Wansbeck Railway

Last updated

Wansbeck Railway
Locale Northumberland
Continues as North British Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Wansbeck Railway
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Border Counties Railway
to Hexham │ to Riccarton Junction
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Middleton North
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crossing removed 1872
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East Coast Main Line
to Newcastle │ to Berwick-upon-Tweed

The Wansbeck Railway was a single track railway line in Northumberland, England, that ran from Morpeth to Reedsmouth, where it made a junction with the Border Counties Railway. Conceived as part of a through trunk route for the North British Railway, it never achieved its potential. It opened in stages from 1862 to 1865. The population was sparse and mineral traffic kept the line going.


In 1870, the Rothbury branch opened, from a junction on the Wansbeck line at Scotsgap.

The passenger train service was discontinued in 1952 and the line closed completely in 1966.


The first railways

The Newcastle and Berwick Railway opened in 1847. Conceived by George Hudson, the so-called Railway King, it was to form part of a through railway connection from Edinburgh to London. It later became part of the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway.

It had a station at Morpeth, and people in towns not connected to a railway realised they were at a disadvantage against those who were: materials brought in cost more, as did the transport of local manufactures to market.

The people of Rothbury felt that disadvantage particularly. The locality had long been prominent in the production of lime, used to improve acidic soil for agricultural purposes, and much in demand in the general area of Morpeth. In 1855, a railway linking Morpeth and Rothbury was proposed. It was to cost £95,000 but, although the idea was favourably received, the scheme failed to generate action and it was dropped. [1]

The Wansbeck Valley Railway

The Wansbeck Railway and the Rothbury Line Wansbeck & Rothbury.png
The Wansbeck Railway and the Rothbury Line

By 1858, the Border Counties Railway had opened the first section of its line, and having a local railway close by encouraged further thoughts of railway development in the area, but not to Rothbury. This line would run west from Morpeth to Reedsmouth on the Border Counties line, there getting access to the intended rich coalfields of Plashetts. At Morpeth, the new line would link with the Blyth and Tyne Railway, giving direct access to wharves on the North Sea, and over that line to Newcastle. The line would be 26 miles (42 km) long. Moreover, the Border Counties Railway had the clear intention of linking with the Border Union Railway. The BUR was sponsored by the North British Railway and, when it opened, its line became known as The Waverley Route. The Border Counties Railway was to link with that route at a place that became known as Riccarton.

Richard Hodgson, Chairman of the North British Railway was a member of the provisional committee, which clearly shows the intention: the NBR was a link in a chain of railways between Edinburgh and London, via Berwick, but it was dominated by the railways of George Hudson, who had shown himself to be ruthless in his dealings, and who had already tried to take over the NBR. The NBR had no running rights south of Berwick. If the NBR could get access to Newcastle over friendly railways — the Border Union, the Border Counties, the Wansbeck Valley, and the Blyth and Tyne — it would have much greater autonomy, and access to the important commercial centre at Newcastle.

The Wansbeck Valley committee changed the name to The Wansbeck Railway and submitted a bill for its 28-mile (45 km) line to the 1859 Parliamentary session. It was relatively uncontroversial, and obtained the Royal Assent on 8 August 1859; the capital was set at £120,000. [2] [3] Working arrangement with the established railways were authorised by the Act, and the NBR and the Blyth and Tyne were permitted to subscribe up to £100,000 between them to the Wansbeck Railway. [1] [4]

In fact the NBR subscribed £50,000; this was five-eighths of the Wansbeck's capital. [note 1] [2]

Constructing the Wansbeck Railway

The authorising Act of the Wansbeck Railway permitted two connecting lines at Morpeth: to the North Eastern Railway station, or by-passing it to join the Blyth and Tyne line south-east of the NER station. [3] The controlling interest of the NBR and the lack of enthusiasm from the North Eastern Railway decided the Wansbeck Railway directors to make only the Blyth and Tyne connection. The Blyth and Tyne line ran eastwards from the NER station, so that the Wansbeck passenger and goods trains had to reverse to reach the Morpeth station.

The line was opened as far as Scotsgap on 23 July 1862; trains were worked by the North British Railway, although the stub of route was not physically connected to the NBR.

On 17 July 1862 the North British Company had obtained running powers to Newcastle over the line of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway from Hexham, as part of a trade-off with the North Eastern Railway. This was a better route to Newcastle than over the Wansbeck line, and now the NBR lost interest in the Wansbeck Railway company. Running entirely through sparsely populated rural areas, and with the anticipated riches of the Plashetts coal field now being shown to be disappointing, the Wansbeck Railway was suddenly of doubtful commercial value. Selling out to the North British Railway seemed to be the only option. [1] [2]

The North British Railway (Wansbeck and Finances) Act of 21 July 1863 empowered the amalgamation. [1] [5] The NBR was already a majority shareholder, so there was no urgency in carrying out the merger, but it was accomplished sometime about March or April 1864. The connection with the Border Counties Railway at Reedsmouth had been planned to allow through running from Riccarton towards Morpeth, but that was now inappropriate, and the intended junction faced south instead. It is not clear whether Parliamentary sanction for this was obtained.

The line was opened as far as Knowesgate in October 1863. Reedsmouth station was opened for the Border Counties line in November 1864, but the Wansbeck line reached it on 1 May 1865: the Wansbeck Railway was now complete. The line had been built as single track, although land had been taken for double track.

There were three passenger trains each way on the line, with separate goods trains. The sparse population did not encourage a more intensive train service.

The line was worked by train staff and ticket; the block posts intermediately were Scotsgap and Woodburn. The system was converted to electric train token in 1890 - 1891. [1]

Catcleugh reservoir

Catcleugh Reservoir was constructed in the 1890s, and traffic for construction materials was carried on the Wansbeck line. A siding for the purpose was installed at Broomhill, near Woodburn, and there was a narrow gauge tramway from there to the dam. [2]

The Morpeth layout

Morpeth Railways before 1872 Morpeth rlies.png
Morpeth Railways before 1872

The track arrangements at Morpeth are described above; Wansbeck trains using Morpeth station (passenger and goods) required to reverse at Wansbeck Junction. There was a collision there on 15 September 1871, and the Inspecting Officer's report indicates the arrangement. A passenger train was to depart the Wansbeck line and be followed by a goods train. The goods train departed first, propelling its train, and stood on the Blyth and Tyne single line beyond the junction; the passenger train then left Morpeth, also propelling, and ran to the junction, to reverse there and run to the Wansbeck line. It would then be followed by the goods train. [note 2] [6]

The Inspecting Officer stated that "a junction curve is about to be formed between the Wansbeck Valley and North-Eastern lines, which will enable the trains from the former to run direct into the Morpeth station of the latter line". This was done in 1872.

Hoole describes the Blyth and Tyne station at Morpeth as being separate from the North Eastern railway station, but they were immediately adjacent. When the new curve was built, the Wansbeck Railway and the North Eastern Railway each built part of it, installing the necessary signalling at their own end. "The NBR trains then deserted the B&T station for the North Eastern. [1] [7] The earlier line direct to the B&TR was removed at the same time.

The Rothbury branch

The first proposed railway from Morpeth to the area had been intended to reach Rothbury. Now that was revived, as the Northumberland Central Railway, oblivious apparently to the difficult finances of the Wansbeck Railway. In fact it proposed a 50 mile line northwards from Scotsgap; the capital was to be £270,000. [2] The over-ambition of the scheme became obvious and it was cut back to a branch from Scotsgap to Rothbury. It opened on 1 November 1870. In fact Rothbury was a more important population centre than anywhere on the Reedsmouth line, and in the mid 1870s Rothbury came to be regarded as the main line, and Reedsmouth on the branch. [1]

The twentieth century

The line was simply a rural branch line in a thinly populated area, although cattle and some minerals were buoyant. In the first decades of the twentieth century heavy military traffic arose because of camps in the area as well as artillery ranges.

Following World War I the main line railways of Great Britain were "grouped" under the Railways Act 1921, and in 1923 the North British Railway was a constituent of the new London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The railways were nationalised by Government in 1948, and the Wansbeck line became part of the Scottish Region of British Railways. [note 3]

The already limited traffic had been further reduced by motor lorries and buses since the 1930s and closure to passengers became inevitable; it took place in September 1952. A very limited goods service continued, but the line was closed completely in October 1966. [1]


The line climbed from Morpeth on a ruling gradient at 1 in 62 to a summit between Knowesgate and Woodburn, then descending at the same ruling gradient. [1]

Locations on the line after the spur direct to Morpeth station was opened were: [8]

Morpeth 1 March 1847open North Eastern Railway station
Meldon 23 July 186215 September 1952
Angerton 23 July 186215 September 1952
Middleton 23 July 186215 September 1952renamed Middleton North in 1923
Scots Gap 23 July 186215 September 1952also possibly Scotch Gap; soon renamed Scotsgap; sometime later renamed Scotsgap Junction
Knowes Gate 7 July 186415 September 1952renamed Knowesgate in 1908
Woodburn 1 May 186515 September 1952
Broomhope (Vickers Platform)uncertainprivate halt for workers at the Vickers armaments works
Parsons Platform in use in 1937private halt for the Parsons Estate; also known as Ray House Platform and Rayfell Halt
Reedsmouth 1 February 186111 November 1963junction station on the Border Counties Railway

Related Research Articles

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Scotsgap railway station Railway station in Northumberland

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Woodburn railway station Disused railway station in Northumberland, England

Woodburn was a stone-built [[railway station] with substantial goods sidings in Northumberland, on the Wansbeck Railway between Morpeth and Reedsmouth. It served the villages of West and East Woodburn plus a local military camp.

Rothbury railway station

Rothbury was a railway station in Northumberland, England at the end of the single-track Rothbury Branch that served the town of Rothbury. Rothbury was the terminus of the line with a turntable at the end of the track.

Middleton North railway station Disused railway station in Northumberland, England

Middleton North was a stone-built railway station on the Wansbeck Railway between Morpeth and Reedsmouth, which served the villages of Middleton and Hartburn.

Fontburn Halt railway station

Fontburn Halt was a weather board and corrugated iron built railway station in Northumberland on the Rothbury Branch built to serve the pre existing Whitehouse lime works and later the Whitehouse Colliery, and quarries.

Ewesley railway station

Ewesley station was a weather board and corrugated iron built railway station in Northumberland on the Rothbury Branch built to serve the local farming settlements.

Longwitton station was a weather board and corrugated iron built railway station in Northumberland on the Rothbury Branch. Originally known as Rothley and built as a private halt for the Trevelyan Estate, the name was changed in 1875 to Longwitton when it became a public station.

Knowesgate was a stone-built railway station with goods sidings in Northumberland, England on the Wansbeck Railway between Morpeth and Reedsmouth, which served the village of Kirkwhelpington.

Meldon railway station Disused railway station in Northumberland, England

Meldon railway station was a stone built railway station with goods sidings in Northumberland on the Wansbeck Railway between Morpeth and Reedsmouth to the south of the village of Meldon.

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The Kelso and Jedburgh railway branch lines

The Railway of Kelso and Jedburgh branch lines were three distinct railways serving Kelso in the borders of Scotland.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 G W M Sewell, The North British Railway in Northumberland, Merlin Books Ltd, Braunton, 1991. ISBN   0-86303-613-9
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 David Ross, The North British Railway: A History, Stenlake Publishing Limited, Catrine, 2014, ISBN   978 1 84033 647 4
  3. 1 2 E F Carter, An Historical Geography of the Railways of the British Isles, Cassell, London, 1959
  4. John Thomas, The North British Railway, volume 1, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969, ISBN   0 7153 4697 0
  5. C Hamilton Ellis, The North British Railway, Ian Allan Limited, Shepperton, 1955
  6. Lt-Col C S Hutchinson, Report dated 21 October 1871 on Accident on Blyth and Tyne Railway, accessible at
  7. K Hoole, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 4: The North East, David and Charles (Publishers) Ltd, Dawlish, 1965
  8. M E Quick, Railway Passenger Stations in England Scotland and Wales—A Chronology, The Railway and Canal Historical Society, 2002


  1. From Ross, page 52; in fact he refers to the Shareholders' Meeting which authorised that subscription, but as he also described the NBR share issue to pay for it, it seems certain that it happened.
  2. The actual accident took place because the passenger train was not properly coupled, and as it slowed at the junction while being propelled, the leading vehicles ran forward, colliding with the waiting goods train. The brakes on the brake van may not have been properly adjusted.
  3. Although it was in England, the existing mid-level management structure was the successor to the North British Railway section of the LNER, and management disruption was avoided by thius arrangement: Sewell, page 117.