Historic Events of the Month
A fairly random selection of events of which the anniversary is in the month denoted below. If you have any historic happenings associated with the railways of Cumbria or nearby which you would like to see here, please contact the Archivist.
May 11th 1983 – Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Disabled People’s Day
Getting a disabled person from a wheel-chair into another wheeled vehicle has always proved a challenge, especially where railway carriages are involved. In 1982 the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (R&ER), prompted by the late Sir Douglas Bader, a tireless campaigner for disabled people, decided to build three semi-open coaches which could easily and quickly be adapted for the purpose of conveying wheel-chairs.
The centre side-panels could be taken out by unscrewing a single nut, and the centre seats removed. Each vehicle carried a ramp so that a wheel-chair, and its occupant, could be pushed into the space left, with the centre panel then being replaced. A further vehicle, a closed saloon, was converted from the middle coach of the R&ER’s “silver jubilee” railcar, and had seats at each end with tip-up seats around the sides, thus leaving the centre space clear for wheel-chairs.
Following the construction of the coaches a special day was held on May 11th 1983, with invited parties from various localities. The special coaches were for once all in a single train set, with numerous volunteers on hand to assist the usual permanent staff, and meals were arranged for the various groups at Eskdale (Dalegarth).
The special train made three return journeys with motive power provided by the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway’s 4-6-2 Black Prince (on an exchange visit), and 0-4-2 well-tank Bonnie Dundee.
The day was so successful that two further special trains were run on September 23rd for the disabled of Allerdale district, many of whom could be not accommodated in May due to the demand for places.
April 10th 1875 – Accident at Frizington on the WC&ER
The Board of Trade reported on the collision of a mineral train with wagons at Frizington in 1875. The 1.30 pm. mineral train from Marron Junction for Whitehaven became unmanageable in descending a steep gradient, and after running a distance of about three miles came into collision with a break-van and five empty waggons (forming part of a train from Marron to Moor Row, the remainder of which was shunting) standing on the main line 20 yards on the Whitehaven side of Frizington station.
The driver of the train was injured jumping off his engine (a tank engine, running coal-box first), which had its coal-box knocked in, and frame, smoke-box, and buffer-beam destroyed. The break-van was destroyed and 30 wagons in total damaged. Of more importance was the fact that part of the Frizington station building was also knocked down.
As was stated at the enquiry, Frizington is situated at the bottom of an incline nearly 3 miles long. The loaded train had been pushed up almost to the top from Marron by another engine, at a slow speed of 5 miles an hour. It was left to complete the climb between Rowrah and the summit, and then should have descended slowly to Winder, where the train would normally stop, unload some wagons and pin down brakes for the rest of the descent. However, half way to Winder driver Grundell said he became aware that he would not be able to stop as required, although his speed was no faster than usual, and the engine-break had been applied. He maintained that the problem was due to the loaded wagons being mainly at the rear of the train, which required him to keep up steam longer than usual going up to the summit.
Guard James Wood (9 years on the Cleator line) agreed the speed near the summit was indeed about 5 miles an hour, but stated that after getting to the summit it gradually increased and got faster than usual, reaching 30 mph through Yeathouse and dropping slightly to 25 mph at the collision impact.
This somewhat damning evidence caused the enquiry to find driver Grundell to be the main cause of the accident by allowing the train to pass the summit at too high a speed, which on the descent he was unable to control. Two recommendations were made; firstly that all goods and mineral trains should stop on the level track at the summit so that a proportion of the brakes could be pinned down before descent; and secondly that serious consideration should be given as to whether double trains should be run at all – “if an engine has no greater load attached to it that it can haul up a gradient, it will generally be master of that load on descending a somewhat similar gradient, and thus not be likely to be overpowered.”
PGW 04/13 (taken from the Board of Trade, Railway Department Report of May 31st 1875)
March 1972 – Closure of Keswick Station
On March 6th 1972, Keswick station formally closed marking the end of the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway (CKPR) that first opened in 1864.
The land on which the station was built had been acquired from General le Fleming and the contractors, Boulton & Sons, agreed a contract in 1863. The plot was just to the north of the town centre with views of the summit of Latrigg beyond. The original plan had merely a waiting shelter on the Up passenger platform, whilst a two storey gabled stone building was built on the Down side.
Immediately adjoining the station, the CKPR built a hotel in similar vein, which opened in 1864, and had a conservatory connection to the Down platform.
Because the station was the headquarters of the CKPR from the 1860s, a Boardroom was constructed in the upstairs west wing, the Secretary’s office under the west gable, the Traffic manager’s under the east gable, and finally the Accountant’s premises in the east wing. Downstairs were the usual waiting rooms and ticket office. Briefly between 1965 and 1872 there was a refreshment room, but this closed after the Board agreed it would be “desirable” to withdraw such facilities – possibly due to rowdy or drunken behaviour of passengers from the many excursion trains that ran during that period.
From the 1940s increasing car usage caused railway traffic to decline to the point that, in 1960, just 20% of visitors to Keswick arrived by train. The effect on the line was predictable, and although the introduction of diesel multiple-units reduced journey times, the line was losing around £50,000 per annum. Goods traffic stopped in June 1964, and the service between Cockermouth and Keswick was discontinued in 1966, leaving only the line to Penrith open. From December 1967 the signal boxes along the line closed, leaving Penrith to control traffic on a “one-engine” basis, and as a consequence all stations inevitably became unstaffed in 1968. The line staggered on, worked by a diesel-unit shuttle service, until its final closure on March 6th 1972, with mineral trains from Penrith to Flusco quarry west of Blencow continuing until June 19th.
Keswick’s 1860s station building survives as a hotel today, and outwardly looks little different from its time as an important station and railway headquarters.
February 1903 – Leven Viaduct Accident
February marks the 110th anniversary of the overturning of a passenger mail train at Leven Viaduct in 1903.
The area around the Leven Viaduct suffered the effects of a severe westerly gale on the morning of February 28th 1903, which brought down the telegraph wires onto the bridge structure. The early morning mail train, travelling from Carnforth, ploughed into the wires with the result that the vacuum brake pipe was cut on one coach, bringing the train to a halt.
The wind was so strong that, whilst the train was at a standstill, a severe gust blew the passenger coaches onto their sides on the up line. The Board of Trade enquiry report published on 13th March 1903 described the result thus –
“...as the 4.25am down mail passenger train from Carnforth to Barrow was standing on the viaduct all the vehicles on the train, 10 in number, were overturned on to the up line during a terrific gale. All the passengers in the train, 34 in number, were injured, but only one is reported as being in a serious condition. The two guards were also injured, one rather severely, and one Post Office sorting clerk.”
Whilst the enquiry accepted that gales of this type did happen only rarely, it pointed out that if the train had been on the up line, then the coaches would most likely have fallen into the river, causing “terrible results”. Therefore it recommended that some means be devised for warning signalmen on either side of the viaduct that strong winds were present. A wind pressure gauge was duly placed at the west end of the Leven Viaduct, which sounded a warning bell in the signal box at Plumpton Junction if a set level of wind pressure was exceeded.
This remained in use until the closure of Plumpton Junction signal box in March 2000.
Opening of the Rowrah & Kelton Fell Railway (R&KF) – January 1877
The railway came to the small hamlet of Rowrah in 1862 when the Whitehaven, Cleator & Egremont Railway (WCE) extended its line from Whitehaven (and later in 1866 to Marron Junction on the Cockermouth-Workington line).
The upsurge in both coal and iron mining provided the impetus towards further development of the railway network in this part of Cumbria, as it was thought necessary to have an alternative means of transport other than road for the iron ore being brought out. The early 1850s saw prospecting for ore in the Kelton area, east of Rowrah, but the only means of transportation was by via a road which was virtually impassable in winter – carts became stuck in red, muddy, greasy haematite slurry.
In 1872 the current owners of the mines (William Baird & Co – of Baird’s Line fame) decided a branch line was essential to convey the vast quantities of ore being mined from Kelton & Knockmurton. They approached the WCE for permission to build a junction at Rowrah, and an Act authorising construction of the R&KF Mineral Railway was passed in 1874. It was built by Messrs. Harrison Hodgson of Workington at a cost of £25,000 and was anticipated to be of 3.5 miles in length with 11 bridges, climbing from about 177m at Rowrah to 274m at the Kelton Fell mines. This obviously favoured loaded trains, but haulage of empties back to the mines was hard work!
Despite the completion of the line by November 1876, legal disputes with the WCE over the junction at Rowrah continued, delaying the official opening until mid-January 1877. This, and previous issues with the WCE, persuaded William Baird that it should build its own line from Rowrah north to Distington, and eventually via the Maryport & Carlisle Railway to Scotland. “Baird’s Line” joined the R&KF near its junction with the WCE, and offered better rates, ensuring that it soon took all the available mineral traffic.
Prosperity for the R&KF was brief, and by 1900 the mines were mostly exhausted. Limestone traffic continued for a while, but from 1927 the railway became virtually disused until it was eventually dismantled in 1934.
Yet More Trouble at Carlisle Station – December 1886
On December 21st 1886, the LNWR suffered an accident that proved to be decisive in the adoption of the automatic brake vacuum on passenger trains.
Up until 1882 the LNWR had been the only Company resisting the introduction of any vacuum system, having long been using the chain brake, which was neither automatic nor effective in making the carriages brake in unison. However in 1882 the Railway Inspectorate insisted and the directors, despite still in opposition, agreed, to adopt the simple vacuum brake, rather than the automatic version, as a cheap solution.
However, four years later, the LNWR found itself having to defend its decision in front of the Board of Trade Inspectors following a serious incident at Carlisle. One of the Company’s down expresses ran through Citadel Station and struck a Midland engine standing 300 yards to the north. A simple vacuum brake was fitted to all fourteen vehicles on the train, but a plug of ice was found about one foot either side of the junction of the vacuum pipes, water having collected within them. Apparently this was not the first time the problem had been acknowledged, as freezing of the pipes had often been named in the LNWR’s “vacuum returns”, along with other types of obstruction such as cotton waste.
New rules requiring separation of vehicles, with differing types of brakes, into different train sections had recently come into force. These were causing the Company acute problems because of the widespread practice of conveying vehicles from many different companies, such as saloons, horse boxes, and son on, into one train However, the directors were by now concerned at the increasing number of brake failures, and it became obvious that the automatic vacuum brake would have to be adopted across the Company. This was duly commenced, and by the end of 1889 over 50% of all vehicles were fitted, with the task being finally completed in a further two years.
Roedean at Keswick – 1940/5
The direct threat posed to the south coast of England following the German occupation of France in the summer of 1940, led the governors of the prestigious girls’ public school, Roedean, to seek a new home in Keswick at the Keswick Hotel. For five years the hotel was occupied by most of the staff and senior girls, with further accommodation taken in smaller hotels in the immediate vicinity.
Kewsick station was pressed into service to provide classrooms, with the five upstairs rooms (including the boardroom) being used. The waiting room was also occupied occasionally, and brave passengers continued to venture in to enjoy the roaring fire, lessons notwithstanding!
The railway conveyed Roedean’s furniture, equipment and books from Brighton to Keswick in July-August 1940, whilst the staff arrived during August, and the girls on September 5th. Subsequently, a special train was run south at the end of each school term, and north at the beginning of the next.
The final departure from Keswick was late in 1945. While most of the school staff stayed behind to pack and despatch Roedean’s possessions, the girls and a few staff members left on the special school train at 5.25am on November 29th 1945, for a long Christmas holiday, the previous summer holiday having been curtailed to permit this.
Everyone was out on the platform in good time, including Mr. & Mrs. Wavell (owners of the Keswick Hotel), Dixon the hotel porter, Stationmaster Pickthall and his staff, and many other Keswick friends. An account of the occasion states that music from Mr Denwood’s loudspeaker van was played, an informal dance was staged on the platform, and John Peel (a traditional Lakeland song) and Auld Lang Syne were sung.
Then the train left on time, accompanied by a fusillade of detonations from the battery of fog signals placed on the outgoing track.
Runaway at Troutbeck – 1916
A spectacular runaway occurred on the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith line on Saturday October 28th 1916, at about 8pm. The Up goods was heavily loaded and hauled by two engines ascending the bank to Troutbeck, when the rear coupling parted on an LNWR wagon – the second vehicle in the train. The brake-van at the rear could not hold the train, which ran away wrong line down the bank. Guard Kirk, of Tebay, jumped for this life at Highgate Platform.
The train, including 14 wagons loaded with steel shell cases from Workington, destined to be filled at the huge Ministry of Munitions factory at Gretna, derailed at the catchpoints in the cutting west of Highgate and an almighty pile-up resulted, partly on the lands of Highgate Farm.
Mr Tyson, the farmer, ministered to the shocked guard with tea, and his schoolgirl daughter, Jessie, later clearly remembered the dramatic scene of the crash. It occurred close by the distinctive la’al pikey hut – her superb Cumbrian description of the lineside cabin, which resembled a sentry box.
This part of the line continued to cause problems and just over a year later, in December 1917, another runaway occurred. A Caledonian Railway gunpowder van (containing powder for use at the Greenside lead mines) ran away down the bank, but stayed right line as it was not derailed by the catchpoints. It continued to Threlkeld, where the stationmaster attempted to stop it by placing sleepers across the line. Even then it managed to push them through the station for a distance, stopping just short of the overline bridge carrying the Penrith-Keswick road.
Annual Outing of Foremen and Staff – Saturday September 8th 1923
The Foreman and Staff of the LMS (Furness Section) had their annual outing on Saturday, September 8th, Southport being chosen as the rendezvous.
The party, in number about sixty, left Barrow at 9.15am, in two saloons provided by the Traffic Department, and arrived at Southport after a journey of about three hours. Headquarters were fixed at the Queen’s Hotel, where Mr Taylor, the proprietor, had provided a splendid lunch for the visitors, and ample justice was done to the light refreshments, so necessary as a prelude to the anticipated enjoyments of the afternoon.
These outings, hitherto, have been enjoyed by men only, but on this occasion the invitation was extended to wives wherever possible, and goes to prove that mere men are recognising the necessity of learning a little of old time gallantry.
The chief pleasure of the day was soon found in exploring Southport, which abounds in many attractions, and the party had reason to be thankful for the splendid weather conditions. A variety of enjoyment was offered by the fair ground and its amusements; the beauty of the gardens, and to some, the tempting allurements of the displays to be found in the noted Lord Street, the latter being of special interest to the ladies.
The party assembled for tea at 5 o’clock, at the Queen’s Hotel. It was one of those high quality teas bringing credit to the host and bringing ample refreshment in a time of need, as well as an opportunity for table talk. For all, it was a splendid and successful day.
PGW 09/12 (With help from The Furness Railway Magazine 1923 – now available on CD from the Cumbrian Railways Association)
Coniston Railway Act - August 1857
Following several false starts dating back to 1846, it was not until 1857 that the nominally independent Coniston Railway Company was authorised to build a standard gauge line from Broughton to Coniston.
The Coniston Railway Act received Royal Assent on August 10th 1857, but the independence was no more than a manoeuvre to raise risk capital from the copper mine owners in the area at a low rate of interest. Of the £45,000 capital, £20,000 was to be subscribed by Lady le Fleming, Lord of the Manor of Coniston, and John Barratt, James Humbleton and Joseph Mason, lessees of the mines, at a fixed initial dividend of 2%.
On August 27th 1857, shortly after the passing of the Act, a shareholders’ meeting was held at the Waterhead Inn, Coniston. Those present, according to the Minute Book, were Lord Burlington, Messrs Nicholl and Eddy (all Furness Railway Directors), James Ramsden (the FR Secretary and Manager) and J.R. McClean (the FR Consulting Engineer). The meeting closed, to re-open as a Directors’ Meeting, at which Ramsden was appointed Secretary and the civil engineering partnership of McClean & Stileman as Engineers.
Thereafter the Coniston Railway meetings were in fact no more than appendices to the meetings of the Furness Railway Directors and Shareholders.
PGW 08/12 (With help from The Coniston Railway published by the CRA)
West Coast Overnight Mail Train commenced July 1st 1885
Early in 1885 the Post Office put forward a proposal for an overnight postal service between London and Scotland, independent of any other traffic. After completion of planning with the railway, it commenced to run from July 1st, leaving Euston at 8.30pm.
The arrival time in Aberdeen is not known, but apparently it gave ample time for delivery of letters and for replies to be despatched by the return Postal Mail. This left Aberdeen at 2.45pm, later changed to 3.45pm, arriving in London at 4.15am the next morning, in time for that day’s deliveries.
New vehicles were built for this service, all with corridor connections, some years before these were to appear on passenger carriages.
This new train eventually became familiar as the West Coast Postal, ceasing only to run in the mid-1990s.
PGW 07/12 (With help from G.P.Neale’s 19th Century reminiscences as recorded in the CRA Journal of February 2002)
Dreadful Accident at Harrington
On Friday 23rd June 1882, an accident causing the death of one man and injury to two others, plus a great deal of damage to property, took place at Sir James Bain & Company’s ironworks at Harrington. Two steamers in the harbour, the Maggy Ann and Yan Yen, were being loaded with pig iron. Having left their last load of ore, the locomotive and wagons were being taken back to the works, by driver, Robert Murray, Patrick McMullen, fireman, and another engine-driver, John Miller.
It was remarked at the time that the engine and empty wagons seemed to be going very fast along the tramway close to the sea-shore. Shortly afterwards, persons on the quay heard a great rush of steam from the direction of the ironworks, and going to the place, found that the engine and wagons had run off the rails and into the concrete weigh-house.
Nothing much could be seen because of the smoke and steam from the engine, but shortly afterwards the dead body of Patrick McMullen was found “frightfully mutilated”, his head having been struck by the slates of the house as the engine entered it. Robert Murray was also found badly injured with burns, but John Miller escaped with slight scalding.
An enquiry was held and found that a piece of pig iron had fallen onto a set of points just before the weigh-house, presumably from the previous journey by the same set of wagons. This caused the engine and wagons to move to separate rails, with the result that the former crashed into the weigh-house, carrying away one side of the building completely. Fortunately the two weighmen had left the weighing-house shortly before, there being no more metal to weigh that night, otherwise no doubt two more lives would have been lost.
PGW (with help from Mike Faulkner’s article in the CRA Journal of October 2008)