Why the line was built

Kirkby Stephen East from the site of 'Croglam Castle'. Photo taken about 1930.The history of the construction of our railways during the nineteenth century is a long and complex story. However there are many common underlying themes to be discovered in the ways by which the network developed, and many of the entrepreneurs, engineers and contractors involved in the early years of the industry continued to make long and often profitable careers working on the construction of new lines.
Many of the first railway projects in the 1820's and early 1830's were intended to meet regional needs and often promoted to serve one particular industry. The construction of the first public railway - the Stockton and Darlington - was undertaken primarily to ship coal more efficiently from east Durham collieries around Bishop Auckland down to shipping staithes on the Tees.
Ten years later this pattern of construction had changed. Increasingly the new railway building schemes were being promoted as strategic links in a transportation network that would connect key cities and regions. Projects such as the Great North of England Railway between York and Darlington, opened in 1841, and the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, opened in 1846, were seen by their promoters as pieces of a much larger jigsaw that would in time form a national railway network.
However - and unlike many mainland European countries - there was no government sponsored 'national railway plan' in Britain. Progress relied on promoters bringing schemes forward and the only authority exercised by Parliament was the ability to authorise or refuse the private Acts of Parliament needed by developers to negotiate a right of way for a project. As developers jostled for routes and capital during the 'Railway Mania' of the 1840's many and often conflicting projects were proposed but only a few became a reality.
A crossing of northern England south of the 'Tyne Gap' was just such a case. Only two really practicable routes existed for engineers to use. One of these followed Wensleydale and then headed north down Mallerstang and the Upper Eden Valley. The other took advantage of the Greta Valley and the Stainmore Gap to cross high across the fells between the Tees and the Eden. During the 1840's and early 1850's no fewer than five proposed 'strategic link' projects were pencilled using these trans-Pennine crossings between Yorkshire, Durham and Cumbria. Their common intention was to connect urban Yorkshire with Carlisle and Glasgow but they all encountered the problems of potentially expensive construction coupled with little prospect of intermediate traffic to be found along a new railway in such desolate country.
An early Bessemer ConverterThe eventual impetus for the construction of a line through the Stainmore gap came from a rather different direction. In 1850 vast reserves of iron ore were discovered at Eston in Cleveland by the industrialist Henry Bolckow, close to the port site being developed by Joseph Pease and his partners. Within a few years the south bank of the Tees in the Middlesbrough area became a major international centre for the iron trade. At about the same time Henry Bessemer's steel-making process was being introduced, but this required hæmatite ores of the kind that outcropped in Furness and in west Cumberland. On the west coast the local iron industry demanded supplies of quality coke already being supplied from east Durham by the circuitous railway route via Newcastle and Carlisle. There was also the possibility of coal exports to Ireland. The directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, many of whom were also heavily involved in steel and coal themselves, saw a major business opportunity if a line could be built from West Auckland to join the Barnard Castle railway and then west via the Stainmore gap to connect with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway.
cutting the first sod at ApplebyAlthough the scheme was fostered and encouraged behind the scenes by powerful industrialists in the North East such as Pease, the practical side of the promotion and management of the new railway project was led by local interests. The Stockton and Darlington Railway, always wary of the danger of competitors trying to gain entry to Durham through such a scheme, contracted in advance to take over the operation of the route when it was built. The promoters followed the common contemporary practice of floating a separate company with strong local roots to manage the construction of the railway. The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway Company Bill was promoted in November 1856 and received the Royal assent on 13 July 1857 authorising a new railway from the Stockton and Darlington Lands Colliery branch near Bishop Auckland to a junction with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway at Tebay.
Local interests in the Appleby area promoted a second parliamentary bill in October 1857, again with the support of the Stockton and Darlington Board. The Eden Valley Railway Bill received the Royal assent on 21 May 1858, for the purpose of building a branch north westwards from Kirkby Stephen to Appleby and Penrith. This line would soon provide a second connection to west Cumberland mines and furnaces, with Stockton and Darlington locomotives working right through to the Irish Sea coast at Workington via the new Penrith, Cockermouth and Keswick Railway.


Joseph Pease

Joseph Pease


Joseph Pease was a member of the well known Darlington Quaker family that became closely involved with the development of both railways and industry in the region. His father Edward was a friend of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and the driving force behind the construction of the original Stockton and Darlington Railway. After 1829 Joseph took over responsibility for the management of the Company.

He also acquired or developed many mines in the Durham coalfield. His interest in shipping coal from these mines to British and overseas customers led him to look for opportunities to develop a new port in the region. In 1830 in partnership with other Quaker businessmen he bought a large tract of land on which the port and town of Middlesbrough was later developed.

In 1832 Joseph Pease became the first Quaker Member of Parliament. A man of strong principle, for some time he was unable to take his seat at Westminster until a committee of the House of Commons accepted that it was acceptable for him to affirm his loyalty rather than swear an oath which was contrary to Quaker belief.

Joseph was a formidable entrepreneur and a powerful business strategist. He was undoubtedly the mastermind behind the development and implementation of many regional infrastructure projects including the Stainmore line.

In his later life he became involved in promoting Quaker beliefs in non-violence. He served as President of the Peace Society from 1860 until his death in 1872


Turning the first sod on the Eden Valley Railway. Appleby 1858
An early Bessemer Converter for making steel on Teeside
Kirkby Stephen East station from Croglam Castle. Photograph taken about 1930
Joseph Pease (1799-1872)