|RUNNING AN EDWARDIAN RAILWAY
|COLIN E. MOUNTFORD
|Reproduced from: Industrial Railway Record
124 March 1991
Of all the colliery railways in North East England, the Earl of Durhams Railway, later called the Lambton Railway, was one of the most notable. Developed from an early mid-Durham waggonway, the main line stretched some fifteen miles by 1860, from Sherburn House, near Durham City, to Sunderland, with branches to Lumley, Cocken and Frankland, and Houghton-le-Spring. Originally much of this system was operated by rope-worked inclines, like most colliery railways at this period; but in 1852 the Earl had obtained running powers over what was to become the North Eastern Railways line between Penshaw and Deptford, with a link down to Lambton Staithes on the River Wear; later these powers were extended to reach Harraton and North Biddick Collieries and to South Dock in Sunderland. The old rope-worked route to Sunderland was abandoned about 1870, eventually leaving only one incline still in use. This was the self-acting, gravity-worked incline at Belmont which effectively divided the main line into two parts. To handle the extensive long haul work, a fleet of six-coupled tender locomotives was developed, some even being built at the large Lambton Engine Works at Philadelphia, near Houghton-le-Spring. In 1896 the Earl sold out to Sir James Joicey, also a major coal owner, and the organisation was reconstituted as Lamb-ton Collieries Ltd. By 1910 the firm was raising over four million tons of coal a year.
What was it like to run such a major railway day by day at that time? What problems and complaints had to be tackled? What were the men in charge like?
Sadly, most of the Railway's documentary archive was either given away or burned by order of the then Lambton Engine Works Manager in the 1960's; most, but not all. During a visit to the Works in 1975 I noticed on a shelf in the Manager's office an old letterbook, which he kindly allowed me to borrow. The book still survives today. It contains nearly a thousand hand-written copies of letters from Mr Samuel Tulip between June 1904 and January 1906. Mr Tulip was the company's Chief Engineer between 1897 and ~935, and his responsibilities included both the Engine Works and the Railway, although the day-to-day control was in the hands of the Works Manager and the Traffic Manager respectively. The letters show him to be autocratic but fair; a man who paid attention to even small detail and demanded efficiency from those under him. He was also clearly aware of the need to improve and modernise the Railway to cope with the increasing and complex traffic, and this makes the letters even more fascinating, for they cover perhaps the most interesting period in the Railway's history.
For many years the Railway had carried its coal in chaldron waggons, latterly the 4 ton design. By 1900 most colliery railways in the North East were beginning to introduce 10 ton wooden hopper wagons, or trucks, and it is believed that the Lambton Railway had a few by then, confined to the northern end of the system. In a letter to Wilson Worsdell, the NER Chief Mechanical Engineer, in July 1904 Tulip estimated that about 1,000 10 ton trucks would be needed to replace all of the 4 ton waggons, but added; of course, this can only be done gradually, as we have to make considerable alterations both at the collieries and the shipping staithes in order to take the 10 ton wagons. The changeover began in March 1903, helped by the NERs willingness to sell their own wagons. So on the Lambton Railway all of the 10 ton trucks came secondhand, either former NER trucks from the dealer Robert Frazer & Sons Ltd of Hebburn-on-Tyne, or direct from the NER itself. In January 1905 Tulip reported to Mr Austin Kirkup, the Companys Chief Agent (a post equivalent to Managing Director), that to date they had received 791 trucks, 619 of them from Frazers, and had sent to Frazers 1,079 old waggons; 536 in 1903 and 544 in 1904. The N ER wagons, at least, were painted in the NERs Heaton Works at Newcastle before delivery the body dark red, the iron work black and the lettering white, with the tare weight and the date included. In the last letters in the book, dated 24th January 1906, Tulip wrote to the Londonderry Collieries Ltd at Seaham Harbour and to Broomhill Collieries Ltd in Northumberland asking what proportion of rolling stock they had in relation to their output. He added 1 may say that our total output is about 9,000 tons in 10 hours, and that we have rolling stock to the extent of 13.000 tons.
Using both 4 ton waggons and 10 ton trucks together resulted in problems. The 10 tonners had their end stanchions extended downwards to meet the dumb buffers (extensions of the sole-bars of the frames) of the chaldrons. They were soon causing considerable trouble, for no fewer than 787 stanchions were damaged by rough shunting in the first eighteen months. Then it was found impossible to couple up the two types of wagon with a shunting pole, so that men had to go between the wagons to do this. Above all, there was the marshalling of the two types in the same train, resulting in frequent complaints from Lambton Staithes and from the NER about the time it took to sort a mixed train out. So on 9th January 1905 Tulip issued a notice to his Locomotive Men (two locomotive crew and a guard per train):
After this date when making up trains either loaded or empty care must be taken to have all the box wagons coupled together; they may be placed next the van or next the engine or anywhere in the train so long as they are all together.
The NER, which had already decreed that all 4 ton waggons would be banned from their lines as from 1st January 1914, later tried to have the trucks put next to the guards van only, but this was successfully resisted.
Another continual problem was the greasing of wagon axle boxes. It is likely that no Lambton Railway wagons had oil boxes at this time. Fifteen tons of grease was used each month, the wagons being greased at the collieries, as they passed through Belmont and Penshaw, and at the staithes. Despite this, and frequent complaints, trains sometimes arrived at Penshaw with sparks coming from the axle boxes, while on 26th November 1904 a train hauled by 0-6-0 No.3 (Beyer Peacock 550 of 1865) stuck on the way to Sunderland because the grease in the axle boxes was so stiff after a severe frost.
|An updated drawing of tyhe earlier Lambton 10
ton wooden hopper wagon,
the construction of which begun about 1908.
Besides Lambton traffic the Railway also handled goods for other businesses that had sidings linked to it, and shunted them too, since none of the firms are believed ever to have had their own locomotive. One of the first letters in the book, to Austin Kirkup on 6th June 1904 refers to an incident in which six private trucks were bumped during shunting and ran away to collide with a NER mineral train. Tulip continued It is unreasonable that we should be held responsible for damage to private wagons, seeing as we make no profit by this business, but simply do it for the convenience of private owners. Needless to say, there were soon further complaints. One came from a firm charged demurrage on NER wagons because the Railway could not move them in time, another from Tulip himself to Houghton-le-Spring Council about the Councils failure to unload eight wagons of sanitary pipes delivered to Herrington Colliery in Lambton wagons. Moreover, private goods traffic was soon to increase, for in 1905 the Railway began carrying materials and equipment for the new electric power station which the Company was having built at Philadelphia, near to the Engine Works, so much so that Tulip was soon complaining that it was affecting the time-keeping of coal trains. Then there were the odd wagons that a colliery manager would see lying about doing nothing and thought he could find a use for. On 26th July 1905 Tulip wrote to the manager of Lumley Colliery:
The Railway was not only improving its wagons at this time; major new signalling was also being introduced. In the nineteenth century it would seem that there was little, if any, signalling on the Railway, but in view of the various junctions and level crossings and the traffic now being handled, Tulip had clearly decided that proper signalling was essential. The contract went to McKenzie & Holland Ltd of Worcester, who in the summer of 1904 installed a 28 lever signal box and associated lower quadrant semaphore signals and point locking at Burnmoor Crossing, which was situated on the main line to Sherburn at the junction of the branch to Philadelphia and Herrington Colliery. Subsequently signal boxes were also installed at the junction of the Houghton branch from the Herrington line (Philadelphia Junction) and at Philadelphia Crossing, near the locomotive sheds and Engine Works. Between these two junctions lay three quarter mile of 1 in 42, known as Junction Bank single line and without any track circuiting or block working. The operation of this section caused continuous trouble and on 3rd October 1905 Tulip wrote to W.J. Bailey of the Post Office in Sunderland:
It is not known whether this was done at the time, although later block instruments were installed. The problem was greatly eased when the Company eventually faced the cost of making the Bank double line.
There was a major development of the Railways locomotive stock in 1904 too. Hitherto tender locomotives had always been used for main line work, as on other major colliery railways at the time. The tender gave essential extra braking power, as well as better water capacity, although with their small boilers and a working pressure of only about 120 140lbs/sq in, the locomotives were becoming rather under-powered. Equally, the cabs were scant and provided little protection for the crew when running tender first. The early records contain gaps, but the Railway in 1904 may have had as many as fourteen six-coupled tender locomotives, at least three of which, Nos.9, 25 and 26, had been built at the Engine Works, illustrating the major facilities at the Works. Then in the spring of 1904 came a different design. No.29 was a new 0-6-2 side tank locomotive from Kitson & Co Ltd of Leeds (works number 4263). This locomotive had 19in x 26in inside cylinders and 4ft 6in driving wheels, a boiler pressure of 16Olbs/sq in and coal and water capacity of 2 1/2 tons and 1,200 gallons respectively. The new acquisition was closely monitored and had its teething problems. On 8th August 1904 it was involved in an accident on the NER in Sunderland, and five weeks later it was the subject of lengthy correspondence for running to South Dock with more than its permitted 32 wagons, for breaking a rail on a curve and for failing to make headway in a gale between Washington and Penshaw. As a result Tulip instructed William Liddle, the Traffic Manager, to ensure that its load did not exceed 400 tons. Clearly the Company Tulip was pleased with it, for three years later two further locomotives were supplied by Kitsons (works numbers 4532, 4533) and all further locomotives purchased for main line work were of this type.
The remainder of the locomotive fleet also received plenty of attention. One major job undertaken in the Works in 1904 was the rebuilding of No.27, the most interesting locomotive ever to run on the Railway, It had been constructed as a 2-4-0 tender locomotive with 14in x 22in outside cylinders and 5ft7 1/4in wheels for the Newcastle & Darlington Railway in 1845 by Robert Stephenson & Co of Newcastle, works number 491. It became NER number 30 when that Company was formed in 1854, later changing to number 1899 and then 1761. The locomotive was rebuilt as a 0-6-0 in 1864, and rebuilt again as a 0-6-0 saddle tank in 1873. By the time it was sold, the locomotive had 15in x 2Oin inside cylinders and a set of old 4ft 0 1/2in driving wheels. It arrived on the Lambton Railway in August 1898, though why the Company should break its normal rule of purchasing only new locomotives and then buy one already 53 years old is not known. In 1904 it was altered again, for in addition to a new boiler the saddle tank was replaced by side tanks. Moreover, letters between August 1904 and September 1905 discuss new boilers for tender locomotives numbers 2 (HCR 72/1866), 4 (RS, rebuilt BH 17/1866), 6 (RS (?), 1864) and 9 (built at the Works in 1877) and for 0-4-0 saddle tanks 15 (HCR 169/1875) and 16 (HCR 96/1870). Although most boilers were ordered from various well-known locomotive builders, at least one, that for No.15, Tulip says, we propose to build ourselves, again showing the Works capacity. Outside work was also undertaken at this time. A letter of September 1904 to a man in Houghton-le-Spring offers second-hand brass tubes from stock for the boiler of a steam roller then in the Works for repair.>
Mr Tulip also had the problem of exchanging locomotives between Philadelphia and Sherburn. At one time this had been done purely internally, but he was increasingly concerned about allowing locomotives over the Leamside Bridge, a wooden bridge built in 1844 which carried the Belmont Incline over the NER Leamside line immediately south of Leamside Station, and so they had to travel via the NER between Fencehouses and Sherburn When No.23, a Black Hawthorn 0-4-0 saddle tank (688 of 1882), travelled via this route on 27th December 1905 the NER charged 11s 5d (57.5p).
The person immediately responsible for the Railway south of Belmont Bank Foot was the Agent for the Littletown collieries, Mr G.H. Hornsby, to whom Tulip wrote frequently trying to get matters improved. Even the locomotives were a cause of intermittent concern. A very forthright letter dated 9th March 1905 to R.W. Bullick of Sherburn Colliery complains in no uncertain terms about the ferrules on the safety valve springs on No.13 (0-4.0 saddle tank HCR 79/1866) having been badly repaired whilst the locomotive was at Sherburn, so raising the boiler pressure well over the insured limit. There was also trouble nearer home. On 26th August 1904 the firebox crown of No.2 (0-6-0 HCR 72/1866) collapsed whilst going down Junction Bank with a train from the Margaret Pit to Penshaw, scalding the crew and derailing the locomotive. As the firebox plates were found to be almost normal thickness, the cause was attributed to a lack of water in the boiler allowing the crown to become uncovered. A Board of Trade inspector was required again after the explosion of the steam chest on the Margaret Pit winding engine at Newbottle on 27th December 1905. Tulip closed his letter to the surveyor with On your arrival at Penshaw Station you will find our railway carriage waiting for you, a vehicle about which nothing is known; the Railway never operated a passenger service.
Minor problems abounded dirt in the locomotive coal, and the trials of new samples from the collieries; the shunting of locomotive coal wagons on the high overhead gantry at Philadelphia shed at night which he banned, as he did the loading of scrap metal in coal wagons; the re-weighing and re-tareing of all the wagons; the irregular filling of wagons with as much as three tons variation; the need for extra sidings for empties at some collieries; and the condition of some of the track. All passed through his hands.
One unusual problem came to his attention in 1905. On 22nd September he wrote to the manager of Burnmoor Colliery (better known as Lambton D Pit):
The manager of Lumley Colliery received a similar letter three days later, with a request to know the number of workmen involved in order for the value of providing a coal depot to be assessed.
He had problems with vandalism too. In June 1905 on the NER at Deptford a stone was thrown through the window of a brake van, narrowly missing the guard; the stone was sent to the Chief Constable. Another serious incident had occurred on 3rd March while No.29 was pushing some wagons towards the Pit House crossing and up to the Belmont weigh office. On 13th April he wrote to Mr Hornsby:
This philosophy might benefit society today it the courts adopted it!
Such behavior would almost certainly have precluded the boys from gaining an apprenticeship, although fathers with such jobs were unlikely to be considered anyway. Not that the favoured received easy treatment. On 6th June 1904 Tulip wrote to Mr E. Combey of New Lambton:
Samuel Tulip also had to handle industrial relations and negotiations with trade unions. In the summer of 1905 the union representing the locomotive men presented him with a claim that they should be allowed to finish work at 12 noon on Saturdays, which meant working a 5 1/2 day week. He accepted this on behalf of the Company, but in return he laid down rules that this new finishing time was conditional upon the men completing the washing out and cleaning of the locomotive satisfactorily before this. The union was far from happy about the rule, and not only protested but submitted a new claim, that the men should be paid extra for drawing the fire at the end of the day. At this Tulip lost patience and asked the union representative in Newcastle to meet him. The matter does not appear in the letters again.
Undoubtedly Mr Tulips greatest problem with the Railway was the smooth running of traffic, whether internally or over the NER. On the Railway itself delays occurred at Belmont with coal coming from Sherburn he usually wrote quietly but firmly to Mr Hornsby about this or from problems at his group of collieries, whose managers got shorter shrift. He well knew that the best form of defence is attack, and to fire in a complaint of his own when replying to someone elses grievance. On 8th May 1905 the manager of the Dorothea Pit at Newbottle, Mr T.O. Wood, wrote to complain that the pits pilot locomotive was late in arriving. On the following day Tulip rejected this, and came back by saying that the men at the colliery screens allowed too many full wagons to collect together, so that they could not be moved without locomotive help. On the 10th he wrote again:
One can just imagine the NER foreman being approached by a Lambton guard at 4am on a December morning, but as Tulip wrote in a letter to Kirkup three months later:
So ends a glimpse into the problems of running a major colliery railway eighty years ago; however, major changes were imminent. In 1911 Lambton Collieries took over the Hetton Coal Co Ltd and its famous railway; the two eventually being linked together. Three years later the company sold the Sherburn group of collieries to Sir B. Samuelson & Co Ltd, thus lopping off the Belmont Incline and the railway southwards from it.
Mr Tulips retirement in 1935 was largely nominal. He continued to come to work daily, and even into his late eighties he drove his car from his house at Shiney Row, just over a mile away, to Philadelphia to work until lunch time, even after the National Coal Board was set up. He was well into his nineties when he died. His son Walter, at the time of the letters working at Houghton Colliery, rose to take his place, and subsequently became NCB Durham No.2 Area Chief Engineer.
Today, however, the Lambton Railway and its collieries are no more. The last tender locomotive to be cut up at Philadelphia was No.26 in December 1962, though No.9 survived as a stationary boiler at Brancepeth Colliery, Willington, until August 1965. No.27, the veteran of 1845, worked until 1963 and waited five years for someone to preserve it, until the NCB lost patience and had it cut up in November 1968. Working over BR to Sunderland and back continued until January 1967, still steam-hauled; but the steam locomotive fleet lasted only another two years before being replaced by cheap diesels bought from BR.