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.


Furness Railway - Rail Motor Car

In their June 1905 timetable, the Furness Railway announced the following new service would run from July 1st 1905:

“To meet the exigencies of the traffic upon their Branch Lines the Furness Railway Company have recently constructed at their Barrow workshops a Steam Rail Motor Car and Trailer, which will form an auxiliary or supplementary service on the Lake Side (Windermere) or Coniston Branches during the summer months and upon the Lake Side Branch in the Winter months.

The Car, which is of a handsome design, provides seating accommodation for twelve first-class and thirty-six third-class passengers, and a luggage compartment. Transverse seats have been arranged in both compartments, those in the first-class being upholstered in moquette and third-class in rattan. The Car is electrically lighted and heated with steam throughout. The Trailer is similarly fitted up and provides seating room for thirty-four third-class passengers, and will be attached to the Motor Car when there are more passengers than the latter can accommodate. The Car is sufficiently powered to haul a horse box in addition to the Trailer.

Owing to its large windows the Motor Car will afford the public the fullest opportunity for seeing the beautiful mountain, river, or lake scenery, when travelling on the Lake Side (Windermere) or Coniston Branches of the Furness Railway.

A Motor Car platform has been provided at Newby Bridge, which will enable Tourists and others who wish to make a stay there for fishing, sketching, etc., to do so without having to walk or drive from Lake Side Station.

The platform is charmingly situated, in full view of the picturesque falls of the river Leven, over the weir below the bridge; and in the Spring and Summer season – in fact at any time of the year – it should provide a most attractive stopping place for those on pleasure bent, and in search of the beauty spots of this delightful neighbourhood.”

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From the June 1905 timetable (CRA Walker Collection)


Dreadful Accident at Harrington

On Friday June 23rd 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.



Maryport & Carlisle Railway

The month of May has significance on two counts for the Maryport & Carlisle Railway. Powers to construct the line were granted with minimal opposition under an Act of 1837 and construction commenced on the section from Maryport to Aspatria on May 7th 1838.

After a serious dispute with the contractor who alleged material interference with his works by the Company, and which also led to the resignation of George Stephenson as Engineer, the seven mile section from Maryport to Arkleby was opened for mineral traffic on July 15th 1840.

Completion to Aspatria and the start of passenger services dated from April 12th 1841.

Work then commenced at the other end of the line to link Carlisle with Wigton, this section opening for traffic on May 10th 1843. The new Engineer, William Mitchell, advised the Company that the remaining section of line could be constructed more cheaply on a different alignment from that originally authorised and fresh parliamentary powers had to be sought in 1843, probably delaying completion by at least a year.

The gap in the central section of the route was eventually closed from February 10th 1845, the company having taken seven years to build 28 miles of line. This followed the commencement of services between Maryport and Workington the previous January.

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Holiday Time on the Furness Railway

Traffic and Works Committee, April 23rd 1897

Diamond Jubilee – Holiday to Staff

On the recommendation of the General Manager it was

Resolved: That for the purpose of commemorating the 60 years reign of Her Majesty the Queen the whole of the wages staff in the service be granted, on 22 June next, a day’s holiday, without deduction of pay, and those who must necessarily be on duty for carrying on the traffic be allowed a day’s holiday at such time as may be convenient, and if this cannot be arranged, an extra day’s wages be granted.

Annual Holiday to Passenger and Goods Guards, Signalmen and Shunters

The General Manager submitted a memorial that had been forwarded to him through the Superintendent of the Line from the Passenger Guards and Signalmen, to be allowed annually a week’s holiday, without deduction of pay, and reported that the London & North Western and Midland Companies had already granted this privilege to their men, and it was

Resolved: That on and after the 1st July next all Passenger Guards, Brakesmen, Signalmen and shunters who have occupied a position in one or more of these grades for a period of not less than 5 years, shall be granted a week’s holiday with pay, and that the present arrangement of allowing Passenger and Goods Guards and Relief Signalmen Good Friday and Christmas Day with pay be discontinued.

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March 1857 – Accident at Carlisle Station

On March 4th 1890, G.P. Neele (the LNWR Line Superintendent) was to have attended the Forth Bridge opening ceremony. Instead he found himself being called to Carlisle to deal with a serious accident. In this extract from his Reminiscences, he recounts the story as follows:

“The train was the 8pm express from Euston. It appeared that there had been some trouble with the brake, both at first starting from Euston, the Gourock van requiring to have the brake thawed, and then again at Tring, where that vehicle had to be detached. The train was twenty-seven minutes late on reaching Shap Summit; it left there thirty-three minutes late, and the driver appeared to have lost control of the train after descending Shap incline. The train, with its thirteen vehicles all fitted with Automatic Brake, ran through Carlisle Station at about thirty miles an hour, struck a Caledonian engine standing on the line in readiness for the Limited Mail, and drove it by the force of the collision a quarter of a mile onward. Four passengers were killed on the spot by the crushing up of the leading carriages, and eleven injured, besides the drivers and firemen of the engines.”

Both an official enquiry and an inquest took place, the former headed by Colonel Rich, who ensured that the driver and his guards underwent very close questioning. Two causes were suggested: ice in the cylinders of the brake pipes, or possibly the driver mistakenly switching the breaking lever to simple vacuum rather than Automatic (thus preventing the guards from properly engaging the Automatic Brake in the carriages).

Colonel Rich thought the latter, but after hearing from several expert witnesses, the Coroner’s jury blamed the ice!

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February 1937 – Snow Drifts between Carlisle & Hellifield

The following instructions were issued by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company during the winter of 1937:

Station Masters and signal men between Hellifield and Carlisle must, during the Winter months, very carefully watch the weather conditions, and in the event of snow threatening keep the District Control Offices (DCOs) at Carlisle and Skipton continuously advised about it.

When heavy snow is considered probable the DCOs must be so told and remain open. They must advise the Motive Power Depots at Carlisle, Hellifield and Skipton, and the snow ploughs must be in readiness for quick despatch.

Should the Control Office at Skipton be closed at the time when such circumstances arise, the Carlisle Control Office must be advised and a telegram must be sent to the Skipton District Controller advising him of the position. The Station Masters and signalmen must suggest the ploughs being sent if they have any reasonable doubt that the line may not continue workable without them. The line should be kept clear, and snow not allowed to drift and cause stoppages.

Drivers, when they observe snow drifting, must stop and report it at the next signal box.

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Derailment on the Settle & Carlisle – January 1995

The start of 1995 saw the weather playing havoc with Cumbria’s railways, with tragic consequences on the Settle and Carlisle Line.

On January 31st the 1625 Carlisle-Leeds was turned back at Blea Moor because of flooding on the line north of Settle. North of Ais Gill in the Mallerstang Valley the two-car Class 156 Sprinter unit ran into a land slip which threw the train over onto the up line.

Passengers were evacuated from the leading car but within minutes the stranded train was run into by the 1745 Carlisle-Leeds, formed by another Class 156, unfortunately resulting in the death of the conductor-guard on the 1625 train and injuries to 26 passengers, mainly on the later train.

Rescue was severely hampered by the extreme bad weather and the remote site of the incident.

Restoration of through services was not achieved until at least a week later with a temporary bus link operating between Kirkby Stephen and Garsdale. Single line working is believed to have continued for somewhat longer.

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Accident at Rosegill Colliery Junction – December 7th 1867

A collision took place between two mineral trains at Rosegill Colliery Junction, near Maryport, on the Maryport & Carlisle Railway. The following account was written by the Board of Trade Inspector – Lieutenant Colonel C.S. Hutchinson.

“The night was clear and moonlit, and the driver could see that the arm of the Rosegill distant signal post was at all right as he passed it. On previous occasions, after dusk, the arm had been at danger (though the lamp had not been lit), if a train had been stopping at Rosegill, and seeing this, he had been enabled to pull up in time.

On rounding the curve before alluded to as impeding the view of the main colliery signal, he found the latter against him, and immediately tried to pull up by reversing his engine, having his tender-breaks put on and whistling for the guard’s breaks.

There is no reason to suppose that these appliances were not used, but, nevertheless, owing to the speed (from 20 to 30 miles an hour), the weight of the train, and the descending gradient, the engine struck the van of the first mineral train at a rate of about six miles an hour.

The breaksman of this train, hearing the other approaching at a faster rate than if it had intended to stop, had, fortunately warned the colliers to alight, and all except ten had got out before the collision occurred; he also gave the coming train a red hand-lamp signal.

As before stated, eight out of the ten colliers in the van were severely shaken and bruised, the engine buffers were broken, the van damaged, and some waggons broken.”

The Inspector found that the accident would not have occurred had the distant signal been properly used, and a private arrangement with the signalman at Bullgill not been relied upon instead. He therefore held that the signalman at Rosegill should be held responsible!

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Death at one of Lord Leconfield’s Bigrigg Mines – Whitehaven News November 23rd 1893

Mining and railways were inextricably linked in West Cumbria during the 19th Century. Working down a mine was a hazardous and potentially life-shortening occupation, whereas mine owners (or landowners who granted mining leases) could profit hugely.

The following account gives a flavour of the risks to employees: On Sunday afternoon a shocking accident occurred at Lord Leconfield’s iron ore mines at Bigrigg, by which a fine young man lost his life, another escaping almost by “the skin of his teeth.” William Jenkinson, 39, joiner, who lived near the Seacote Hotel, St. Bees, was employed on Sunday afternoon last, along with Joseph Pattinson, of Egremont, another joiner, putting into the shaft of one of the pits a ring for the purpose of catching water. They were lowered by the pit engine to the required depth and there got out onto a platform suspended by four chains attached to a rope wound at the top on a winch, by hand labour. The men signalled to be raised or lowered, as they required. They had been at work for about an hour and a half, and had been raised and lowered higher or lower several times when without warning the rope suddenly broke close up to the winch. The platform, which is called a cradle by the miners, at once fell. Pattinson was able to grasp a plank that was fixed across the shaft, and onto this he hung with his hands, while his companion went crash to the bottom with the cradle, a depth of between 30 and 40 fathoms. He was found quite dead. Pattinson was as soon as possible rescued from his precarious support, by which time he was completely done, and was facing the same terrible fall as inevitable just as relief arrived. Jenkinson’s mangled remains were removed to his home at St. Bees. He leaves a widow and one child.

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Furness Railway: Specifications for Uniforms, October 1891

The Furness Railway had a strict uniform policy – probably no different than any other railway company at that time. The following gives a flavour of the standards expected of the FR staff:

Station Master

Coat: Single-breasted (SB) frock, ½ inch gold lace around sleeves, green cloth, gilt buttons, plain collar
Vest: SB, lined sleeves, no collar, gilt buttons
Trousers: Green cloth, fly front
Cap: Green cloth, French peak, set up stiff, “F.R.” in gold on front

Passenger Guard

Coat: DB frock, 2 buttons on sleeves, green cloth, gilt buttons, “F.R.” and number in gold on collar, ¼ inch gold braid on collar
Vest: SB, lined sleeves, no collar
Trousers: Green cloth, fly front
Cap: Green cloth, French peak, set up stiff, “Guard” in gold, oilskin covers

Carters and Porters

Coat: SB cord, brass buttons, badge on collar with “F.R.” and number in oval ring in red
Vest: SB cord, lined sleeves, no collar
Trousers: Cord
Cap: Green cloth, French peak, carter to have “Carter” and porters “F.R.” on cap

How different to today (many of us may feel)!

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Buffalo Bill at Carlisle

On September 15th 1904 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, on its farewell tour, gave two performances at Carlisle. They say that 11,000 attended the afternoon show.

The railway was well prepared. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, trains to and from Carlisle were “expected to be heavy” and were to be strengthened. On the Silloth branch a relief train, comprising two Firsts, eleven Thirds and two Brake Thirds, was in readiness at Kirkbride Junction to follow the 11.15am and 4.35pm trains from Silloth, as required. If anyone was left over from these special trains, the Station Master at the first station affected phoned for another relief train.

There was much to talk about on the return special at 10.55pm; not only the thrills of the Big Top but also the fire which had gutted Her Majesty’s Theatre in Carlisle that same morning!

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“The Bolton Loop” (1921)

August 1921 marks the closure of that part of the “Bolton Loop” running from Aikbank Junction to Aspatria. The line was built by the Maryport & Carlisle Railway, primarily to serve the various coal mines in the district.

The section from Mealsgate to Aikbank junction had just one intermediate station – High Blaithwaite – and was sanctioned in 1862. However, whilst there was some intermittent running between 1966 and 1869, the line was only properly opened between High Blaithwaite and Aikbank in 1877, and then back to Mealsgate a year later, after the whole track had been relayed.

Through trains were non-existent, and the line was in fact apparently treated very much as two separate branches, with there being little point in the station at High Blaithwaite as it served no village, merely farmers and a few dwellings at Bolton Low Houses. While the provision for passengers was minimal, with room for only one carriage at the platform, there were ample facilities for goods. There was a single-storey signal cabin to control points and signals for sidings to the coal drops and another to the loading wharf, goods shed and cattle pen.

However, in September 1906 the West Cumberland Times suggested that High Blaithwaite was “perhaps the most antiquated station in Cumberland”.

An MCR timetable for 1911 shows the passenger service was on weekdays at 8.50am from Mealsgate, arriving at High Blaithwaite five minutes later and terminating at Wigton at 9.07am. This then returned to Mealsgate from Wigton at 9.55am, stopping at Blaithwaite at 10.06am and Mealsgate at 10.11am.

As is well known the events of World War One and thereafter had a huge effect on the railway lines of Cumbria, resulting in a number of closures.

Whilst the Carlisle Journal reported that, in July 1921, “a petition, signed by every farmer in the district, was received with regard to the closing of High Blaithwaite station by the MCR and it was agreed that the General Manager of the company be asked to meet a deputation to discuss the matter”, it seems this was too late. The MCR went ahead with the closure of the branch from Mealsgate to Aikbank for both passengers and goods on August 1st 1921.

The Aspatria to Mealsgate line continued in use, but that too was closed on September 22nd 1930.

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05 July 2015 DM

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