. The large island in the White Nile which features so prominently in the 1945 survey does not exist. The only place name similar to ‘El Lamab’ is Al Lamab which is an area to the East of the Airport close to ten Blue Nile.

Logic would suggest that the current railway follows the route shown in 1945. An estimation of the distances involved would place the point where the present railway turns to the East in the vicinity of the end of the railway drawn on the 1945 map. The satellite image below suggests that the line used to terminate on the South side of Wad Ageeb which appears on the East bank of the White Nile close to the bottom of the image.

A satellite image of the area South of the Centre of Khartoum which is now heavily urbanised. The railway which is still in use is shown by a grey line on the image. {Google Earth]
This enlarged satellite view gives no further clue as to the location of the railhead shown on the 1945 survey. [Google Maps]

Final Comments

We have looked at all of the 3ft 6in gauge railway lines in Khartoum as best we can. There are a number of things which would benefit from further investigation.

  • The line north to Egypt and the line to Port Sudan (both 3’6″ gauge)
  • Lines to the South of Khartoum (3’6″ gauge)
  • the Steam Trams in Khartoum in the early 20th century (narrow gauge)
  • the Electric Tram network of the 1930s (3’6″ gauge)
  • Industrial lines in Sudan which probably include the lines noted on the South bank of the Blue Nile close to its confluence with the White Nile, but definitely do include a narrow gauge railway serving the cotton industry to the Southwest of Khartoum in Gezira (narrow gauge)
  • the motive power and rolling-stock on Sudan’s Railways.

These will need to wait for further articles.

References

  1. https://www.hoogeduinpostcards.com/webshop/supplies-and-books/HGP-127175–british_sudan%2C_khartoum%2C_central_station.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  2. https://www.hoogeduinpostcards.com/webshop/supplies-and-books/HGP-133060–british_sudan,_khartoum_central_station.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  3. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124446949@N06/26623563727, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  4. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124446949@N06/28748857288, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  5. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/164897885629?mkcid=16&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-127632-2357-0&ssspo=7o9wvntyQeW&sssrc=2349624&ssuid=afQhrar7TGK&var=&widget_ver=artemis&media=COPY, accessed on 29th May 2022.
  6. https://mapcarta.com/N1137222499, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Sudan, accessed on 30th May 2022. (Wikipedia notes that the article was written in 2010).
  8. https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/sudan-plans-640m-scheme-bring-rail-network-back-us, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  9. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/21/africa/gallery/chinese-african-railways/index.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  10. https://www.railjournal.com/africa/ethiopia-sudan-standard-gauge-project-study-secures-funding, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  11. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2609516/amp/All-aboard-The-sleek-new-Nile-Train-reviving-travel-war-torn-Sudan.html, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  12. Richard Hill; Sudan Transport; Oxford University Press, London, 1965.
  13. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/blue-nile-road-and-railway-bridge-and-barge-blue-royalty-free-image/1156580717, accessed on 30th May 2022.
  14. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1905_map_Khartoum_and_Omdurman_by_Thomas_Cook.png, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  15. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/early-postcard-khartoum-north-railway-168547051, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  16. https://www.amazon.com/Antiguos-Maps-Khartoum-Africa-Measures/dp/B07ZN4N2XG & https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/650248829/vintage-map-of-khartoum-old-khartoum-map?ref=share_v4_lx, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  17. https://m.facebook.com/groups/KITGB/permalink/10150397711998077/?sfnsn=scwspmo&ref=share, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  18. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124446949@N06/14751533676, accessed on 31st May 2022.
  19. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EdIicXwWkAMZGpt?format=png&name=medium, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  20. Through Desert and Jungle: Modernity That Disturbs the Silence of Age-old Temples; Railway Wonders of the World, 1935; https://www.railwaywondersoftheworld.com/through-desert-jungle.html, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  21. https://sudantelegraph.com/news/the-designated-governor-of-khartoum-inspects-the-transportation-train-and-issues-a-number-of-directions, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  22. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipP6AeZOtQKfBv7EZMuHdHqtPlXcuHWAXqB86Eo8=w408-h306-k-no, accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  23. http://www.noblesgroupco.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/real-estate-station-block.jpg, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  24. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipMtDfC7hY7WEKmPDwlNm1eZD9-Gcngu8OYWu6mM=w408-h306-k-no, access on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  25. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipNOPvzNAtgI1eNVFAJbyKrY7bwNl7J3xzo_OyJf=h720, accessed on 1st June 2022 via Goggle Earth.
  26. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipM7v0W1vaGWDQJ-k_FLfEmv4OCx3x2byhIhN8KU=h720, accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  27. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipMjrT0FsIjTpZIm75bJ0HnO_e-h7WUcErme5fyf=w408-h306-k-no, accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Earth.
  28. https://goo.gl/maps/AU4nUPUJUEremFoJA, accessed on 1st June 2022 via Google Maps.
  29. https://foursquare.com/v/khartoum-north-train-station/4fb3c10ee4b0e9a98d447f42, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  30. https://www.abc.com.py/fotos/sudan-un-pais-en-ruinas-inaugura-moderno-sistema-ferroviario-1237054.html, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  31. https://www.crrcgc.cc/en/g7389/s13996/t290245.aspx, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  32. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2609516/All-aboard-The-sleek-new-Nile-Train-reviving-travel-war-torn-Sudan.html, accessed on 1st June 2022.
  33. https://www.britishempire.co.uk/images2/khartoummaplarge.jpg, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  34. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Wingate, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  35. https://www.andyexplores.com/blog-1/time-travel-by-train, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  36. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/sunset-in-khartoum-late-january-1983-showing-former-british-news-photo/976735458?adppopup=true, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  37. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipM60TToYt26idHcLOLRYaAc_rF-KNQ669flKEbI=h720, accessed on 2nd June 2022 via Google Earth.
  38. https://picryl.com/media/sudan-khartoum-bridge-across-the-wihte-nile-to-omdurman-looking-through-entire, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  39. https://picryl.com/media/sudan-khartoum-bridge-across-the-white-nile-to-omdurman, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  40. https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipOKuoJ9r6W2EzUTqpuJrMZf7fR7iXG27vaJC4jm=h720, accessed on 4th June via Google Earth.
  41. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Architecture_of_Sudan, accessed on 4th June 2022.
  42. https://www.etsy.com/listing/974653405/1914-antique-map-of-khartoum-and, accessed on 2nd June 2022.
  43. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omdurman_Bridge, accessed on 4th June 2022.
  44. A Sudan News image sourced from Twitter, https://twitter.com/sudan_tweet/status/816618607631368192?lang=fi, accessed on 4th June 2022.

Ancient Tramroads near Telford – Part 1 – Tramroads Across the Area

A typical plateway [3]

The area around what is now central Telford, and particularly the Severn Gorge and Coalbrookdale are known as the cradle of the industrial revolution. They are significant because of the major steps forward made in the production of cast and wrought iron.

The geology of the immediate area was a crucial factor in these developments. Limestone, coal bearing strata and iron ore were all easily available in the one, relatively small area. Initially the iron production processes needed charcoal, also readily available in the wooded areas which surrounded the Severn Gorge.

Because of the topography, mining at a relatively small scale was easier than elsewhere as mining could be done by ‘inset’ (horizontal galleries) rather than pits. The proximity of necessary materials meant that transport costs were lower than elsewhere.

At a very early time in the development of the area, relatively primitive railway technology was in use. It is difficult to be sure when a ‘railway’ was first used. Some general guidance on undertaking research, particularly into early forms of railways is made available by the Railway and Canal Historical Society to its members. [12]

Peter King tells us that some very primitive systems were in use in Europe over the centuries but “the earliest railway-like transport system … was the Leitnagel Hund. … Planks were laid along the mine passage with a gap between them, and the truck – hund (German for dog or hound) or truhe (box or chest) – had a guide pin that pointed down between the planks to keep the truck going in the right direction. The word hund could be derived from the Magyar hintó, meaning a carriage. If so, this points to an origin in the mines of Hungary, which at the time included Slovakia and Transylvania. The system was widely used in central Europe in the early sixteenth century, and may go back to the fifteenth or even the fourteenth century.” [1: p20]

The German system was introduced in the UK in Cumbria to ‘Company of Mines Royal’ sites at Caldbeck, Newlands, and Grasmere and also at that company’s mines at Talybont near Aberystwyth. King notes that “Documentary evidence indicates they used ‘small rowle wagons bound with iron’ in copper mines at Caldbeck …The first of these … near … Silver Gill at Caldbeck, where investigation has yielded the remains of some plank rails and possible sleepers.” [1: p20]

Historic England organised a survey of available material on the early tramroads. This was undertaken by David Gwyn and Neil Cossons. They report that, “The first railways in England probably date, at earliest, from the second half of the 16th century and were associated with mines where German-speaking miners were employed. Smith-Grogan 2010 suggests that several Cornish rutways might date back to the 1550s and be associated with Burchard Cranich and Ulrich Frosse. The West-Country mining engineer Sir Bevis Bulmer (1536-1615) was familiar with Agricola’s De Re Metallica (Skempton 2002), and another possible literary conduit is Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia Universalis, published in German in 1544 and in Latin in 1550. This includes a woodcut of a hund on flanged wooden rails in a mine at Ste Marie/Markirch in Alsace (Lewis 1970, 51).” [5: p20]

Gwyn and Cossons note that excavations in Leicestershire of the Coleorton deep collieries which were active from 1460 to 1600 failed to identify any railway systems. They also assert that, “The first rail system in England for which both documentation and material evidence survives is the hund guide-pin system described in ER4 (Allison, Murphy and Smith 2010) in one of the Caldbeck mines exploited by the Company of Mines Royal financed from Augsburg, which was introduced by Daniel Höchstetter in the 1560s.” [5: p20]

King notes that the Hund guide-pin system “had some characteristics of a railway, but differs from them in that neither wheels nor rails were flanged.” [1: p21]

He continues: “The first railways were English. Their function was to carry coal from the pit (or adit) down to a navigable river (or less often to a highway) to be transported to a distant place.” [1: p21]

In King’s opinion it is likely that the first can be dated to sometime in the late 16th century. He identifies one serving “the mines of James Clifford near Broseley in Shropshire, which has no clear date of construction. As Clifford was mining coal by 1575, the funicular railway, by which coal was let down from mines to trows (barges) operating on the river Severn, is likely to have preceded the others. Nevertheless, William Brooke was working his coal mines in Madeley, on the other side of the Ironbridge Gorge, where similar problems would have arisen, but that is only known because Arnold Bean of Worcester owed Brooke money when he died in 1579.” [1: p21]

Gwyn & Cossons concur with King. They say that “documentation dating from the opening years of the 17th century indicates that wooden railways, ‘waggonways’, were being laid as overland systems, connecting a drift or a shaft-head with navigable water, or occasionally with an interchange yard on a road system.” [5: p22]

Like King, they say that most of what we know of these waggonways “comes from legal disputes, and for this reason it is quite possible that there were other systems of which historians are unaware because they prompted no quarrels.” [5: p22]

They also cite the waggonway which ran from a “colliery at Broseley near the Severn Gorge in Shropshire, on the south side of the river, to a wharf at the Calcutts, slightly downstream of the later Iron Bridge; it was laid in October 1605, was a mile or so long.” [5: p22]

King asserts that there were “a number of mines along the side of the [Severn] gorge in the succeeding period and each apparently had an associated railway. Some mines were pits, but some were ‘insets’ – mines operated through an audit, and in these cases the railway extended underground to the coalface.” [1: p22]

After these short notes, King turns his attention away from the Severn Gorge to other parts of the UK, commenting on pits just to the west of Nottingham (using a form of railway circa. 1605) and Belington in Northumberland (1608). He then focusses on the Newcastle area. Again earliest dates are uncertain but by 1660 wainways were in use with “waggons carrying 15 bolls (about 33cwt); from 1700 19-20 bolls (42-44cwt) and from the 1750s, 24 bolls (53cwt). At Gateshead, Old Trunk Quay was at the end of the Old Wain Trunk Way, operating in the 1629s. In 1633 Thomas Liddell as owner of Ravens worth Colliery still had a wainway leading to a staith at Dunston. … Three other waggonways were built before the Civil War. … By the latter part of the 17th century three different waggonways were made,ball reaching the Tyne at Stella. … Stella was about the highest point to which the Tyne was easily navigable.” [1:p23]

Gwyn & Cossons chronology parallels that put forward by King. They refer to a railway that “had been laid from Strelley pits to a yard at Wollaton in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.”

Gwyn & Cossons write of Huntingdon Beaumont (who owned the Strelley pits) introducing the waggonway to the north-east. “According to the Newcastle historian William Gray, ‘Master Beaumont a Gentleman of great ingenuity… brought with him many rare Engines, not then known in these parts, as… Waggons with one Horse to carry down Coales from the Pitts, to the Staithes, to the River, &c.’ Beaumont’s three railways were on the north-east coast, at Bedlington, laid around 1608, and at Cowpen and Bebside, undated but probably much the same time (Smith 1960, Lewis 1970).” [5: p22]

Gwyn & Cossons go on to say: “Railways in the north-east developed into systems of extraordinary density with a complex history, reflecting intense regional rivalries and the profits that could be made from supplying London with coal. Even so, it was not until 1621 that the first recorded waggonway was built to the Tyne and it was not until the Restoration of 1660 that they became common. In the meantime, wain-roads remained a more cost-effective solution for most coal owners (Bennett, Clavering and Rounding 1990, 35-56).” [5: p22]

King cites other examples of early waggonways which include a ‘coalway’ owned by Sir John Lowther of Whitehaven from 1683. His son, Sir James, had waggonways from the 1730s serving to transport coal from collieries into Whitehaven.

Another ran from Sheffield Park to Sheffield, others took coal to the navigable lengths of the Rivers Ayre, Calder and Dun. There were even waggonways in the north of Ireland.

King’s eyes then turn bank to Shropshire. He comments: “Shropshire railways … form a different tradition from Newcastle waggonways. The waggons were smaller because the mines were often insets (rather than pits). The railway often started at the coalface and a smaller waggon meant that only a narrow adit had to be made through dead ground. The descent to the river down the side of the Severn gorge was precipitous, and the descent was controlled using a self-acting inclined plane, something not used near Newcastle until the late eighteenth century, but probably in Shropshire for its first railway. Wilcox’s & Wells’ railway to Calcutts may have been down Birch Batch. Its terminus was later called Jackfield Rails, and it remained in use well into the nineteenth century.” [1: p25]

Gwyn & Cossons comments about the Shropshire coalfield mirror that of King. They say that the Shropshire coalfield “developed smaller capacity systems running on narrower gauges. Here, mines were mainly levels, rather than deep mines such as prevailed in the north-east, and so a compact waggonway could run from the coalface to daylight and then down to navigable water. The Severn Ironbridge Gorge and its immediate environs were home to many such railways. From the mid-18th century, similar waggonways also ran direct from ironstone mines to Bedlam furnaces downstream of the later Iron Bridge.” [5: p23]

King says that a “longer railway, ultimately from John Wilkinson’s New Willey Furnace of 1757, went down Tarbatch Dingle to Willey Wharf but was probably built in the 1700s to serve coalmines and remained in use in parts for some 300 years, though from 1862 it led to the Severn Valley Railway, rather than a river wharf. North of the Severn, the lords of Madeley had railways at Madeley Wood when they let their mines in 1692.” [1: p25]

They go on to say that the “establishment of new coke-fired furnaces in the 1750s and the expansion of mining led to the provision of further railways, the longest running from Ketley (near Watling Street) to Coalbrookdale Wharf on the Severn, so that by about 1775, Abiah Darby (the widow of Abraham II) stated that the Company had 20 miles of railways.” [5: p23] These comments are drawn directly from King [cf: 1: p25]

King notes that “Other railways ran to landsale wharfs on Watling Street. In all, five gauges of railway were in use in the area, with those wholly above ground probably of a similar size to those at Newcastle.” [1: p25]

Gwyn & Cossons found that railways deriving from Shropshire practice “were to be found in coalfields which were adjacent and technically influenced by it. Staffordshire and Warwickshire, as well as parts of Wales and of Scotland.” [5: p23]

Interestingly, Gwyn & Cossons assert that “the Tyneside system is the design-ancestor of the median-gauge railways of the present day, and in particular of the UK, continental European and USA gauge of 4′ 8″. Narrow-gauge railways derive ultimately from the Shropshire system, as the inspiration for the railways built in the heads of the South Wales valleys in the 1790s, subsequently adopted and developed in the Gwynedd slate. industry. This was then offered as a cut-price system suitable for the developing world by the Festiniog Railway’s engineer in 1870, when the great and the good were invited to see it in operation (Gwyn 2010, 138).” [5: p23]

“Tyneside systems ran on gauges of between 3′ 10″ and 5′, Shropshire systems of between 2′ and 3′ 9” (Lewis 1970, 181, 267). [5: p24]

“By the mid-17th Century tramroads were fairly common and continued to be so through the 18th century, so that by the start of the 19th Century they often ran for considerable distances, taking mineral products (notably coal) from their source to the point of consumption, or … to a canal wharf for onward carriage by boat.” [2]

Early tramways in and around the Severn Gorge and in East Shropshire as a whole are noted in works of Bertram Baxter, [4] Savage & Smith, [6] Catherine Clark & Judith Alfrey [13]

These include:

  • Benthall Railway [7][13]
  • Caughley Railway [8]
  • Gleedon Hill Tramroad [9]
  • Sutton Wharf Tramroad [10]
  • Tarbach Dingle Tramroad [11]
  • The Coalbrookdale Company Tramroads [12]
  • Deerleap Tramway [13]
  • Lime Kilns Tramway [13]
  • Ash Coppice Tramway [13]
  • Clay Mine Tramway [13]

This list is the result of a relatively limited search online and is unlikely to be comprehensive. Some of these will warrant further study, the links provided in the references are worth a read.

It is my plan to look at a number of these in coming weeks and months. The first will be the Coalbrookdale Company Tramroads.

References

  1. Peter King; Before the Main Line; in ed. David St. John Thomas; How Railways Changed Britain; Railway & Canal Historical Society, Derby, 2015, p13 – 32.
  2. https://www.sinfin.net/railways/railhist.html, accessed on 17th April 2022.
  3. https://www.csrf.ac.uk/blog/electrification-infrastructure, accessed on 17th April 2022.
  4. Bertram Baxter; Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads); David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1966.
  5. David Gwyn and Neil Cossons; Early Railways in England: Review and summary of recent research; Historic England, Discovery, Innovation and Science in the Historic Environment Research Report Series No. 25-2017.
  6. R.F. Savage & L.D. Smith; The Waggon-ways and Plate-ways of East Shropshire, 1965.
  7. https://telford.org.uk/tramways/benthall_rwy.html, accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  8. https://telford.org.uk/tramways/caughley_rwy.html, accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  9. https://telford.org.uk/tramways/gleedon_hill.html, accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  10. https://telford.org.uk/tramways/sutton_wharf.html, accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  11. https://telford.org.uk/tramways/tarbatch.html, accessed on 22nd April 2022.
  12. https://rchs.org.uk/research-general-guidance, accessed on 19th April 2022 – particular reference is made to a document which gives a good sense of the development of various waggonways, tramways, plateways and Tramroads … Research-agenda.pdf which can be downloaded from the members area of the site.
  13. Catherine Clark & Judith Alfrey; Research Paper No. 15, Benthall and Broseley Wood; Nuffield Survey, Third lnterim Report; University of Birmingham, 1987.

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

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.