Wannie Line celebrated in exhibition at Bellingham

IT has been described as Northumberland’s best-loved railway line. Now the Wannie Line, which opened in the middle of the 19th Century and saw its last train run in 1966, is being celebrated in an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre.

IT has been described as Northumberland’s best-loved railway line.

Now the Wannie Line, which opened in the middle of the 19th Century and saw its last train run in 1966, is being celebrated in an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre.

It ran for 25 miles through rural Northumberland from Morpeth to Reedsmouth, near Bellingham.

Stations or halts along the way included Meldon, Angerton, Middleton, Scots Gap, Knowesgate, and Woodburn.

Charles Parsons, the steam turbine inventor, had his own private platform where he lived near Knowesgate.

The train would stop there when he or his guests required picking up or to deliver his mail.

The line was proposed by the Wansbeck Railway Company, with backers including Earl Grey and the Trevelyan and Ridley families, and was later absorbed by the North British Railway.

The line from Morpeth to Scots Gap opened in 1862, followed by the stretch on to Reedsmouth three years later.

Bill Sewell, from Stannington in Northumberland and who has written a book on the North British Railway, said: “For a long time the line was the only public transport. The roads were in an appalling condition. Many roads in Northumberland were not paved with gravel until the 1920s,” he said.

But competition from road transport would eventually spell the end for the Wannie Line. The last passenger train ran in 1952 and the goods service terminated beyond Woodburn and to Rothbury in 1963, with the final goods train from Morpeth to Woodburn in 1966.

“The line finally closed, ending over 100 years of railway service in central Northumberland. It had provided a valuable, perhaps critical, public amenity in times of peace and war,” said Mr Sewell. The line’s goods function included serving lime kilns, and sites like industrialist William Armstrong’s iron ore workings at Broomhope and Hindhaugh, which supplied his factory in Elswick in Newcastle.

Then there were quarries like Blaxters sandstone undertaking at Eldson, and the Northumberland County Council roadstone works at Whitehill Quarry.

Also served were collieries, the movement of cattle, the Fontburn reservoir, and the Otterburn and Redesdale military bases.

Isaac Elliott, now 84 and living in Kirkwhelpington, worked on the Wannie Line. He has good cause to remember his very first shift at Reedsmouth, which started at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1947 until 8am on New Year’s Day. He recalls a strange encounter on that shift at the Reedsmouth engine shed.

“There was a rattle in the door at 2am and there was this young woman standing there, soaking wet.”

She was allowed to dry her clothes by the stove and then sleep the rest of the night in a store created from a carriage.

“In all that time she said absolutely nothing apart from asking to be put on early morning train to Kielder,” said Isaac.

The exhibition runs until June 6 but is likely to return later in the year.

Walk the line

MEMORIES of the Wannie Line linger on.

There is a circular Wannie Line walk from Scots Gap.

Northern Heritage, based at Blagdon in Northumberland, also sells The Wannie Line CD which features Northumbrian fiddle music by Roddy Matthews.

The very last train on the line was run in October, 1966, as a charity event by Gosforth Round Table.

The steam-hauled Wansbeck Piper consisted of 11 coaches accommodating 640 people.

Keith Hartnell, who went on to found Northern Heritage, made a sound recording of that day.

Northern Heritage acquired the 16m film made by Gosforth Round Table of that last journey and it has now been re-mastered as a DVD titled Remember the Wannie Line.

 
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