The construction of the railway

Deepdale Viaduct under construction in 1858
At the first meeting of the SD&LUR Board held in Kirkby Stephen on 18 November 1856 Thomas Bouch was appointed to serve as engineer. This was no doubt on the recommendation of Joseph Pease and John Dixon of the Stockton and Darlington Railway who both had experience of his abilities. Bouch undertook to prepare all the work needed to apply for the necessary Act of Parliament for £2,300 and to prepare all the working drawings and supervise contractors for a further £6,900. This professional work proceeded quickly because nine months later the Company had their Act and were already letting contracts. The traditional 'first sod' ceremony was performed by the Duke of Cleveland at Kirkby Stephen on 25 August 1857.
By the late 1850's railway entrepreneurs and engineers had the benefit of thirty years' collective experience in managing railway construction contracts. Thomas Bouch had been personally involved in the completion of seven earlier lines. Even so, work on the new SD&LUR contract was challenging. The directors were looking for a cost effective scheme of the kind that Bouch was building a reputation for, and he needed to plan a route which followed the contours to avoid expensive tunnels and cuttings. However the downside of this strategy was the need to use steep gradients and also to erect viaducts to cross those rivers and ravines that couldn't be avoided. This required high ironwork that was at the limits of contemporary technology and metallurgy in the late 1850's. The contractor's 'navvies' were also labouring in exceptionally tough conditions, and especially between Kirkby Stephen and Bowes during the winter months.
To cut down on initial costs almost the whole of the route was initially built as single line, although from the beginning sufficient land was acquired for a second track. In most cases overbridges and viaducts were built with later 'doubling' in mind but some were not and it was more than thirty years before work to increase line capacity was complete. The last sections to be upgraded were between Belah and Kirkby Stephen in about 1890, and some sections east of Barnard Castle around 1903.
The contracts for the construction of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway
Contract number From To length (miles) Contractor value Price/ mile
1 Tebay Smardale Gill Wrigg, Preston £44,216 £4,654
2 Smardale Gill Rookby Scarth Chambers & Hilton £32,818 £6,909
3 Rookby Scarth Mousegill Chambers & Hilton £19,917 £5,311
4 Mousegill Bowes 10 Boulton, Wakefield £39,758 £3,975
5 Bowes River Tees J. Anderson, Appleby £28,423 £5,168
6 River Tees West Auckland 12½ D.P. Appleby, Barnard Castle £72,554 £5,804
TOTAL   46   £237,686 £5,167
Six main contracts were let to manage construction. Contract 1 involved light earthworks up the Lune Valley as far as Newbiggin following the line of the present A685 road and then north through Smardale Gill where the only major engineering needed was the construction of the big large viaduct. Contract 2 covered the construction of the line through Kirkby Stephen and included two large viaducts and the deep cut blasted through Big Hill near Rookby Scarth. Contract 3 covered the climb up the south side of the Belah Valley and a stretch on the north side of Belah Viaduct as far as Mousegill and then Contract 4 took the line across the summit and down to the village of Bowes. Actually this was the cheapest part of the route to build because of the easy earthworks required down the Greta Valley. Contract 5 covered the level country from Bowes through Boldron and Lartington to the Tees, and finally Contract 6 covered the line from the Tees to West Auckland. Due to a dispute with the Duke of Cleveland and also to control cash flow this work was staged and the section of line between Barnard Castle and West Auckland - which included three viaducts and a deep cutting at Bluestone Grange - was delayed for two years during which coke traffic was routed via Darlington. This last contract also included the masonry for the two big eastern iron viaducts across Deepdale and the Tees, These projects are described on a separate page.
Bowes Station
While working on the SD&LUR project Thomas Bouch also served as engineer for the Eden Valley Railway Company whose line was being built almost concurrently, and the same staff in his Edinburgh office worked on drawings for structures and buildings for both companies. This resulted in a strong family resemblance between buildings along both lines, and stations from Lartington in the east right across to Clifton near Penrith and Gaisgill near Tebay in the west had a very characteristic design and appearance. In this respect Kirkby Stephen East is the 'odd man out'. As an important junction it was designed with a separate house off-site for the stationmaster's use, and also a train shed capable of protecting passengers from the elements. It is this building that has survived to be at the heart of the Stainmore Railway Company Heritage Centre project.
The first revenue earning mineral trains are believed to have run between Barnard Castle and Tebay on 4 July 1861, and the SD&LUR opened to passenger traffic on 8 August - less than four years after approval to proceed with construction. From a present day perspective this represents an amazing rate of progress, in the twenty-first century surely even the public enquiry procedures could not have been completed in such a short time. The final cost of construction, including the purchase of land and rails was £667,386 or around £60 million in modern terms - working out at a bargain price of £1¼ million per route mile.



Thomas Bouch

Thomas Bouch


Thomas Bouch was born at Thursby in Cumberland in 1822, the second son of four children of a retired sea captain. His father died when he was sixteen and he briefly became an engineering apprentice in Liverpool. Two years later however he found work assisting in Joseph Locke's team surveying the route up the Lune and over Shap Fell for the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. This was his debut into the world of railway civil engineering.

From the Lancaster and Carlisle Bouch moved to Leeds where he worked with the Leeds civil engineer George Leather, and then in 1845 to a post as assistant engineer to John Dixon, the engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, on the railway being constructed up Weardale. His elder brother William was already a member of the railway's management team and probably put in a word on his brother's behalf. At this time Thomas Bouch became a member of the wider social circle of the Pease family, a connection that would later strongly influence the course of his career.

In 1849 Bouch took up a job as manager of the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee railway and in Scotland began to establish himself as a professional consulting engineer. He took an Edinburgh office at 78 George Street which would serve as his business base for many years, and married in 1853. During his career in Lothian he became associated with nearly twenty Scottish railway projects both north and south of the Firth of Forth as well as several projects in England.

However the work which really consolidated his reputation were the four projects required to complete the Stockton and Darlington 'coast to coast' link. These began with the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway in 1854, followed by the main 1857 SD&LUR contract and then the Eden Valley Railway in 1858 and the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line in 1861. During this time Bouch was not only employed on railway construction; his office also dealt with projects ranging from urban tramway networks to seaside piers.

Sadly of course Thomas Bouch is best known for the spectacular failure he was responsible for at the end of his life - the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. Bouch spent nine years as engineer responsible for this major North British railway project to shorten their main line from Edinburgh to Dundee and the north. After the successful completion and opening of the bridge over the Tay in 1878 Queen Victoria used the route on her trip south from Balmoral in June 1879 and the NBR summoned Bouch to ride on the footplate of the Royal train. Three weeks after at the pinnacle of his career he was knighted at Windsor.

But just six months later the high girders of the Tay Bridge lay on the seabed after the central spans had collapsed in a severe storm, taking a passenger train with it and at least sixty passengers to watery graves in the Firth of Tay. At the subsequent enquiry Bouch bore the full responsibility for the failure of his design and his career as an engineer was ruined. He died a few months later in October 1880, largely due to the terrible stress of these events.



Thomas Bouch (1822-1880)
Deepdale viaduct under construction in 1858. The ironwork was erected in 80 days.
Bowes station was typical of the architecture of most wayside stations along the line.