Lowca Finale - 60 years of Light Railway operation comes to an End
By kind permission of John N.M. Charters - Whitehaven News June 1973
Yet another chapter in the annals of West Cumberland Railway history has drawn to a close following the decision by the authorties of the Workington Iron and Steel works to withdraw all remaining traffic between Moss Bay and Lowca. A decision largely dictated by the recent closure of Solway Colliery. The last train hauled by the steel works two 200hp Diesel Electric Engines which operated in tandem, left Moss Bay Works for Lowca at 8am on Saturday May 26th 1973 and by noon, the Lowca Light Railway had seen its last train on the final return journey to Workington.
The threat of closure was not new, and had been originally mooted at the end of July 1968, following closure of Lowca No 10 colliery. However the Workington Iron & Steel Company granted a repreive and a certain amount of Coal and Coke traffic which previously used the British Railways connection from Lowca to Parton, hence travelling to Workington via the coast line was re-routed over the Light Railway to boost the fast dwindling traffic which consisted chiefly of crude tar, ex Workington Coke Ovens to United Coke & Chemical, Lowca Pitch from United Coke & Chemical to British Railways, fine clay and bricks from Micklam Brick Works to the Steel Works.
The final death knell was sounded by the announcement to cease operations at Solway Colliery with the resultant closure of the Harrington washery and screening plant. Road tankers have been aquired for the tar traffic and the brickworks contingent wil also travel by road transport.
The Lowca Tramway as it was originally named came into prominence following erection of Harrington Ironworks in 1857, by H.C.Plevins. These works including the Harrington collieries at Lowca passed successfuly into the ownership of Blair and Patterson (subsequently joined by Mr (later Sir) James Bain of Glasgow to become Bain Blair and Pattersons). On the death of his partners he reorganised the undertakings as James Bain & Co in 1876, which name it bore until January 1908, when a purchase was affected by Sir John Randles of the Moss Bay Iron & Steel Company, Joseph Ellis, Workington Iron Company and Mr William Bunnyeat of Moresby who joined the short lived Harrington Iron & Steel Company which was swallowed up in the huge Steel combine affected during the following years and which heralded the birtrh of the Workington Iron & Steel Company, who continued to utilise the Harrington plant until its closure in 1921.
The Tramway which came into being during the early 1800's through the sinking of collieres, was laid by the instruction of Mr Curwen (owner of the Mineral Royalties) of Workington Hall, whose desendant still owned the line, and royalties in May 1912 when application was made to the Light Railway Commisioners, by the Workington Iron & Steel Company to place their tramway from Rosehill to Lowca under the Light Railway order for the carriage of passenger traffic. At the enquiry held on the Workington Iron & Steel Companies Moss Bay offices on July 20th that year, terms had been drawn up between the latter and Mr Curwen for the purchase of the Tramway and certain mineral rights. An initial lease,taken upon the Tramway was the prelude to eventual purchase. The commissioners verdivt proved favourable, and great preperation was made for the commencement of a passenger service which was to be operated on behalf of Workington Iron & Steel Company by the Cleator & Workington Junction Railway. Stations were built at Lowca, Micklam, Copperas Hill and a halt was opened at Rosehill (Archer Street). The Cleator & Workington Junction Railway provided signalling arrangements (Signal Boxes being opened at Rosehill (Archer Street). The C & W.J.R. provided the signalling arrangements (signal boxes being opened at Lowca and Rosehill) and provision of station staff. The line was worked by the Tyers Tablet System.
A daily service between Lowca and Workington was inaugurated on June 2nd 1913 consisting of four trains each way (including Saturdays), two of these running to and from Seaton for the benefit of miners working at Lowca collieries. It must be stated, however, that a service of workmens' trains had been using the line from April 15th 1912, and prior to this date (from 1911) the steel company had been operating their own workmens' trains between Rosehill Junction (where the tramway joined the Cleator and Workington Co's branch line from Harrington Junction, opened from July 1st 1879, when that Company's main line from Cleator Moor to Siddick Junction opened for the carriage of goods and mineral traffic) and Lowca by means of their own engines. Needless to say, the 'carriages' were no more than open wagons! Some comfort! The 'Rattler' as the branch train was commonly (or uncommonly) called, proved to be popular with the local folk, especially so the housewives who crowded into the little train on Saturdays to attend the local market at Workington, some laden with their wares, expecting a quick sell, others merely bargain hunting, and those who simply enjoyed the pleasure of meeting old friends and having a good natter, more than likely sharing all the latest gossip.
The 'Cleator & Workington' provided Lowca with what the writer believes to be its one and only station master in the person of Mr John Joseph Holmes, an old C & W.J.R employee of many years' standing. He also had the job of supervising the stations (little more than rail level halts) at Micklam, Copperas Hill and Rosehill (Archer Street), generally travelling on the morning trains to make his brief inspections. Another (Halt Station) was placed under Mr Holmes' charge in 1915 when the C & W.J.R decided to erect a new hut at Harrington (Church Road) between Rosehill and Harrington Junction. Mr Holmes was noted as something of a local poet, and his pen, amongst other things, recorded the 'bombardment' of Lowca by a German U-Boat in August 1915.
The passenger trains were usually hauled by the Timons 'Sharpies' of the Furness Railway, but, occasionally, the small C & W.J.R stud of Saddle tanks had the honour of hauling the 'Rattler', 'Moresby Hall', 'Ponsonby Hall', 'Hutton Hall' and 'Brigham Hall', which besides 'Hillgrove'will be names familiar to many.
The Lowca Light Railway was two miles and four chains in length (increased by a further 1/2 mile, taking into consideration the C & W.J.R branch from Harrington Junction). It was steeply graded throughout, especially for 300 yards between Rosehill Junction and Copperas Hill, where the line rose steadily at 1 in 17 on a shelf above the sea. Trains descending the Copperas Hill incline here were subject to a speed restriction of five miles per hour with all brakes fully pinned down. In its early form, the Lowca Tramway ran down to Harrington Harbour from Rosehill (a distance of about 1/2 a mile) by a very precipitous incline of 1 in 15. Three loaded wagons was the limit for shipment abroad, and more often than not, engine, wagons and all ended up in the dock and had to be fished out! This short section lost its former importance after the opening of the C & W.J.R connection in 1879 and gradually fell into some derelicton being abandoned altogether in 1928 when Harrington Harbour ceased to function. Parts of the old track are still in existence.
In January 1923, following the great railway amalgamations, the 'new brooms' inside the L.M.S.R management decided to make sweeping economies throughout their system. The Lowca Light Railway was no exception and soon 'Bus Trains' (manned by travelling ticket collectors) were introduced to and from Workington (Central) Station to Lowca as a means to control the road competition recently introduced by Cumberland Motor Services. However, even this early fore-runner of our present day 'Pay Trains' could not halt the popularity of the 'new' motor buses, and the pasesenger service ceased from May 31st 1926. Workmens' trains operated until April 1st 1929 when they too were withdrawn. Consequentely, the signal boxes at Rosehill and Lowca were closed and dismantled, as were the hut stations at Rosehill (Archer Street) and Harrington (Church Road), the light railway once more assuming the role of a purely industrial concern; a role it maintained to the end. Prior to nationalisation of the coal industry from January 1st 1947 engines operated between Lowca and Moss Bay, but after this date operation was maintained by the Workington Iron & Steel Company's engines based at Moss Bay. The NCB maintained their own locomotive stud at Lowca. Before dieselisation of the Lowca Light Railway in February 1965, the line was in the charge of two Stephenson & Hawthorne 0-6-0 saddle tanks with outside cylinders 18" x 24", numbers 7061 of 1942 and 7666 supplied in 1950. Both engines were scrapped shortly afterwards.
It is interesting to relate that control of Rosehill (Archer Street) and Herrington (Church Road) halts were placed under the jurisdiction of Mr John Roe, the High Harrington Stationmaster in 1923. A travelling assitant under Mr Roe supervised these extra responsibilites including the junctions at Herrington and Rosehill. Mr John Joseph Holmes, Lowcas travelling stationmaster, retired about this period.
From Harrington Junction, the trains of Lowca Light Railway reached their respective destinations over the Derwent or Moss Bay branches of the C & W.J.R, the former opened from 1st July 1879, and the latter in December 1885. The Derwent branch was put out of use about 1937 when sinking of Solway Colliery commenced and all trains have subsequentely utilised the Moss Bay branch. British Railways maintained their section from Rosehill Junction to Moss Bay and the W.L.S Co that beyond Rosehill towards Lowca. A key token was in regular use between Harrington Junction box and Rosehill token hut (seen in the picture above taken by Mr Charters in 1964), but following unstationing of Harrington Junction in June 1964, together with the remaining part of the C & W.J.R main line (Calva Junction to Distington Joint Junction), this was discontinued and a land staff substituted between Moss Bay and Rosehill Junction - end of British Rail territory. Eventually this too was withdrawn from December 16th 1965 by District Inspector (now the Movements Inspector) J.E Brown, British Railway, Workington. All point connections at the Rosehill Junction (where a running loop is situated for the purpose of dividing trains when necessary) were latterly hand operated.
Although the Lowca Light Railway will soon be but a memory to those who knew it, we can at least take consolation from the fact the 'Tiny' 2" 0" gauge line which parallels its larger neighbour from Micklam Brickworks to the clay mine, now Copperas Hill (about 3/4 mile from the brickworks) will for the foreseeable future, remain in full operation.