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The Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway


Prior to 1866, the section of the Furness Railway northwards from Foxfield Junction to Whitehaven led an independent existence as the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway.

In the early years of the 19th Century, Cumberland was ahead of North Lancashire in railway development.  Before the construction of the Furness Railway had begun, the Maryport & Carlisle Railway Company had been formed and the construction of the Whitehaven Junction Railway from Whitehaven to Maryport had been started.

The chief reason for Cumberland's lead was the enterprise of William, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale.  Owning a number of coal mines in Whitehaven (as well as a considerable amount of land in and around the town,)  he was anxious to open up communications between his mines and other parts of the country by all possible means.  The idea of "rail-ways" was no unknown in Whitehaven, for as early as 1738 iron rails had been laid on the "wagon-ways" over which the coal chaldrons were run from the pits down to the ships in the harbour.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the railway development of West Cumberland was the great personal friendship between the Earl of Lonsdale and George Stephenson, the great railway engineer.  It was on account of this friendship that Stephenson was appointed as Consulting Engineer to the Whitehaven Junction Railway.  As early as 1836, Stephenson had formulated a scheme for a coastal line from Cumberland down into Central Lancashire.  This was to be known as "The Great West Coast Railway."  In its conception the famous engineer not only \showed the magnitude of his planning, but also proved that he was at least 100 years ahead of his time with his ideas.  From the sketch map on page 8 it can be seen that Stephenson proposed to bridge both the Duddon Estuary and Morecambe Bay.

At a Public Meeting held in Whitehaven on April 21st 1838, and attended by the :residents of Cumberland and Furness: the full details of the great railway scheme were revealed, and one of the resolutions passed by the meeting makes interesting reading: her it is:

" That from the opinion of scientific persons of great intelligence, expressed in documents and in correspondence now read, the West Cumberland Line is not only more eligible as a connecting line between England and Scotland, than the mountainous line via Shap, but the crossing of Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary by an Embankment ( the greatest difficulty to be encountered on the line)  is a work certainly practicable and easy of execution under the direction of able engineers practised in such under-takings."

It was also announced at the above meeting that a sum of £ 880 had been raised by subscriptions to pay for a survey of the route.  The surveyor employed was a London engineer named Hague, who had carried out a 36,000 acre drainage scheme in the Fen country between Ely and Kin's Lynn, and was felt to have had the right type of experience for the survey now to be undertaken.

MR. HAGUE reported favourably, going so far as to offer to undertake to build the Duddon and Morecambe Bay crossings "off his own bat"  - provided the promoters would make him a present of half the re-claimed land which would result.  As the full amount of the latter was estimated at 52,000 acres (46,300 in Morecambe Bay and 3,700 in Duddon,) MR. HAGUE evidently thought he was on a good thing!

The cost of the two crossings were put at £ 362,861 for Morecambe Bay and £ 71,270 for the Duddon Estuary.  MR. HAGUE allowed in his estimate for tide gates on the Bay embankment and the re-direction of the Leven and Crake rivers to form a shipping basin close to the entrance to Ulverston Canal.  The lengths of the embankments were to be 10 miles 51 chains and 1 mile 65 chains respectively.

This report was received on December 1st, 1838 and acclaimed as satisfactory, but as time went on it was found impossible to raise what seemed a huge sum for those days, and this plan had to be abandoned.  Even to-day, nearly 110 years later, the Duddon Crossing has never got past the talking stage, and the Morecambe Bay project is as remote from realisation as the Channel Tunnel.  Some years before the World War a wonderful "new" plan for a West Coast Main Road which followed in line of Stephenson's West Coast Railway was produced and given much publicity in the North-Western press.  There was nothing new about it, as it was merely Stephenson's original plan in road form.

But the return to the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway.  As already stated, George Stephenson had been appointed Consulting Engineer to the Whitehaven Junction Railway to Maryport, and in 1844 he visited West Cumberland.  Riding over the countryside south of Whitehaven with the Earl of Lonsdale (who had been a keen supporter of the original West Coast Railway plan,) the famous engineer pointed out its suitability for building a railway to the south to further the development of the mineral wealth of the area.  Stephenson succeeded so well in impressing the Noble Earl with his arguments that His Lordship shortly afterwards formed a committee of "local gentlemen" and issued the first prospectus of the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway.  The Act incorporating the new company was dated April 21st, 1847, and the shares were rapidly taken up.  Unfortunately a trade slump set in shortly after the incorporation and this was followed by the great "railway panic" and for a time the outlook for the new line looked gloomy.  The directors were advised to take advantage of the Joint Stock Companies Act, as the line would never pay.  In spite of this Lord Lonsdale, who was chairman of the company, and his directors refused to be deterred and the construction of the line commenced in 1847.

The original starting point was the Newtown station at Preston Street, Whitehaven, which was later altered to the present goods depot.  From there the route followed was the same as to-day with the same stations, except that Millom and Green Road were known between Bootle and Silecroft, and at Kirksanton, between Silecroft and Millom: these were used on market days only.  From Holborn Hill it was originally proposed that the railway should be carried across the Duddon estuary on an embankment and bridge to Ireleth, near Askam.  Here a junction with the Furness line to Kirby-in-Furness was to be made.  However, as construction proceeded the Duddon crossing was again found to be too costly and additional capital for the scheme could not be raised.  The original plan was therefore modified and the W. & F. J. was continued from Holborn Hill along the northern shores of the Duddon to join the Furness line at Broughton-in-Furness.  By taking this course, only a short viaduct across the River Duddon at the top of the Estuary near Foxfield was required.  This was built to timber and was always know locally as :the spile bridge."

MR. DEES was the Engineer and the Contractors were MESSRS. FELL, JOPLIN, RIGG & BROTHERTON.  The line was single throughout,  apart from passing loops at the stations.

On July 1st 1850, the section from Whitehaven to Bootle was opened to public traffic.  A service of four trains each way on weekdays and two each way on Sundays was provided.  There was also an additional weekday evening trip from Whitehaven to St. Bees and back and a Sunday afternoon run to Sellafield and back.

Of the trains provided, the 9.30 a.m. from Whitehaven and the 4.35 p.m. from Bootle were the "crack" runs.  Each took 75 minutes to cover the 20 miles, including eight stops.  These two trains gave connections to and from Preston, Liverpool and Manchester.  These Lancashire cities were reached by taking a coach from Bootle to Broughton-in-Furness; Furness train from there to Piel Pier, and steamer fro Piel across Morecambe Bay to Fleetwood from whence rail travel was again resumed.  Preston was reached at 6.45 p.m.; Manchester at 8.50 p.m., and Liverpool at 9.0 p.m.

In the north-bound direction there was no connection shown from Manchester; but departures from Liverpool and Preston were at 5.30 a.m. and 7.15 a.m. respectively.  Arrival time at Whitehaven was 5.50 p.m.

In both directions connections were given to and from Carlisle, Maryport and Workington, via Whitehaven.  These two trains carried 1st and 2nd class passengers only.

Of the other three trains in either direction, two each way were described as :mineral and 3rd class.:  They required slightly over two hours to do the journey and were probably a counterpart of a modern :roadside goods: with a few 3rd class coaches attached.  The remaining trip up and down the line was :1st and 2nd class and goods.:  This took 1 1/2 hours and gave connections to and from the North only.

On Sundays no connections to places outside the system were given, except off the afternoon trip from Sellafield to Whitehaven.  This train enabled passengers to reach Carlisle the same evening.

The tunnel from Corkickle to Bransty Station at Whitehaven was not completed until 1852.  Up to then there was a "break" between Preston Street terminus and the Whitehaven Junction line at Bransty, although there was a physical link between the two systems.  This was in the form of a mineral line which ran from the back of Preston Street through the Whitehaven Market Place on the West Strand of the Whitehaven harbour.  In order to reach Bransty station by this line a double reversal was necessary; once on the West Strand, and again at the northern end of the dockside line back into Bransty station.  That portion of the track which ran through the Whitehaven Market and also threw off a short spur to serve what was then a flour and corn mill, was not removed until after the 1914-1918 War,  although it had been disused for many years previously.  In any event this dubious method of getting by rail from one station to the other was never used by passenger trains; the purpose of the line being for the transportation of iron ore and pig iron to the harbour for shipment from the Cleator district mines and furnaces.

During 1850 the construction of the line to Broughton was pushed on vigorously and after being duly inspected by the Board of Trade Inspector on October 28th, the W. & F. J. was opened through its length.  The connection with the Furness at Broughton was not "end-on" but an inverted "y," with the tail of the letter pointing towards Consiton.

The following is an extract of an account which appeared in "The Whitehaven Herald,"   of November 2, 1850, describing the opening trip made by the directors and their friends over the line:

"The Whitehaven & Furness Line, as we have said, having been surveyed and approved by the Government Inspector, was opened on Tuesday last.  The event was celebrated by a select party of some sixty gentlemen, invited by the Chairman of the Board, the Earl of Lonsdale, and the Directors.  The greater number, including the Noble Earl and his co-directors, started from the Newtown Station, Whitehaven, at half-past 9.a.m.  The morning was beautifully fine, and the party, snorting fire-horse, rattling carriages and all went on their way rejoicing.  The valley of St. Bees, other than which there is no lovelier, passed in an eye-twinkle.  At. St. Bees the company was joined by the Rev. Canon Parkinson.  Then onward flew the firmly-linked, safe-going train, as if conscious of its thrice precious burden - the local Caesar and his fortunes, the civic and patrician heads of Whitehaven, and the learned and reverend Head of the College of St. Bees."

A description of the line throughout its length to Broughton follows, written in similar strain.  At the southern terminus of the railway, a band of musicians and flying colours greeted the arrival of the train and the scene is thus described:

"A pretty triumphal arch of evergreens had been erected in front of the station and the road thence to 'The Old King's Head,'  where 'mine host'  TYSON rules the Roast, was decorated with garden and forest spoils of similar character."

Shortly after the arrival at Broughton of the Special from Whitehaven, a Furness "Special"  also steamed in from Furness Abbey.  This brought the EARL OF BURLINGTON, his youthful son LORD CAVENDISH, the HON. FREDERICK HOWARD and other gentlemen.  They also repaired to the "Old King's Head"  to join the Whitehaven party.  Here, in the words of the press report:

" A sumptious dinner was on the table at 1 o'clock, prepared with all the culinary tact and skill which have made MRS. > TYSON one of the most popular landladies, whilst wines, including champagne of equally good quality followed in abundance." 

In his speech on the future of the W. & F. J. R., LORD LONSDALE referred to the proposed Ulverston and Lancaster Railway which would give his company access to the south, via the Furness metals.

After dealing with the early difficulties of his own concern, the Noble Earl said he was glad to learn that there was a strong feeling in favour of other lines to join theirs and the Furness.  One of these was the Coniston and other, crossing Morecambe Bay, to the Lancaster and Carlisle line.  The shortest line would be the best and it would cheer the company present to know that there was now enough money to complete the last-mentioned-a line of very great importance - as it would open up the district to the trade of West Yorkshire and the East of Lancashire.

After referring to the mineral wealth of the area served by both companies, LORD LONSDALE proposed to toast "Success to the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway,"  which was drunk with " a hearty three times three."

After this opening "beano,"  the return trip to Whitehaven was accomplished in one and -a-half hours, the speed being 34 m.p.h. (excluding stops.)

With the completion of the line to Broughton the timetable was revised.  Between the two ends of system there were three trains each way on weekdays.  One was still for 1st and 2nd class passengers only and gave connections to and from the South as before.  The times were however altered;  the morning train from Whitehaven now leaving an hour later at 10.30 a.m. and the corresponding train from the South leaving Broughton at 12.15 p.m. instead of 4.45 p.m.  2 1/2 hours were required by these two trains for their journey.  The other two trains in each direction carried all classes of passengers and required times varying between 3 and 3 1/2 hours to complete their journey.  The additional trip on weekdays to and from Sellafield was now extended to Drigg.  There were two up and down trains over the line on Sundays.  Each train still called at all stations.  By the time it is believed that a goods train ran over the system in each direction daily.  Time tables for 1850 are reproduced below.

Having now achieved its main objectives; a junction with the Furness Railway and the hopes of a through connection to the Lancaster & Carlisle line at an early date, the W. & F. J. settled down to try and earn a respectable dividend for its shareholders.  But for the first 10 years of its existence the company had a hard struggle to keep on an even financial keel.  The reason for this was not far to seek.  Although the mineral traffic to Whitehaven harbour was considerable, the length of its haulage by the W. & F. J. was very short: only from Corkickle (where it was received from the Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway) to the harbour, via the Whitehaven Market Place track.  Apart from this there was only the somewhat small amount of agricultural traffic which could be derived from the sparsely populated area to the south.  (This was in the days before the establishment of the blast furnaces at Millom.)

Boring operations for the tunnel from Corkickle to Bransty Station, Whitehaven, commenced in 1850 .  Single track, and 1,333 yards long, it was opened two years later.  Throughout its length it passes under the Grounds surrounding the Whitehaven Castle (now the local hospital.)  There are four air-shafts and the tunnel was originally lined with local freestone.

With the opening of the tunnel, direct connection, without the need for a double reversal, was given via the Whitehaven Junction line to the North.  A certain increase in traffic followed and also much closer relations between the W.& F.J. and the W. J. R. resulted.  Thus in 1854 the two companies arranged for the joint use of all rolling stock.  A year later Preston Street (Newtown) became the joint goods station of both concerns and Bransty the joint passenger terminus.  In 1860 The Lowther Hotel became the General Office of both companies.

Southwards from Whitehaven things were not so satisfactory.  It was still necessary to take the steamer from Piel to Poulton-le-Fylde to reach the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway and Preston.  So for the first half-dozen years as a completed railway, the W. & F. J. returned no dividends to its shareholders who preferred to forfeit rather than pay the calls that were made upon them.  The first gleam of hope came in 1858, when a dividend of 1 1/2 was declared.  From then onwards, the company prospered steadily.  The Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway was now completed and brought a heavy flow of iron ore traffic, while the opening of the Ulverston & Lancaster Railway completed the link to the South.

In 1858 through bookings from Whitehaven to London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Preston were instituted and on the 11-15 a.m. "express" to the South, a "through conductor"  accompanied the train as far as Lancaster.  This new  "express"  got to Broughton in 1 hour and 35 minutes, with 7 intermediate stops.  On the goods side, a through mineral train to South Staffs. was instituted.

The volume of traffic being carried when the line became a dividend paying concern, can be judged from the Financial Returns for one week during February, 1861:

1st class passengers           107

2nd class                            361      

3rd class                            348

Parliamentary                   647


Total                                1,443


Passenger Revenue       £ 133

Goods Revenue             £ 477  


Week's Total                 £ 610

By 1864 the financial position of the Company was so strong that the question of the Duddon crossing was again revived.  As the first parliamentary powers had lapsed, a new bill was introduced.  At the same time, the Furness company entered the field with a similar scheme.  The latter no doubt had their eye on the traffic from the Hodbarrow iron mines and the newly-established ironworks at Millom.  Not unnaturally the W. & F. J. directorate resented this move by the Furness.  In their report to the shareholders in 1864, which dealt with the question of the Duddon crossing, the following paragraph appeared:

" We regret to find that the Furness Company, with whom we have hitherto been in amicable relationship, have also deposited a bill for the same purpose, thus proposing to invade the territory which legitimately belongs to this company."

The result of the Furness counter-scheme was a lengthy legal battle during which the W. & F. J. adopted the attitude of : injured innocents,"  pointing out that the Furness were seeking to gain the Millom iron traffic for the benefit of Barrow harbour at the expense of both Millom and Whitehaven. Eventually the Whitehaven company won the fight, but as events turned out it was a wasted effort; for in 1866 the Furness offered to take over the W. & F. J. on an 8% basis.  This offer was accepted by the shareholders.  The Furness also took over the obligation to carry out the Duddon crossing.  Thus the little Whitehaven company, after 15 years' existence during which time it passed from poverty to prosperity, became the "northern artery" of the Furness system.

Before dealing with the locomotives of the W. & F.J., a few details of the line itself and the methods of working will be of interest.

As already stated, the original passenger and goods station at Whitehaven was situated at Preston Street.  The latter was close to that part of the borough known as "Newtown."  Hence the terminus was usually known as the "Newtown station."There were no engineering feats of note between Whitehaven and Broughton, apart from the viaducts over the rivers Calder, Mite and Esk; and the "spile"  bride over the Duddon near Foxfield which has already been mentioned.  The latter had 50 spans and was 592 yards long.  During the making of the line between Ravenglass and Eskmeals the course cut across the corner of an ancient Roman fort and quite a number of relics, including fragments of Roman Samian ware pottery were unearthed.  The maximum gradient was only a short length (12 chains) of 1 in 307 between Drigg and Ravenglass.  As already stated, the line was single throughout, with passing loops at all stations except Braystone.

Little is know of the signaling arrangements, but they were no doubt of a primitive character, especially as the line carried only light traffic in the early years of its existence.  No serious accidents occurred, but there were several minor ones which might have had more serious consequences than they did.

The crash which involved the death of the fireman of the 2-2-2 well tank "Oberon" is narrated in Chapter IX.  This happened between Broughton and Foxfield.

The tunnel between Corkickle and Bransty was the scene of a collision in August, 1866.  All trains working through the tunnel were worked by a special Pilot engine, known right down to 1923 as "the tunnel engine."  As an added precaution a special "pilotman"  was employed at Corkickle whose duty was to give the "right-away" to all trains entering the tunnel.

On the occasion of the accident a mineral train had left Corkickle en rout for Maryport and when half-way through the tunnel the train parted.  The driver of the engine was apparently unaware that anything had happened and went on, leaving several wagons and the guard's van behind.  The normal time interval having elapsed, Pilotman R. JOHNSTON gave the morning train from Foxfield to Bransty permission to proceed from Corkickle.  Half-way to Bransty the passenger train collided with the guard's van and wagons which still stood in mid-tunnel.  The driver of the train engine, TOM SHIPPEN, was badly scalded and sustained other injuries.  He did not work again.  His fireman, who was probably riding on the front buffer beam to drop sand on the greasy tunnel rails, was killed outright.  Several passengers were injured, but none fatally.  The force of the impact on the stationary wagons was probably all the greater as trains did not slow up on approaching Bransty as they did in modern times.  The practice then was to run right through beyond the site of the modern Furness platform and then reverse back into what is now Bransty carriage shed:  this was the original Whitehaven Junction Railway terminus.  The 2-2-2 well tank "Oberon"  was again the engine involved in this accident.

Prior to this collision, several goods trains coupled together were often worked through the tunnel.  This dangerous practice was now stopped.

In the same year (1866) the 0-6-0 Goods engine "Lonsdale" came off the rails at Ravenglass.  She was shunting coal wagons into the depot sidings, the points for which were "propped open."  Having completed shunting operations, "Lonsdale" picked up her train and set off for Whitehaven.  Unfortunately the points for the depot siding were still "propped open" and the engine, with her train, ran back into the siding and over the end of it before she stopped.  A wagon containing 20 sheep which was attached next to :Lonsdale" went "over the top" as well.  The driver, fireman and guard, all three of whom were on the foot-plate, were badly scalded.  The sheep all escaped.  A temporary track was laid to get "Lonsdale" back on the line, little the worse for her mishap.

Before the closing of Preston Street station to passenger traffic, a very happy-go-lucky method of handling incoming traffic was employed.  All trains were stopped about 500 yards short of the platform.  The engine was then uncoupled and ran forward into a short spur siding.  The guard of the train then released his brake, which he had screwed down tightly after the engine first stopped, and the coaches then "coasted" down the slight incline towards the platform. The engine then reversed out of the siding and came forward again to propel the train into the station.  An accident, probably due to the failure of the guard's brake, caused this risky practice to be abandoned.

Although no details of telegraphic communication over the line as a whole are available, it is definitely established that "a telegraphic wire" was laid through Whitehaven Tunnel when it was first opened in 1852.  In his speech to the shareholders of the W. & F. J. in 1853, at the annual meeting, Lord Lonsdale spoke of various items of extraordinary expense which had been met with during the past year and added:

"The Telegraphic Wire through the tunnel has cost £100 for repairs during the year.  It ha again failed and I am of the opinion that it should be allowed to remain out of action as it is an expensive item which can very well be done without."  Little is know of the coaching and goods stock.  Probably they were much the same as any other to be found on similar railways of the same period.

The engine sheds and repair shops were also at Preston Street and were enlarged to accommodate the Whitehaven Junction locomotives after the 1855 agreement.  There was also a small shed at Broughton-in-Furness which housed one passenger and one goods engine.

From the time of the opening of the Whitehaven, Cleator & Egremont Railway a very heavy traffic in iron ore and pig iron was handled by the W. F. J. from Corkickle sidings down to Whitehaven harbour (there was no dock until 1876.)  In the early '60's it was common for three to four hundred "tip" wagons of iron ore to be discharged into shipping at the harbour "jetties," in 24 hours.  All this traffic went via the Market Place track, and if any wagons required to be worked over this line after dark, horses were employed for haulage instead of locomotives.  The "tip" wagons used for this traffic had small wooden buffers and in order to deal with them all the larger W. F. J. locomotives had an additional small set of buffers fitted inside and slightly below the standard pair.

The first Locomotive Superintendent of the railway was MR. WILLIAM MEIKLE, who came from Surrey.  With him came MESSRS. WILLIAM CURTIS, JOHN HOPE, EDWARD HOPE, JOHN CROOK and ROBERT EDWARDS.  These five men were the first engine drivers on the line.  In 1864 MR. ROSE succeeded MR. MEIKLE as Locomotive Superintendent.  He retired in 1866.  His son, MR. EDWIN ROSE, was then appointed Locomotive Superintendent at Whitehaven shed by the Furness.  Here he remained until 1880, when he was given a similar post at Moor Row which he held until his retirement.  MR. ROSE died in 1924 in his 83rd year.