Tanfield Railway

Tanfield Railway The Tanfield Railway, the World's Oldest Railway is a wonderful day out for all the family.

The Tanfield Railway is a wonderful day out for all the family, whatever the weather. Just sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery as steam drifts past your vintage carriage in a truly yesteryear atmosphere, when lifes pace was less hurried.

For today's longer read we take a look at what can be assumed to be some of the early locomotives at Marley Hill shed.Wh...

For today's longer read we take a look at what can be assumed to be some of the early locomotives at Marley Hill shed.

When Marley Hill Colliery was opened in 1841, horses pulled waggons from the Tanfield Branch. Even in 1845 when Burnopfield colliery 2 1/2 miles away was linked to Marley Hill, horses were still used. It was not until 1847 that steam locomotives are first recorded at Marley Hill.

Where these first locomotives were housed is not entirely certain but it is known that by 1854 the current locomotive shed was in existence. As the railway expanded and became busier from 1847, Marley Hill locomotive shed became busier and busier. From 1854, Marley Hill locomotives worked trains from Birkheads in the east to Dipton in the west, a distance of around 5 1/2 miles.

When Marley Hill locomotive shed was built, it was located at the junction of two lines and at the centre of the newly completed Pontop & Jarrow Railway (P&JR). Trains from Andrews House colliery passed the shed on its south side and joined the main line of the P&JR just in front of the shed.

Old Marley Hill locomotive drivers interviewed in the 1930s said that these first machines were bought second hand and they described them as ‘grasshoppers’. In the 1840s, the term ‘grasshopper’ was used to describe engines with cylinders sloping heavily attached to the front of the boiler. They looked much the same as the shape of a grasshopper’s legs. It is thought that the first locomotives at Marley Hill are likely to have been similar to Stockton & Darlington Railway locomotives DERWENT and Locomotion No.1.

At that time, locomotives such as these were being replaced on the major public railway systems. They are likely to have been six wheelers, and may even have had a tender at one end for water, and at the other end for coal. The exact identity of these earliest Marley Hill engines, and how many there were, has never been discovered.

Legend has it that one early locomotive ended its days as a stationary boiler powering machinery at Marley Hill shed.

Descriptions of the locomotive suggest that it dated back to the 1820s. Although evidence is conflicting, it may be that this machine was SPRINGWELL No. 1 or No. 2 built in 1826 by Robert Stephenson & Co. They were the first locomotives ordered from Robert Stephenson & Co, the world’s first locomotive manufacturer. They built to work on the Springwell Colliery Railway, which was joined to Marley Hill in 1854. It is highly likely that one of them became 'The Bull' at Marley Hill.

Part of the shed was adapted for it and became known as ‘The Bull’s Hoose’. It was not finally cut up for scrap until the 1880s.

Converting elderly locomotives to static use for driving machinery was once fairly common but pictures are rare. Pictured is Adelaide, built by Robert Stephenson & Co. in 1832 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It was converted to drive a mortar mill during the construction works in Saltburn.

As Marley Hill found itself at the centre of the expanding Pontop & Jarrow Railway, it needed more, and bigger, locomotives. The need for new power meant that both new and second hand locomotives arrived throughout the 1850s.

Locomotive design at that time was still developing and the engines that worked at Marley Hill were very similar to those that could be found at work on coal trains on any railway. They gradually grew in size with bigger boilers and cylinders to cope with heavier trains and longer journeys. They were almost all tender engines, carrying their coal and water behind them.

Marley Hill engine shed was not just a place for locomotives to rest. Fairly major repairs were carried out here too. One locomotive was even built here.

In 1854 a small four wheeled tank locomotive was built in the shed. It is said that the engineers responsible for the work were brothers, called Thompson. It is known that it had cast iron wheels, a saddle shaped water tank over the boiler, and an elaborate ‘gothic’ style cover over the firebox.

It was named after a racehorse owned by John Bowes, Daniel O’ Rourke, which won the Derby in 1852.

It is believed that the locomotive was scrapped in the 1880s. The tank though was later used to hold fire clay at Springwell Bank Foot shed and was not scrapped until 1954.

Enjoyed our 'longer reads'? Please support the railway by donating towards our Coronavirus Appeal. This will ensure that our volunteers can reopen and continue to preserve the world's oldest railway once the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Please donate here - https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-support-tanfield-railway

📸 Beamish Collection

Caption competition... just for fun! 😂

Caption competition... just for fun! 😂

In a slight change from the norm, we take a look at the life and times of a North East machine which now resides in Wale...

In a slight change from the norm, we take a look at the life and times of a North East machine which now resides in Wales… Mech. Navvies Ltd. No. 71515 which visited us as star guest for our 2015 Legends of Industry Gala.

War Department 'Austerity' 0-6-0ST No. 71515 was built in 1944 by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Ltd at their Newcastle works. She was one of 90 of this design built by RSH carrying their works number 7169. The works plates carried by these locomotives has a build location of Newcastle and Darlington works, although final assembly was carried out at Forth banks in Newcastle, many of the components were manufactured at the company's premises in Darlington.

Constructed for the War Department, No. 71515 was loaned out in April 1944 heading for the Ministry of Fuel and Power run opencast in Ashington, Northumberland. Two years later, although remaining in Ashington, she was loaned to the Ashington Coal Company.

Whilst in the Ashington area, an ownership change took place when the loan to the Ministry of Fuel and Power was made permanent by being transferred to its successor the NCB Opencast Executive on April 1 1952.

By August 1955 another move took place whilst still in Northumberland as No. 71515 found itself working at the Horton Grange opencast near Bebside.

The final move of its working career took it to the Swalwell opencast disposal point in County Durham by September 1967.

The Swalwell site was being operated by Mechanical Navvies Ltd when No. 71515 arrived and during this time it received its well-known maroon livery but still carrying its WD number on the coal bunker.

While working in industry, No. 71515 was required to operate on tracks that would be shared with British Railways locomotives. To allow this it was inspected by persons approved by the British Transport Commission and plates were fitted displaying the BTC registration number 1865 of 1953 on the cab footsteps.

A career in preservation beckoned when Johnson's of Chopwell, the then operators of Swalwell, sold No. 71515 to the East Somerset Railway, Cranmore where it arrived August 31 1973. While at Cranmore an identity change occurred as No. 71515 was renumbered one ahead of the British Railways series of numbers for its Class J94 Locomotives of the same design becoming No. 68005.

After a period at Cranmore, a move north took it to the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Railway via a stop over for overhaul in Birmingham by its new owners in May 1989.

After arriving at Embsay No. 68005 became a regular operator of services until withdrawal with a tube problems in September 2006. Having been in storage awaiting overhaul at Embsay, No 68005 was placed on the market and sold to a member of the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway.

After removal from Embsay, she was taken to The Flour Mill workshops for a full overhaul to working order including new cylinder liners and plate replacement to the outer firebox. During this overhaul it was decided to return her to the Mech Navvies colour scheme carrying the number No. 71515, finally arriving at Pontypool for the opening of an extension to the railway in May 2010.

No. 71515 was a top target for many Gala Weekends at Tanfield, with the dream eventually coming true in June 2015 - the first time it had returned to the North East since 1973!

Enjoyed our 'longer reads'? Please support the railway by donating towards our Coronavirus Appeal. This will ensure that our volunteers can reopen and continue to preserve the world's oldest railway once the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Please donate here - https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-support-tanfield-railway

📸 Armstrong Railway Photographic Trust, R.Hunter, H.Elliott, K.Snowdon

In today's longer read we take a look at the signalling on the Tanfield branch before preservation, mainly featuring the...

In today's longer read we take a look at the signalling on the Tanfield branch before preservation, mainly featuring the later years of use between Lobley Hill and Tanfield.

From the earliest days of railways, it was realised that control of the movement of trains in the form of signalling was required to prevent collisions. The signalling at first was very primitive, policemen with flags, rotating discs or even a ball raised or lowered to give the appropriate indication. In the 1840s the semaphore signal was adopted by many of the Railway Companies and these signal arms with coloured light indications at night formed the basis of conventional signalling that we can still see in action today.

The grouping of signals and point levers together on one ‘frame’ was first seen in the 1850s. This combined with elementary forms of interlocking all housed in a cabin to provide weather protection, the ingredients for a ‘signal box’ came together.

To ensure that there were no head-on collisions on single line routes, the safety requirement was that the driver of the train carried a token or staff which was his visible ‘token’ of authority to be on the single line. There is of course only one staff for each stretch of single line and the driver must ensure that it is handed to him and given up at the correct place. As recorded in the ‘Regulations for working single lines of railways’ it states ‘An engine driver will render himself liable to dismissal if he leaves a staff section without the train staff and must be careful not to carry the staff beyond the place at which it should be left.’

There were two staff sections on the locomotive worked sections of single line between Tanfield Lea and Bakers Bank Head on the Tanfield Railway. A staff with ticket operation existed between Bakers Bank Head and Bowes Bridge, the staff and ticket were used together all day long except in the morning when the Lobley Hill engine took the ticket and left it at Bakers Bank Head with the Bank Head chargeman and the Bowes Bridge engine working between there and Bakers Bank carried the staff. In the evening, the Bowes Bridge engine on its last trip ran with the ticket from Bank Head to Bowes Bridge leaving the staff at the Bank Head for the driver of the Lobley Hill engine to carry when running from Bakers Bank Head back to the shed at Bowes Bridge.

The Lobley Hill engine always used the rope on the incline from Bakers Bank Head to Lobley Hill and was signalled and treated as a set of waggons. From Bowes Bridge to Tanfield Lea, the single line was worked by a staff distinguished by its identity lettering and one ring around it and this ‘one engine in steam’ arrangement required the engine to complete an out and back movement each time. Both the train staffs were kept in the charge of the foreman at Bowes Bridge who supervised all locomotive movements.

This piece starts at Lobley Hill, part of the way up the now closed line from the River Tyne in an area where a lot of the original track features have been removed due to landscaping work at the Watergate Colliery site and continues southwards to East Tanfield. The description relates to the later period and into British Railway days, the position in earlier years shows differences and is not as clear. Signalling was found mainly in the areas where loco hauled coal trains had contact with either road traffic or colliery rail traffic. Thee was partial signalling in yard areas such as Bowes Bridge but it is not certain whether any points were ever interlocked with signals.

Lobley Hill crossing
The crossing was protected as normal by two home signals; slotted post lower quadrant signals of typical NER design, one with a ball and spike finial. The signalbox had characteristic slated hipped roof with a tall stove pipe chimney, horizontal weatherboard superstructure with sliding sash windows, with in the final few years of the box, a brick locking room below the operating floor level. In the south side of the crossing, the opposite side to the bank head, there were signals protecting the coal yard as well as the incline from the loco approaching from Bakers Bank Foot.

Sunniside crossing
After Lobley Hill, the next signals were found at the level crossing of the Stanley road came into Sunniside. The crossing keeper had two signals under his control, the one for the southbound trains to Bowes Bridge was 100yds north of the road on the east side and the other for trains from Bowes Bridge to Bakers Bank Head was 200yds to the south in the cutting where the loop for Sunniside station now starts. He also had control of a slip point, which protected the sidings at Bakers Bank Head from run-aways coming from his direction. An interesting feature of this crossing, which had a nice stone built cabin, was the provision of two tall posts on each side of the road to carry a signal wire across the road. Presumably elsewhere on the branch, a conduit of some description under the road surface was the usual way to get the wire across the road.

Bowes Bridge
There was a junction with the Bowes Railway at this location and as well, sidings to an engine shed, to a coaling facility and to a turntable. The location may have also acted as a stopping point for loaded trains on the way out of the branch or empty ones being delivered to a colliery, but although a variety of movements were carried out, a minimum of signalling was provided.

Marley Hill crossing
With the opening of the Pontop and Jarrow Railway from Marley Hill and Burnopfield Collieries towards Kibblesworth in 1854, this route had to cross the North Eastern Railway’s Tanfield branch at Marley Hill. Under an agreement between the Colliery Partners and the NER (the NER took over from the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway in July 1854), the latter provided the signalling, this was vital since both lines approached the crossing in cuttings and crossed at right angles. A signal was provided on each of the approaching tracks to prevent side collisions and these protecting signals were controlled from a signal box named Marley Hill. Its location is shown on a map of 1863 and it is likely that its construction dates back to the installation of the crossing of the two systems in 1854. The signalbox had excellent views along the approaching lines in all directions and it seems that the signalman would clear a route for an approaching train on hearing the engine whistle and provided he had already not cleared his signals for a train crossing its path. Telephone communication was introduced linking various parts of the system but it was not crucial to the regulation of trains at Marley Hill. When you look over Gibraltar Bridge at the ‘replica’ signalbox, you are gazing on a scene little changed over nearly 150 years. The 1987 construction of the box on the foundations of the original followed so carefully the style and character of the old one that it is difficult to tell them apart when you view any of the old photographs. Although the exteriors match closely, the interiors are quite different. The new box controls more signals and sets of points in order to safely control with exacting standards a passenger operating railway. There was never ofcourse a passing a loop at Andrews House or a link between Marley Hill shed and the main running line which is all fully signalled and interlocked to prevent any conflicting movements being set up. The old box had only 8 levers compared with the 15 lever frame installed in the present day box. Each protecting home signal at the crossing had its own separately worked distant warning signal except for the Tanfield approach side, which was operated when No.3 was cleared for sighting reasons. The only points which the box operated was to the manure siding (now the site of Andrews House station). Between 1940 and 1942, the points were presumably converted to hand operation with a point clamp as it was disconnected from the control of the signalman. In 1942 the distant signals had become fixed, i.e. always set at the caution position, the Pontop & Jarrow Railway direction signal on the Burnopfield side. It should be explained that when the distant signal was in the horizontal 'caution' position, the driver would understand that he must stop his train at the home signal ahead. If the distant was in the clear position, the loco driver would know that signal protecting the crossing was also clear and he could proceed without stopping. It is also interesting to note that distant signal arms on the branch were changed from red with white stripes to yellow with black chevron in 1930, this was part of the national policy begun by the LNER in 1926. Caution spectacles were changed from red to yellow (amber) and signalbox lever colour from red or green to yellow at the same time.

Causey crossing
The crossing is now currently known as Bob Gins as it was renamed when the Tanfield stretch was reopened by the volunteers in 1991. Within the ‘Working of Causey Level Crossing gates’, an instruction suggests that the crossing keeper had no communication system since it refers to ‘observation’ along the line to ensure no trains approaching before the gates are opened to allow road traffic to pass. The 1928 instruction states that the gates must not under any circumstances be opened to road traffic if a train is approaching. With gradients of 1 in 40 falling toward East Tanfield, this statement is quite reassuring to drivers who may be experiencing some difficulty in restarting a heavy train on steep gradients. The prospect of having the gates closed across the railway ahead of you would be quite daunting. Signalling at this position consisted of two home signals placed by the crossing for both directions. They were operated by the crossing keeper from a frame beside his house, it was a heavy piece of timber with levers operating chains. The crossing keeper’s house was a small two storey building alongside the track on the main road side. The hard surface still there today would be connected with this building. It is assumed that the gates may have had some form of interlocking preventing the signals being cleared whilst the gates were open to road traffic.

East Tanfield colliery
At a location known as Slatyford on the Ordnance Survey maps, a home signal was placed which controlled trains approaching from the Causey direction. This signal would presumably protect any locos involved with shunting movements from the colliery yard out on to the Tanfield branch.

East Tanfield crossing
A signal cabin was provided at this site with two signals controlling the road and rail crossing. The box probably also signalled the approach from Tanfield Lea colliery by means of a distant signal about 300yds southwest of the road crossing. The box was of similar construction to the Lobley Hill one, with slated, hipped roof and horizontal weatherboard upper storey and lower locking room. In this case however, the ground floor locking room remained timber clad until closure. The cabin had a brick chimney compared to Lobley Hill’s stove pipe chimney.

Enjoyed our 'longer reads'? Please support the railway by donating towards our Coronavirus Appeal. This will ensure that our volunteers can reopen and continue to preserve the world's oldest railway once the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Please donate here - https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-support-tanfield-railway

📸 Armstrong Railway Photographic Trust, Charlton Collection


Old Marley Hill
NE16 5ET

Weekdays & Saturdays: The X30 & X31 from Newcastle, Gateshead and Stanley stop at Andrews House and Causey Arch Sundays & Bank Holidays The X30 & X31 do not run. Services from Newcastle, Gateshead and Stanley stop in Sunniside Village with a short walk to Sunniside Station Details are available from Go North East 0845 6060260 or Nexus Traveline 0871 2002233

Opening Hours

Saturday 10:00 - 16:00
Sunday 10:00 - 17:00




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Hi. Does anyone know any of the history of Marley Hill going along Church Street and also the house Redlands? Thanks in advance xx
The Tanfield Railway Philosophical Society (?) Whilst we are frustrated in our inability to do much physical work at the railway, could we apply our grey matter to some perhaps difficult - but relevant - issues? To start the ball rolling I suggest we apply our minds the question below – it’s not that the writer wants to impose a view, it’s that he wants others to form views of their own. Please give a response, but not just yes or no, you have to give your reason as well. The question is: IS IT ETHICAL TO HOLD A LARGE COLLECTION OF HISTORIC MATERIAL WITHOUT CREDIBLE PROPOSALS FOR ALL OF ITS FUTURE WELLBEING? Over to you:
Doing a hula hooping challenge! Hula hooping for an extra min each day in a different location. Thank you for allowing us to share your beautiful location.
In light of the theft of copper and brass piping etc. that has been stolen, are you able to set up a fund raising page?
Do you have a crowd funding page to help you during this time?
"Stagshaw" at Shotton Colliery 10 April 1969. Not sure about the livery...
I have an album on flickr for the Tanfield Railway which includes views from the 1980's, videos and by the kind permission of the Armstrong Railway Photographic Trust views of the railway back in the 1950's and 60's https://www.flickr.com/photos/irishswissernie/albums/72157682414967834
Marley Hill shed, Tanfield Railway Gala, 8.9.12
Today's golden oldie view for you all- No20 Tanfield approaching Causey level crossing on the Tanfield railway during an 8G freight promotions photo charter on 08/04/95. This photo has previously been published in one of the national railway publications, more views follow https://www.flickr.com/photos/doh46229 📷 Image may contain: train, cloud, sky and outdoor
Hi Guys, wishing you all well at this difficult time. I have make an online jigsaw of the original Stagshaw. Use the 'solve HTML 5' option, please let me know if this works. http://dkmgames.com/Jigsaw/?id=P537461677368
Keighley Gasworks No.2 at work, 19th January