Saturday, 30 April 2011

Royal Visit??

Just picked up a little bit of news today on my super-efficient ethernet 'grapevine'. I can reveal that rumour has it that we will be having a 'royal visit' to Kirkby Stephen East during our 'Stainmore 150' Re-enactment Day on Sunday 28th August.

So it looks like we will be going one very much better than Thomas Bouch and  the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway Directors back in 1861. This time Her Majesty Queen Victoria herself may be one of the Guests of Honour on site during the 2011 celebrations.

I wonder if she will arrive in the LNWR Royal Train steaming in from Appleby along the Eden Valley Branch behind a 'Tennant' or Fletcher '901' Class. Possibly not. But get here she will.

My sources are not able to disclose yet what part Her Majesty will play in proceedings on the day but my extremely educated guess is that a spade, a sapling and a handful of Fison's might be implicated in all this. Maybe we can have a competition here on the 'Diary' to invite suggestions as to  what Her Majesty might do to help us make the day memorable. I look forward to your suggestions (and no laughter at the back there!)

Friday, 29 April 2011

Platform progress

I was just taking a look at the latest news on our platform extension at Kirkby Stephen East on the web site. You can find it here. It is only a month since the concrete foundations were being poured and here we are already with the blocks laid and the core back filled with material excavated from the 'Tebay Platform' well. This last few days the concrete beams have been laid across, and all that remains to be done is to tarmac the top surface and lay the edging stones.

Looks good doesn't it? The sweep of that curve is really beautiful. The sort of job that you can stand back and enjoy taking a good look at. I wonder what it looks like from the ramparts of  Croglam Castle up on the hill, a spot where many earlier photographs of the station yard have been taken from. Maybe next week I'll head up there and take a picture.

Now the 'Darlington Platform' is restored pretty well to its original length, but of course fifty years ago it projected eastwards to the A685 road bridge, not westwards towards the sunset. So this platform is something very new in the history of the station site. Just four months now and the station lights will be up and working and passengers will be boarding the train here. Amazing!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Vanished Dates

When you come to reconstructing a railway in the way that we are doing at Kirkby Stephen East there are always going to be some small details that - no matter how hard you try to create a faithful facsimile of the original - are going to be a little different. And here is one I sometimes notice prowling around the site.

Bullhead track was universally used on the Stainmore line. In this design of permanent way the rail sits in cast steel (once cast iron) 'chairs' which are bolted to the wooden sleepers and the rail is held in place by either oak or metal 'keys'.

This track in the West Yard at Kirkby Stephen East is a pretty good facsimile of the original - but each of those steel chairs had an owner and date cast into the top surface. On Stainmore there were some new replacement chairs from British Rail days but most were stamped 'LNER' and dated from the 1920's and 1930's when a lot of the late Victorian track had been replaced.

The really interesting place to go 'chair spotting' though was in the sidings. There you could find North Eastern Railway chairs dating from the 1880's and 1890's when much of the permanent way had been upgraded to take the heavier axle loads of the late Victorian era. So even just by checking the dates of the track components you could learn a lot about the evolution of the railway.

Sadly all that 'archaeological' evidence vanished when the track was 'lifted' in 1962. However accurately we can re-create the appearance of the track now we can't re-create its history.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Giving trains the slip

The Stainmore line was always difficult to work, and especially with the complexities that resulted from the use of 'pilot' locomotives in front of the train engine and 'bankers' to push at the rear of the train to cope with the gradients. Some time around 1953-54 someone decided that it might be a good idea to try using a 'slip coupling' to avoid the weekly summer 'Blackpool Specials' stopping at Stainmore summit to uncouple banking engines from the back of the train.

'Slip couplings' basically worked by pulling on a steel cable which ran along the locomotive and down to the front buffer beam. This lifted the coupling on the front of the rear engine which was then uncoupled from the train and could apply brakes and drop back as the rest of the train accelerated  away downhill.

Certainly the Saturday morning when this was first tried my grandfather took me to 'Barney' station to watch the 4MT at the rear coupling up with much whistling and steam emerging from cylinder drain cocks and the steel wire was rigged to affect the disconnection 20 minutes later when the train reached Stainmore summit.

Whether that engine and train parted as planned I don't know. I still have visions or the rear locomotive stuck on the end of the train and headed down the bank for Kirkby Stephen because the technology didn't work out as planned. But certainly it never caught on much - in fact that trip is the only time I personally recall seeing a 'banker' equipped in such a way

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Mark Keefe sent me a bunch of pictures this morning of the 'Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally' at the weekend. There were none there of the  crowds and displays at Kirkby Stephen East station but several of the queues waiting outside the 'Crog' for buses. So my guess is that with the perfect weather the turnout was very good. Maybe there will be some pictures up on the KSE web site in the next few days.

One of the pictures that Mark sent me was this one of Will Hamer's open top bus. The occasion is Thursday evening when they always make a circuit of the routes to make sure there are no unexpected problems for the weekend. They are somewhere on the road to Soulby. Weather looks great eh? Must have been a nice evening trip out.

The thing that caught my eye in this picture were the chrome cigarette 'stubbers' on the backs of the seats. Remember those days? A bit of pure nostalgia there! When I started to smoke in the 1960's I guess half the seats on public transport were 'smokers', you could even light up a pipe full of St. Bruno in a compartment on a train and no one would say a word as those dense clouds of blue smoke filled the air.

Makes me laugh to think about it!

Monday, 25 April 2011

With a bang ...

Back in the days when locomotives running on branch lines had no sophisticated 'cab signalling', and only oil-lit track side semaphore signals for drivers to rely on for safety, fog could be a real menace. On dark windless November nights it sometimes thickened up over the moors so badly that you couldn't see the signals if you were standing underneath them on the ground, let alone observe them from the footplate of a moving engine.

In conditions like this 'fog men' were called out by the signalman - actually members of the local permanent way gang doing extra hours of duty. It would be their job to place detonators on the rails at key signals - usually the 'distant' and 'home' signals - and then wait there and only remove them when the signal was in the 'clear' position. This meant that if a locomotive passed and the signal was at danger there would be a heck of a 'bang!' to warn the driver. But it was a cheerless job on a cold autumn or winter night. Sometimes there was a small lean-to hut they could use, and a brazier - if they were lucky.

These fog detonators were large percussion caps about 2" (5cm) in diameter and half an inch (1cm) thick and they had thin lead ribbon 'ties' that held them secure on the top of the rail when in place. Normally they were stored hung in a string on an interior wall of the signal box.

Bowes signal box had a 'high-tech' version of this practice installed in the 1950's - detonators placed outside the signal box by each line which were moved on and off the rail worked by levers in the cabin frame. I think it was the only box over Stainmore to have this facility.

Detonators were seldom triggered in earnest, and the explosives they contained had a limited 'shelf life'. Every so often a replacement batch of detonators would arrive from Darlington and the time-honoured safe way of disposing of the out-of-date ones was to spread them around the tracks in the 'yard' and have the engine from the local pick-up goods set them all off. For a minute or two it sounded like an artillery barrage - always a popular event with local railwaymen!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Platform equipment

There was a time when passenger trains carried a lot of stuff apart from just the passengers. Usually these loads - railway parcels traffic, milk churns, mail bags and animals such as dogs being transported - were parked on the platform awaiting the arrival of the train and went into the guards van. But sometimes special kinds of traffic needed an extra vehicle - in rural Westmorland and Yorkshire perhaps a separate van for milk.

I was just looking through some of my own collections and I realise that I can find very few pictures of the selection of carts, barrows and trolleys used on Stations along the Stainmore line for this work. I don't know where they 'lived' at Kirkby Stephen - near the electric lift perhaps - but at 'Barney' there was quite a collection of this equipment kept near the West Bay under the roof awning.

Porters moving light loads for passengers or to the guards van typically used a two wheel barrow, but for bigger loads four wheel carts were required and at country stations like Bowes they were loaded in the afternoon with milk churns by local farmers. There were all standard designs and I think probably most of the equipment used locally dated from pre-1923 North Eastern Railway days, if not even from Stockton and Darlington times.

Do you have any photos of local stations with this kind of item lurking in the background? If so I would love to see them!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Croglin Castle

I have just put some new material from Ann Sandell up on our main 'Stainmore 150' site in the history section under 'railway and town. It is the first of a number of additional local history articles I am going to load over the next few days and you can find it here.

Pub histories always interest me. I used to work in the licensed trade once myself and I soon realised that every pub has its own character and pedigree.

Also - like the 'Crog' - they generally go through many different 'iterations' during their working lives as institutions. As Ann explains, first the 'Crog' was a rather up-market hotel for tourists, then a pub for the old auction mart and  railwaymen, and is now a 'local' for the surrounding housing that has grown up over the years and for passing traffic on the A685.

She says it is haunted too. But for more details take a look at her article yourself!

Friday, 22 April 2011

'F.C. Tingey' back together

Mike sent me a copy yesterday of a photograph of our 'Peckett' 2084 Saddle Tank 'F.C. Tingey'.  A crane arrived on Monday to lift the saddle tank and cab back onto the boiler and frames and now 'Fred' looks every inch a fine locomotive once more.

It must be nine months since these parts were removed to enable work on re-tubing the boiler to be done. In fact I can remember the day - it was in the week before we had the Japanese choir in Kirkby Stephen last summer. Edera and I were driving into Kendal and there was a very large yellow hydraulic crane removing the green plate work from a small locomotive in the station yard. When I took the ladies from the choir around Kirkby Stephen East the following week the carcass of the engine looked a bit like a mobile 'field kitchen' sporting only a silver stove-pipe chimney.

Now after a winter's hard work all those bits are back together again and the engine is parked back in the 'Darlington Platform' and will soon be in steam again and ready for the big event in August. If you haven't seen  'F.C. Tingey' yet be sure to drop in at Kirkby Stephen East sometime soon on a Saturday or a Sunday. Why not come and visit us this weekend and enjoy the free bus rides at the same time at the 'Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Stainmore Sign update

I had an e-mail from Sue Jones yesterday bringing me up to date with the appeal that we launched a fortnight ago.  I wrote about it on this diary on 7th April and you can find that original 'blog' here.

Sue tells me that we raised £259 within the first two weeks of the appeal which means that we will soon be able to get the replica sign plates cut by Hydram - the first stage in the production of the new sign. However we still need to raise a further £4,500 to get the complete signs manufactured and erected on site at the summit.

We have already had many interesting and often moving comments from people who have made a contribution towards these new signs - a reminder if one were needed of the profound effect that the Stainmore line had on people's lives and the affection with which it is still remembered. Here are just a selection of the comments that Sue has received in letters sent with cheques for the fund.

  • PGS of Stockton writes: "I well remember my last emotion charged journey over the line, as we slogged our way through Barras ( after running short of steam!) and up to the summit aboard the 'Stainmore Limited' on Saturday night, 20 January 1962."
  • R&EF of Morcambe write: "We often travel along this stretch of the A66 and look forward to seeing the successful completion of your venture."
  • GJ of Warwickshire writes: "I travelled the Stainmore line in June 1940 ( I grew up in Nateby) and thence many times more as I went to University in Newcastle (53-57). I have happy memories of the line as was so sad when 'Beeching & Co' destroyed it."
  • JM of Morcambe cites her reason for donation: "My father was a driver of Kirkby shed starting as a cleaner."
  • HNS of Jersey (our first Channel Islander) writes: "my connection with the Stainmore line is my later father , who originated from Darlington, was a signalman at Merrybent Junction and I have always had a keen interest in the Stainmore Route."
Sue has reminded me that anyone generous enough to donate £10 or over to the fund will receive a special 'Stainmore 150' commemorative certificate acknowledging their valuable contribution to the re-birth of our railway over August Bank Holiday this year. Please make cheques payable to'Stainmore Railway Company' and send to:
Stainmore Sign Appeal

Dr Sue Jones 
Secretary to Stainmore Railway Company 
1 West End 
TS21 2BW

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bluestone 'Cut'

Last Sunday I wrote about Big Hill 'Cut' and I mentioned that the railway between Rookby Scarth and Kirkby Stephen had only been 'doubled' in the early 1890's. After that work was complete the North Eastern Railway turned its attention to the line to the east end of the SD&LUR between 'Barney' and Bishop Auckland,  and in 1899 'doubling' was authorised  for a mile up the steep  bank between Barnard Castle East signal box and Coal Road level crossing and also between Forthburn and Gibbs Neese. This left a mile and a half of single line working in the middle between Coal Road and Forthburn, where the railway cut through the ridge on the northern edge of Teesdale.

This missing 'gap' was never doubled because the line ran through a very deep and narrow cutting known to railwaymen as Bluestone 'Cut', named after a local farm just above the railway. It was almost as deep as  'Big Hill' and much longer, running for nearly a mile north eastwards. At one end the train crew picked up the 'tablet' at Coal Road crossing and at the other at Forthburn. This was one of the loneliest boxes on the line reached only by walking along the track through the cut or by a path over the fields. Photographs of the cutting seem to be very rare, the only one I have seen in print is in Allan W. Stobbs' book 'Memories of the LNER in South West Durham'.

As a child I have a vivid memory of walking out from 'Barney' with my grandmother to have lunch with my grandfather who was on duty in Forthburn signal box. We headed up the road past Coal Road cabin, turned left and then off the road and down onto the single track and into the shadows of Bluestone 'Cut' itself. It was quite a scary place with solid walls of rock on either side of the track and very little clearance. I remember worrying about what the heck would happen if two 4MT's stormed into view with a mineral train but I guess they had  fixed on a known lull in the traffic for this lunchtime adventure.

Recently I have been a couple of times to where the road crosses the course of the line but even in winter the entrance to this cutting now seems hopelessly overgrown and I have never ventured in. I suppose it is a kind of 'land of lost content' for me down there, a veritable Cockaigne for 'gricers'. But in truth even if you could force a passage through the undergrowth it is probably horribly swampy and half buried with fly tipping. Dreams so often are!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Retirement Photo

Here is an interesting photograph that arrived with me yesterday, I think originally from Mark Keefe. It shows the retirement of Percy Sarginson, the last stationmaster at Kirkby Stephen East during its 150 years of operation as a working railway junction.

I guess that dates the picture as being taken in or about 1962. The event was held in the Croglin Castle Hotel. I'm told that at least one of the people pictured - Norman - is still alive and now 91 years old.

I wonder if any readers can tell us about anyone in this picture and something about their life at Kirkby Stephen East? If you have any memories please e-mail me. The one that caught my eye at once was Syd Jones, a close friend of my grandfather and a signalman. He lived in Nateby a few doors up from the 'Black Bull' and had I think three daughters. He also loved 'Pinky and Perky' music and was glued to their show on TV on Sunday afternoons! After the closure of the line he moved away, I think to a railway post in the Lostock Hall area.

My guess about 'not known' left is that he is someone from Divisional HQ come over to make a presentation. Perhaps someone from the Cumbria Rail Association can identify him.

If you want to look at the picture more closely click on it and it will open in a larger format

Monday, 18 April 2011

Everyday Life in 1861

I received another local history page from Ann Sandell this morning for the main 'Stainmore 150' web site. You can find it here. She has taken a piece written by 'Poet' Close in 1861 and added her own researches into the biographies of the people he mentions.

'Poet' Close loved to hang around the new station bask in the 1860's, and his original piece presents a thumbnail sketch of the appearance and personality of his friends amongst the staff as they gather in the 'Porter's Room' for dinner. I wonder which of the rooms it was, I'm sure that some of the historians amongst the volunteers can tell us. Probably part for the area we now use for the shop, I would guess, or maybe the room at the west end that we currently use as a volunteer's mess room.

It is just so interesting to see these biographies, we are extraordinarily lucky to have this material and written during the first year of operation as a station too. Maybe we need a memorial to 'Poet' Close at the station because he has provided us with a unique record of the early operation of the place. One of those tasteful blue plaques would be nice ...

By the way - I love this contemporary engraving of S&D 103 'Darlington' on the Tebay mineral line - those two figures on the platform remind us that even 150 years ago grown men loved to stand and watch the trains go by!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Big Hill 'Cut'

I think most people living in the Kirkby Stephen area have taken a walk up the course of the old line from Stenkrith towards Podgill and Merrygill. Many often walk the 'circuit' from town, heading up the Eden and then back via Hartley village. But far fewer have followed the old track bed further up the bank from Hartley. You can gain access to it from the centre of the village climbing up through a steep field, and then follow the course of the line north through the John Strutt Nature Reserve. It climbs around the hillside and you can follow it for more than two miles to Rookby Scarth. As you get higher above the Vale of Eden there are some beautiful views north and west, and you can return through Winton if you want.

The last half mile runs through a large cutting which was always known to Railwaymen as 'Big Hill Cut'. It is on a curve and very deep - I would guess at least 60' (20m.) or maybe more. This place had a terrible reputation for getting snowbound when the line was working, in winter stranded trains could completely disappear under the deep drifts. Amazing to think that all this rock and soil was moved mainly my men with shovels.

Big Hill 'Cut' must have been even more impressive when it was first made because it was dug out for only a single line and so would have been about 12' wide at the bottom, almost like a knife cut through the hill. It was eventually widened in the 1890's and a second track was laid.

Well worth a visit, but watch out for your ankles! The rabbits have been at work in all that gravel and sand left over from the ballasting of the line.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally

I had an e-mail from David Rayner this morning reminding me that the Eden Classic Vehicle Group's 'Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally' will be taking place over the Easter weekend next Saturday and Sunday the 23rd and 24th April. It  looks like it is going to be a really exciting event this year.

Not only is the weekend one of the most successful of its kind in the North - it is also free making it an ideal outing for the family. This year it involves four sites, the centres of Kirkby Stephen and Brough and also the site of our neighbours at the Eden Valley Railway at Warcop and our Stainmore Railway Company site at Kirkby Stephen East. A fleet of classic and lovingly restored old buses and coaches will provide free transport between all the four sites and admission to the sites too will be free.

Now here is something! Actually this will be the first time that Kirkby Stephen East and Warcop stations have been linked by public transport since the railway closed back in January 1962!  Change is coming in the upper Eden Valley ...

Public parking will be available in Kirkby Stephen town centre but there will be limited parking available at Kirkby Stephen East in designated spaces for disabled parking badge holders. We will have many classic commercial vehicles parked up on site and also stalls, some of which will be on the newly resurfaced platform area inside the station building.

We hope you will come and have a wonderful - and free! - day out and also see the progress we have been making on site getting ready for the reintroduction of steam passenger hauled trains in August.

Friday, 15 April 2011

On the Move

I put up a new page on the main 'Stainmore 150' website yesterday. It is by Margaret Gowling and it looks at the relationship between the railway and Kirkby Stephen as seen though the evidence provided by the Census records for the town between 1851 and 1881.

You can find the study here.

One thing that struck me reading through this interesting material was to be reminded what a characteristic feature mobility was for some groups within the population was at the time. To make any kind of a living many just had to keep on the move. But the day-to-day 'mechanics' of doing so were quite different in the nineteenth century, not least because there was little affordable pre-processed food available (except of course 'fish and chips' in mill towns) and so you needed someone to cook your main meal for you and put up your 'bait' as well as somewhere to sleep. This gave rise to lots of informal 'lodging' arrangements of a kind that is uncommon now

In the 1860's people had begun to migrate much greater distances searching for work too, and the 'Stainmore line' was just a part of the infrastructure that enabled that. My own great great grandfather moved from farm labouring at Long Marton to work in industry at Crook at this time and I like to think that he was one of the early travellers on the South Durham and Lancashire Union line although in truth I suspect that he was so poor at the time that he had no option but to walk it, over by 'Grains 'o Beck' and then across into Weardale

Thursday, 14 April 2011

'Wagon Train'

Does anyone remember those years after the closure of the railway between Kirkby Stephen East and Tebay when the line was used as a store for mineral and freight wagons?  I don't know what the history of it was but certainly from around the Spring of 1962 the route was used to store large quantities of unwanted stock. I guess that it was because as a part of the modernisation programme at the time wagons with short wheelbases or without continuous brakes was simply no longer required. On a modern railway trains needed to move at higher speeds than was safe with old designs of rolling stock, and you needed to be able to apply brakes along the whole length of the train.

Whatever the reason within a few weeks of closure wagons started to appear on the line coupled into long 'blocks' and parked up awaiting the scrapper's torch. In those days the A685 followed a more northerly course higher up the hill and if you looked across the valley of the upper Lune you could see thousands of hopper wagons rusting away. Presumably they were brought in from the Tebay end. At places like Gaisgill where there were level crossing gates, there was a gap left with the wagons stopping and starting on each side of the road.

How long these unwanted trains remained before they were eventually cut up and the track was removed I don't know. But I am sure that they must have been there a couple of years. Estimating at around 250 to the mile there must have been around 3,000 to 4,000 of them.

At the time we all thought that they were very unsightly and a blot on the landscape, but now how we would appreciate the chance to run a camera and tape measure over them now! Or even better invest in a dozen so that we could marshal a 1950's mineral train once more in the yard at Kirkby Stephen East. How true it is that "you don't know what you have got 'till it's gone ..."

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Loading horses

Writing about the 'old station' at 'Barney' here a couple of days ago reminded me of an interesting feature of the  goods branch extending southwards from the gates behind the East Box on Harmire Road. Almost immediately - before this track even crossed Montalbo Road - there was a small goods siding off to the right which ended in a secluded platform. Actually there were two sidings there, one of which was just a very short 'stub' which ran for a few yards and finished at an end bay loading dock. The other was a platform just long enough to take a single coach. For years a Gresley 61'6" corridor coach rusted away gently there, maybe a departmental coach or one which had been shunted after developing a hot box. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about it - hmm ... I don't suppose that it is STILL there is it? I guess not!

Anyway you could walk along a footpath that ran along the white diagonal fence at the north side of this idyllic little backwater from a small wicket gate near the main station entrance to another gate near the East Box. It was an 'official short cut' along the side of the East Bay which was just through the hedge ... G5's bound for Bishop Auckand simmered there behind the privet leaves! You can see this interesting area clearly on the 1:2500 map reproduced on page 86 in Peter Walton's book. Here I attach a copy of the rather poor aerial picture of the station area in 1945 available on 'Google Earth and I have marked the place with a red arrow.

I think that this platform must have been used for loading and unloading horses. Before and during the war I would guess that this was a busy spot, with 'hunters' and cavalry horses always needing horse boxes. Certainly by the late 1950's very little seemed to happen any more.

Does anyone have any memories of this facility in use? Or even better any photographs? They are more likely to have survived in local picture albums in 'Barney' rather than in the work of railway photographers who were probably more interested on what was happening on the opposite side of the fence in the main station.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

East Station staff in 1871

Yesterday I was writing about 'Barney' station in the early 1860's and then this morning Ann Sandell sent me a copy of this wonderful engraving of Kirkby Stephem East Station in 1871- although at that time of course it was the ONLY Kirkby Stephen Station. The illustration is from a copy of John ('Poet') Close's "Grand Christmas Book" for 1871 and both shows and names the station staff of the time. Ann has researched each of the people in the picture using the 1871 Census and other sources and you can find out much more about the station staff of the time here.

The backgrounds of these early Kirkby Stephen railway staff are very interesting but my eye was also drawn into the detail shown of the station building. The quality of draughtsmanship illustrating the surviving west wall and a comparison of the underside of the Darlington trainshed roof with architect's plans in Peter Walton's book suggests that the station was faithfully recorded here at the time, and so we can see the position of many details including some of the original  (paraffin?) lighting and notice boards

Looking at the people I found myself wondering if this was some kind of early photogravure process. It is certainly possible because dry plate photography had become widespread a couple of years earlier and many photographs of S&D locomotives and scenes survive from the period. But I guess it is straightforward engraving onto copper with a burin in which case of course the artist was working on a mirror image of the final printed illustration. I once watched an engraver at Bartholemew's in Edinburgh adding the M6 over Shap to the half-inch map using this incredibly skilled technique, engraving place names by hand backwards in italics!

One interesting thing about the picture is that people get noticeably smaller from right to left! Is this because the artist realised that he if he continued drawing his figures at the same size he would only have room for thirteen?

Monday, 11 April 2011

The other 'Barney' station

As a youngster I can remember frequently being awoken in the mornings in my bedroom at 23 Coronation Street in Barnard Castle by the sound of locomotive whistles in the 'goods yard' across Montalbo Road. The 'pilot' - usually a 2MT or 4MT from Darlington shed -would come in from the junction at 'Barney' East Box, crossing Harmire Road using the second set of gates to the south of the main line. With the aid of the guard and a shunter  it would then slowly propel a load of goods and mineral wagons southwards towards the goods shed and coal drops.

Although it was clearly visible from the whole length of Harmire Road there was always something a bit mysterious about this 'goods branch' because you would never need to go there unless you had business in the coal depot or the goods office.

I was intrigued to learn as a child that it had once been Barnard Castle's first passenger station. The building was the terminus of the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway, opened to traffic on the 9th January 1856. However almost immediately work began on the proposed South Durham and Lancashire Union Line, and the Barnard Castle Station we all remember now opened about 400 yards away and five years later - presumably on 8 August 1861 when services to Tebay began.

But here's a mystery. This first station didn't close to passengers until 1 May 1862. Why was that? I would have thought that all trains arriving from Darlington after 8 August 1861 would either have continued westwards towards Kirkby Stephen or terminated at the new station. They were all operated by Stockton and Darlington staff and stock. Why did passengers have to trek along Montabo Road for nearly a year?

Whatever the reason, after May 1862 the old station continued as 'goods only' for 103 years and in fact outlived the 'new station' by six months, not closing until 5 April 1965.

The portico of the original Barnard Castle station went to Valley Gardens at Saltburn in 1863, where it can still be seen. Much of the rest of the original building still survives nicely restored at 'Mayfield Court'.

Does anyone have any photographs of the goods yard and facilities at 'Barney' as part of a working railway? They used to be quite a busy place, but I suspect that it largely got overlooked by enthusiasts over the years in favour of the action at the other end of Montalbo Road.Maybe there are family photos in a box somewhere?

It would make a fascinating research project to model it in '0' gauge as a terminus in its original 1856 layout, populated by S&D 0-6-0's and 4 and 6 wheel coaching stock ...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Mysteries of Design

Mike Thompson sent me a copy of some old drawings this week that he had found in the archives on a recent trip to London. One of them I had already seen, and it showed the design of Kirkby Stephen East as it was built between 1858 and 1861 for the station to open for business. The other two drawings showed copies of this original on which other options for the trainshed roofs had been sketched. One of them reminds me a little of the old Guisborough Station.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway and its subsidiaries often made strange choices for station designs. They were very keen on single platforms for example, a feature of quite busy stations such as Barney and Crook. But I often think that the design of Kirkby Stephen is a real mystery.

Actually our surviving station was the result of a rebuild in 1883-4 when the central range of offices was retained but the roof was rebuilt and supported by the present outer stone walls rather than the original iron pillars that you can see in this 1864 engraving from the 'Herald'.

But why build a station with only a pedestrian access down two flights of stairs from the bridge? Surely even in 1858 it must have been obvious that there was a big advantage in being able to draw a horse and trap up at the station entrance to drop off luggage. They could have laid the station out in any way they liked on the site, and made a proper vehicle access rather than humping everything up and down those two flights of stairs that you can see in the background. It would be forty years before an electric lift was installed to solve this problem. Also , the ticket office was nowhere near the station entrance which must have caused confusion.

Why did the directors opt for this design? Your guess is as good as mine. It would be interesting to have a competition sometime for an alternative - a kind of 'Dream Team of Yesteryear' applied to station design!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

That white paint.

One of the issues that we face with the restoration of  Kirkby Stephen East is the removal of the white paint that has been applied to the stonework inside the building. It must have been done during the years that it was being used as a factory, presumably to make the space a bit lighter once the two ends of the trainshed had been sealed off with new partition walls.

Of course in those days the long term future of the building was something that nobody was even thinking about. But taking paint off stonework is a darn site harder - and more expensive! - than putting it on. Especially inside where it will never 'weather'. Painting onto stone is one of the worst things that you can do from the perspective of looking after an historic building. At least after twenty or thirty years it is now flaking a bit, and has developed a kind of 'historical' patina of its own. But soon we are going to have to find the funding to restore the range of buildings to their former and proper glory.

Where did the stone used to build the station come from? Perhaps there is someone that can tell us. It is a red Permian era sandstone but whether it is 'St. Bees Sandstone or 'Penrith Sandstone' I can't tell. There are quarries today further down he Eden Valley that produce similar material but this rock outcrops under parts of the town too - in fact this is the most southerly place it can be found in the district where it outcrops just above the brockram.

My personal guess is that it is local and that there was a quarry 150 years ago, perhaps somewhere to the west of South Road or the High Street. It is exactly the same stone as has been used for the Temperance Hall facade built in 1857 at almost exactly the same time as the station - perhaps the masons moved straight on from one job to the other.

Has anyone any information of guesses?

Friday, 8 April 2011

A lost perspective

I know that we have some readers from Barnard Castle here on the '150' Diary and I include this photograph of a long lost view with them in mind. Can you guess where and when it was taken?

Well, the location is 'Barney Woods' and it was taken at the bottom of the descent on the footpath down from the station end, just where it meets up with the path from the golf course and crosses the first small wooden footbridge on the way down to the Tees. In the background is Percy Beck Viaduct . If you look carefully just above the first arch on the right you can see the high post of the West Box home signal gantry - a terrifying climb for changing an extinguished signal lamp of a dark winter night with a gale blowing! A little further to the right is the rear wall of the West Box itself.

Yes, the photograph is of your's truly and my guess is that this is Spring 1958. Around that time the pine plantation at the top of this valley was clear-felled right down from beyond the viaduct to this point, where there was once a grove of very beautiful pine trees. Back then you could play in the crystal clear beck here. I'm not sure if that is still possible with the effluent that once flowed here from the 'Glaxo' plant although I would guess under current environmental laws pollution is now strictly controlled.

The dog was my grandmother's. She was called 'Shiela'. Actually even wire-haired fox terriers are a bit of a museum piece now, I can't remember the last time I saw one.

It would be interesting to know the whole history of the clearance and replanting of 'Barney Woods'. Back in the late 1950's clear felling reached this point and then stopped - I heard a rumour that it was because the owner had died. But then around 1961 cutting was resumed and the woods were clear felled right down to the Tees. Extraordinary to think that so recently so much amenity ancient oak woodland cut just be cut. So the current new planted woodland here is about fifty years old now. It has aged along with me.

Now that the trees have matured once more this view of Percy Beck Viaduct has vanished again. I wonder if it will still be there when the trees are harvested in about another century?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Signs of the Times

I had a copy of a press release this morning about an appeal we are making for funds to create and install a replica of one of the original Stainmore Summit signs at the original location before the 'Stainmore 150' celebrations in August. The project has already featured in 'Steam Railway Magazine' and sufficient cash has been raised to make a start on the project.

Remember the old signs on either side of the line at the summit? The A66 was a winding and windy old 'two-laner' in those days and you could see those signs in the valley below on either side of the line just to the west  of Stainmore Box. They were cut down in October 1962, with one now a part of the National Railway Museum collection and the other at 'Head of Steam', North Road, Darlington

The replica can only go ahead if the £5000 required to fund it can be raised through our public appeal. If we can raise the money Mr. Steve Davies MBE, Director of the National Railway Museum will publicly unveil the new sign on 27 August 2011. He has kindly offered to bring one of the surviving original signs from the National Railway Museum with him  for temporary display at the summit on the day alongside the replica, the first time since 1962 that the summit will have had its full complement of signs.

There is a touch of mystery to all this and being one of nature's 'natural policemen' I DO like mysteries. David comments that "we plan to add to the new photographic opportunities the sign will present at the summit by temporarily displaying another major Stainmore relic close to it; this will however depend entirely on the success of the appeal, and will only be revealed when we reach our £5000 target".

Can't be clearer than that! We'll only find out what that other Stainmore relic is if we contribute enough to make the replica sign dream come true.

Anyone generous enough to donate £10 or over will receive a special 'Stainmore 150' commemorative certificate acknowledging their valuable contribution to the re-birth of our railway over August Bank Holiday this year. Please make cheques payable to 'Stainmore Railway Company' and send to:
Stainmore Sign Appeal

Dr Sue Jones 
Secretary to Stainmore Railway Company 
1 West End 
TS21 2BW

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Model Railway News

I had some news in yesterday from Dave Burrows about the Model Railway Show that he is organising to take place at Kirkby Stephen East on Saturday June 4th. It follows on from last year's similar event and Dave tells me that this time there will be at least six layouts on show. These include 'Sabden Glen' (00), 'Great Western Terminus' (N), 'Mellor Shed' (00), 'Hazel Dell Holt' (N) and 'Upton Snodsbury' (N). Also on display - and operating if time allows - will be an '0' gauge Great Western layout 'Changford' built by the late Terry Gwinnett and gifted to the Stainmore Railway Company by his widow Kate.

Personally I am hoping that Mark Keefe & Co. have time to get 'Changford' working before the show! I have spent part of the winter building two NER '0' gauge kits myself, but whether I will have time to get them painted and running before June only time will tell.

Dave confirms that there will be at least two trade stands on the day too, catering for a wide variety of modeller's requirements.

If there are further updates I will post the details here. The event will be from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission will be £2 per adult, £1 for children. Look forward to seeing you on the day!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Taken 'short'?

Considering the severity of the gradients on both sides of Stainmore it is surprising that there weren't many more 'runaways' over the years with serious consequences. Just how many actually happened would make an interesting topic for research using the surviving signal box 'Occurrence Books'.

My granddad told me of one that he was once involved with, I would guess some time towards the end of World War II. He was working in 'Barney' West Box and one morning was letting the local goods 'pick-up' train out of the yard on a trip up to Hulands Quarry and Bowes. Once it was clear of the crossover on Percy Beck viaduct he 'pulled off' his home signal for an approaching trainload of mineral 'empties' bound for West Auckland. As luck would have it he noticed that the track circuit on the diagram above the lever frame suddenly showed 'line occupied' just a few seconds after he had cleared the signal - much too soon for a locomotive to be passing if the driver had been observing the signal at danger.

He got on the phone to the signalman in the East Box immediately and said "Get your gates open! We might have a runaway here!" And sure enough a few seconds later the J21 and trainload of empty wagons sped by - with nobody on the footplate! Like the 'Marie Celeste'!

The signalman on duty at the East Box legged it after that train as it started up the bank towards West Auckland. But running out of steam and facing a steep hill it soon slowed to a stop and he got onto the footplate, closed the regulator and got the tender handbrake on while the guard got some wagon brakes pinned down. He later had a letter from the 'management' grudgingly thanking him for his prompt action but pointing out that if he had been injured he wouldn't have been insured!

Some time later the driver and fireman showed up at Bowes signal box. Their 'story' - which they stuck to like glue - was that they had both been 'taken short' and suffered simultaneously from a severe bout of diarrhoea. And so they got away with it. But the general view around 'Barney' station at the time was that the pair of of them had either decided to try their hand at fishing in the Greta for a while or perhaps set a few snares to check out later and hadn't got the locomotive brakes properly secured or the regulator fully closed and the train had got away form them. One can only imagine their faces when that 0-6-0 started to roll and head off eastwards at speed.

We will never know the truth.

Monday, 4 April 2011


I wonder if there are any former evacuees who have memories of arriving in Kirkby Stephen via the Stainmore Line. Those still with us must be in late 'seventies' or 'eighties' already. Keith Richardson has kindly given me permission to feature some material here from his book 'Kirkby Stephen East - a Station Remembered' and the first time that I read his excellent history of the station a paragraph which he had written about evacuee children on page 182 caught my eye because as a child I had heard similar tales about children arriving at 'Barney' station.

Keith comments "During the early war years evacuees were sent to Kirkby Stephen. Special trains came from the Newcastle, South Shields and Barrow-in-Furness areas and I still remember children lined up in the Goods Yard  each with a label attached to his/her coat and equipped with a small suitcase and a gas mask. We locals leaned over the fence watching. Many were billeted in the town and the school was too small to accommodate the increased numbers. In consequence, extra classrooms were set up in the Friends Meeting House and the Wesleyan (now Methodist) and Baptist Chapels. I don't recall any particular problems arising because of the influx of these unfortunate children."

Being transplanted from Jarrow or Byker to Kirkby Stephen in 1939 or 1940 must have felt like travelling to a different country.

If you haven't already got a copy of Keith's book it is available from the station bookshop at £8.95, just call in at Kirkby Stephen East over the weekend. Or you can order it by post for £11.50 (inc.p&p,) Check the KSE website here for further details.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

And the old fella is coming with us ...

Mark Keefe has reminded me today that the last of this year's Stainmore Railway Company's slide shows will be be held on Saturday 23rd April. The title of the show is "And the old fella came with us" and it will be a journey around the Highlands of Scotland,  featuring some of Mark's 2010 material and also photographs taken by Neil Throxton in the 1950's. We are hoping for a good turnout with it being the Easter Show.  In fact Mark is going to have a busy weekend of it because I know that he is also marshalling at the Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally.

The event is at the Methodist Church Hall, 14 High Street, Kirkby Stephen (opposite the Spar). Admission is £2 and it begins at 7:30PM. There will be refreshments and a raffle. Come along for a good evening's entertainment. If you need any further information contact Mark at

Saturday, 2 April 2011


Images and memories of long vanished places are always interesting, they have a 'sense of mystery'. That is why so many of us love to read history. One 'vanished place' that has caught my imagination for a long time is the signal box and little community that used to exist on the Stainmore line between Bowes and the summit. When the line was working at full capacity in the 1880's and 1890's even after 'doubling' the track the slow progress of heavy mineral trains as they slogged it out up the bank still meant that the line couldn't handle the traffic. So the North Eastern Railway installed a new signal box at Spital about four miles west of Bowes. It was upstream from 'God's Bridge' - the fine cave feature spanning the River Greta.

The signal box first featured in the 1892 Working Appendix, the same year as the box at Belah. But as traffic fell off during the 1920's it was 'temporarily closed' in 1924 but then opened up again between 1927 and 1930. It is said to  have opened again briefly for wartime 'specials' in 1939 but was finally burned down in 1941. The signals and points remained in place until 1945, but by the time I first knew the railway there was no evidence left of the place.

There were also some cottages at Spital, used either by the signalmen or permanent way workers. It must have been a lonely place, down in the .head of the Greta valley under the brow of the hill and out of site of the main road running higher up the fell. But still home for someone for more than thirty years, perhaps the whole of someone's time working on the railway. Generations of kids must have tramped up the lane to go to school in Bowes

In all the years that I have studied the Stainmore line I have never come across a picture of Spital signal box or cottages but some must exist somewhere. Old 120 format Ilford bellows cameras were already becoming quite common in the 1920's. Has anyone seen such a picture? It would be nice to turn up a visual record of the locality to include in the Memorabilia Exhibition in August!

Friday, 1 April 2011


Some jobs you go through life thinking "I wish that I had done that!". In my generation of course it generally used to be "engine driver" and some of us eventually made it too on Britain's 'Heritage Railways'.

 But there was one job which as a youngster I wanted to do when I grew up because I knew and admired the gentleman who did it. Well, I never knew his real  name but his nickname on the railway was 'Nelson' and he lived in Bowes. Why 'Nelson' I don't know - perhaps he was in the navy during the War. I wonder if any of his family still live in the area?

Nelson worked as the 'trackwalker' for the Stainmore summit 'length. Every morning he would collect his light sledgehammer and catch the 07:14 train from Bowes arriving at Barras at 7:30. Then with his hammer over his shoulder he would walk the 10 miles 22 chains back to Bowes.

Of course for him it wasn't just the ten miles. His job was to check the track and knock back in all the loose oak  'keys' that held the bull head rail in the cast steel chairs. With the big ranges of temperature in the course of a day and the battering that they took from 21 ton mineral hopper wagons they were forever working loose. He needed to criss-cross the pair of tracks to check outside both the outer rails which must have lengthened his daily walk by half. Fifteen miles carrying a sledge hammer. Snow, rain, wind, shine. Every working day.

I used to chat to him when he came up into the Stainmore Summit box for his 'bait' by the stove around 11:30. He would thaw out and talk for half an hour as he ate his sandwiches and drank a pint mug of tea and then head off east down the bank towards Bowes again.

After one freezing snowy December morning walk up the track from Barras to Bleathgill with a crescent moon setting over the Vale of Eden and the early pink dawn light reflecting off the snow covered fields he confided in me that it was so beautiful and still that he thought for a minute that he must have died and gone to Heaven.