Solway Junction Railway - History

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Solway Junction Railway - History


  • First sod cut on the railway - 28th March 1865
  • Formal completion of work on Railway - 27th June 1868
  • Opened for freight traffic - 13th September 1869
  • First passenger train Excursion from Kirtlebridge to Annan - 1st October 1869
  • First passenger train Annan to Bowness - 3rd March 1870
  • First passenger train Bowness to Brayton 8th August 1870
  • Scottish portion transferred to Caledonian Railway - 9th September 1873
  • English portion transferred to Caledonian Railway - 6th July 1895
  • Last train accross the viaduct - 31st August 1921
  • Goods working reopened between Brayton and Abbey Junction - 1922
  • Kirtlebridge to Annan Section closed - Autumn 1931
  • Whole system finally closed - 14th February 1933
  • Viaduct demolished in 1934-35 by Arnott Young and Company from Glasgow
  • Track lifted between Bowness and Brayton Junction started 15th May 1937 followed by section between Kirtlebridge and Corsehill Quarry two months later.
  • Track lifted between Corsehill Quarry and Annan at the end of 1951

For more information on Solway Junction Railway you can view a copy John B. Howes work from the early 1950's by kind permission of Cumbria Library in Carlisle. Another excellent source is the book written by Stuart Edgar and John M. Sinton published by Oakwood Press.

To view the Caledonian Railway Appendix 1915 put together by John Charters CLICK HERE

Cumberland News - May 6th 1950

Solway Viaduct - I have had more difficulty than I thought In digging out the full history Of the Solway Viaduct. I imagined I knew where to seek, but I was mistaken. Nevertheless I have gained quite a fund of Information and more will follow. As I stated, the first sod of the Solway Junction Railway was cut in 1865, bUt it was not until 1869 that the first train moved over the viaduct. The viaduct was designed by Mr James Bunlees, the same man who 10 years previously had built an embankment across Morecambe bay.

1,94O Yards Long - The bridging of the Solway estuary involved the building of a sea embankment of 440 yards on the English side and one of 154 yards in Scotland, and for the actual viaduct 2,900 tons of cast iron and 1,800 tons of wrought iron were used. The cast iron piles were 12 inches in diameter and were driven into the floor of the Solway by a pile driver. No scaffolding was used but specially constructed barges, and the actual viaduct was 1940 yards long. It had a chequered career. Badly damaged by ice flows in 1881, it took a year to repair. It was not used in the 1914-18 war, but was re-opened in 1920 but in 1922 it was condemned as unsafe. I will give some more news next week, but in the meantime I will be grateful if any of my readers can advise me if a complete history of the Solway Junction Railway has ever been written,

Cumberland News - May 13th 1950

End of the Viaduct - Many readers will be interested in the additional details which I am able to give this week about the Solway Viaduct. The keeper of the bridge for many years was Mr William Hunter, of Lilac House, Bowness, and his eldest son Mr Peter Hunter, of Rosehall, Annan was Station Master at Bowness for five years. Later he occupied for a long time a similar position at Coalburn, afterwards being promoted to Bellshill. I am indepted to Mr Hunter for the photograph of Bowness Station, which was taken in 1913. He has also been good enough to let me see an extract from an article by John Thomas entitlede "The end of the Solway Viaduct" which apperaed in the LMS magazine and is the most complete account of the undertaking of which I am aware. Commenced in 1865, the viaduct was finished in 1868, the original owners being Solway Junction Railway Company who obtained their first act in 1864

Bowness to Brayton - A branch line led from Kirtlebridge on the Caledonian Railway system down to Annan, and on this side of the Border the line, the ‘total length of which was 21 miles 18 chains, passed from :Bowness to Brayton by way of Whiterigg, Abbey Junction and Bromfield. The railway was opened for goods traffic in 1889, and passenger traffic followed in 1870. Three years later the Caledonian “annexed” the Scottish portion of the system and in 1895 the English portion also became their property. The railway was never a prolific passenger carrier büt Thomas stated that the valuable ore traffic to the Lanarkshire steel works might have made it a big success had not the Cumberland hematite ore been largely superseded towards the end of the nineteenth century by the importation of ore from Spain As so many of my readers are interested In this remarkable structure there will no doubt be glad to have further details next week.

Disaster to Viaduct - Last week I recalled some or the statistics of the Solway Viaduct and mentioned the disaster of 1881 when it was badly damaged by ice. I have now dug out more details of this which win interest those who remember the famous bridge. At the end of January in 1881 there was very hard frost and the waters of the Solway estuary froze at the edges. Likewise there was a lot or Ice lnthe Eden and the Esk. Then came a high tide which lifted all the ice and jammed it in the rivers and at the head of the Firth. This coincidéd with a thaw in the fells which brought the rivers down in spate. Thus When the tide flowed out all the packed ice followed inn great icebergs down the Solway and crashed against the viaduct.

Ice 10 Foot Thick - We are told that the blocks were as solid as “builder’s concrete" often six to ten feet thick and as much as 27 yards square. The scene recalled the Arctic and such a spectacle as “ had never before been witnessed, in these latitudes”. A disaster was foreseen by the engineer in charge, and that night four men kept vigil in the signalbox which stood in the middle of the 1900 yard viaduct. They were brave men it was a pitch black night and as the ice came down the Solway at a speed of 10 mlles per hour it hit the piers of the viaduct with great force which made it “shake and rattle from end to end". At 3am came a great ~rash which left no doubt in the minds of the men who were perched in their little slgnalbox as to what had happened. Shortly afterwards another crash this time nearer the box, made them make a strategic withdrawal to the Scotch side to await dawn. It was a sad sight which met thier eyes. One big gap had been torn and many more pillars damaged, and still a great mass of ice to come down. After several days of battering the final damage was two big gaps, one of 50 yards and another of 300 yards, wlth many other piles and pillars damaged. Fortunatley there was no loss of life.

Cumberland News - May 20th 1950

Viaduct’s Chequered Career - Continuing the story of the Solway Viaduct from last week as told by, Mr John Thomas in the "L.M.S. Magazine”. It is interesting to note that although the bridge carried only a single line of metals the foundations were made for a double line. The piers, of which there were 181 single and 12 double, supporting the superstructure, were formed from five cast iron columns. Strong tides and shifting sands presented a "bogey” from the start, and strong timber buttresses had to be built to protect the piers. The bridge had a chequered career. In the Winter of 1875-76 water penetrated the hollow iron pillars and a number of them cracked when the water froze. I have previously mentioned the hard frost at the end of January 1881 when the ice flowed down the Solway and crashed into the viaduct 45 piers were smashed and 37 girders plunged. into the Firth. Parliment authorised a sum of £30,000 to make good the damage which occupied many months in the following year.

Passed into History - During the first great war the viaduct was closed and services between Annan and Brayton abandoned. In 1920 traffic was resumed but at the end of two seasons the bridge was condemned and train services ceased permanently. Afterwards the structure was used by unauthorised pedestrians who sought an easy and cheap method of gaining entrance to England or Scotland and several people were fined for using the bridge. A passenger train service was maintained between Kirtlebride and Annan (Shawhill) until the Autumn of 1931, but even that was discontinued and eventually this relic of the Solway Junction Company’s entéprise had to pass into the pages of history. It was I believe in May, 1934, that arrangements were made with a Glasgow firm for the demolition of the viaduct, which it was estimated would take about twelve months.

Cumberland News - May 27th 1950

Solway Junction Railway - Seven Wise Men

Seven Wise Men - I have received three more very ineresting letters about the Solway Viaduct. One Is from Mrs J. McKechan, of 6 Margery Street, Carlisle, teling me that her great Uncle, who Was Burgh Treasurer to the Annan Town Council, was a member of the committee which, in 1885, proposed that the viaduct should be built.

After its construction this committee, wbich consisted of seven men was called by the inhabitants of Ann the “Seven Wise Men” who are seen in the accompanying photograph, for the use of which am indebted to Mrs McKechan.

Viaduct Medallion - The second communication also comes from a Carlisle reader, Mr chas Lowry, of 129 Denton Street, who states that he has in his possession a medallion struck to commemorate thye starting of the viaduct project. The inscription on the outer edge reads as follows . "To commemorate the cutting of the first sod”. In the centre are the words "Solway Junction Railway at Annan, by Wm Ewart Esq. MP 28th of March", 1865. On the reverse is shown an engine and coach crossing a viaduct, and below are two shields one on the left with two lions and on the right one lion rampant.

Pig-Iron Traffic - As the viaduct closed to traffic during the 1914-18 war, or did it remain open? Last week I quoted from an article in the "LMS Magazine,” which stated that it was closed and that traffic was resumed in 1920. My third letter is from Mr Thomas McKracken of 2 Station View, Kirtlebridge, who worked on the Solway line for 23 years, and who says that more trathc was worked over the bridge during those war years than in any period of its existence. There was a heavy Pig iron traffic from West Cumberland to the Clydeside steel works, worked by the M and C Railway to Brayton on to Kirtlebridge, via Abbey Junction aud Bowness. Prior to the war period the bridge was examined by the Caledonian Railway engineers, and engines of a lighter weight were provided to suit its carrying capaclty. My correspondent says the bridge was closed to all traffic in the early months of 1921 he remembers that after packing his railway tools, furniture and so on, they were worked from Brayton to Kirtlebridge via Carlisle, June 16th 1921, which was about a week alfer the line was closed.

Cumberland News - June 3rd 1950

First Across Viaduct - Who was the first person to cross the Solway Viaduct on its completion? According to Mr R.Noble of Clifton Road, Benwell, Newcastle, that distinction goes to his mother, Mrs Elizabeth Ann Noble Who died in her 85th year at Gateshead, and was daughter of Mr John Cottam, who was in business at Bowness as a grocer and general dealers When the bridge was nearly finished says my correspondent, a foreman, or ganger, promised Mrs Noble that she shouid be the first to go over as soon as it had been completed. "He was good as his a word,” continues Mr Noble, and on the Sunday morning before it was officialy opened he called for her and took her aOtoss. She told me she was a bit nervous, but was very proud of it afterwards. My mother also recalled that it Was a regular practice on Sunday for men to go over to the English side as the public houses on the other side of the border closed.

Carlisle Journal - August 21st 1964

FOR ARMAMENTS - And when, 14 years later, final demolition Work Was carried out on the instructions of the Solway navigation Commissioner, the contractors, Arnott Young and Co of Glasgow, found that old "unsafe" structure so firm that they had to resort to a great deal of blasting to uproot the ironwork. Some of the scrap was resmelted at Darlington and Motherwell, while the rest was shipped to Japan to be put to use for armaments in the Sino-Japanese war. In the meantime the disused viaduct deteriorated to the point where it became a dice with death even to cross the rusting girders and weather worn planks on foot. However, many people made the hazardous journey, not a few of them making the long trip across for a pint of beer in Bowness when the public houses on the other side of the water closed for the Sabbath.

HAIR RAISING - And for those who perhaps indulged a little too freely at the Cumberland hostelries, the trek back across the Firth must have been a hair raising venture. There were one or tvo misadventures we are told. Metal plates had worked loose and dropped into the sea 40 feet below, leaving airy gaps in the catwalk, and the whole structure swayed and clanked alarmingly in a strong wind. The law took a hand and it was made an offence to cross the derelict viaduct on foot. A number of people were arrested and brought before the courts after being apprehended by a watchman put, like Horatio, on sole duty on the crumbling bridge. His must have been a lonely and thankless task, for he was stuck in a little watchman’s hut high on the bridge, a prey to the chill winds and lonely vistas of the Solway.

HIS CROSSING FEE - One man who brought occasional comfort to the watchman was Mr James Leap Brown, now remarkably fit and active 87, who lives with his wife at The Pottery, a cottage beside the old embankment at Bowness. I used to take a glass across to him he reminisced. It only cost threepence, and an ounce of black twist which cost three pence. And we’d sit for a while and have a crack. As far as I remember the old man was only on duty at weekends, He had a little hut about two thirds of the way across the viaduct from this side. Mr Brown chuckled: “Mind you might call it a peace offering". I used to come across the bridge from the Scottish side on a Saturday night.

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