Travel North - 13: Re-Opened Railways - Halcyon Days for the North York Moors & Wensleydale
On the North York Moors Railway
There are many preserved railways up and down the UK over England, Scotland Wales and Ireland
One of the best known has its origins in the 1830's, planned and executed by George Stephenson under contract to George Hudson, at the time property owner and budding railway entrepreneur in Whitby. This was the Whitby & Pickering Railway, opened throughout in 1836.
The railway was to carry passengers in horse-drawn carriages, much like those on the post routes, and goods such as fish and Baltic timber for inland destinations, and coal amongst other materials for Whitby. It was not long before the passenger facilities were considered inadequate, and goods movements also needed to be increased. Steam hauled trains could not negotiate the gradients the line was originally built on and a deviation route was created later in the 19th Century. The gradient was still steep, but negotiable by strong engines... Flash forward to 1965, the line was closed under Beeching's plans, just like the nearby Whitby-Scarborough railway opened much later in the 1880's. The line was still in situ, and movements were afoot to restore the line, and in 1975 the line was re-opened by the Duchess of Kent. Developments went apace, but track was lifted by British Rail and much of the line was singled, with passing loops at intermediate stations - Levisham and Goathland.
Since then the company has not looked back. Aside from the outbreak of Foot & Mouth in 2001, when tourist numbers were drastically reduced, visitor numbers have been increasing annually. A share issue was snapped up in the 1990s by an eager public - including myself - and urgent projects were thus financed. Another share issue has been promoted since then, and urgent works have been undertaken after flooding in the Murk Esk valley destroyed civil engineering such as bridge abutments, embankments and trackwork.
Much of Grosmont Station is as it was, but the signal cabin in the junction was replaced in the early days of the NYMR by a ground frame by the crossing gates. This in turn has been replaced by a brick signal cabin in the pattern of of North Eastern Railway Central division, the bricks from Whitby town's three-storey signal cabin. The line from Grosmont climbs steeply past Deviation shed up to Goathland Station three miles away. Here the buildings are as they were in NER days, but the goods shed has been converted into a cafe-cum-museum. The line carries on climbing past where the new line deviated at its southern end near Fylingdales Early Warning Station. The old radomes - the 'golf balls' - have gone now, replaced by something that looks like a square sandcastle, and the A169 Whitby-Pickering road passes close by here as it winds towards the Hole of Horcum. Through Newtondale you see the difficulty Stephenson encountered in building the line, but his experiences paid off in building the Liverpool-Manchester Railway over Chat Moss, and in consultation from the Board of the Midland Railway after their initial failures in the building of the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Near here the Newtondale Halt allows the traveller to alight in the North Riding Forest Park and perhaps walk on to the next station, Levisham. The station house here was a farmhouse before the railway arrived and you can see the original platform height from the 'Up' side. The present height brings the platform to within eighteen inches or so below the window sills. The original signal cabin has been extended to include a booking office, but everything else is pretty much the same as when the North Eastern Railway owned the line. The wooden crossing gates were replaced by a lifting barrier, however, which 'jars' on the eye.
Pickering's overall roof has been replaced, in the manner of North Eastern stations in the area as designed by George Townsend Andrews in the early days of the York & North Midland Railway. A turntable was installed some years ago to turn engines and avoid uneven flange wear and a carriage shed was built about a decade ago on the 'down' side. What has been exciting in its development in the last decade also is the running in to Whitby Town Station of alternate trains with the permission of Regional Railways. Tourism reigns OK! An evening Pullman dining car train, 'the Moorlander' runs from Pickering to Whitby and back, so that diners can enjoy the scenery and relax with a three-course meal. Try it some time!
There is a rover ticket available, with which you can spend all day on or near the railway, alighting as and when you fancy - to rejoin the service elsewhere. In this way you can, for example, leave the train at Goathland and walk through the village. Take the road down to Beck Hole and have a drink at the Birch Hall Inn, then cross the road, open the gate and follow a pathway to the old railway trackbed. Turn right and follow the course through woodland. Cross the Murk Esk close to old ruined bridges and pass the single row terrace at Eskdale. Not far from here you leave the old trackbed where it joins the present one, climb up the footpath and over the tunnel. If you like, enter the Deviation shed and climb to the public viewing gallery where you overlook the locomotives being serviced. A shop on this level sells souvenirs and model railway items, and has a viewing window from where you can see other locos being worked on in the other side of the shed. Beyond Deviation Shed is the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group's workshop. This is open to the public when work is not underway. Walk between some of NELPG's loco stock (the rest is either on loan to other railways or being worked on at the North Road workshop premises they share with the A1 Locomotive Trust in Darlington).
The cafe on Grosmont Station serves hot meals and drinks or snacks and cold drinks. There is a station shop as well as the Co-operative Shop across the road and the Station public house behind the brick signal cabin. A viewing platform next to the line lets you take pictures on a level with the engine cabs (this platform is in the style of token exchange platforms built by the NER and LNER).
Since Platform 2 at Whitby was reinstated for the NYMR's services to Grosmont and Pickering, the turnaround has been a lot quicker. Where previously passengers had to wait on Platform 1 for the train to be pushed out again for the locomotive(s) to be released and push stock back in again for passengers to board, now the stock stays put whilst the loco runs round and is then pushed further when coupled up again for the return journey. This also means NYMR services do not interfere with those of Northern Rail to and from Middlesbrough and Darlington.
Think about it, George Hudson's 1835 railway will have been realised again, with that little hiccup in the sixties leaving just a bad taste in the mouth, courtesy of Dr Richard Beeching and Ernie Marples. From the 2014 season things will look different at Whitby Town station again (I've heard the BR [NE] tangerine nameboard has been found, it's all plusses!) Who knows, NYMR could get the contract to run services between Grosmont-Whitby and back to Battersby. Fancy a ride in a teak carriage on a steam-hauled train between Whitby and Battersby? It might not be a dream for too much longer!
Have a good day out!
PS: Since that STOP PRESS announcement I've been back to Whitby and walked along the reinstated Platform 2 (this used to back onto the bay platform for Grosmont shuttle services up to the 1960s). It's long enough for the usual NYMR Whitby Pullman diners and alternate tourist trains during the day, and these services can be run more often. There's a locomotive release road that extends between the main rails as there was before..Try a visit, have a day out in Whitby and soak up the atmosphere. Walk across the harbour bridge and up Church Street with all its jet workshops (buy some ornaments or jewellery). Saunter back down for a fish & chip supper (fish landed that morning in the harbour close by, lads'n'lasses!) at any of the dozen pubs or cafes in the town centre before taking the train back to Grosmont and beyond.
One day maybe you'll be able to travel past Pickering to Marishes Road and Malton for York or Scarborough. The plans are there, it's just a matter of time versus funds.
More on the NYMR
Pickering, the resurgence
Grosmont Track& Signalling, NYMR
'SCOTSMAN' looked in on the NYMR in March 2016
Almost fresh from her £4.2M restoration paint job. Confusing that, isn't it, locomotives are 'she' but her name is 'Flying Scotsman' named after the express working* between Kings Cross and Waverley Station, Edinburgh that pre-dated the engine by several generations. Now in British Railways Brunswick green livery she gleamed and stunned crowds on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (where else?) At Pickering she probably also deafened when she eased forward after releasing her train under the overall roof, rebuilt in 2012.
Ten years after funds were poured in from commercial and private donors, the engine built as A1 4-6-2 4472 'Flying Scotsman' in the early 1920's (in less than a decade she'll celebrate her centenary) was shown off on Yorkshire's premier preserved railway, the NYMR. I suspect there wasn't a dry eye around amongst the very few left of the generation that saw her first run, or that saw her sold off to Alan Pegler in the early Sixties*, resplendent in Doncaster loco green (a darker shade than A1 'Tornado' was painted, in Darlington apple green).
Were you there?
Together with several engines of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG) and the A4 'Sir Nigel Gresley', 'Flying Scotsman' was at Locomotion, Shildon for a 'Shed-Bash'. With rides behind J72 'Joem' to and from the Timothy Hackworth museum about a mile away, the event took place Saturday-to-Saturday, 23rd-30th July.
*4472/60103 'Flying Scotsman' operated into Kings Cross until steam was officially excluded south of Peterborough. The train of the same name also ran with other diagrammed Pacifics. The service is still in operation, 10.00 am from 'The Cross', albeit in East Coast livery (now a Virgin Railways undertaking).
North Yorkshire Moors Railway - From the Footplate
For steam enthusiasts, a footplate ride on cd with driver John Middleditch - who normally drives Southern electrics out from Waterloo Station, London - and Ian Pearson, a local lad in his middle years. Living history and geography aboard British Railways Standard 2-6-4 mixed traffic tank loco No. 80135 (see the engine in episodes of 'Heartbeat'). A must for atmosphere, everything but the 'creosote' smell!
Remnants - where the branches met south of Pickering Station
North of Pickering Station at New Bridge
NERA Pickering visit, 27th May, 2017
A group of us, North Eastern Railway Association members armed with notes and diagrams, visited Pickering for two reasons, a) to look around the south side of the station where three railway branches met. From Scarborough to the east by way of Forge Valley came one that was closed to traffic early in the 1950s. From Helmsley in the west, by way of Kirkbymoorside, came another that was closed in the mid-1950s. The longest-lasting was the line that linked Pickering with the main line at Rillington Junction. The 'Railway King', George Hudson was the prime mover behind the Whitby & Pickering Railway that opened in 1836, surveyed and built by George Stephenson. Hudson was also the leading light of the York & North Midland Railway, a secondary main line of which ran from York to Scarborough and was opened several years after. The connecting point between both railways lay at Rillington Junction, several miles west of Malton Station. This line is still in use, although the connection to Pickering was finally severed in the late 1960s after services ended in 1965 as a casualty of Dr Richard Beeching's railway rationalisation plans. Not everyone was sad about the closures. There had been several level crossings south of Pickering, and at one time there had been frequent - passenger and goods - services in all three directions. Think of the number of times the gates opened and closed daily, and think also of road delivery drivers who had to pass through Pickering in any one of four directions.
We set about at around 11 am walking southward from the station to locate what could be seen - if anything - of the three branches, taking pictures and rummaging through bushes and nettles etc. In the afternoon we set about going north from the station, looking at the remains of several stone quarries - one of which had been for the building of Pickering Castle by the Normans later in the 11th Century. A look at and into the level crossing signal cabin at New Bridge preceded a walk around the nearby NYMR workshops. We then set out on a track that led past a few points of interest, including where original plans had been made to build the Helmsley branch north around Pickering. This would have entailed a tunnel and may not have ensured the foreseen traffic necessary to keep the branch open. It lasted barely a century, only a little longer than the Forge Valley branch.
Along the way north to Grosmont
From a meeting of the two Georges...
George Hudson would become known as 'The Railway King', George Stephenson the railway builder who outlasted his namesake and lived on through his son Robert. Hudson as landowner in Whitby would bring trade to the town from inland. He would also be responsible for the York & North Midland Railway as well as being elected Lord Mayor of York for two terms, and Member of Parliament for Sunderland - County Durham - before 'creative accounting' and political disgrace saw him flee to France. Subsequent imprisonment for debt on his return to England left him ruined, although many friends helped him through to his release.
His heritage would see amalgamation with the York & North Midland via Rillington Junction on the York-Scarborough line, later inauguration into the North Eastern Railway, the London & North Eastern Railway and British Railways before closure early in 1965. The 'phoenix' would rise from the ashes in the form of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, opened in the early 70's by the Duchess of Kent and re-opened soon after between Pickering and Grosmont. Newer developments have been the restoration of Pickering's overall trainshed roof and the dedicated platform at Whitby Town station for through trains. Ongoing services are unlikely, between Pickering and Malton, as the legal and physical disturbance would be too great south of Pickering Station, and the conditions of the railway's operating license would be affected by outside (national railway) involvement.
See it all here, above and below in all its glory, one of the most famous preserved lines in the UK and the world with steam and diesel workings, and see where it came from.
'Here lies the 'Railway King'
Meanwhile, across the other side of the East Coast Main Line
A photographic record of the Wensleydale Railway by Christine Hallas is a must for the bookshelf of anyone interested in the resurrection of regional railways. There are tables of figures, gradient profiles, historical reminiscences, personal reminiscences (including some of former NUR General Secretary Sid Weighell, who worked on the footplate down the branch from Northallerton) and pages of black & white images as well as colour views in the centre of the book.
Permanent way work through the cutting under the bridge at Leyburn West (November, 2018)
West from Northallerton, and not far from the A1(M),
earlier terminating at Leeming Bar, is the Wensleydale Railway (now via Scruton to Northallerton West, see pictures) . Schemes had been laid in the 1840s to link the dale with its offshoots (Bishopdale and Coverdale) to the main York to Newcastle line at Northallerton, but failed. Subsequent schemes were merely the old ones raised again. Some were feasible, and had economic factors stayed in the favour of mining operations to the western dales a line would have linked Swaledale and Wensleydale with Wharfedale and Leeds.
George Hundson proposed a line south from Catterick - already linked to the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway by a line from Darlington to Richmond via Eryholme - to Hunton and westward through Wensleydale to Hawes and on to Ribblehead. Needless to say, this plan came to nought. The Lancashire and North Yorkshire Union Railway (L&NYUR) proposed a line eastward from Skipton amongst its other hare-brained ideas. Next the Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne Junction Railway (LM&NuTR) deposited similar plans but common sense and economics won out and lengthy talks were entered into with the L&NYUR. In early 1848 the authorised line of the LM&NuTR was abandoned and the company dissolved for lack on cash. The survival of another company, the Northern Counties Union Railway, was also in doubt. The directors hoped to restore plans for a Wath to Leyburn section out of earlier plans, but was also abandoned.
In 1853 the Bedale & Leyburn Railway Company was formed, gained support from the newly-formed North Eastern Railway (York, Newcastle & Berwick - YN&B - amalgamated with York & North Midland and Leeds Northern), and opened their line from Bedale to Leyburn in 1856. This line connected with the 1846 authorised YN&BR branch from Northallerton that was completed in 1855. The NER took over the ailing B&LR in 1858, speculative schemes were put forward by different companies, and with an upsurge of railway development in the 1880's NER proposed a more modest plan to link Leyburn with Hawes and onward to the Settle & Carlisle Railway(S&CR) at Garsdale and the Act was passed in July, 1870. A joint Midland-NER station was built at Hawes and a link laid in to Garsdale. With due pomp and celebration the Leyburn to Hawes section was opened with NER Engine No. 588 and a train of five six-wheeled coaches on October 1st, 1878.
Leyburn traffic receipts from 1868 to 1939 show a healthy rise from 1868-1888, then a slight drop in 1908, recovering by 56% to an all-time high in 1928 of £4,416. The last year, 1939 saw a drop again to 43% of the 1928 figure. The total, with non-passenger receipts included, saw a staggering increase in 1928 from the 1908 figure of £8,023 was about 165%, to £21,274, rising by about 31% to £28023. With divers coaching traffic the figure came to £32,905.
That couldn't hold and post-war traffic dropped until British Railways decided to close the line to passengers in 1954, the last day being Saturday April 24th. Good and mineral traffic continued for another decade. Askrigg, Aysgarth and Hawes seeing their goods depots closed on April 27th, 1964. Wensley's goods facilities survived until July 3rd, 1967 and at Leyburn in 1969. Leyburn and Redmire kept open public delivery services, Leyburn's until 1982. In 1965 track west of Redmire had been removed, the rest of the line being kept open for Teesside limestone traffic and the military. Redmire station offices were demolished, but the other buildings down the line were kept in situ, deteriorating gradually.
Excursion trains went down the branch apart from the daily limestone traffic, and the reprieve of the S&C line provided impetus for a dedicated group of people to seek a solution for the restoration of the line. Hawes businesswoman Ruth Annison organised an exploratory meeting in March, 1990. The Wensleydale Railway Association was formed with county council officers presiding, Ruth Annison as secretary, Irene Bergerud as membership secretary and Stan Abbott as press officer. Over the years people with particular railway skills were recruited. When British Rail (BR) offered the line @ £1.1m the Association saw no way out but to buy the line, valued independently at half the figure BR identified. A campaign was launched to issue track units in March, 1993. A Pickering businessman put in a bid, saying he had backers and just before bidding closed a third - anonymous - party put in a bid. By September 1993 the WRA had raised over £75,000. Then BR said it was withdrawing the line from sale. The reprieve came from the Ministry of Defence (MdD), expressing interest in keeping the line open to run tank transporter trains to Redmire for Catterick Camp near Richmond.
The MoD ran a trial train in November, 1996 and invested £750,000 in upgrading the line between Northallerton and Redmire. Events rolled on with Railtrack (the maintenance arm of Britain's privatised railways) granting a 99-year lease for the line. Railtrack's license to operate was rescinded due to their mishandling of part of the network, and there was a delay in the signing until their successors, Network Rail took over, documents were.exchanged and progress was made - the line opened with razzmatazz on July 4th, 2003 with County Council, regional Rail and government officers attending. Patrons include actors Robert Hardy, Christopher Awdry, the Lord Bolton and Michael Palin. The local Member of Parliament (now Foreign Secretary) William Hague also attended.
The future? As a shareholder (£150 worth) of the plc and member of the WRA I hope ever upward and onward. I took my first trip up the line last summer, Leeming Bar to Leyburn and back gave me enough time ro look around Leyburn Station before my return journey. I was impressed at progress made. The association has regular meetings in London, York and Northallerton as well as a number of other locations. See the link for details, timetables etc. .
A temporary platform has been opened at Northallerton West as an eastern terminus, and Scruton Station (between Northallerton and Leeming Bar) has seen renovation work as well as platform lengthening to take a three car diesel multiple unit (dmu). I've added a batch of pictures (below) taken on 4th November, 2016 to show progress.
Here's a battery of useful connections for North Yorkshire:
And now for something slightly different:
Throughout the year the Wensleydale Railway also organises walks, some non-railway orientated, within the Dales around Wensleydale. A brochure is available from the WR that outlines the walk themes, length and route. Contact by e-mail: email@example.com or call 08454 50 54 74. The address to write for the brochure, GUIDED WALKS & EXCURSIONS, 2012 is: Wensleydale Railway plc., Leeming Bar Station, Leases Road, Leeming Bar, Northallerton DL7 9AR.
- Home - Wensleydale Railway
Re-opened 2001 after 47 years without a passenger service, the Wensleydale Railway is operated largely by dedicated volunteers. In just under 20 years, despite multiple setbacks, there is an air of optimism along the line
'Tornado' also visited the Wensleydale Railway, arriving mid-February 2019 for three days - back in May for three weeks
Wensleydale Railway information
- Wensleydale Railway
Timetables, information on services, Santa trains, special events and more
Scruton - an essay in pictures
Steam on the Wensleydale Railway
From time to time we see preserved steam and diesel locomotives in action on the Wensleydale Railway, almost as much as on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. A regular visitor is NELPG's J72 0-6-0 65894 tank locomotive known affectionately as 'Joem'. Before being snapped up from British Railways' almost indecent haste to rid itself of steam locomotion in the 1960s. Larger steam locomotives have been, such as NELPG's Q6 0-8-0. Bigger still was preserved LNER A4 4464 'Bittern' in late May, 2014 (see picture below) fresh from a 'reunion' with other preserved LNER A4 4-6-2 Pacifics 4468 'Mallard', 4496 'Dwight D Eisenhower' (originally 'Golden Shuttle'), 4489 'Dominion of Canada' (orig. 'Woodcock'), 4488 'Union of South Africa' and 4498 'Sir Nigel Gresley'. 'Dominion of Canada' was brought from Canada and 'Dwight D Eisenhower' from the USA. When I saw them at Shildon just after storage they were in a parlous state with bits missing, rust an dirt. When they were returned months later they'd been cleaned up and partially restored (although not in running order).
August, 2018 saw NELPG's six-coupled tender locomotive J27 65894 visited the line as the J72 was out of action, receiving much needed attention at Hopetown, Darlington. On August 31st I caught up with her at Leyburn whilst dropping off a couple of HORNBY magazine binders to the shop to help with proceeds. See below.
The Wensleydale Railway has its own stud of locomotives, diesels of different classes and vintages. See the link for further information.
More steam on the WR....NELPG's J27 65894 and USA Baldwin 2-8-0 1225
Return of an old favourite and surge of the giant newcomer on the WR's 'Polar Express'
NELPG's Class J27 (NER P3) 0-6-0 65894 returned in the summer of 2019 after a successful debut on the Wensleydale Railway to a huge welcome from regulars and tourists alike. I managed to catch her at Leyburn on the last day of August 2018 before her return to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for a spot of maintenance and the Steam Gala in September.
The Santa Expresses made way for a season of Polar Expresses in 2019, hauled by a mighty USA Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1225, renumbered to suit the occasion.
Briefly the design of the US Army Transport Corps (USATC) Class 160 was a continuation of the Class 159 of WWI.with modifications. Major J W Marsh of the Corps of Engineers. The design showed development on Austerity principles, ruggedness of purpose at speed on shell-damaged railway routes. Frames and wheels were cast steel, the forward pair of axles independently sprung from the rear pair. The larger ternder was an idea adopted from Robert Riddles' WD 2-8-0, the coal bunker inset over the water tank.
Eight hundred locomotives were built 1942-43 in thirteen batches, consignments divided between Alco, Baldwin and Lima Locomotive works. The locomotives were landed at Newport, Monmouthshire in South Wales and distributed around the British mainland railway network from the Great Western Railway depot at Ebbw Junction. An initial 43 went to Doncaster 'Plant' for completion. These would operate on the East Coast Main Line.on munitions and troop transport. Between them the British railway companies took delivery of 400 for 'running in', effectively replacing war damaged locomotive stock, augmenting their traffic capacity. In all 174 went to the GWR, 168 to the LNER, 150 to the London Midland & Scottish Rly (LMSR) and six to the Southern (SR). A second consignment of 400 was stored at Ebbw Jct before D-Day. After the Normandy invasion the locomotives already deployed were assembled at Ebbw Jct, ready to be sent to Europe.
Several were preserved, some Baldwin, some Lima, and several of these are only extant as part-locomotives (chassis, boilers, frames, spares). One is undergoing restoration.on the Great Central at Ruddington in Nottinghamshire, several of the operational USATC 160 locomotives are Baldwins', some Lima and Alco. One full restoration took place by Steam Powered Services at Stockton-on-Tees and returned to service on the North Yorkshire Moors Rly (Baldwin 2253), its owner Pete Best. The locomotive was named 'Omaha Beach' to honour the US forces involved in the D-Day assault on 'Fortress Europe'. A former owner of this locomotive was Polish State Railways after WWII.
The particular US 1225 Polar Express locomotive saw little of the war itself, being built 1945 and sent via England to Europe, from where she was returned to these shores. Restoration took place on the Churnet Valley Railway of this fine specimen that brought visitors to the WR in droves - you lucky people helped make history!
*Ref: Wikipedia; Wikimedia Commons also has information that relates to USATC Class 160.
Giant in our midst
Leeming Bar, Bedale, Leyburn and Redmire
And finally, when the bark of a hard-working steam locomotive fades into the distance, peace reigns again
Ghosts from another era... The Weardale Railway as was , and as has been resurrected... again
I have to inform you that the Weardale Railway has resumed operations.
Check them out - see the link below in the next module. The line is an 18 mile single track heritage railway in northern County Durham, with a connection to the main operating railway at Bishop Auckland. Stations down the branch are Stanhope, Frosterley, Wolsingham and Witton-le-Wear, a regular service timetable can be seen on their web site. Here's a bit of history for you:
Not until November, 1843 was the Bishop Auckland and Weardale Railway opened from Shildon Junction (north-west of Darlington) to Crook, the first tentative step to bring the two mining districts together. The line was leased and worked by the Stockton & Darlington Railway. In 1845 the line was extended from Crook to Waskerley to give the Derwent Iron Company of Consett a connection. This section was first known as the Weardale Extension but later became the Wear & Derwent Junction Railway under a merger with the line from Stanhope to Consett.
A scheme to enter Upper Weardale itself was covered by the Wear Valley Act of July, 1845. This would provide a link from Witton Junction (Wear Valley Junction) on the Bishop Auckland & Weardale Railway to Frosterley with a connecting spur to Bishopley. Opened 3rd August, 1847, it was a prelude to a more ambitions plan to extend the line up the dale and on via Alston to Carlisle by the Wear Valley Company, but this never came to fruition due to a lack of funds. The Frosterley and Bishopley areas were acknowledged as rich in limestone deposits and large quarries were up and running on both sides of the dale. On the north side were the Rogerley and Frosterley quarries, to the south the Bishopley Branch served the Bishopley Quarries. Limestone quarried here would be used by the new iron foundries on Teesside.
In 1862 the Wear Valley line was extended to Stanhope by the Frosterley & Stanhope Railway, to reach the Newlandside Estate on the south side of the town where large quantities of limestone were known to lie below the surface. The boom period for the quarries in the Frosterley and Stanhope districts was the 1870s, when they were either in the throes of extension or new ones were being opened. An extension of the Bishopley Branch brought into play the workings of Fineburn and Bishopley Crag, and a siding from the station yard at Frosterley crossed the river by the 'fly bridge' to serve as another outlet from the extended Bishopley Quarry at North Bishopley. Parson Byers Quarry near Stanhope, established in 1872, was located high on the south side of the dale, connected to the Wear Valley line by a self-acting incline and due to its great size had its own internal railway network. There were around thirteen miles of quarries in Weardale, most concentrated around Frosterley and Stanhope. Quarrying declined quickly after WWI and through the 1920s. Some survived until recently, such as Newlandside and Parson Byers.
A final extension of the wear Valley line to Wearhead was opened on October 21st, 1895. A new one had to be laid because it would have been impossible with the technology of the time to extend the line from the existing station at Stanhope. Within this section the Greenfoot Whinstone Quarry had its own narrow-gauge system. On the northern hillside was the plant of the Weardale Lead Company at Rookhope, linked with the railway in the dale by an aerial ropeway. Between Eastgate and Wesgate at Cambokeels were sidings to serve the Weardale Iron Company's Heights limestone quarry. This quarry is still operational.
Passenger services survived until June 29th, 1953. Until closure four trains per day served the stations of Witton-le-Wear, Harperley, Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope, Eastgate, Westgate-in-Weardale, St. John's Chapel and Wearhead. The goods service to Wearhead continued until 1961, when the line was cut back to St. John's Chapel. West from Eastgate - the current terminus - followed in 1968.
Easfgate Cement works were set up in 1964, bringing new life to upper Weardale. Using purpose-built container wagons, the cement was moved largely by rail from the plant to Teesside, Tyneside and Scotland. These works closed in March, 1993.
The line in existence until 2004 was singled throughout between Eastgate and Shildon, with a connecting spur laid in at Bishop Auckland, the terminus of the 'Heritage Line' from Darlington. A summer-only Sunday passenger service to Stanhope operated as an extension to the Darlington service between 1988-1992. The success of this service was vital in the re-opening of the station at Etherley (re-named Witton Park) in August, 1991. A campaign to save the line west of Bishop Auckland known now as the Weardale Railway began in 1993 with the threat of closure. Track-lifting was a real possibility after the last cement train left. Until 2004 the line was 'mothballed', but the line was bought by Weardale Railways Limited and the first works trains began running in 2004 to ready the line for the re-opening to the public of the first section between Stanhope and Wolsingham.
There are movements afoot to re-establish a passenger service on this line. Watch this space.
- Weardale Railway trust | Stanhope | The Weardale Railway Trust
The Weardale Railway is an 18 mile heritage line which runs from a connection with the main railway network at Bishop Auckland in County Durham.
From looking at a railway map of County Durham you'd never know public railways began here. There was a network of branch and main lines that criss-crossed the county from the inauguration of the Stockton & Darlington Railway onward. There are less than a third of the original lines as built still operational. Compare a map of the NER with a current line diagram and see what I mean.
Railway map of County Durham, England, before closures from the 1950s-1960s and after
Other useful web addresses for preserved railways and tourism in County Durham
A final 'shout' for the railway that wouldn't die...
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster