Saturday, 2 April 2011

Spital

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!

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