Bowes Railway

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Bowes Railway
Pontop & Jarrow Railway
Bowes Railway Museum - - 221650.jpg

The Bowes Railway at Springwell Village

Gateshead (Postal Address) Although it is within the City of Sunderland .
Locale Tyne and Wear
Terminus Dipton Colliery to Jarrow Staith (preserved Springwell - Wrekenton)
Commercial operations
Built by George Stephenson
Original gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Stations 2 (Springwell & Blackhams Hill)
Length 1 1/2 Miles
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved era 1975-
Commercial history
Opened 1826/1855
Closed 1974
Preservation history

The Bowes Railway, built by George Stephenson in 1826, is the world's only operational preserved standard gauge cable railway system. It was built to transport coal from pits in Durham to boats on the River Tyne. The site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1] The railway is open the first weekend of each month and every Tuesday and Thursday for static display and guided tours. Entry is currently by donation.



The Grand Allies, a partnership of businessmen including John Bowes, opened a colliery at Springwell in Durham. A railway was needed to transport the coal to the River Tyne. The plan was to build inclined planes and use a combination of steam power and gravity to move the coal wagons. The railway was designed by George Stephenson who built the Hetton colliery railway which was completed in 1822.


The railway was built between Mount Moor and Jarrow via Springwell village. The first section to open was between Springwell and Jarrow which opened on 17 January 1826, Mount Moor followed in April 1826.[2] When the line opened it comprised four inclined planes: one steep incline from Mount Moor to Blackham's Hill, and one from Blackham's Hill to Springwell. At Blackham's Hill, the summit of both inclines, was the "hauler house", housing stationary engines to wind the ropes. A long self-acting incline ran from Springwell. Nearly 5 miles (8.0 km) of locomotive-worked line extended to Jarrow where a final incline served the coal staiths.[3] The line was extended across the Team Valley to Kibblesworth Colliery in May 1842.[4] The railway was completed in 1854 when a link from Marley Hill to Kibblesworth was connected enabling collieries in Dipton to be accessed.[5]


From 1 January 1947 the railway was owned and operated by the National Coal Board.[6] After 1974 no inclines remained working and the line was only worked north east of Wardley. The last day the inclines were used, Friday 4 October 1974, was filmed by BBC and Tyne -Tees TV crews.[7]

What was left of the Bowes Railway north east of the inclines was served by a shed at Wardley. The line was reduced in length, until at the end there was only about 1 mile (1.6 km) in use, and it closed on 10 January 1986, a few days short of the 180th anniversary. This attentuated system the NCB called the Monkton Railways after the coke works that was its mainstay between 1975 and 1986.[8]

Preserved railway[edit]

Tyne & Wear Industrial Monuments Trust was established April 1975 and took control of the line around Springwell from the National Coal Board through the medium of county council direction. By 1975 Springwell Workshops were building replica locomotives such as Locomotion No. 1[9][10] trading as Locomotion Enterprises. The Marley Hill shed of the Tanfield Railway is a former Bowes Railway running shed as are short lengths of the track at Marley Hill. Marley Hill became a preservation base from 1971.[11]

The centre of the preserved Bowes Railway is Springwell Workshops.

A third Bowes Railway running shed at Wardley is the depot of the North East Bus Preservation Trust.

Rope Haulage[edit]

Original System When the Bowes Railway was in full operation the line employed 8 inclined rope worked incline planes. Two of these were operated on the self-acting principle, on these (the Springwell & Birkheads inclines) the weight of descending full waggons hauled up the empty waggons via a rope running around a return wheel at the top of the hill. The remaining six inclines are operated using a stationary engine (as at Kibblesworth, Black Fell, Blackhams Hill East and West, Starrs and Allerdene Inclines) which were used ropes hauled by a stationary steam or later electric haulage engine. This type of railway operation, pre dates modern locomotive type operations and was laid down by George Stephenson in 1826. The lines gradual closure eventually only left four inclines in use, on the 4th October 1974 (closure date).

Preserved System The line as preserved post 1974 inclines two rope worked inclines. These are the Blackhams Hill East and West inclines. Both are worked by the Blackhams Hill engine - this is a 300 h.p. Metropolitan Vickers engine commissioned on 30 July 1950. This works both the East or Flatt Incline (1170 yards at a gradient of 1 in 70) and the West or Short Bank (750 yards at a gradient 1 in 13). Over these inclines the preserved railway demonstrates one of the oldest and most unique types of railway operation, it is now the only place in Britain where this can now be seen.

Locomotives and brake vans[edit]

Steam locomotives

  • Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST W.S.T. makers Number 2361 built in 1954. Awaiting overhaul. Formerly used at Long Meg Mine and at Cocklakes.[12]
  • Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST No 22 (Number 6 Area B Group 85). makers number 2274 built in 1949, for use on the Bowes Railway.[13] In use on the railway's brake van rides.

Diesel locomotives

  • Planet 0-4-0 No 101. Used sometimes on shunting duties and freight trains but not as often as the Hunslet due to its small size.
  • Hunslet Engine Company 0-4-0 No 6263. Used regularly on freight trains and shunting, the most powerful shunter on the line.
  • Ruston & Hornsby Class 88 0-4-0 - under repair

Brake vans

  • Lambton Hetton & Joicey Collieries Brake van No 1. In use as a passenger vehicle on the trains.
  • L.M.S. No 1, built for use in Derby. In use as a passenger vehicle on the trains.
  • L.M.S. No 3 Brake van. In use as a passenger vehicle on the passenger trains.

Waggons The railway also has a fleet of 41 original Bowes railway waggons dating from 1887 through to 1963, as well as handful of similar waggons from other industrial sites in the North East.

The Railway Today[edit]

The museum is based around the workshops at Springwell, this contains the museums, shop, cafe, toilets and guided tours of the buildings dating back to 1826. The buildings such as the Waggonshop and blacksmiths are open during museum open days and guided tours can be arranged.

The site is open the first weekend of each month and ever Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for static display and tours. Admission is free on non steaming days but donations are welcome.

The railway hopes to restart train rides and the unique rope haulage display in the 2015 season.


The Springwell site has offices canteen and class room facilities. It also has joinery, engineering and fabrication workshops with refurbished and working machinery, a blacksmith's shop and two additional working forges. The site has a station platform and level crossing across the adjacent main road.

In 2008 the railway suffered two significant blows to its preserved status. In a suspected arson attack, several wagons were destroyed. In July 2008, in a raid suspected to be connected with the rise in the value of scrap metal, one of the stationary engines was cut up and the copper wire and iron housing removed, with the damage caused rendering it beyond repair. It was one of only two scheduled ancient monuments of its type in the country, and the thieves were condemned as having no respect for historical artefacts.[14]

In June 2013, the railway website was taken offline at the same time of a funding shortfall. Although the railway faces an uncertain future, restoration of the Wagon Shop through English Heritage is underway. One casualty of the shortfall was that the only employee was made redundant.

In March 2014 just as work to finish the restoration of the Wagon Shop was completed, The City of Sunderland Council, announced that with immediate effect that the annual grant to the railway of £18K would be withdrawn, leaving the railway with a financial deficit. This had the potential to cause the Bowes Railway Company Ltd to be wound up and the railway closed. However an appeal was launched through the railway press, to raise money to keep the site open for the 2014/15 financial year, this was successful.


  1. ^ Tyne & Wear Sites and Monuments Record schedule retrieved 25 October 2013 [1]
  2. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p11
  3. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p11
  4. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p12
  5. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p24
  6. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p34
  7. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p42
  8. ^ The Private Railways of County Durham by Colin E. Mountford, Industrial Railway Society, 2004 p59-60.
  9. ^ Lateral Science retrieved 12 November 2013 says"A working replica of Locomotion No.1 was built by Locomotion Enterprises of Springwell and ran at the Cavalcade".
  10. ^ The same information is also given in the Beamish Museum Stocklist retrieved from 12 November 2013.
  11. ^ The Bowes Railway by Colin Mountford p162/165/182-183
  12. ^ Elliot, John (2000). A Guide to the Bowes Railway 175 Years of Railway History. p22
  13. ^ Elliot, John (2000). A Guide to the Bowes Railway 175 Years of Railway History. p23
  14. ^ "Hot metal: the new scrap racket". The Independent. 21 July 2008. 

Further reading and viewing[edit]

  • Colin E Mountford, The Bowes Railway, published by The Industrial Railway Society, ISBN 9780901096265. Two editions: 1966 and 1976.
  • Colin E Mountford, Rope & Chain Haulage, published by The Industrial Railway Society, 2013, ISBN 978 1 901556 84-1.
  • Mountford, Colin E. (2004). The Private Railways of County Durham. Industrial Railway Society. pp. 26ff. ISBN 1-901556-29-8. 
  • Elliot, John (2000). A Guide to the Bowes Railway 175 Years of Railway History. Houghton Le Spring: Chilton Iron Works. p. 32. ISBN 0952367262. 
  • Bowes Line, in The Tyne Documentaries, DVD published by Amber Films, Newcastle upon Tyne.

External links[edit]