Station Name: HEXHAM
Hexham Station is still open but is included for completeness

[Source: Alan Young]

Date opened: 10.3.1835
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
Present state:

Still open

County: Northumberland
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.

From Hexham (Border Counties Junction) this 12¼ mile branch climbed from the Tyne valley through sparsely populated uplands, to Catton in the East Allen Valley.  The railway was built as an outlet for the lead smelters that thrived in the mid-19th Century. From 1835, Haydon Bridge station on the Newcastle-Carlisle railway was the link to the outside world.  Lead, mined in the local hills and smelted at Allenheads, Langley, or near Allendale Town, was conveyed along cart tracks to the station.  However, as foreign competition grew, a cheaper means of transporting the metal was sought.  The first attempt to provide rail access failed; in 1846 Parliament rejected the Wear Valley Extension Railway’s proposal to link Frosterley (Weardale) and Alston, with a branch to Allenheads.

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.

Hopes for lucrative mineral traffic quickly faded.  By 1870 the lead industry was declining.  Jobs in mines and smelters were lost, and the population drifted away.  The smelters at Langley and Allendale had closed by the mid-1880s, and only one important lead mine (near Allenheads) survived until World War I.  The population of Allendale parish fell from 6,401 in 1861 to approximately 2,000 in 1911.  In this harsh economic climate, the

Hexham Station in 1836
Allendale Town extension (and the further 7 miles to Allenheads) was not attempted. The struggling Hexham & Allendale was bought out by the NER on 13 July 1876.  Although the NER surveyed an extension into Allendale Town in 1898 – the intended terminus if the Allenheads section was abandoned - the railway progressed no further than Catton Road, and that year the terminus was renamed Allendale.

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. 

Passengers Booked
Receipts £

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:

Locomotive power £2,317
Guard    £185
Carriages  £542
Cleaning, lighting, heating, oiling  £184
Station staff £792
Engineer: permanent way maintenance £667 
One G.5 tank locomotive and 106 coach seats would be released.

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.


To see other stations on the Allendale branch click on the station name: Elrington, Langley, Staward, Bishopside Halt & Allendale


This 42-mile, single-track railway began at Border Counties Junction, west of Hexham. It followed the North Tyne to its source at Deadwater, the scenery changing from rich pastures to wild moorland beyond Bellingham. Entering Scotland at Deadwater the line continued several miles to meet the ‘Waverley Route’ at Riccarton Junction. The surrounding countryside was sparsely populated: Bellingham (1,200 inhabitants) was the largest place served. From the 1920s much of the moorland was transformed by the planting of Kielder Forest, a huge blanket of conifers. Until recently, when the Galloway Forest exceeded its extent, it was the largest artificially-planted forest in Great Britain 

The North Tyne valley was recognised, but rejected, as a possible Anglo-Scottish railway route by a Commission of 1839.  In 1846 the Newcastle & Carlisle unsuccessfully proposed a Hexham-Bellingham-Woodburn branch to join the projected Newcastle, Edinburgh & Direct Glasgow Railway.  However on 31 July 1854 the Border Counties Railway, chaired by local landowner, W H Charlton, obtained consent for a Hexham-Bellingham-The Belling (near Falstone) line. The project engineer was J F Tone, and William Hutchinson was contractor.

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.

In 1863 the Border Counties had four weekday and two Sunday trains in each direction taking approximately two hours for the 42-mile trip. By 1870 the service was reduced to three weekday trains.  Even in 1863 certain trains omitted some station calls; in 1870 Saughtree and Thorneyburn had fewest trains.  Thorneyburn had only one request stop in each direction on Saturdays and was relegated to the footnotes.  By 1910 the three weekday trains were supplemented by a Saturday train at 2.15 pm (Bellingham-Hexham) and a 7.00 pm (Hexham-Bellingham). A mid-afternoon return service from the Wansbeck Valley worked between Bellingham and Reedsmouth.  Now Thorneyburn enjoyed only a Tuesday service with a southbound departure at 7.24 am and northbound at 12.50 pm allowing a visit to Hexham market.  The 1943 timetable still showed three weekday trains -with a daily service each way calling at Thorneyburn- but no extra Saturday workings. A W Stobbs (1992) provides a fascinating analysis of Saturday-only trains from 1944, highlighting a surprising amount of non revenue-earning empty stock movements, which must have been far from economic!

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.

In 1945 signal boxes were in operation at each of the stations with loops (Wall, Wark, Reedsmouth, Bellingham, Falstone, and Kielder) with a gate box at Barrasford. Plashetts box had closed in 1925 whilst that at Wall would perish in a fire in 1955. Until closure North British signals were in use, some having had lower quadrants replaced with upper. Distinctive lattice posts carried the signals.

Passenger bookings for 1951 indicate the limited traffic of this rural railway.  The five stations in the lower valley issued few tickets, despite being in the more densely populated part of the valley.  They were badly sited for the villages they served, and for over twenty years buses had operated between Hexham and Bellingham, passing through the villages and offering a frequent and cheaper service.  In 1931 Moffit’s ran six buses each way on this route on Monday-Friday, twice as many on Saturday between Humshaugh and Hexham, and several Sunday journeys. The Hexham-Bellingham journey was 50 minutes – almost the same as by train.  The upper valley lacked regular buses. Although Plashetts’ population had largely drifted away by 1951, there was no road access and the few inhabitants, of necessity, used the train.  Deadwater’s traffic was substantially less than its English neighbours, but it served a particularly desolate area.

Goods traffic also declined after World War II.  After 1945 one through goods service used the line. The only local goods train left Riccarton at 7:20 am making a leisurely journey to Hexham and back, collecting and delivering whatever traffic was offered, and following no strict timetable.  Reedsmouth engine shed closed o13 September 1952. As traffic dwindled, track maintenance was neglected, and by 1955 a general speed limit of 35 mph applied, but only 10 mph over Border Counties Bridge, where a weight restriction was also imposed.  The bridge had suffered flood damage in 1948. Proper repair was not considered worthwhile, and the poor condition of this bridge strengthened the case for closure.

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.

No single style of building was used on the Border Counties, but most structures were of sandstone, sturdy and unassuming. Single passenger platforms were the norm, originally about 50yd long, but in about 1890 the NBR lengthened most of them. At this time some buildings were altered, and signal boxes of a hipped roof design were installed at certain stations. Reedsmouth alone had two platforms, plus a ‘branch’ platform for Wansbeck trains. Stations were originally oil-lit, but the LNER installed electric lighting, using horizontal beams mounted on straight posts, at Chollerton, Barrasford, Reedsmouth, and Bellingham, also at Riccarton Junction, where hooped posts were used.  In BR days most nameboards retained a black background and white raised lettering; however at Humshaugh, Reedsmouth (and possibly Chollerton and Barrasford) boards were repainted in NE Region tangerine. 


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

Hexham Station in the early 20th Century
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection.

Hexham Station in the early 20th Century
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection.

Hexham engine shed in August 1937
Photo from Richard Casserely collection

Bridge over the River Tyne on the Border Counties line just north of Border Counties Junction at Hexham
Copyright photo from Colour-Rail

Hexham Station in September 1971
Copyright photo by Nigel Mundy

Hexham Station in July 1984
hoto by Alan Young

Hexham Station April 2009
hoto by Alan Young

June 2000

June 2000

Click on theumbnail to enlarge

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