Memories of the Wear Valley Railway in the late 1950's and 1960's
by Roy Lambeth

 

In my school days, My Father was the Durham County H.M. Inspector of Fertilizers and Feedingstuffs which meant that he had to visit every location in County Durham where fertilizers and animal foods were either manufactured, stored, sold in bulk or loose from open bags. Every site had to be regularly visited (about once every 6 weeks or so).

These sites included pet shops, garden shops, co-ops, warehouses and every railway station with a goods yard/shed.

In the school holidays I used to accompany Dad and spent many happy hours in Weardale.

In his position, Dad was well known by both the railway staff and both railway and local police and as such I had free escorted access to any part of the rail network where Dad was at work. As such I visited signal boxes, goods stations and steam engine footplates - hence my knowledge of Weardale.

In the days before Eastgate Cement Works, the Weardale Line had two daily freights. Each freight had its meal break at the old Stanhope Shed site (normally about 11a.m. and 4p.m.). The normal consist of the train was coal to depots at Wolsingham, Eastgate, Westgate and Wearhead, empty 16ton open wagons for stone from the quarries (Newlandside, Parson Byers and Greenfoot in my memory) and from Eastgate, plus rail traffic to and from Wolsingham Steel Works and the occasional covered van with supplies for the local co-ops.

The regular engine after the demise of the Class J21 was West Auckland Shed's Class J26 65735, later replaced by a Class J39 or Standard Class 3 also from West Auckland.

Over the years I rode the footplate several times, though I never managed to get to Wearhead, I got to St. John's Chapel once, Westgate in Weardale twice with 65735 and to Eastgate several times once with 65735 and the rest usually 76050, each time joining the train either at Stanhope Shed or Stanhope (1st station).

The Porter/Signalman at Westgate-in-Weardale was Ken Fairless who, before years on the railway had worked in the Barbery Lead Mine at Ireshopeburn (his son is now resident at Eastgate Station where he owns the site and the caravan site). Ken was a great character who knew a lot about both the railway history and the lead mining. When the railway was cut back to Eastgate Cement Works, Ken used the yellow 'Pease' bricks from 'his' signal box for a new garage for his car.

At Eastgate shunting was with the use of a steel rope. While Westgate or beyond was open, shunting was quite easy because the brake van was left on the main line and running round the train was done further up the valley, but after Westgate was closed the daily freights were reduced to one a day Monday - Friday and terminated at Eastgate Station, then shunting became difficult and went something like this:-

Arrive Eastgate loco, one covered van (vacuum braked and marshalled next to loco when loco was so fitted - J21, J39 & Standard Class3), one coal, two empty stone, Brake Van. Fly shunt 2 full stone from tipping dock to Goods Shed. Take whole train into siding and pick up full wagons. Deposit whole train on main line. Take fitted van past points and fly shunt it down siding.Take coal wagon past points and fly shunt it down siding. Take two empty stone wagons past points and fly shunt them down siding. Run loco back down to where it was adjacent to the two empties then fit wire rope to back of loco on main line and to front of empty wagons in siding and haul them up to tipping dock. Pick up brake van and full wagons and put them in siding. Return light engine to main line. Fit wire rope to back of loco on main line to front of brake van in siding and haul train up to tipping dock. Go into siding and pick up fulls plus brake van and return to main line. Fit wire rope to coal wagon and covered van in siding and to back of loco. Position van on loading platform outside goods shed and position coal wagon next to waiting coal lorry. Pick up wire rope and return to Stanhope. On occasions when the loco crew knew that Stanhope Station Master was away from his office the daily freight has been seen returning to Stanhope propelling the guards van and the full wagons (something tells me this practice was not allowed)

On one occasion I had a run on the Whickham PW Trolley from Westgate-in-Weardale to Wolsingham and back, but did not have camera with me, but I saw the goods loop at Cambo Keels with the Aerial Flight Tippler in situ years after it had ceased working and the signal box at the entrance to Greenfoot Quarry long after it was closed and the track lifted.

From memory (so it may not be completely correct) track was as follows in around 1960:-
Wear Valley Junction - Single line Junction with signal box (box open 24hrs/7days)

Witton-le-Wear - Gate crossing box with large signal box type name board and small one man hut (staff one signalman)

Harperley - derelict station with passing loop operated by ground frame and two platforms

Wolsingham Steel Works - private sidings access by ground frame

Wolsingham Station - long passing loop with two platforms, goods yard with coal drops at east end and signal box at west end (staff one porter/signalman called Ernie Dinsdale who later worked Witton-le-Wear Gate Box)

Broadwood - closed signal box with long disused siding (old Bishopley Branch access) and short private siding to lime kilns in quarry

Frosterley - passing loop removed with two platforms, branch into Frosterley quarry removed but quarry loco shed in private use (still survives in 2005), branch behind station house to Rogerley Quarry removed but easily found (bridge under A689 to the quarry still exists in 2005), siding for North Bishopley Quarry & Brown's House Quarry removed and in use as unmade road. No trace of a signal box.

Parson Byers - BR line into tippler at foot of incline in situ but disused (line still laid in road crossing 2005)

Stanhope Shed - yard complete with turntable pit, stone shed (no rails inside) water column and 3 sidings one with condemned wagons plus on other side of running line a branch into reception sidings at foot of incline to Newlandside Quarry (later taken over by caravan site) - This area is to the south of the river. North of the river - Stanhope signal box with 42 levers, branch into Stanhope 1st Station and platform plus long passing loop in Stanhope 2nd Station with two platforms (staff one signalman, one porter, Stationmaster, one parcel clerk)

Unthank Crossing (staff one crossing keeper occupying large house by crossing (2005 house survives as private residence)

Eastgate - single platform one long siding with central crossover from running line accessing goods shed and stone tipping dock (at either end of siding) operated by groundframe on platform

Cambo Keels - long passing/wagon storage loop with aerial flight tipping unit from Heights Quarry out of use

Westgate - signal box, passing loop, goods yard with coal dock and goods shed and single platform. One engine in steam working beyond station limits. Staff one porter/signalman/parcel clerk (Ken Fairless)

St. John's Chapel - end of working, single platform, small yard with goods shed and runround loop.
From here to Wearhead(single platform no staff) the line was closed and full of condemned wagons in store

In later years after the end of the daily freights, there were two cement trains daily. Firstly with Presflo vacuum fitted wagons then with the long wheelbase air braked tanks. There were about 42 of these tanks to a train and the sight and sound of a class 37 on dewey wet rails trying to restart the empties train at Unthank crossing was interesting to say the least. If I was up the valley early morning and saw the train coming I would open the gates so that they would not have to stop (gates were never locked and crossing keepers house was empty). In the 1980's access to Weardale was at Bishop Auckland Station and staffing consisted of Shildon Signal Box issuing a token to Bishop Auckland from where it was one engine in steam to Eastgate with only Witton-le-Wear Crossing manned.

Roy Lambeth 31.12.2005


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