Heritage: First-hand feel for lost railway as pits project steams ahead

It was full steam ahead when Elaine Gaiger was given a lift home from primary school by her father

Sisters Doreen Day (left) and Elaine Gaiger at the Stephenson Railway Museum, their father was a locomotive driver
Sisters Doreen Day (left) and Elaine Gaiger at the Stephenson Railway Museum, their father was a locomotive driver

It was full steam ahead when Elaine Gaiger was given a lift home from primary school by her father.

Elaine would hitch a ride on her father Eddie Scragg’s engine, which operated on the line connecting the Backworth group of collieries in North Tyneside with the coal staithes at Whitehill Point on the River Tyne.

Eddie would regularly give Elaine a wave as he drove his locomotive past her classroom window at Backworth School.

“If he was passing the school when we were due to come out, he would wait and give me a lift on the engine,” says Elaine, who lived with her family on the Moorside estate at Backworth.

“Sometimes he would allow me to toot the engine’s whistle.”

Elaine now lives at Seaton Sluice, as does her sister Doreen Day, who was treated as a youngster to a trip down the Fenwick pit near Backworth.

Their grandfather worked for 50 years as a pitman until he reached his 70s.

The sisters are among many contributors to a year-long project which has explored the history of the Backworth railway line and those who worked on, and lived near it.

The result is a new permanent display at the Stephenson Railway Museum at Middle Engine Lane on the site of the line.

All Our Stories: Our Railway in Years Gone By was given an £8,600 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It was led by the North Tyneside Steam Railway Association, which is based at the museum, and whose volunteers carry out a wide range of roles primarily to support the operation of the line’s heritage railway.

The exhibition features first-hand accounts from people who worked on the railway and its associated industries, and includes a video room showing interviews with contributors.

Association chairman Malcolm Dunlavey says: “We have collected so much material, both the spoken word and images from people we have spoken to, that it has been very hard to accommodate it all.

“We have been given hundreds of photographs.”

Today, in an area where there were pits and a busy railway, stands the Silverlink retail park.

As well as the Backworth collieries, Cramlington and Wallsend’s Rising Sun pits fed into the line, which connected to Percy Main railway shed.

This had been set up by the Blyth and Tyne Railway to make and maintain locomotives. It closed in 1965. After the line closed, a section was used as a test track for the planned Metro system.

The Metro workshop became part of the museum, with the North Tyneside Steam Railway opening in 1991.

“The display will offer a real insight into the railways during that time,” says Malcolm.

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