John Speller's Web Pages Settle & Carlisle Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - Midland Railway

Settle & Carlisle Railway MR Horizontal Menu Untitled
The Midland Railway originally ran through coaches to Scotland via Ingleton (a few miles northwest of Hellifield) and onto the London & North Western Railway's West Coast Main Line at Low Gill, but by the early 1860s the unhelpful attitude of the L&NWR prompted the Midland to build its own route to Scotland. There was some haste over depositing the plans with Parliament, and this led to the Directors more or less drawing a route on the map and surveying it afterward. When they did get it surveyed, they were horrified at what they had done, for it runs through some of the most spectacularly mountainous country in England. Beginning at Settle Junction, the line runs via Settle through some of the most beautiful country in Britain to Carlisle, where it links with the Glasgow & South Western line to Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. The Act for the Settle & Carlisle Railway was obtained in 1866, but owing to financial stringency work did not commence until late in 1869. The line opened to goods traffic in 1875 and to passenger traffic a year later. A documentary on the history of the line may be seen here. For the next half century the London St. Pancras to Glasgow St. Enoch route was for many passengers the preferred route to Glasgow, with more frequent and more comfortable trains than the London & North Western and Caledonian Railways' West Coast Main Line. Glaswegians referred to the St. Pancras expresses as "The Pullmans," although Pullman cars were only used for a brief period in the 1870s. In the Grouping of 1923, however, the L&NWR and CR got the upper hand over their rivals the MR & G&SWR, and the St. Pancras to Glasgow St. Enoch route was deliberately run down. Perhaps surprisingly, the line is still open in the twenty-first century and the West Coast Main Line is becoming so congested that there is talk of upgrading the MR/G&SWR line once more. Ais Gill summit [pronounced "aze gill" with a hard "g"], at 1,169 feet, was one of the highest points on British railways, and the Garsdale Troughs were the highest in the kingdom, as was the station at Dent at 1,150 feet above sea level.

There was one branch line off the Settle & Carlisle Railway which ran from Hawes Junction (now known as Garsdale) to Hawes, where it formed an end-on junction with the North Eastern Railway's line to Northallerton on the East Coast Main Line. The North Eastern Railway had running rights over the line and most of the trains ran through from Northallerton to Hawes Junction. The Midland Railway did, however, run a daily service between Hellifield and Hawes, which was rather curiously known as the "Bonnyface." Hawes Junction was so bleak that the turntable had to be fenced round with old railway sleepers in 1900 after high winds sent a locomotive spinning uncontrollably. The North Eastern Railway also crossed under the Settle & Carlisle line at Kirkby Stephen. Here the NER and MR maintained separate stations, named respectively Kirkby Stephen East and West.

One of the worst accidents ever on the Midland Railway took place at Hawes Junction on 24 December 1910. The signalman, forgetting that there were two light engines on the down line at the junction, put the signals off for an approaching express. Seeing the signals at clear the drivers of the two light engines naturally set off in the direction of Ais Gill, but the signalman, oblivious of their presence, did not return the signals to danger. The express hit the two light engines a couple minutes later, derailing and catching fire owing to the rupture of the gas-line for the gas lighting at the alarming pressure of 85 psi. Nine passengers perished in the flames. Gas-lit carriages were always a death trap in the case of accidents, as the Quintinshill accident of 1915 in which 226 people lost their lives demonstrated in the most spectacular manner imaginable. The Quintinshill Disaster, which took place on the Caledonian Railway, was the worst accident in British railway history. The invention of the electric light bulb actually antedated the invention of the gas mantle. Electric lighting was in use on the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway as early as the 1880s and William Stroudley gave a paper on the subject to the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1886, yet I remember gas lighting was still in use on some of the trains passing through Taunton as late as the 1960s.

To see the very last British Railways' standard gauge steam train running over the Settle & Carlisle Railway at Dent on 11 August 1968, hauled by "Britannia" Class 4-6-2 No. 70013 "Oliver Cromwell." The narrator was Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) and the music was "Watching the Trains go out", a music hall song by W. H. Hargreaves (1912). Click here. See also here. And don't miss a man and his dog at Settle Junction signalbox.

There is also some very fine footage of "Britannia" Class Pacific No. 70013 "Oliver Cromwell" cresting Ais Gill Summit at 50 m.p.h. here and here. A documentary featuring "Mallard" on the Settle & Carlisle line may be seen here and here.

Here is another very fine performance put up by Great Western "Castle" No. 5043, "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" in 2010. The whistle is sounding triumphantly and the safety valve is even blowing off as the locomotive conquers Ais Gill -- a waste of coal and water, but what an achievement! Another video of the same memorable trip of 16 October 2010 can be seen here. And also here and here. No. 5043 might well be called the "Pride of Swindon" -- earlier in the year on 17 April 2010 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" had hauled a train between Paddington and Bristol faster than any other steam locomotive in history.

In this video Peppercorn Pacific No. 60163 "Tornado"is seen at Kirkby Thore (New Biggin) on the Settle & Carlisle line.

Here is Alan Frizzell's driver's eye view of the entire journey non-stop from Carlisle citadel via Settle Junction to Leeds Central -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, and Part Thirteen.

Finally, for a journey on the Settle & Carlisle with a soundtrack of folksongs about the Settle & Carlisle by Mike Donald of Skipton click here
The spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct, 1,320 feet long and 132 feet high, designed by engineer John Sydney Crossley (1812-1879). With the sun flooding through the clouds, surely a scene that J. M. W. Turner would have loved to paint. Photograph courtesy Wikipedia Commons
In spectacular surroundings, the highest station in Britain at Dent was typical of the Settle & Carlisle line's substantial stone structures. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Postcard view of a Glasgow express behind Deeley Midland Compound No. 1000
Accident at Hawes Junction, 24 December 1910. The two engines of the passenger express, Nos. 549 & 48, off the track with the remains of the smoldering coaches behind
Site Contents Untitled