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Travel North - 55: Whitby & Pickering Railway, 1. Trials and Tribulations of Enterprise

Travel back in time with Alan to the 'Railway Mania' that gripped Britain, when entrepreneurs and engineers got together to forge alliances

Trials And Tribulations Of Enterprise

Whitby Harbour, 1833, the scene of new enterprise on land also saw the demolition of the old harbour lift bridge by Messrs Craven who had the contract for a new one

Whitby Harbour, 1833, the scene of new enterprise on land also saw the demolition of the old harbour lift bridge by Messrs Craven who had the contract for a new one

George Stephenson had been invited to give his insights on the prospects of a railway from Whitby to Pickering. His optimistic report was accepted enthusiastically by the town's dignitaries... He also chanced upon...

George Stephenson had been invited to give his insights on the prospects of a railway from Whitby to Pickering. His optimistic report was accepted enthusiastically by the town's dignitaries... He also chanced upon...

George Hudson had visited Whitby to inspect his inheritance. A new future lay ahead for the two men who - despite a nearly two decade age difference - would form a firm friendship

George Hudson had visited Whitby to inspect his inheritance. A new future lay ahead for the two men who - despite a nearly two decade age difference - would form a firm friendship

These days the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) is seen as a success story...

A venture that can trace its ancestry back well over a century-and-a-half. The NYMR as it is now is a 'Phoenix' that rose from the ashes of British Railways' closure early in 1965, a policy of closure pursued by a Transport Minister set on pillorying the railways in order to promote road haulage. Ernest Marples, the 'go-getter' appointed by fated PM Harold MacMillan - 'Supermac' - in the mid-1960s in turn appointed Dr Richard Beeching the then Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I) to cast his analytical eye over the sad economics of a chronically wasteful national railway system, British Railways, and 'cut away the dead wood'.

With its low passenger and goods carrying statistics the Whitby-Pickering branch between Grosmont and Pickering (along with the Whitby-Scarborough line) looked a prime target for Beeching's axe. And so it was, early in 1065 the branch ceased to operate. We now know the outcome of that story, that led to the re-opening of the line initially to a point south of Goathland known as Fen Bog, although at the time it was far from clear-cut. The perseverance of the society led to its establishment as a trust and an official opening in 1973 by the Duchess of Kent. The NYMR became a byword for success - fraught with difficulty even until fairly recently with the vagaries of the weather and the holidaying trends of the British public. Other preserved or re-opened railways have sought to emulate their fortunes.

However it was a close-run thing, that there was a Whitby & Pickering Railway to operate in the first place.

In 1834 the old coastal haven of Whitby witnessed an historical meeting. George Hudson arrived in the town, having inherited an uncle's wealth and property, to inspect aforementioned property as part of his legacy. He chanced on George Stephenson, on a visit regarding railway matters. In spite of an age difference of nineteen years they formed a friendship. The 'Railway Mania' was as yet in the future when a horse tramway was mooted in place of a planned canal from Whitby by way of Grosmont and Goathland to Pickering. The project would seem relatively insignificant to 'Owd George', who could count the Stockton & Darlington (S&DR) and Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) to his railway engineering credit. It had taken over forty years of cautious council talks before George Stephenson came onto the scene. The canal idea had been put forward as early as 1793, to extend from the tidal reach of the River Esk at Ruswarp to link with Pickering at an estimated £60,000. The scheme was not altogether abandoned until 1831, although five years would pass before a railway was embarked upon, to follow the alignment the canal was planned for. Its backers were influenced by the imminent renewal of the Act for a turnpike (fee-paid road) between the towns and the success of the S&DR for which Whitby's better-off inhabitants and traders had subscribed £8,500.

A provisional committee was formed after a meeting at the Angel Inn in Whitby, and George Stephenson was invited to give his opinion on building a simple line, on which horsepower only would be used. Stephenson declared optimistically that such a venture would pay for itself and amply reimburse the investors.

He put forward that the line would cost around £2,000 per mile, set against the foreseen sales of coal from County Durham to the north, of about £6,000 a year. Further estimated annual income of £7,200 would be gained if as a counter-weight working the railway carried lime for the reclamation of the 'barren tract' of Newton Dale beside the proposed route. The line would see an improvement of trade in Whitby's harbour, enabling Baltic and North American timber imports to reach Pickering and other inland townships for a significantly reduced cost, along with other important merchandise hitherto moved over poorly maintained moorland roads. Additionally the movement of freestone from Eskdale and hardwoods and agricultural products from the Pickering district would find new markets. The cost of whinstone from Egton Bridge and Goathland could reach the London markets at reduced cost.

Such an optimistic report could only have been received as enthusiastically at the meeting in the Angel Inn, Whitby on 12th September, 1832. A share register was opened and by the end of the month £30,000 was subscribed. The supporters felt confident enough of their cause to apply for an Act of Parliament - obtained without opposition on 6th May, 1833. Several interesting features were contained in the Act, such as the provision for the use of 'L'-shaped plate rails as well as a remarkable catalogue of tolls, materials to mend roads were to be levied at 'tuppence' (two pence) per ton per mile. Coal, lime, iron, bricks, potatoes and kelp at 'thruppence' (three pence); corn, flour, coke, cast iron, steel, timber and hay four pence; malt, meat, groceries, wool, fruit and vegetables at five pence; all other items were levied at a 'tanner' (six pence). Passengers would pay tuppence a mile and a surcharge of a 'bob' (shilling) per ton on on goods taken uphill to Goathland, but not downward on the incline from/to Beck Hole. Lawyers would have been in their element with this early legislation, as interestingly one section of the Act allowed the passage of locomotives whilst another forbade it.

A detailed survey of the route next went ahead.

From the site of an earlier shipyard in Whitby the route crossed the River Esk nine times before it reached Grosmont. A tunnel here took the route through the dale that led south to Goathland across the Murk Esk several times ('Dark Esk' on account of the rock silt and ironstone traces in its waters). Past Beck Hole the intention was to align the route past a waterfall, known locally as Mallyan Spout, and Wheeldale Lodge before taking the southward heading through a lengthy tunnel. The idea was forsaken in favour of a rope-worked incline to Goathland. The summit was reached at Fen Bog near the entrance to Newton Dale at an elevation of 500 feet above sea level, before taking a meandering route to Pickering via Levisham.

The contract was let in August, 1833, the first sod ceremonially cut on 10th September by Robert Campion, the appointed chairman of the railway company.

From early beginnings...

Whitby & Pickering Railway, the proposed route via Beck Hole and incline to Goathland

Whitby & Pickering Railway, the proposed route via Beck Hole and incline to Goathland

Local newspaper advertisements for travel on the Whitby & Pickering Railway

Local newspaper advertisements for travel on the Whitby & Pickering Railway

Grosmont - the first real obstruction saw contractors tackle the horse tunnel

Grosmont - the first real obstruction saw contractors tackle the horse tunnel

"Hailing the coach", from Tomlinson North Eastern Railway. Author was a youth when the W&PR began to operate - the scene is probably set at Levisham, with heights on either side of the line

"Hailing the coach", from Tomlinson North Eastern Railway. Author was a youth when the W&PR began to operate - the scene is probably set at Levisham, with heights on either side of the line

Construction started at a rapid rate, considering the nature of the terrain and the lack of mechanical aids.

Beyond here another major engineering feature was the inclined plane between Beck Hole and Goathland. At the head of the incline was the summit, beyond which was Fen Bog, a 20 foot deep obstacle left by the Ice Age when the ice receded (and left a long lake in Eskdale to the north).

Difficulties in traversing the treacherous Fen Bog were overcome under direction from George Stephenson, by 'pile-driving' great balks of Baltic pine with hammers said to weigh 141 lbs (pounds). Sheaves of heather bound in sheep fleeces, whole trees and hurdles bedecked with cut moss were invested in securing a firm trackbed foundation. Newton Dale itself provided the same natural challenge, said to present the whle way a succession of the most difficult terrain over which a railway had yet been built. The whole length was formed over broken and boggy ground on moorland stream beds, through mounds of stone left when the ice melted, and earth that had fallen away from cliffs and hillocks along the route.

The trackbed was laid with fish-belly rails 15 feet long and weighing 40 lbs to the yard. The rails rested in cast iron chairs set on stone blocks 24 inches square of at least 200 lbs. An interesting feature, never satisfactorily explained, was that the blocks were not laid at a right-angle to the rails but diagonally, to present the shareholders with a bill of £105,000 or £4,000 per mile.

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May 15th, 1835 saw the directors take a trial run in the first class carriage 'Premier', as the work had progressed from Whitby to Whinstone Dyke south of Grosmont's short tunnel (the only tunnel on the line as it turned out). Aside from its flanged wheels the vehicle showed no signs of technical progress from the stage coaches that crossed the moors on the way north to Darlington. By 8th June it rn regularly except on Sundays from Whitby to the Tunnel Inn (still there and doing swift business during the season). Fares were 15/3d (fifteen shillings and three pence) inside, 1 shilling 'topside'. In the first three months 6,000 fares had been taken on the two daily trips, Monday to Friday, three on Saturdays. A second class coach entered service on 18th July, and provided a service for market people at 6d (sixpence). The company announced the availability of the coaches for (Sunday) hire by parties, and for 6d per person they could travel to Beck Hole by hiring an additional flanged-wheel coach. The line became the third in Yorkshire to carry passengers, preceded by the Newport (Middlesbrough) extension of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) opened 27th December, 1830, and the Leeds & Selby Railway on 22nd September, 1834. A coach also ran from Pickering to Raindale.

Something like 10,000 tons of stone traffic was carried in the first twelve months from mid-1835, from the Whitby Stone Company's quarries at Lease Rigg near Grosmont. The wagons were let down to the W&PR by a self-acting incline, to be shipped from Whitby to London. Additionally goods traffic would run before the official opening of the line on 26th May, 1836.

The day turned out to be one of the most colourful events in Whitby's history. Church bells started to peal from dawn, and by 7.30 am a large crowd had gathered outside the Angel Inn, from where the Whitby Brass Band led a procession to the station - sited near where the gas works was later built - and passengers were seated in carriages festooned with banners that bore the company crest. The horses were meanwhile led to the ringing of a bell. The guard and coachman of each vehicle wore a green card on his hat, that let everyone know which coach he rode on. The bell rang again for the horses to be hitched to their respective vehicles before the wheeled cavalcade set off at a brisk pace. Speed was regulated by the guards' flags - white for 'go', red for 'slow down' and blue for 'stop'. Red was not yet associated with 'danger'.