Station Name: HEXHAM
|Location:||North side of A695|
|Company on opening:||North Eastern Railway|
|Date closed to passengers:||Still open|
|Date closed completely:||Still open|
|Company on closing:||Still open|
|OS Grid Ref:||NY940643|
|Date of visit:||6.4.2009|
Notes: Hexham is on the Carlisle - Newcastle railway and is one of the oldest purpose built stations in the UK and is Grade II listed.
The station has an hourly service on weekdays to Carlisle and two trains per hour to Newcastle - one fast service (from Carlisle) calling at Prudhoe and the MetroCentre only and one serving most local stations that starts/terminates at Hexham. Many of the stopping trains continue on via the Durham Coast Line to Sunderland and Middlesbrough. There are also a limited number of through trains beyond Carlisle to Glasgow and Stranraer. Evenings and Sundays see an hourly service in each direction.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ALLENDALE BRANCH
In the 1850s major local lead producers and landowners campaigned for rail access, to enable metal to be exported efficiently, and good quality coal to be brought to the smelters from Tyneside. The Hexham and Allendale Railway route was surveyed in 1864. It received Royal Assent on 19 June 1865. The enabling Act permitted the section from Allendale Town to Allenheads to be omitted if financial or other problems were encountered. The North Eastern Railway was enthusiastic, subscribing £10,000 to the initial cost.
The Engineer, Thomas J. Bewick, faced the task of taking the railway from approximately 150ft to almost 800ft across hilly terrain. Much of the single-track route required cuttings or embankments, and curves as tight as 15ch radius. Trains would face a punishing gradient of up to 1 in 50 for the 7 ¾ miles from Border Counties Junction to Langley. A similar climb confronted trains from the southern terminus to Staward. The route was chosen to serve the smelter at Langley, and the terminus was close to another smelt mill at Catton. The Allenheads extension would include steep gradients, again up to 1 in 50, curves of 10 to 12½ chains radius, and substantial earthworks.
On 19 August 1867 the line opened to goods, minerals and livestock from Hexham to Langley, and to Catton Road - almost a mile short of Allendale Town - on 13 January 1868. Passenger services, provided by the NER, commenced on 1 March 1869 serving intermediate stations at Elrington, Langley, and Staward.
Signalling on the branch was unsophisticated. In the absence of signal boxes, ground frames, operated by the guard or porter, controlled passing loops at each station and permitted access to sidings.
For a little over 60 years a modest service of passenger trains operated. In 1920 there were three workings in each direction on weekdays, with an extra afternoon train on Tuesday (Hexham market day) from Hexham to Allendale and back: the service had changed little since the branch was opened. Thirty-three minutes were allowed for the Hexham to Allendale journey, and three minutes less for the return. Hexham-based 0-4-4 or 2-4-2 locomotives normally worked the trains. In 1910, a visitor was impressed by the quality of stock operating on the branch, consisting of elliptical-roofed two-bogie carriages, lit by electricity rather than gas.
Goods traffic included milk from a creamery near the terminus and from Bishopside Halt (between Staward and Allendale), lead products, livestock, fodder, timber, coal, and general merchandise. Stone was collected at a siding serving Glendue Quarry, northeast of Elrington. The lonely countryside offered little passenger business, and ticket sales were meagre: Elrington issued only 927 and Langley 2,976 in 1911. Staward’s total of 4,547 and Allendale Town’s of 10,691 did not approach half the issues at nearby Fourstones and Haydon Bridge. Ticket sales changed little by 1923, but by 1929 they declined by over 70%; branch station receipts fell by over 80%. In 1926 the economy was made of closing Elrington’s booking office. In June 1930 the LNER reviewed the finances of the branch and a memorandum to the Traffic, Works, and Locomotive Committees contained the following statistics.
The branch’s plight was emphasised by comparing receipts of the first quarters of 1929 and 1930: Allendale’s fell from £156 to £91; Staward’s from £38 to £21; and Langley’s from £13 to £9. The losses were unsustainable. Closure would result in an estimated loss of £1,685 revenue (including bookings to the line from Hexham and beyond) but savings in expenditure of £4,687. The breakdown of expenditure was:
After passenger closure it was expected that parcels and ‘miscellaneous passenger train traffic’ would not suffer appreciable loss of receipts, and that a parcels train would be introduced.
The review recognised that buses had caused the branch’s financial problems. Robert Emmerson ran buses at two-hourly intervals between Newcastle, Hexham and Allendale Town, via Haydon Bridge. Wharton’s buses plied at 75-minute intervals between Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Langley, Catton, and Allendale Town. The fastest buses equalled the train journey time, but linked the centres of Hexham and Allendale, rather than their inconveniently sited stations. Emmerson’s was a subsidiary of United, an Associated Company of the LNER, and the review assumed that a considerable proportion of the rail loss would accrue to that company. Herein lies a reminder that railway companies sometimes had a financial interest in what appeared to be their competitors. The review acknowledged hardship that closure would bring to Elrington ‘where the sparse population will have a little longer walk to the bus than they have at present to join the trains’.
In December 1929, having heard rumours of the closure of their branch, a deputation from Allendale approached the LNER General Manager to demand the retention of the service. It was pointed out to them that trains were poorly patronised and that, unless traffic increased, no assurance could be given that the service would continue. The review concluded that because of the marked decline in traffic ‘it seems clear that any complaints from the public regarding the withdrawal of the passenger train service can be readily dealt with’.
On 22 September 1930 passenger services ended, but goods traffic continued until 20 November 1950. The rails were lifted, and the Ordnance Survey One-inch map published 1956 showed a line remaining only from Elrington to Border Counties Junction. Much of the branch can be traced today. From Glendue Siding to Langley the trackbed is a footpath.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BORDER COUNTIES RAILWAY
On 11 August 1859 –by which time the BCR had opened from Hexham to Chollerford – an extension into Scotland was approved, to meet the North British Border Union Railway at Riccarton. This Hawick-Carlisle line, part of the Edinburgh-Carlisle ‘Waverley Route’, had itself been approved on 21 July 1859.
The North British, anxious to reach Tyneside, was prepared to help finance the Border Counties extension and operate the line. As part of this strategy the NBR Chairman was a board member of the Wansbeck Valley Railway, which obtained approval on 8 August 1859 for 25¼ –mile railway from the Border Counties near Bellingham to Morpeth, linking with the Blyth & Tyne Railway. This would allow NBR working between Scotland and New Bridge Street, Newcastle (opened 1864) without using NER metals. Access to the port of Blyth would also be obtained. However full running powers between Hexham and Newcastle were gained by the North British when the NER absorbed the N&C in 1863. The independent NBR route via Bellingham and Morpeth became unnecessary, and the planned junction with the Wansbeck Valley route, originally intended to be at Bellingham, was to be at Reedsmouth instead, and facing Hexham.
Enough land along the Border Counties line was bought for double track, and major masonry structures (except Border Counties Bridge) were built to double track dimensions and of excellent quality. However a single track sufficed. The line rose from about 120ft at Hexham to about 870ft approaching Riccarton, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 100. The difficult terrain required numerous curves and earthworks, and several viaducts. Border Counties Bridge, immediately north of Border Counties Junction, and east of the confluence of the rivers North and South Tyne, had four spans over the river, the wrought-iron girders carried 15ft above water level on cast-iron tubular piers, and smaller spans on the north bank. This bridge was subject to severe erosion, partly offset by the provision of cutwaters. Following the August 1948 floods, the southern span needed strengthening with timber props. After closure the piers and girders were removed. At Reedsmouth the five skew-arch Rede Bridge was of stone and 30ft high. Only the piers survive today. Kielder Viaduct was the line’s finest structure, 130yd long and 55ft high, and decorated with battlements to complement Kielder Castle. The design was remarkably complex. The skew-arches incorporated a system devised by Peter Nicholson, a Newcastle geometrician, whereby each stone was individually shaped. The viaduct is designated an Ancient Monument. A five-span viaduct (now demolished) crossed Dawstonburn, near Saughtree. Smaller skew-arch viaducts survive at Chollerford and Tarset.The first section, Hexham to Chollerford, opened to passengers on 5 April 1858. Four weekday and two Sunday trains ran each way. On 1 December 1859 the line opened to Countess Park, about 1¾-miles south of Reedsmouth. Bradshaw of December 1860 showed three Hexham-Countess Park weekday trains each way, the two return Sunday trains working only to to Wark. In February 1861 Countess Park closed when the line was opened to Thorneyburn. Onward, sections to Falstone opened on 2 September 1861 and Kielder on 1 January 1862. Riccarton was reached in April 1862, goods services being introduced in June, and passenger trains on 1 July 1862 to coincide with the opening of the full Waverley route between Carlisle and Edinburgh.
The final summer timetable (NE Region 1956) is reproduced below. The extra Saturday trains principally served Forestry Commission workers and families based at Kielder. Wall station is absent, having closed in 1955.Motive power was at first 2-2-2 and 2-4-0 tender engines, giving way to 4-4-0s and 0-6-0 working passenger and freight respectively. In LNER days some ex-NER locomotives were allocated. A variety of engines was used, including 0-6-0, 2-6-0, 4-4-0, and 4-6-0. In its closing years V1 and V3 tank engines and B.R. standard 76000 and 77000 series operated the line. Early rolling stock was of four-wheel and later six-wheel type. In later NBR days bogie coaches were introduced. In LNER days ex-NBR locomotives used on the Border Counties and Wansbeck / Rothbury lines continued to be repaired and overhauled at the Cowlairs (Glasgow) workshops. The LNER Southern Scottish area was responsible for providing carriages on the Wansbeck / Rothbury lines whilst the North Eastern area provided two three-carriage sets to work the Newcastle – Hawick services. The LNER used ex-NER clerestory coaches. After World War II corridor coaches were belatedly introduced -Gresley, Thompson, and B.R. Mark I. Whilst three coaches were regularly used at first, by the 1950s one coach often sufficed. DMUs appeared latterly on special trains, including ramblers’ excursions.
Goods traffic on the Border Counties included livestock –there were marts at Hexham, Bellingham, and Scotsgap- coal and coke, stone, lime, road chippings, cement, pipes, timber, and beer. (The Border Counties was known to some as ‘The Beer Line’!) In the 1930s the railway conveyed the seedlings from Aviemore for planting Kielder Forest. One interesting goods working on the Border Counties was a Tuesday-only meat train from Hawick dep. 1:00 pm, which was attached at Hexham to the 5:05 pm passenger train for Newcastle. Here it was attached to the Edinburgh to Kings Cross (East Yard) meat express, leaving Newcastle at 6:17 pm and reaching its destination at 1:02 am. In World War II military supplies were carried to training areas. Several sidings along the route served industrial premises. Acomb Colliery, east of the line, between Hexham and Wall had a branch by 1870 and operated until 1952. A little to north was North Tyne Colliery, with a branch and loop; this pit closed in 1922. Tramways extended into Cocklaw (south of Chollerton) and Barrasford quarries, and sidings handled their traffic. At Gunnerton a public siding was used from about 1890 to 1920 by a sawmill. Mill Knock siding near Countess Park served a quarry tramway at the time of World War I. In the early days a siding served a colliery and tile works west of Thorneyburn. Hawkhope Hill drift mine was served by a siding and tramway north of Falstone. In the 1860s-70s sidings served Bellsburn quarry one mile north of Kielder; Thorlieshope limeworks northwest of Deadwater; and Muirdykes quarry a further half-mile beyond. In addition mineral branches joined at Humshaugh and Plashetts stations.
Wall station closed in 1955, and the entire line closed to passengers on 15 October 1956. The final day of services was Saturday 13 October, when the 11:10 am Newcastle-Hawick, and its return working, were designated a ‘closure excursion’. The day’s final train was the Saturday-only 9.15 pm Hexham-Kielder Forest in which passengers could return to Hexham (arriving 12.30 am) in what was normally empty stock. (An excellent record of the last day’s trains was made on ciné film, and was compiled by the BBC into a fascinating programme Slow Train to Riccarton.) Existing bus services were available between Hexham and Bellingham. Beyond Bellingham, no bus operator was willing to provide a service for the scattered communities. However the British Transport Commission persuaded Norman Fox motors to run a replacement service with a subsidy for three years. Thus a service, using elderly United vehicles, was introduced between Bellingham and Kielder, extended to Deadwater and Steele Road station (Waverley Line) on Saturdays. Sadly, the TUCC file of correspondence regarding local dissatisfaction with the replacement buses is a weighty one!
Hexham-Riccarton goods services continued, and special passenger trains occasionally visited the line, the last being a ramblers’ excursion on 7 September 1958: goods traffic officially ceased several days earlier, on 1 September. Bellingham-Reedsmouth was retained for one goods train per week, accessed via the Wansbeck line, and supervised by Woodburn’s station master. Rails north of Bellingham and south of Reedsmouth were removed during 1959, and Border Counties Bridge was demolished, leaving the bases of the piers and cutwaters. The final Border Counties section closed entirely in November 1963, together with Reedsmouth-Woodburn. Two days earlier, a farewell DMU tour visited Bellingham, as well as Rothbury, which closed to all traffic at the same time. In 1964 Bellingham-Reedsmouth rails were lifted.The Border Counties offers much of interest to the railway archaeologist. Most stations, bridges, cuttings and embankments are intact, and even some minor structures can be seen, such as a platelayer’s hut near Tarset. However, in the late 1970s, seven miles of valley between Kielder and Falstone were flooded to create Kielder Water reservoir, and Plashetts station site is now below water.
Other web site: Northumbrian Railways - includes photographs of all the stations before closure plus station track plans. Railscot - includes recent pictures of all the stations on the line. Waverley Route Heritage Association
The Bellingham Heritage Centre has a large photograph archive of the Border Counties line with numerous artifacts from the line on display.
Click here for The North British Railway Lines in Northumberland
To see other stations on the Border Counties line click on the station name: Hexham STILL OPEN, Wall, Humshaugh, Chollerton, Barrasford, Wark, Countess Park, Reedsmouth (2nd site), Reedsmouth (1st site), Bellingham (North Tyne), Charlton, Tarset, Thorneyburn, Falstone, Plashetts, Lewiefield Halt, Kielder Forest, Deadwater & Riccarton Junction