Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway

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Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway
TypeRural Line
SystemNational Rail Network
Marron Junction
OwnerWhitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway
Operator(s)Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Whitehaven, Cleator
& Egremont Railway
Workington Central enlarge…
Workington Main enlarge…
Parton Halt
Distington Works
Whitehaven Tunnel
Mirehouse Junction
Eskett Junction
Moor Row
St Bees
Cleator Moor West
Cleator Moor East
St Bees Golf Halt
Cleator Moor
St Thomas Cross
Beckermet Mines

The Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway was an English railway company which built and operated a standard gauge railway in Cumberland, England intended to open up the hematite orefield to the south-east of Whitehaven. It opened for goods traffic in 1855 and for passenger traffic in 1857.


Promotion and construction[edit]

A prospectus for the company promoting the railway was issued in December 1853.[1] The line was to run for four and a half miles from a junction with the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway at Mirehouse, two miles south of Whitehaven to Egremont via Moor Row, and iron ore mines at Bigrigg and Woodend; a two-mile branch was to run from Moor Row to Frizington,[a] serving an ironworks in Cleator Moor, and assorted ore mines in the district. The line was supported by the principal landowners (including the Earl of Lonsdale) and was predicted to be highly profitable. It was claimed that five to six hundred carts were employed to transport over a hundred thousand tons of ore a year raised in the area the railway would serve to Whitehaven; because of this traffic, the yearly rent of the tollgate at Hensingham had increased from £820 a year to £2770 a year over the previous decade[1]

An act was obtained the following summer, and work promptly began on the Mirehouse-Frizington section; by December 1855 it was possible to run a trial train over this, particular attention being paid to the demonstration that trains could safely be stopped and started on the steep climb from Mirehouse to Moor Row.[3] Opening for general mineral traffic followed in January 1856; the safety of the steep descent to Mirehouse being again insisted upon in a contemporary report: "This incline was descended at the rate of six miles per hour without the appliance of any break except to the engine. This is sufficient to set at rest any doubts which may have been entertained by any one respecting difficulty arising from the gradient on this section of the line."[4] The Egremont branch was sufficiently complete by May 1856 that the directors were taken on an inspection tour of the entire line [5] but a Board of Trade inspection of the line in August 1856 insisted on better siding accommodation at the Whitehaven & Furness's Corkickle station and a more permanent arrangement with the W&FJR before passenger services could be authorised.[6][7] The WC&ER contributed £2000 towards the required work and the agreement with the W&FJR was extended to ten years.[8] Formal opening ceremonies took place 16 July 1857, but passenger services had been running since the start of the month.[9] In the last week of July 1858, about 6,400 tons of ore were transported by the WC&ER, three-quarters of this being shipped to Wales through Whitehaven harbour, despite its inadequate provision for the export of ore.[10] An embankment failed at Woodend in October 1858,[11] an adjoining viaduct was then condemned because of mining subsidence and (January–February 1859) services on the Egremont branch terminated at Woodend whilst the suspect section of viaduct was replaced by an embankment.[12] The railway was so profitable that it was decided to pay the £500 cost of this out of current revenue, which still allowed an interim dividend of 4% for the first half of 1859.[13] In 1862, Frizington branch services terminated at Cleator, again because of subsidence.[14]


The powers and authorised capital obtained by the 1854 allowed only very limited operations, and further acts were obtained; in 1857 increasing the capital (and hence authorised borrowing) of the company;[15] in 1861 authorising the doubling of the line from Mirehouse to Frizington and (the shareholders having voted against its inclusion in the 1857 bill) a 'Lamplugh Extension' which did not run to the village of that name, but to Collier Yeat (near Rowrah) in Lamplugh parish.[16][b] Passenger services on the extension began 1 February 1864;[20] the WC&ER preferred to let new track bed down thoroughly under mineral traffic before seeking a Board of Trade inspection and mineral traffic over (part of) the extension had been running since 15 September 1862.[19] Six hundred and thirty thousand tons of ore a year were now being hauled over a line projected on the basis of a hundred thousand tons a year [20] and £20 shares of the WC&ER (regularly paying dividends of 10% or more) were traded at £50.[21]

In 1863, an act was sought for extension of the Frizington branch to a junction with the Cockermouth and Workington Railway at Bridgefoot,[22] thus removing the need for ore to be exported through the tunnel at Whitehaven; authorisation of deviation in the Cleator area to avoid subsidence was also sought.[23] Objectors to the bill drew attention to the high mileage rates charged by the WC&ER and claimed the extension was being promoted primarily to protect the WC&ER's monopoly by preventing other companies accessing the orefield,[24] but the WC&ER got its act. Mineral traffic over the Marron extension began 15 January 1866, it being claimed that it reduced carriage costs by 1s. 6d. per ton, compared to the route via Whitehaven:[25] the line opened for passenger traffic 2 April 1866,[26] but provision was limited, and the revenue from mineral traffic dwarfed that from passengers and parcels;[27] the WCE&R "although chiefly a railway for the conveyance of iron ore, also holds itself out to carry passengers" was the comment of counsel for a passenger injured in an accident on the line.[28] By 1871, mineral traffic on the Marron extension was so heavy that the directors thought it necessary to double the line.[29]

Hearing of plans of the Whitehaven and Furness Junction to build a branch from Sellafield to Egremont to give a more convenient route for south-bound ore, the WC&ER took steps to promote a line of their own (to give a better basis for opposition to the W&FJR's project)[30] An Act for the Sellafield-Egremont line (as the Cleator and Furness Railway - a joint line of the W&FJR and the WC&ER) was obtained in 1866.

Local neighbours taken over; overtures from LNWR rejected[edit]

Also in 1866 the W&FJR was absorbed by the Furness Railway, and the Cockermouth and Workington by the London and North Western Railway, but the WC&ER had suitable safeguards on tolls and powers inserted in the relevant Acts.[31][c] An offer from the L&NWR to lease the WC&ER was rejected by the directors; the dividend having dropped to a mere 8% there were stormy scenes (and a motion for a committee of inquiry into the management of the railway) at the next half-yearly shareholders' meeting,[32] a year later the dividend had recovered to its traditional 10%, and the shareholders' meeting passed off smoothly.[33]

'Great Dissatisfaction Among the Shareholders'[edit]

In February 1870, however, a shareholders'meeting voted for a committee of inquiry, passed a motion of no confidence in the board and called upon it to resign:[34] this followed the admission that the company solicitor had been so dilatory in his completion of land purchases that the owners of land taken for construction of the original line some sixteen years ago had not yet received the purchase money, and were instead being paid interest at up to 10% per year on the sum owed them.[35] The board did not resign, admitting to procrastination by the company solicitor, but pointing out that the effect on company finances (and in particular the dividend, which had averaged over 10%) had been minimal:[36] instead they called another meeting to affirm confidence in the board.[37] Although the meeting was again stormy the directors had exerted themeselves sufficiently to gather enough proxies to reverse the earlier vote.[38]

LNWR rebuffed again[edit]

By the end of August 1870, almost all the purchases had been satisfactorily completed, a dividend of 11% a year was declared, and harmony was restored, a proposal by the LNWR to lease the line, guaranteeing a dividend of 10% in perpetuity, being the main subject of discussion.[39] Against the chairman's advice (and although the Furness Railway - the only alternative suitor- supported the LNWR offer) the WC&ER board sought to negotiate an even better deal but the LNWR (who were so confident of acceptance that they had already given notice of the necessary legislation)[40] then withdrew their offer before it could be put to WC&ER shareholders[41] and the chairman resigned.[42] The next half-yearly meeting approved a dividend of 14% (revenue in the half-year was £35,000 and expenses £14,000, leaving (after transferring £3,000 to reserves) £21,000 to cover the dividend)[29] but dissatisfaction was expressed that £3,000 of profit had been overlooked when declaring the previous half-year's dividend.


Many iron- and steel-works had set up in West Cumbria to be close to the orefield; their owners (faced with increased competition in the mid-1870s) thought the high dividends of the WC&ER indicated that its freight charges were too high; they were sufficiently united, determined, and able to secure local support, that their promotion of the Cleator and Workington Junction Railway obtained its parliamentary Act in 1876, despite the opposition of the WC&ER, the LNWR, and the Furness Railway.[43] Since the choice of railway routing lay with the consignee, not the consignor, the C&WJR (the 'track of the ironmasters') was thought likely to take considerable traffic from the WC&ER, which therefore now accepted the LNWR's offer of amalgamation in return for a guaranteed 10% dividend. This alarmed both the C&WJR and the Furness, which now joined forces and both objected to the amalgamation Bill. The C&WJR came forward with a further Bill for extension to a junction with the Cleator and Furness at Egremont and with the Maryport and Carlisle at Dearham; the system was to be operated by the Furness (which supported the Bill).[44] A compromise was reached between the LNWR, the Furness and the C&WJR, and the WC&ER amalgamation Act was obtained in June 1877 (the LNWR having to promise the ironmasters a significant reduction of the freight rates):[45] as envisaged by the compromise, the C&WJR did not proceed with its extensions, and a further Act was passed the following year making the WC&ER system a joint line of the LNWR and the Furness. At the final shareholders' meeting of the company it was noted that the value of WC&ER £100 shares had been £170 before the intention to amalgamate had been announced; now that amalgamation was complete they were worth £230;[46] by 1879 the Furness chairman was reporting a loss on the Furness's half-share of £9000 during the first half of the year because of the reduced freight rates and a downturn in the iron trade.[45]

At the 1923 grouping, both the LNWR and the Furness Railway (and therefore also the WC&ER) were absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS). The LMS became part of British Railways at nationalisation in 1948.

Geography of the WCE&ER system[edit]

From a junction with the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway (absorbed into the Furness railway in 1866) at Mirehouse Junction, one mile south of Whitehaven (Corkickle) the line climbed steeply to Moor Row where the company had its engine shed and works. Just beyond Moor Row was a junction, from which one arm of the system headed north and east through Cleator Moor to Frizington. This arm originally terminated at the Parkside mines in Frizington, but as a result of subsequent extensions it eventually ran to a junction with the LNWR's Cockermouth-Workington line at Marron Junction. Stations on this arm were Cleator Moor - Frizington - Eskett (later Yeathouse) - Winder - Rowrah - Wright Green (later Lamplugh) - Ullock - Branthwaite - Bridgefoot - Marron Junction. From Moor Row junction, the other arm ran south to Egremont, with an intermediate station at Woodend. The southern arm was later extended (by the Cleator and Furness Railway - jointly owned by the WC&ER and the Furness Railway) via Beckermet where there was an intermediate station to a junction with the Furness's Whitehaven-Barrow line at Sellafield There was no north-south curve at the Moor Row junction. Various deviations from the original line were found necessary because of mining subsidence: most notably a new route through Cleator Moor (and a new Cleator Moor station) had to be built, although the old alignment was retained as the Crossfield branch (and the old station used as a goods station).[17]:166 The purpose of the WC&ER was to serve the mines that sprang up on the ore-field (and later the iron- and steel-works of the area), and therefore there was an extensive system of mineral railway branches running to mines and works (the Bigrigg, Beckermet, Eskett, Ehen Valley, Gillfoot, Mowbray, Pallaflat, and Ullcoats Branches). The Gilgarran Branch ran from a north-facing junction just north of Ullock to a colliery at Gilgarran, but was then extended via Distington, where it served an ironworks, to a south-facing junction with the main LNWR line along the coast at Parton.[17]:181–182


As mines closed, the branches serving them were closed. Passenger services over the system were withdrawn in the 1930s (northern arm 1931, southern arm 1935) The northern arm beyond a quarry at Rowrah was closed in 1954 (the track was lifted in 1964). After 1970, the southern arm was open only as far as the Florence iron ore mine at Egremont. British Steel ceased operations at the Rowrah quarry in 1978, and at Florence mine in 1980; complete closure of the line followed soon thereafter.[17]:187–193

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Prospectus of the Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 13 December 1853. p. 2.
  2. ^ (advertisement) - "Parkside Hotel, Frizington". Whitehaven News. 31 October 1861. p. 8.
  3. ^ "The Railway to the Iron Ore District". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 11 December 1855. p. 5.
  4. ^ "The Railway to the Iron Ore District". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 15 January 1856. p. 5.
  5. ^ and the workers treated to a cask of ale at the 'Ship Launch' in Egremont "Railway Communication with Egremont". Carlisle Journal. 9 May 1856. p. 5.
  6. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, & Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 2 September 1856. p. 6.
  7. ^ mineral traffic continued, although it arguably affected the safety of passenger traffic on the W&FR - Tyler, Captain H W. "Accident Returns: Extract for the Accident at Corkickle on 2nd February 1857" (PDF). Railways Archive. Board of Trade. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Carlisle Journal. 21 November 1856. p. 5.
  9. ^ "Opening of the Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 21 July 1857. p. 8.
  10. ^ "The Whitehaven Iron Ore Trade". Carlisle Journal. 24 August 1858. p. 2.
  11. ^ "Giving-Way of an Embankment". Lancaster Gazette. 16 October 1858. p. 4.
  12. ^ "Whitehaven Cleator and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 1 March 1859. p. 6.
  13. ^ "Whitehaven Cleator and Egremont Railway". Carlisle Journal. 30 August 1859. p. 3.
  14. ^ "Our Local Railways". Whitehaven News. 9 October 1862. p. 6.
  15. ^ (advertisement) "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 11 November 1856. p. 4.
  16. ^ (advertisement) - "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 20 November 1860. p. 4.
  17. ^ a b c d Joy, David (1983). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume XIV - The Lake Counties (1st ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-946537-02-X.
  18. ^ "Six-Inch Map: Cumberland LXII.SW (includes: Arlecdon and Frizington; Dean; Lamplugh.)". National Library of Scotland. Ordnance Survey. 1900.
  19. ^ a b "The Surveyor of Arlecdon v. The Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway Company". Whitehaven News. 6 April 1865. p. 6.
  20. ^ a b "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Whitehaven News. 2 February 1864. p. 5.
  21. ^ "Local Railway Projects". Westmorland Gazette. 20 February 1864. p. 6.
  22. ^ (advertisement) "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Whitehaven News. 20 November 1862. p. 4.
  23. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Whitehaven News. 5 March 1863. p. 7.
  24. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway Extension". Carlisle Journal. 27 March 1863. p. 7.
  25. ^ "Opening of the Marron Extension of the Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Whitehaven News. 18 January 1866. p. 4.
  26. ^ (advertisement) - "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway - Marron Extension". Carlisle Journal. 30 March 1866. p. 8.
  27. ^ "Railway traffic Returns". Carlisle Patriot. 1 July 1870. p. 2. reports revenues for the week ending 18 June 1870 to have been: passengers and parcels £64 , goods and minerals £1265
  28. ^ "Actions for Compensation against the Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 22 February 1870. p. 6.
  29. ^ a b "Whitehaven,Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Carlisle Patriot. 24 February 1871. p. 6.
  30. ^ "The Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Whitehaven News. 1 September 1864. p. 4.
  31. ^ a b "Railway Intelligence - Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Carlisle Journal. 31 August 1866. p. 5.
  32. ^ "Railway Intelligence - Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway - (H)alf yearly Meeting - Extraordinary Proceedings". Whitehaven News. 28 February 1867. p. 5.
  33. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont". Carlisle Patriot. 28 February 1868. p. 6.
  34. ^ "Whitehaven Cleator, and Egremont Railway - The Vote of Want of Confidence Carried". Carlisle Patriot. 15 April 1870. p. 7.
  35. ^ "Whitehave, Cleator, and Egremont Railway Company - Half-yearly Meeting Yesterday - Great Dissatisfaction Among the Shareholders and Appointment of a Committee of Investigation". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 1 March 1870. pp. 4–5.
  36. ^ "Whitehaven and Cleator Railway - Statement by the Directors". Carlisle Patriot. 15 April 1870. p. 7.
  37. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway: "Confidence or No Confidence" - Animated Proceedings". Carlisle Patriot. 6 May 1870. p. 6.
  38. ^ "Local Railway Manoeuvres". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 10 May 1870. p. 4.
  39. ^ "Railway Intelligence - Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway - Half-Yearly Meeting, Yeaterday - Proposal of the London and North-Western to Lease the Line". Whitehaven News. 1 September 1870. p. 5.
  40. ^ "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway Company". Whitehaven News. 10 November 1870. p. 2.
  41. ^ (advertisement) - "Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont Railway". Carlisle Patriot. 18 November 1870. p. 1.
  42. ^ "Resignation of Mr A B Steward". Carlisle Patriot. 13 January 1871. p. 5.
  43. ^ "The West Cumberland Railways". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 3 April 1877. p. 4.
  44. ^ "Railway News - Cleator and Workington Junction". Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser. 6 March 1877. p. 3.
  45. ^ a b "Furness Railway Company". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. 1 September 1879. p. 7.
  46. ^ "A Prosperous Railway Company". Lancaster Gazette. 23 February 1878. p. 5.


  1. ^ Placenames in the orefield can be false friends, as the mining boom altered the pattern of settlement; often a name indicates an area, rather than the site of the current village: the 'Frizington branch' actually ran only to big haematite mines at Parkside - the Parkside Hotel was later built adjacent to the terminus [2]
  2. ^ Joy[17]:164 says the terminus of the Lamplugh extension was Kidburngill, but the formal notice for the Bill for the extension specifies Collier Yeat, and the subsequent formal notice for the extension down the Marron valley gives the existing terminus as Collier Yeat. There was a station at Kidburngill on the Marron extension,[18] which was successively renamed Winder Gate, and then Lamplugh; in a court case in 1865 the contractor for the extensions said work on the section from Rowrah to Kidburngill started in August 1864[19]
  3. ^ The Marron extension would be linked to the Bulgill branch (then under construction) of the Maryport and Carlisle Railway by two miles of the C≀ together they would give a route to Scotland and Tyneside independent of other Cumbrian railways, given adequate running powers and reasonable tolls over the C&WR. An earlier Bill whereby the C&WR was to be leased by the Whitehaven Junction Railway had been defeated by the WC&ER and the M&CR, because suitable tolls and powers had not been offered. In sharp contrast, the L&NWR met the demands of the WC&ER "in a very fair and liberal spirit and agreed to everything they asked for"[31]

External links[edit]

  • Route in Google Maps
  • W McGowan Gradon's Furness Railway. Its Rise and Development 1846-1923 was privately published on the centenary of the FR's formation, and is available on-line. It contains a chapter on the WC&ER; much information relevant to the WC&ER can be found elsewhere in the book. It has not been used directly as a reference because 'privately published' might mean 'self-published' , but its consistency with contemporary accounts seems to be at least as good as commercial publications