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The North Eastern Railway





THE North Eastern became first known under that name in 1854. It is an amalgamation of all the railroads that previously existed in the North Country, and as one of those roads ran past the cottage at Wylam before George Stephenson was born there, it is clear that the pedigree of the North Eastern goes further back than that of the Stockton & Darlington. We have, however, in the introductory chapter said all we have room to say about those early lines, and will here take up the story where the introduction left off.

As the Great Western was due to the difficulty of navigating the Thames, so the Stockton & Darlington owed its origin to the difficulty of navigating the Tees, ships taking as long to sail from the river-mouth to Stockton as they did from the Tees to the Thames. So embarrassing was the navigation that in 1768 Brindley and Whitworth had been engaged in a survey, according to Smiles, for a canal, and according to Pease for a tramline, for which the subscription list failed to fill. That seems to have been the first survey.

In 1810 the Tees Navigation Company saved a couple of miles of the river journey by making the New Cut of 220 yards, but this was a trifle compared with the growth of the traffic, and it was evident that something else would have to be done. Meanwhile Edward Pease, of the woollen mills at Darlington - “Neddie Pease who started the Stockton & Darlington when he was already fifty years old”, and lived till he was over ninety-one - had become satisfied that the old plan of a railroad was “as good as a canal and cheaper”, and, owing to him, John Rennie was called in to survey and advise, whose report appeared in 1815 and resulted, after three years’ consideration, in two parties becoming prominent in 1818, Stockton being anxious for a canal and Darlington being in favour of a railroad.

Then Jonathan Backhouse, the Darlington banker, endeavoured to bring about peace between the rival factions by suggesting that the Tees should be made navigable up to Yarm, and that the railroad should run from Yarm to Darlington and on to the collieries, and in this proposal he was joined by Thomas Meynell, the squire of Yarm. Stockton would have none of this, and so the project was put to the vote at Darlington, when the majority was in favour of Pease’s plan of a line all the way. Having failed in their efforts at conciliation, both Meynell and Backhouse joined with Pease. Residing in the neighbourhood was Thomas Richardson, Pease’s cousin, a retired bill-broker whose financial abilities were of the best; he joined the triumvirate, and it was really these four men who brought about the Stockton & Darlington.

York Station, North Eastern Railway


Rennie’s survey met with the fate of so many surveys by his sons. The Bill was introduced into Parliament in 1818 and failed to pass; he had taken his line too near one of the Duke of Cleveland’s fox-coverts. George Overton of Llanthetty near Brecon, the engineer of several of the South Wales lines then successfully working, was called upon to make a third survey, and on the 20th of October 1818 had submitted his plans, and, on an inquiry as to cost, offered to make the railway for £2000 a mile, single track, £2400 a mile “formed for a double road”, and £2800 a mile if laid with a double track.

These terms were not accepted, and on the 19th of December 1818 Robert Louis Stevenson’s father, Robert Stevenson of Edinburgh, the lighthouse engineer, the man who built the Bell Rock and Skerryvore, was asked to make a fourth survey, which did not suit. The decision was conveyed to him in an amicable way; in fact all this business was done as pleasantly and quietly as possible, for remember this was the Quakers’ Line, nearly every shareholder being a member of that community to whom our railways are mainly due, and Stevenson continued to be consulted up to July 1821, when he was succeeded by George Stephenson.

It is not every one who has been to Yarm, but those who may find themselves in North Yorkshire might do worse than call in at the George and Dragon there, when they will find within a marble tablet that may surprise them. There, as the tablet records, on the 12th of February 1820 took place a meeting of the promoters of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, Thomas Meynell of Yarm in the chair, at which it was. decided to introduce into Parliament during the session of the following year the second Bill. In preparation for that Bill, Overton made another survey, the fifth; and on the 19th of April 1821 the Act was obtained. The first rail was laid by Meynell with great ceremony near St. John’s Well, Stockton, on the 23rd of May 1822. He was an excellent man for the work; pity it is that others have not been like him! Soon after the ceremony a boy with papers in his hand was shouting in Stockton streets, “Speech of Mr. T. Meynell. One penny!” A man bought one and found nothing but a sheet of blank paper. “Why, you little rascal, there’s nought here!” “No, sir”, replied the boy, “because he said nought!”

Shortly after the securing of the Act, Edward Pease was writing in his room when a servant announced that two strange men wished to speak to him. He was busy, and he sent them a message that he was too much occupied to see them. Hardly had he done so than he thought that perhaps he had been unkind, and he rose from his chair and went downstairs. Asking where the men were, he was told they were in the kitchen. Going into the kitchen he found them, and they gave their names as Nicholas Wood, viewer at Killingworth Colliery, and George Stephenson, engine-wright at the pits.

Pease sat down on the edge of the kitchen table to listen to what they had to say, and Stephenson handed him a letter from Mr. Lambert, the manager of Killingworth, recommending him to the notice of Pease as a man who understood the laying down of railways. Pease read the letter and took stock of “Old George”. As he said afterwards, “There was such an honest, sensible look about George Stephenson, and he seemed so modest and unpretentious, and he spoke in the strong Northumberland dialect” - and, in short, he took to him at once. Here was a man after his own heart.

In the conversation that followed Stephenson agreed that Pease had done wisely in proposing an edge railroad notwithstanding that, though any one might use it, as on the old Surrey line, the only traffic it could take must go on flanged wheels; but he asked for information as to what was meant by the vehicles being drawn “by men, horses, or otherwise” - a phrase that had been adopted from the Act of the Oystermouth Railway at the suggestion of Overton, who knew what steam was doing in South Wales and the Forest of Dean - and he learnt that all the calculations had been made on the basis of horse-traction, though steam might be used later on. It was that “or otherwise” that had brought him to Darlington, and he thereupon told Pease that he would do much better in using locomotives to start with. “Come over to Killingworth and see what my Blucher can do; seeing is believing, sir.”

Goods Engine No. 2116, North Eastern Railway


The interview ended in Pease promising to support Stephenson’s application for the appointment of engineer, and agreeing to visit Killingworth and see what was going on. Stephenson was appointed, the edge rail was adopted instead of the flat rail, and Stephenson was desired to make a resurvey of the proposed route as soon as possible. This, the sixth and last survey, was at once begun by George Stephenson and John Dixon, assisted by Robert Stephenson as chainman; and in the summer of 1822 Edward Pease and his cousin Richardson went over to Killingworth to see and believe. Further, in 1823 the company obtained an amending Act giving them power definitely to use locomotives and to haul and carry passengers as well as merchandise.

The line was made as resurveyed from Witton, through Darlington to Stockton. There were stationary engines at Brusselton and Etherley; and it was from the “Permanent Steam Engine below Brusselton Tower” that the proprietors and their friends, “after examining the extensive inclined planes there”, started on the opening day, the 27th of September 1825. First came a man with a red flag, then “The Company’s Locomotive Engine” (Locomotion, No. 1, now the monument at Darlington, known by the ignorant, like that at Newcastle, as Puffing Billy, which it is not, Puffing Billy being at South Kensington), then “The Engine’s Tender” (described as a water-barrel on the top of a muck wagon), then six wagons laden with coals and merchandise, then “The Committee and other Proprietors in The Coach belonging to The Company” (that is the Experiment), then came six wagons for strangers, and, according to the printed programme, forty-four other wagons, though there were not so many. It was a great triumph, but the man to whom it was due was not there.

North Eastern Railway crestThat day Edward Pease’s son Isaac died, and in the silent room he heard the distant cheers telling him how his work had received its completion in the hour of his bereavement. That he was one of the best and greatest, “a man who could see a hundred years ahead”, has long been acknowledged, and by the publication of his diaries it has been amply confirmed. Unusually able, thoroughly genuine, and ever thoughtful for others, it is only natural that his native town should be proud of him, though in his lifetime he told the townsfolk plainly that he was not the father of railways, and absolutely refused to mount the high pedestal on which they would place him. To quote his own words, “Does it not do me some injustice in rendering me more than justice?”

The line was single, with a loop at every quarter of a mile; with its four branches it was 36¼ miles long, and it cost £9000 a mile, that is about four times as much as George Overton had offered to make it for. When consulted as to the rails, Stephenson told the directors that though it would put £5000 into his pocket to supply the cast-iron rails, the patent for which was the joint property of himself and Losh, yet he could not recommend them - “They will not stand the weight, and you will be at no end of expense for repairs and relays” - and he advised them to use Birkinshaw’s patent. So the rails - only half of them, according to some accounts - were of malleable iron, fish-bellied in pattern, 28 lb to the yard, 2¼-in broad at the top, 2-in deep at the ends, 3¼-in in the middle, with a flange of ¾-in. Some of them were laid on stone blocks and some on oak sleepers well bedded in the ballast.

The Experiment was the first passenger carriage of the Stockton & Darlington, but it was not the first railway coach, for, to say nothing of Trevithick’s, one had been running for years on what is now part of the Glasgow & South Western. Indeed, the idea of railway carriages had already become so developed that, the very year the Stockton & Darlington opened, William Chapman, the engineer, at the meeting of the London & Northern Railway, had spoken of “conveying passengers with speed and convenience from place to place, which may be done in long carriages resting on eight wheels and containing the means of providing the passengers with breakfast, dinner, etc., whilst the carriages are moving” - which is worth remembrance as being the first mention of restaurant cars, and 8-wheelers, that has yet been lighted upon.

For some time after the opening day the Experiment was not drawn by an engine but by a horse. It was built by Stephenson at Newcastle from his own design, and was like a builder’s movable office on four wheels. There were three windows on each side, and the door was at the end; along each side ran a row of seats, and in the centre was a deal table on which a candle was placed to lighten the darkness. This Experiment is shown as forming part of the train in the pictures of the opening trip; but, according to the model and handbill at South Kensington, there was put on the line on the 10th of October another Experiment. This was an ordinary coach-body fixed on two longitudinal beams 12 ft in length. It was 5 ft 3-in wide and stood 7 ft from the rails, and the two pairs of flanged 34-in wheels were on axles in bearings without springs. It carried six inside and about twenty outside, one of whom was the guard, who by means of an iron rod applied the brake, there being two brakes, one to each right-hand wheel. Here for the first time was the railway guard seated on the top of the carriage, and though it is clear that it was not the first passenger vehicle used on this railway it may have been the first with a coach-body, and thus set the fashion for railway coaches for many years.

In August 1823 the first piece of land was bought in Newcastle for the Forth Street Works, destined to be known all over the world. Stephenson, recognising that the workmanship of his engines might be improved upon, had resolved on having a factory of his own, and talking over the matter with Edward Pease offered to invest the £1000 he had received as a testimonial from the coalowners for his invention of the safety-lamp if another £1000 could be found, and Pease and Richardson had joined him in partnership. On the 13th of December 1824 Michael Longridge, then manager, was instructed to buy some adjoining land for a foundry in which the firm could cast its own cylinders, and on the 30th of December to open an office for engineering and railway surveying. This was the first extension, and the partners then were George Stephenson 2 shares, Robert Stephenson 2 shares, Edward Pease 2 shares, Thomas Richardson 2 shares, Michael Longridge 2 shares, making 10 altogether. The first two engines had been built, they were those for the Hetton Colliery, and early in 1825 the building of the third engine was begun, this being No. 1 of the Stockton & Darlington, named Locomotion.



This engine had two vertical cylinders, placed fairly deep in the boiler, 10-in by 24-in, which drove the 4-ft driving wheels by side connecting rods. She was a 0-4-0 with the cast-iron wheels coupled by external rods keeping the driving crank-pins of the front and rear wheels at right angles. The valves were driven by rocking shafts, receiving their motion from a single excentric on the leading axle, one of the shafts working direct and the other through a bell-crank. The valve rods were disengaged and reversed by the driver mounting a platform that ran along each side of the boiler. The exhaust steam from both cylinders was led by two blast-pipes, one from each, into the chimney, with the result that the chimney got red hot; and the water was forced into the boiler by a 4-in feed-pump driven by a lever from the front crosshead. The boiler was 4 ft by 10 ft, and the single flue was 2 ft in diameter delivering into the 17½-in chimney, the heating surface being about 60 sq. ft. The tender that eventually took the place of the wagon and water-barrel held 15 cwt of coals and an iron tank with 240 gallons of water. The engine weighed 6½ tons and was about 20 horse-power. There is a model of her at South Kensington appropriately placed on a model of George Stephenson’s first bridge, that at West Auckland, which was replaced by the present one in 1901.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth engines built at Forth Street were Nos. 2, 3, and 4 of the Stockton & Darlington, known as the Hope, the Black Diamond, and the Diligence. No. 5 was the Stockton, built by Wilson of Newcastle in 1826. Wilson was so deeply impressed with what he called the dangers of coupling-rods that he would have none of them, and he fitted his engine with four vertical cylinders, 6-in by 18-in, a pair of cylinders to each pair of wheels. In a way it was the first 4-cylindered engine, and though it had a boiler 4 ft 4-in by 13 ft its tractive factor was only 27, and failure was inevitable. So the Stockton was broken up and parts of it were used in the new No. 5, the Royal George, built at Shildon engine-shed in 1827 by Timothy Hackworth.

Hackworth, like Stephenson, was a native of Wylam, having been born there on the 22nd of December 1786. He was a smith, we may say, from the commencement, quite a Wayland Smith who could do anything with metal. He had a hand in building Puffing Billy, and for twenty-five years was behind the scenes in all this engine-building, watching, thinking, contriving, never at a loss for a happy thought; but what he definitely did until he became the first locomotive superintendent of the Stockton & Darlington and got credit for his own work, and perhaps in the same way for other people’s, is a mystery, for he was anticipated in everything that is ascribed to him by other men’s detractors. All that could be said against him was that he was a Methodist, and that was said by the people who dismissed Pease as a Quaker, Hudson as a draper, and Thompson as a man who kept a drug-shop; but if we are to inquire into the religion and antecedents of all our railwaymen, including the directors, even in our own day, what surprises there would be, and what instances we should have of men who have left the trade in which they had to start for one more suited to their abilities! Timothy, that is Hackworth, was the first foreman of the Forth Street Works, and on the 13th of May 1825 he was appointed, on Stephenson’s recommendation, “superintendent of the permanent and locomotive engines” of the new line, just as John Dixon was appointed its permanent way engineer.

No. 695, a heavy Tank Engine, North Eastern Railway


At the same time as Wilson delivered the Stockton. Stephensons delivered the Experiment, No. 6 of the railway list. This was the first 6-coupled engine, and Hackworth adopted six wheels of the same diameter, 4 ft for the Royal George, which was completed a year afterwards; but he drove from the hind wheels instead of the front ones, and placed his cylinders vertical instead of at an angle of 45. The Experiment had two tubes 18-in in diameter, and there were two blast-pipes as in the Locomotion and her sisters; Hackworth, using the Stockton’s boiler, increased the heating surface by adopting Trevithick’s return flue, and, by running the pipes from the two cylinders into one before entering the chimney, he also reverted to Trevithick’s central steam-blast. Like him he used the exhaust for heating the feed-water, but in a different way, the exhaust being turned into a water-cistern, the feed being supplied by short-stroke force pumps worked by excentrics; and, what was also new, he used some of the exhaust as a jet under the fire-grate. The cylinders were 11-in by 20-in, and the piston rods were guided by parallel motions the levers of which worked the valve shaft. The driving wheels were without springs, but the load on the other wheels was carried by long plate springs arranged as equalising levers. The working pressure was 50 lb, and this was so well utilised that the engine could draw on the level 32 wagons weighing 130 tons at a speed of five miles an hour.

No. 7 was Stephensons’ first Rocket, not unlike the Experiment; then followed No. 8, Hackworth’s Victory, built in 1829 at Shildon, no longer engine-shed but railway works. Next year Hackworth designed, and Stephensons built, No 9, a queer-looking locomotive of a character of its own called the Globe from the copper sphere in which dry steam was collected, the predecessor of the steam dome. Quaint as the Globe looked with her handrail round her, she did very well until she blew up in 1839. Then came the Majestic class of six with vertical cylinders overhanging in front, and then the Wilberforce class of six, also 6-wheelers coupled, with cylinders overhanging behind and two tenders, one in front of the engine with coals and the stoker, for they were stoked in front under the chimney, and the other behind, the driver being in the rear tender which carried the water in a gigantic cask - strange things, all the stranger at night when they carried cressets of burning coal instead of lamps. Later came Kitching’s Derwent, which stands tender to tender with the Locomotion at Bank Top between the two main platforms. Then matters began to settle down, and gradually the engines took on their familiar shape, and Timothy Hackworth’s last, the second Sanspareil of 1849, was as good in looks as any on the rail, and powerful and speedy, for she was driven at times at 80 miles an hour.

The Stockton & Darlington soon began to thrive some of its prosperity being due to the clause in the Act inserted at the instigation of George Lambton, afterwards the second Earl of Durham. This clause, limiting the rate for all coals carried to Stockton for shipment to a halfpenny a ton per mile while fourpence a ton was allowed for all other coals, was to protect his own coal trade from Sunderland and the northern ports, it being so low he thought as to render all competition hopeless.

Edward Pease had calculated on sending 10,000 tons a year to Stockton, and to his surprise - and to the greater surprise of Mr. Lambton - the amount taken thither and to Middlesbrough, which had started under the name of Port Darlington lower down the river, soon reached half a million tons, the halfpenny rate proving highly profitable. The traders applied for a reduction, it is needless to say where the suggestion came from, but were met with the reply that, much as they regretted it, the directors could not alter the Act of Parliament; and so the railway prospered and Stockton and Middlesbrough prospered. Then the Liverpool & Manchester proved another success in all ways, and, among other places, York began to ask why it should not also help a railway company to put it into communication with the rest of the world.

Third-class Corridor Carriage No. 24. East Coast Service


A committee of the corporation was appointed in 1832 to consider the matter, and one of the members of that committee was George Hudson, who set to work to learn all he could about railways and how to manage them. It was not railways that put him on the corporation, but the corporation that put him on railways. He would have been Lord Mayor of York if railways had never existed; no man ever had a more honourable introduction to the mysteries of railway finance. In 1827 he had been left by a relative a legacy of £30,000; in 1833 he had founded the York Banking Company, of which he was the first manager, and that year he had become the head of the Conservative party in York. Whatever he did he was throughout thoroughly devoted to his native city, and in defending the two great systems with which he was chiefly associated, the Midland and the North Eastern, he did what he thought best for its interests as well as his own.

Nearly three years elapsed without any decision being come to by the corporation committee, and then, in the summer of 1835, Hudson went for a holiday to Whitby, where he met George Stephenson and heard the latest railway news at first hand, particularly as regards the projects which affected York. On his return he reported to his committee what had passed, and acting on his advice they withdrew from their intended support of a direct line to London and contented themselves with helping in the promotion of the much less risky short line from York to Normanton to join the North Midland.

This was the York & North Midland, and in it Hudson invested the whole of the £30,000 that had come to him as a windfall. At the same time the committee decided to support the Great North of England, an imposing title which merely meant a line from York to Newcastle, or rather to Redheugh on the south bank of the Tyne, which passed through Darlington. Both these lines were wanted, both were authorised, and both were surveyed and engineered by the Stephensons. The York & North Midland was opened in 1840. The York to Darlington section of the Great North was opened in 1841; the Newcastle to Darlington, built by a separate company, in 1844.

First-class Corridor Brake No. 3754, North Eastern Railway


The amalgamation of these two made the York & Newcastle, and when this joined the Newcastle & Berwick, the company became the York, Newcastle & Berwick, which in 1854 absorbed the York & North Midland, the Leeds Northern, and the Malton & Driffield to form the North Eastern. What the history of these companies had been up to then may be gathered from the speech of the chairman, Mr. James Pulleine, at the first meeting of the North Eastern on the 29th of August 1854, when he congratulated the shareholders on assembling “as one body instead of being engaged in unfortunate disputes, competition, and minor jealousies by which particular classes of traffic were guided to particular districts, instead of being carried in a way which would be of service to the whole”.

The York & North Midland was an easy line to make, the engineering features being in no way noteworthy, and the York to Redheugh - up to Ferryhill at 1 in 600, with a few short descents, then seven miles of a sharper rise, then five miles at 1 in 150, and downhill at the same slope for eight miles and easy to the Tyne - was not much more difficult; but the Newcastle & Berwick, beginning with a bridge and ending with a bridge, was quite a different task. To begin with, there was a competing scheme. In 1836 George Stephenson had surveyed two routes, one of which, that by the coast, had been adopted after an interval of nine years; but another company had employed Brunel to survey for a broad-gauge line, and, what was worse, an atmospheric broad-gauge line, and he, beset with the notion that to the atmospheric gradients did not matter, had planned a grand route that rose and fell like a switch-back.

It was the South Devon over again, only more so. Proposed for locomotives it would have been laughed out of the committee room, but for the atmospheric it was a different matter, and never was there a scheme that afforded a finer field for a conflict of opinion, especially when a prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, led the atmospherics and made the matter almost a party question. Fortunately the Conservatives, with Hudson prominent in the background, for he was to enter Parliament a few weeks afterwards, formed a cave, and on the 31st of July 1845 the Bill passed and Brunel’s people were saved from losing their money; and so delighted were the Newcastle men at the defeat of the broad-gaugers that they took a holiday and marched about the town with flags flying and bands playing.

First-class Dining Saloon, North Eastern Railway


The engineer was Robert Stephenson, and the works were soon put in hand. To begin with there was the Tyne to be bridged by the famous High Level. The Newcastle corporation had insisted on the bridge carrying a road as well as a railway, and this was easily and ingeniously arranged by putting the railroad on top. Every one knows the bridge with the railroad on the bows and the high road on the strings. When it was begun there had been more than 25,000 railway bridges built in this country during the preceding fifteen years, and there was plenty of experience.

Down in the bed of the river went the piles under the fearful punching of Nasmyth’s new steam pile-driving machine, a modification of his famous hammer, at the rate of eight feet a minute, two hammers of a ton and a half each striking every second and oftener, going so fast that “on many occasions the pile-head burst into flames during the process of driving”. No sooner was one down than the hammer head travelled along to another, and into the solid bed of the river the huge balk of timber was thrust almost as easily as a pin into a cushion, bang, bang, bang! the waste steam flashing out at the end of each stroke as if it were the smoke from a gun.

The Queen’s Car, North Eastern Railway


Then the coffer-dams were formed and puddled, and the water was pumped out to leave the river-bed bare. The middle pier, as usual, was the difficulty, for here the piles had gone through a quicksand through which the water forced itself as fast as the pumps lifted it out. The pumping went on for months, and the water still kept its level. Round the piling chalk was tipped, but to no purpose, and there had to be a limit to that treatment or else the river would have been blocked. Then hydraulic concrete was shot into the coffer-dam and the difficulty mastered. Up to the level of the pier-heads the concrete was taken, and then the freestone went on from about two feet below low water; and with 400,000 cubic feet of ashlar, rubble, and concrete in the piers, and 450,000 ft more in the arches and approaches, the structure was ready for the iron, cast and wrought, in that wonderful combination of the arch and the suspension.

Each of the six arches of 125-ft span consists of four main ribs in pairs, with a distance between the inner arches of 20 ft 4-in to form the roadway, the outer arches being 6 ft 2-in apart to form the footpath. Each arch is in five separate segments, the ribs springing from the horizontal plates of cast iron bedded on the stone piers, and of each arch one end is fixed and the other free to allow of expansion, thus every arch is independent and the piers have simply to support a vertical pressure. The bridge is 83 ft above high-water mark on the underside, and, with the viaducts, is 4000 ft long. The first pile was driven on the 6th of October 1846, and the bridge was opened on the 15th of August 1849, “a monument of the highest engineering skill of our time, with impress of power grandly stamped upon it”.

There are three sets of rails on it, and no bridge was more used; indeed the traffic over it increased and increased until 800 trains and light engines were crossing every day, and then it became necessary to build another. In building it Robert Stephenson’s assistant was Thomas Elliot Harrison of the Great Western 10-footer Hurricane, and the geared-up-to-18-footer Thunderer, and the inventor of the communication cord that ran along the top of the sides of the coaches; it was his nephew, Mr. Charles A. Harrison, who built the King Edward Bridge, 800 ft higher up the river, curiously enough at Redheugh. This is a railway bridge only, but it has four sets of rails and is no unworthy sister. The first stone was laid on the 19th of July 1902, and the opening was on the 10th of July 1906.

The Queen’s Car - the Dining-Room, North Eastern Railway


When Stephenson built the older bridge the Tyne could almost be forded at low water, but now the Tyne Commissioners have dredged and dredged until there is a channel 28 ft deep and a tide range of 15 ft, so that bridge-building is not so easy as then in that respect. Sixty-nine feet down below high-water mark the central pier extends; in it are 195,000 cubic feet of granite, mostly Norwegian, and in each of the north and south piers 135,000 ft; right and left of the centre the lattice girders measure 300 ft and weigh 3482 tons, the north span weighing 950 tons and the south span 1350 tons.

The bridge is not only noteworthy for itself but for the improvement of which it formed part. Formerly trains crossing the High Level into Newcastle Station had to come out by the way they went in. Now the station has been enlarged so that the East Coast trains can run through it, and coming from the south they cross the new bridge, enter Newcastle Station on the west and leave it by the east on their way to the north.

Newcastle is much the largest station on the North Eastern, though York is often said to be so; it has 15 platforms, nearly 7 acres of it are under glass, and nearly 850 trains enter it in a day. It has one of the largest signal cabins in the country, there being 259 levers with space to increase to 300, the levers being small owing to their being worked on the electro-pneumatic system.

Another great bridge in which, as in the High Level, the railroad is carried on top of the roadway, is also due to Mr. Harrison. This is the one at Sunderland over the Wear, which has the heaviest span in Britain. In the main bridge are four spans, the river being crossed 85 ft above high-water mark by one of 300 ft. The girders of this are nearly 354 ft long and are 42 ft high in the centre, and weigh 960 tons, the weight of the span being 2600 tons. To avoid interference with the navigation the bridge was built by treating the main girders as cantilevers and extending them, member by member, from the piers until they joined in the middle. In the main bridge there are 8500 tons of steel, and it is approached by nine other bridges, the engineering work being great, and the materials used - granite, freestone, bricks, etc. - running into enormous quantities. This tremendous bridge was completed in June 1909.

An Important Goods Station, Hull, North Eastern Railway


At the other end of the Newcastle & Berwick was the Border Bridge built by Robert Stephenson. This is a noble viaduct of 28 arches. The old picturesque bridge, 17 ft wide, built in the early Stuart days - it was begun in 1609 - has 15 arches, and took 24 years and 4 months to complete; Stephenson crossed the river at a much higher level, and built his bridge in 3 years and 4 months. Each of the semicircular arches is of 61½ ft span, the greatest height above the Tweed being 126 ft, the length of the whole being 720 yards. Here again Nasmyth drove the piles, each of which can sustain a load of 70 tons. In the river-work bricks were used set in cement, and on them and elsewhere came the ashlar with a hearting of rubble.

Its name is the Royal Border Bridge, from its having been opened by Queen Victoria in 1850, but it does not cross the Border. Berwick, though on the north side of the Tweed, is in England, not Scotland. It is the extreme north-east point of Northumberland. The station is on the site of the old castle; there the North Eastern ends and the North British begins.

In 1839 there had been opened the Newcastle & North Shields, from Pilgrim Street to that smoky seaport, and the same year there was opened throughout the Newcastle & Carlisle, the Act for which had been obtained in 1829. This went by Hexham and Haltwhistle to the canal basin at Carlisle, where the goods were transhipped to and from the vessels trading with the Solway. Westward it went through Wylam and the Stephenson country. At Blaydon it joined the Blaydon, Gateshead, & Hebburn, which it bought, and at Redheugh was the Brandling Junction, opened in September 1839, which went through Gateshead to South Shields and Monkwearmouth.

The Newcastle & Carlisle - absorbed by the North Eastern in 1862 - was partly opened in May 1835. It was noteworthy for being worked on the wrong side, the trains passing one another to the right hand, as on the Dundee & Arbroath and the Greenwich line, instead of to the left. On it the first engine was the Comet, a 0-4-0 built by the Hawthorns in 1835, the cylinders of which, 12-in by 16-in, were hung under the smokebox, the piston-rods passing beneath the leading axle of the 4-ft coupled wheels to work on the rear axle. Another curious engine of this line was the Tyne, also built by the Hawthorns, to which, taking the place of a whistle, was attached Birket’s steam-organ of eight pipes, on which the driver, instead of giving a shriek, played a pleasing tune when danger was nigh.

The fastest Train in Britain - Darlington to York


But in the beginning there was more danger behind the engine than in front of it, for our old friend Nicholas Wood, the engineer of the line, tried to run round the curves more easily by having one wheel of each pair fitted loose on the axle to allow of its moving inwards or outwards. To quote his own words, “the axle was turned very accurately and then there was a groove cut in the axle, the nave of the wheel was bored to fit the axle and a groove cut in it, and then a piece of steel interposed between the groove of the axle and the wheel, so that the wheel could move in and out and not turn round the axle” - and the carriages thus fitted ran off the track so frequently that a trip to Carlisle was as exciting as a steeplechase.

The Newcastle & North Shields and its extensions, in fact all the branches east of Newcastle, are now electrified, and the North Eastern and Lancashire & Yorkshire are running fairly level as by far the longest electric lines we have, sixty miles and more of each of their tracks being so arranged as to be workable either by steam or electricity. The North Eastern has about 60 electric motors and 2000 steam locomotives to run their 30 millions of miles a year on its 1700 miles of road, hauling 60 million passengers, 50 million tons of minerals, and 15 million tons of merchandise in its 113,000 wagons and coaches. In the beginning it looked for its chief profit to minerals and merchandise, and it has had it so all through its career. The character of its main source of income was not without its influence on its early engines, when engine-work was not so specialised as now, and that influence still remains.

Gateshead, the locomotive headquarters for so long, will soon be used only for repairs. When York locomotive works were closed those at Darlington were enlarged; and they are to be further enlarged that all the engines may be built there. The Stockton & Darlington, which then had some twenty branches, was absorbed by the North Eastern in 1863, and the old works at Shildon are now used as wagon shops in addition to the carriage and wagon works at Heaton and York.

The engines of the separate companies, excepting the Stockton & Darlington, were of the stock patterns of private firms, but after the amalgamation, when the North Eastern began in name, a few distinctive details appeared, though not many of them. The East Coast service, as we now know it, dates from 1870 when the extension from York through Selby joined the Great Northern at Shaftholme, instead of the route being by way of Askern, and it has always been that on which the best engines have been used. Here again, however, there is a qualification, for the Great Northern, under running powers, brings the trains to York, so that the North Eastern work is done from York northwards.

The North Eastern and Lancashire & Yorkshire Expresses, Newcastle-Liverpool, passing each other at full speed


When the route was opened the engines were the Fletchers, with cylinders 17-in by 24-in and 4-coupled wheels 7 ft in diameter. Some years afterwards twenty new express engines were put on the line by Mr. Tennant, these being, like the others, 2-4-0’s with coupled 7-ft wheels, but the cylinders were 18-in by 24-in, and the heating surface was 1250 sq ft. They were really good engines, and were easily distinguishable by the cab which looked as though it came from Doncaster.

Mr. T. W. Worsdell began his tenure of office by building No. 1329. This was a single, 4-2-2, with 7 ft 1-in wheels, and it was a compound on the Worsdell and Van Borries’ principle in which there are two cylinders, the low-pressure to the right, the high-pressure to the left, with the valve chests in the smokebox above the cylinders, the high-pressure exhaust being carried round the box to the low-pressure. In 1886 he followed this with the class that did the work during the race to Edinburgh. These were 4-4-0’s with 6 ft 8¼-in drivers, the high-pressure cylinder being 18-in and the low-pressure 26-in, the common stroke being 24-in. Of these engines the heating surface was 1323·3 of which 1211·3 was obtained from the 242 tubes of 1¾-in outside diameter and 10 ft long, the grate area being 17·33, the working pressure 175; and they weighed with the tender 81 tons 7 cwt. One of these ran from York to Newcastle in 82 minutes, and from Newcastle to Edinburgh in 128 minutes.

A 25-ton Covered Goods Wagon, North Eastern Railway


The larger group of 4-2-2’s had driving wheels 7 ft 7¼-in, and the cylinders, 28-in and 20-in, were so large that, instead of being side by side, they were placed diagonally. The grate area was 20·7 sq ft, the heating surface 1139 sq ft, and the pressure 200. In working order the engine weighed 46 tons 13½ cwt, while the tender with its 4 tons of coal and 3940 gallons of water weighed 40 tons 1 cwt. Like the other engines by the same designer, they were fitted with the well-known North Eastern roomy cab which has an American look about it. It was on this line that the cab originated. It began with the wooden board cut out to fit the curve of the boiler which the drivers up Newcastle way used to mount on their engines when the wind was bleaker than usual. From this came the weather-board, then the holes in it to be filled with glass, then the sloping of the upper edge over the driver’s head, and then the extension of the sides. Considering what the north-easterly wind is like on the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh the cab was a necessity, and we can only wonder that sensible protection for the men on the footplate was not available until the days of Mr. Worsdell.

In 1890, after putting some 250 of his compounds on the rail, he was succeeded by Mr. Wilson Worsdell, who in time began to build compounds on the Smith system as already described. He it was who introduced that powerful type the 10-wheeler, 4-6-0, the first being No. 2001 in 1899.

Express Passenger Locomotive No. 1238, North Eastern Railway


This was an advance in size and power, and No. 2111 was larger. She is a simple, of course; her 6-coupled driving wheels are 6 ft 8¼-in, her cylinders are 20-in by 26-in, her boiler is 4 ft 9-in by 15 ft, her firebox is 8 ft by 3 ft 11-in, grate area 23 sq ft, heating surface 1768·86 sq ft. Then came the North Eastern Atlantics, and now we have No. 1238, that powerful 4-4-0 with 6 ft 10-in drivers, and cylinders 19-in by 26-in, and a working pressure of 225 lb, which, like her nine sisters, is travelling easily with 400-ton trains behind her. We cannot choose a better example for the details of a modern locomotive.

The North Eastern carries more goods and minerals than any of our home railways, and ranks third in length. Northumberland and Durham it has to itself, and most of Yorkshire. Look at its map in which is shown the hill-shading, and notice how its main line runs north and south, fed on the west by tributaries down the river valleys, and drained on the east down the continuation of those valleys to the sea - loop after loop on the coast, and terminal after terminal inland:

Berwick, Coldstream, Kelso, to reach which it crosses the Border and from which it could be run on Glasgow way if worth while; Carlisle, tapping Allendale and Alston Moor on the way; Weardale, and Teesdale up to Middleton reached through Barnard Castle - reminding us of old Ambrose Middleton and his tram, and making us wonder what he would think of things now, when from the castle window, looking on the railway and not on the river, he could, as Walter Scott says, track its wanderings by the steam; and perchance taking a ticket for Penrith or Tebay he could climb that 725 ft in less than nine miles on the Westmorland side of Stainmoor and pass over the summit level of the line, 1370 ft, beyond Barras.

Then there is the branch coming in at Eryholme from the Richmond that gave its name to West Sheen on the Thames to make it better known. In the valley of the upper Ure starts the branch from Hawes; and in the valley of the same river, lower down, that from Masham; down the Nidd runs the Pateley branch; down the Wharfe that from Ilkley - each of them serving a district claiming to be more charming than the rest. With Leeds business begins, and we need say no more; and on the other side detail of any sort is unnecessary, for the whole coast from the Humber to the Tweed is the monopoly of the North Eastern.

York is now recognisable from afar by its water-tower with the 100,000 gallons at the top, and is known to all by the majestic curve of its platforms. On the down main platform there stands the zero post from which, as from a London stone of the old companies that formed its nucleus, the distances are measured. Mysterious initials they are on its labels, but they are clear enough when you know them - Lo. Lp. (Longlands Loop, Northallerton); M.W. & B. (Market Weighton & Beverley); Mic. Bj (Micklefield Branch); R.Cv. (Raskelf Curve); S.Br. (Sherburn Branch); Y. & H. (York & Harrogate); Y. & M.W. (York & Market Weighton); Y. & N. (York & Newcastle); Y. & N.M. (York & North Midland); Y. & S. (York & Scarborough): the most notable distance being that of the North Midland, 23 miles 1048 yards, which is a sufficient answer to those who ask why York should have put its money into it instead of into the Direct Northern. Now the system extends from Withernsea on the east to Carlisle on the west, and from Shaftholme northwards to Berwick, Darlington being the centre. And it is from Darlington to York that the North Eastern runs the fastest train without a stop in these islands, that is the 1.9 p.m. which covers the 44½ miles in 43 minutes, at the rate of 61·7 miles an hour. Our next fastest non-stop running being on the Caledonian, the 6.58 p.m. from Forfar to Perth, 32½ miles in 32 minutes, being 60·9 miles an hour.

No. 1 Erecting Shop at Gateshead, North Eastern Railway


The longest non-stop run on the North Eastern is from Newcastle to Edinburgh, 124¼ miles in 138 minutes. This, though one of the oldest, now comes eighth on the list, which may change at any moment when non-stop work is being so much developed. Nevertheless, some such list should be given, and it may as well come here. The longest at the time of writing is the Great Western run from Paddington to North Road, Plymouth, 225¾ miles in 247 minutes. Then in order come - the North Western run from Euston to Rhyl, 209¼ miles in 237 minutes; the Midland run from St. Pancras to Shipley, 206½ miles in 245 minutes; the Great Northern run from Wakefield to King’s Cross, 175¾ miles in 189 minutes; the Great Central run from Marylebone to Sheffield, by way of Aylesbury, 164¾ miles in 177 minutes; the Caledonian run from Carlisle to Perth, 150¾ miles in 180 minutes; the Great Eastern run from Liverpool Street to North Walsham, 130 miles in 158 minutes; and the London & South Western run from Waterloo to Bournemouth, 108 miles in 126 minutes.

Passengers on the North Eastern are quite overshadowed by minerals; while it carries ten times as many thousand tons of passengers as there are days in the year, it deals with almost as many million tons of minerals as there are weeks in it. Not only are the coals distributed inland, but they are shipped in large quantities from the North Eastern’s docks. There is Tyne Dock, for instance, where they load a ship at the rate of 500 tons an hour and send away 6 million tons in twelve months. Then there are Blyth where the coal shipments are about half as great, though they have been going on for more than three hundred years; and Dunston where about half that quantity is shipped; and the Hartlepoole, the fourth timber port in England, that ship the same quantity as Dunston; and in addition there are Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, and Hull. Tyne Dock, for the coals outwards and the timber, grain, hemp and flax, inwards, has sixty acres of water; Hull has a hundred acres for coals and forty for the timber trade; Hartlepool has eighty for coals and nearly sixty for timber; and there are thirty-two devoted to coals and iron at Middlesbrough, to which the Stockton & Darlington was extended in 1830, the docks dating from 1842, having been taken over by the railway ten years afterwards when the Cleveland ironstone had been discovered. Altogether the North Eastern’s dock and shipping business adds £200,000 a year to its revenue.

Machine Shop at the Gateshead Works, North Eastern Railway


Those who are interested in steep gradients will find many of them on the North Eastern mineral lines, including several still too steep for locomotives. Near Battersby is the steepest, that at Ingleby, rising 1 in 6 for a thousand yards, a nice little climb of 500 ft; at Waldridge there is one of 1 in 25 worked by wagons in trains of nine, the full wagons attached to a wire rope by means of which they haul up the empty ones, and so steadily do they work that they take down over 9000 tons a day. The steepest gradient used by passenger trains is that at Kelloe, between Hartlepool and Ferryhill, where the rise is 1 in 36 for three-quarters of a mile, and there is another almost as steep, 1 in 40, for two miles at Ravenscar. Some good climbing is done out in the west in Cumberland, where the trains go over 887 ft on the Cockermouth line, which the North Eastern works jointly with the North Western, the junction being at Clifton, just short of Penrith.

Corridor carriages began in this country on the North Eastern, the first being a first-class put on the line in 1883. Something of the kind had already been used on the Continent, but this was in several ways an improvement, and it has been much improved upon since. Ten years afterwards dining-cars were attached to the afternoon express from King’s Cross and the corresponding up express from Edinburgh, and then the coaches, all built as corridors except the dining-cars, which were open saloons, were connected by vestibules so as to admit of a free passage from end to end of the train.



It may be a small matter, but it is worth remembering that trains of this sort cost £12,000 each to build, and, with the more elaborate decoration, they cost more every year. Nowadays the North Eastern standard passenger coach is 53½ ft long, the electric cars being 18-in longer, but the largest coaches on the line are those of the East Coast Joint, which measure 65½ ft.

Third-class dining-cars are also due to the North Eastern, though they were not put on the line until a few weeks after they had appeared on the Midland and West Coast. When they were decided on in 1891 the news got abroad, but the shops of the East Coast companies were too full of work to take them in hand, and the order had to be given out to a carriage building company that did not finish them within the time expected, the result being that though first in the field with the proposal the North Eastern was a month behind in the introduction. Another introduction of the North Eastern’s in a smaller way, which has not, however, become general though its convenience is great, was that of the numbered duplicate ticket for cycles, the duplicate part being a tie label attachable to the machine, so that at the end of the journey the cyclist produces his ticket to the guard and there are no difficulties in identification.

The North Eastern has always considered the cyclist, and been happy in its efforts to encourage every other form of healthy recreation. Its excursion arrangements are almost as well thought out as those of the Scottish lines, but among its ticket novelties perhaps the boldest was the issue of coupons for a thousand miles during a year, each coupon being for a single mile, each book of a thousand costing five guineas ; and during the first year there were sold no less than 4200 of these books of first-class travel at a 1¼d. a mile.

The High Level Bridge at Newcastle


In several ways it is the most practical of our lines. Fortunate in its monopoly, it has done its best to develop its business without litigation; friendly with all the companies around, it has been generous in its interpretation of what is meant by running powers, and has lost nothing by doing so. No less than seven other companies run into York after traversing over twenty miles of North Eastern metals.

This running of one company’s trains on another company’s line may seem a simple affair, but it has to be paid for, and few are aware of the vast amount of work it entails behind the scenes. So far as passengers are concerned the visible sign of this is the ticket and the nipping. How often do we hear the holder of a frequently punched ticket complain of the damage the nippers have done! Little he thinks that every nip tells the Railway Clearing House the route by which he has really come.

It was in 1864 that the system of ticket-punching, by which a distinctive sign or number was allotted to the ticket-examining stations of the different lines, was adopted. On some lines groups of stations may have the same distinctive mark, while here and there an important station may use a group of a few numbers for more detailed identification. These marks and numbers are the postmarks of our railways; by them the Clearing House can tell how much the different companies that have carried the passenger have to pay each other for the use of their track and rolling stock, and just as coaches and wagons and sheets, and every consignment of parcels, goods, and minerals, are traced, so are the passengers, for it is not always the case that they travel by the way they should go or return when and how they should.

The Wheel Shop at Gateshead, North Eastern Railway


George Hudson, by his encouragement of through traffic by way of Derby and York, rendered the Clearing House necessary and first suggested it. Sir James Allport, then of the Birmingham & Derby, went a step further and proposed a system similar to that of the Bankers’ Clearing House; Robert Stephenson, then engineer of the London & Birmingham, the Birmingham & Derby, and the North Midland, had the matter explained to him by Allport, and at once grasped its importance, and energetically supported it at a meeting of the Birmingham & Derby directors at which Samuel Carter, the solicitor of the other two companies, was present; and he and Carter brought the matter before the London & Birmingham directorate, with the result that the chairman of that company, Mr. George Carr Glyn, afterwards Lord Wolverton, became the first chairman of the Railway Clearing House, and appointed Mr. Kenneth Morison, then of the London & Birmingham, its first manager.

Morison organised it, and on the 2nd of January 1842 the Clearing House began business in a small house in Drummond Street near Euston Station, with a staff of half a dozen clerks who had a very easy time of it - for a few months. When the House celebrated its jubilee in 1892 it reported that during its existence the capital of our home railways had increased from £50,000,000 to £900,000,000, the miles of track from 1600 to 20,000, the passengers then numbered 800,000,000, the £195,000 of the first year had become £22,000,000, and - well, other details running into figures of which the ordinary mind has no conception. Suffice it to say that the House, now in Seymour Street close by, numbers its clerks by the thousand, with representatives at 500 junctions throughout the land recording night and day the number, owner’s name, and destination of every wagon, coach, van, and tarpaulin that passes from one company’s line to another’s, while the staff at the House analyse and classify all their reports regarding the 17,000 stations, collieries, and sidings in the ten-volumed distance-book, and many other things, including the marks made by the ticket-nippers.



You can read more on “The Great Northern Railway”, “The North British Railway” and “The Romance of the LNER” on this website.