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CHAPTER VI

 

THE WHITEHAVEN, CLEATOR AND EGREMONT RAILWAY

 

Like the Furness Railway further south, the Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Company owed its existence to iron ore.  In the first part of the 19th Century big deposits of haematite were discovered in the Cleator Moor and Egremont districts of West Cumberland, and by the 1840's they were being rapidly exploited.  Till the inception of the W. C. & E. the ore was carted to Whitehaven for shipment.

The Company was formed by the usual "committee of local gentlemen"  and once again Lord Lonsdale was a prime mover in the venture and naturally one of the directors.  Powers to construct a line from a junction with a branch from Moor Row to Cleator Moor and Frizington, were obtained in 1854.  The line was opened for goods traffic on January 11, 1855.

The Chairman of the Company was A. B. SEWARD (later a High Sheriff of Cumberland.)  MR. JOHN LINTON was Secretary; MR. A ROBSON, Locomotive Superintendent; and MR. ROBERT GIBSON, Auditor.  When opened, the line was single throughout.

At the meeting in August, 1855, it was revealed that in the first six months (January to June ) 50,000 tons of iron ore and 11,000 tons of coal and coke, etc., had been carried.  A dividend of 7% had been earned, but in view of excellent prospects for further extensions and developments of the line, it was decided to limit payment to 4%.  Meanwhile it was agreed to make plans for doubling the line to Moor Row as soon as possible and for this an additional sum of £ 20,000 would be required.  This amount was raised with ease the following year.

The engineer, MR.  DEES, also reported at this meeting that the railway would soon be in a fit state to take passenger trains, but he urged that proper passenger coaches should be obtained before any service was begun.  The Government Inspector had surveyed the line and approved everything, except that some "distant signals" had still to be erected.  All station buildings were completed, but additional siding accommodation was urgently needed at Corkickle for traffic exchange purposes with the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Company.  It was also agreed at this meeting to order an additional 50 iron ore wagons.

By 1857 an agreement was arrived at with the W. & F. J. for exchanging traffic at Corkickle.  Earnings had now risen to 8 3/4 %  and a 6 % dividend was paid.  Receipts had been £ 4, 800 in 1856 and now topped £7,000.  the net increase in earnings was £ 800.  by the end of 1857 the number of passengers being carried was averaging 1,500 a week.

The first passenger train service, which was initiated in the summer of 1857, provided a service of three runs in each direction between Egremont and Frizington, and Whitehaven.  At first the W. C. & E. trains ran through to Bransty station, by paying a toll of 1 / - per train to the W. F. J. R.  Later a dispute arose over this payment, and W. C. & E. passengers were forced to de-train at Corkickle.

At the Annual Meeting in 1858 the Locomotive Superintendent, MR. A. ROBSON, stated that all engines were to be converted from coke to coal burning:  this was completed in 1859.

During the next two years the little line prospered exceedingly.  In August, 1860, it was announced that plans were being prepared to extend the Frizington branch to Lamplugh (a further 4 miles)  in order to tap additional iron ore mines which were working and from which the ore was being carted to Frizington Station for loading.  Powers for this extension and the doubling to Moor Row from Mirehouse Junction, were to be sought immediately from Parliament.  The cost of the Lamplugh Extension was estimated to cost £ 50,000 and the doubling to Moor Row would require £20,000.  Receipts for 1859-1860 were up to £ 10,800 (£2,000 up on the previous 12 months)  and a 10% dividend was declared.

MR. ROBSON included in his report to the directors the information that "a new 3rd class coach"  was being built at Moor Row, and enlargements and improvements to the repair shops there were authorised.

The Bill for the Lamplugh Extension was approved by Parliament on June 7th, 1861.  About this time the travelling public on the W. C. & E. got pretty fed up over the dispute between the latter and the W. & F. J. over the payment for use of the Tunnel by W. C. & E. trains.  As already stated, the W. & F. J. charged 1 / - per train, but very soon the W. C & E. objected.  The W. & F. J. tried to compromise by offering to accept 6d., but the offer was refused and the W. C. & E. simply stopped all their passenger trains at Corkickle.  As there was rarely a connecting W. & F. J. train available through to Bransty, the public had to walk.  Much correspondence began to appear in the local press.  One gentleman thought that passengers might change into W. & F. J. trains at Mirehouse Junction (where a platform would require to be erected; ) but wondered whether this would be safe, since it was close to the foot of the dangerous incline down from Moor Row (1 in 52.)

Another correspondent wrote saying that the W. C. & E. only paid 2d. per full, and 1d. per empty train to the W. & F. J. for goods loads into Corkickle Exchange sidings.  Since the W. C. & E. ran 8,181 goods trains into Corkickle sidings during 1861, representing a tonnage of over 1,000,000, and paid the W. & F. J. £ 59 for so doing, he thought the W. C. & E. might pay the miserable 6d. a train for passenger runs to Bransty.  However, after a good deal of "hedging"  an arrangement was come to between the two concerns in 1864 for the joint use of everything between Mirehouse and Bransty.

In 1863 most of the doubling of the line as far as Cleator Moor was either completed or well in hand.  This was a notable year for the company.  Net profit had now risen to over £ 9,000 and a dividend of 15% was declared.  Powers were now sought and obtained to extend the Lamplugh line on to Marron Junction, on the Workington-Cockermouth section of the L. & N. W. R.  An additional £ 75,000 capital was raised for this purpose.

By the spring of 1864  the Lamplugh extension was opened to passenger traffic and it was announced that the electric telegraph had been installed on the line, chiefly at the instigation of the iron ore companies.  It had been put in for the sum of £56.  Owing to ground subsidences caused by mining operations a deviation line at Cleator Moor was commenced.

At the Annual Meeting in 1864 the first mention was made of the idea to build an extension from Egremont to join the W. & F. J. line south of St. Bees and give a southern outlet to the ever-increasing iron ore traffic.  In connection with the Egremont Branch, it is interesting to record that from the time of the inception of passenger traffic, a coach was run daily from Gosforth to Egremont to connect with the morning train into Whitehaven.  This coach returned to Gosforth from Egremont after the arrival of the late afternoon train.  On Sundays (when there were two trains in each direction)  the coach ran to and from Calderbridge village only.  MR. A. ROBSON was succeeded by MR. JOHN SANDERSON as Locomotive Superintendent and Engineer this year.

Throughout the next couple of years the Company continued to prosper, although a certain amount of depression in the iron trade caused the dividend to fall below the double figure mark.  Meanwhile the extension to Marron Junction was proceeded with and opened for traffic in 1866.  Powers were also obtained in that year for the extension to Sellafield, where the W. & F. J. R. (now part of the Furness system )  was to be joined.  The line was to be a joint affair with the Furness.  Joint use of the Bransty tunnel was now working smoothly and a start was made on the Bigrigg Mineral branch (about a mile long)  to tap additional iron ore mines.

The contract for the extension of the line from Egremont to Sellafield was let to MR. THOMAS NELSON of Carlisle.

During the next 12 months, the London & North-Western Railway made some tentative overtures to the W. C. & E. with a view to absorbing the junior company.  For the time being the efforts from Euston met with a rebuff.  At the Annual Meeting in 1867 the chairman (Mr. A. B. SEWARD)  remarked that the mighty North-Western considered that its shareholders did well when they got 5 1/2% on their money.  They (the W. C. & E.)  preferred to stand on their own feet and earn 10%.  This remark was greeted with cheers.  At the Annual Meeting in February, 1868, there was a bit of a rumpus over certain large sums of money due to the Company which were still outstanding:  chiefly from the iron ore companies for carrying charges.  Certain shareholders wanted a committee appointed to curb expenditure and check up on efficiency generally.  However, after a lengthy argument, the motion was washed out; the critics silenced and an 8% dividend paid.

In 1869 the extension to Sellafield was opened for traffic.

By 1873 the general all-round improvement in trade brought the dividends back above the 10% mark and in that year 12% was paid.  It was also decided to increase the goods and mineral rates: 7% on iron ore traffic and 11% on coal and pig iron.  The Company now had a new chairman, MR. HENRY JEFFERSON, of Bigrigg.  But soon after these increased rates were brought into force, the various local traders, and more especially the iron masters and colliery owners, began to complain about them.  This was natural enough, and no doubt the W. C. & E. were not surprised, or even unduly worried, for the time being.  Presently, they got a rude shock.  A move was made by the aggrieved trades to promote a new railway from Cleator district to join the L.M.W.R. north of Workington.  This was to run via Moresby Parks, Distington and Workington and thence to Siddick Junction, on to Workington to Maryport line.  Another branch was to strike north and link up with Maryport & Carlisle Railway on their Derwent Branch from Bullgill Junction to Cockermouth.  The W. C. & E. now got really worried.  They saw their substantial north-bound traffic being cut to ribbons by this new competitor.  When the Bill promoting the Cleator & Workington Company went forward, they offered the most strenuous opposition to it.

In the meantime powers were sought to construct a mineral branch from Ullock (on the Rowrah-Marron Junction extension) to Distington, where blast furnaces were established.  Know as the Gilgarron branch and taking its name from an estate through which it passed, the line was approved by Parliament in 1875, as well as the additional capital issue of £ 75,000 for constructional costs.  Soon after it was decided to extend this branch down the valley from Distington to join the Whitehaven-Workington section of the L. & N.W. R. at Parton.  Powers to do so were obtained to June, 1876.  The purpose of constructing the Gilgarron branch was three-fold.  Firstly, it was to provide a line to feed Distington Ironworks with ore from the mines in the Lamplugh area and at the same time to serve a new colliery at Wythmoor (between Ullock and Distington)  which was being developed.  Secondly, by the extension down to Parton, pig iron could be carried to Whitehaven harbour for shipment.  finally, the W. C. & E. had in mind the threat to their traffic from their coming competitor, the Cleator & Workington Railway.

By 1877 the latter company had become a reality and when the L. & N. W. R. renewed their overtures  regarding acquisition of the W. C. & E., the directors got really panic-stricken and decided to accept Euston's offer.  The following year the North-Western took over.  But the matter did not rest there.  The Furness Company took up the fight.  They bitterly resented the intrusion of the L. & N. W. south of Whitehaven and threatened, as stated in the previous chapter to build their own line into the Cleator district by making a railway from Seascale to Egremont, via Gosforth.  Now it was Euston's turn to get worried and the latter suggested to the Furness that the two companies might "get together" over a matter which after all was of equal importance to both.  The result was that in 1879 the W. C. & E. was acquired by the Furness and London & North-Western Companies.  This was done under the Whitehaven , Cleator & Egremont Vesting Act of 1878.  By this Act, the L. & N. W. R. provided the capital sum of £ 536,000 and the Furness became responsible to them for half the dividend thereon: the latter was fixed at 10% in perpetuity.

The last meeting of the Whitehaven, Cleator  & Egremont Railway Company was held in February 1878.  In his final speech the chairman ( MR. HENRY JEFFERSON) said that after all financial matters had been settled up and all accounts paid, there remained a credit of £ 2,417 17s 6d.  They proposed to use this money to pay a final dividend of 1 1/6%.  This would leave a sum of £ 323 still to be disposed of.  One of the shareholders suggested that this sum might be spend on a piece of plate to be presented to the chairman and vice-chairman (MR. MUSGRAVE,)  but after some discussion it was decided that the money should be divided equally among all the directors.  The chairman then thanked all concerned for their kind gesture and intimated that the money would no doubt be handed over to some charitable institution, possibly one of the local hospitals.

Thus one of the most prosperous of Britain's "little railways"  in the Victorian era passed out of existence.  Starting with an initial capital of £ 66,000, the figure had grown to £ 713,600 in 1877.

When taken over by the London & North-Western and Furness Companies, the W. C. & E. Comprised 22 miles and 46 chains of railway (reduced to single track.)  The stations between Whitehaven (Corkickle ) and Marron Junction were Moor Row, Cleator Moor, Frizington, Eskett, Winder, Rowrah, Wright Green, Ullock, Branthwaite and Bridgfoot.  Later the names of Eskett and Wright Green were changed to Yeathouse and Lamplugh respectively.  Between Moor Row and Sellafield the intermediate stations were Woodend, Egremont and Beckermet.  Between Corkickle and Rowrah and between Woodend and Egremont, the line was double track.  Gradients on the system were generally severe and are described in Chapter XIII.

Just before the absorption into the L. & N. W. R., £100 of W. C. & E. stock was valued at £ 170 after the big company took over this figure shot up to £ 245.

The Secretary to the Company, thoughout its existence, was MR. LINTON who, rather ironically, went to fill a similar post with the Cleator & Workington Company when the W. C. & E. went out of existence.