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 Newcastle upon Tyne

Links: Central Station, ForthHigh Level Bridge, King Edward Bridge, Manors, New Bridge Street, Ouseburn Viaduct

Newcastle is one of the most rewarding places in north-east England in terms of railway architecture and bridge design. Its Central Station is one of the most notable railway buildings of its period world-wide, while Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge is an elegant and imposing structure, which was the first to employ a road deck slung below a railway. Not far away lies the Ouseburn Viaduct, which originated as a pioneering railway design, employing laminated timber arches in conjunction with stone piers - the pattern of the timber spandrels being replicated when the arches were eventually rebuilt in wrought iron.

Tyneside's railway history goes back a long way in terms of the horse waggonways employed to bring coal down to the River Tyne for shipment, much of it destined for London. Public railways arrived on the scene in the eighteen-thirties. The first to be successfully promoted was the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway, which was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1829, with construction work beginning the following year. Difficulties in raising money delayed progress, so that the first section did not open until March 1835. This led from Hexham to Blaydon, with connecting coach and boat services being provided between Blaydon and Newcastle. The boats ran to and from a former riverside mansion in The Close, which served as the company's first Newcastle passenger 'station' . 1837 saw the completion of a line along the south bank of the Tyne from Blaydon to a temporary station at Askew's Quay (Redheugh). By 1838 the Carlisle line had been completed throughout except for the north bank route from Blaydon into Newcastle.

The second Tyneside public railway to be promoted, and first to open, was the Stanhope & Tyne in 1834. This, however, was principally intended to handle coal and mineral traffic and reached the river at South Shields, where the wagons could discharge directly into sea-going vessels; it had no connection with Newcastle.

1839 was a noteworthy year, bringing the opening of the Newcastle limb of the Carlisle Railway to a temporary terminus, together with a railway to North Shields and the Brandling Junction Railway to South Shields and Monkwearmouth (Sunderland), whose terminus is covered under Gateshead. The Carlisle Railway's new route crossed the Tyne at Scotswood and finished at Railway Street, west of the site of the present-day Newcastle Arena. In 1847 this line was extended to a temporary passenger station immediately east of Forth Banks, and from January 1851 trains ran into the west end of Central Station, of which the N&C was joint owner.

The Newcastle & North Shields Railway did what its name suggests and was unusual for the area in that its main business was to convey goods and passengers rather than coal. To protect the interests of powerful landowners through whose property it ran and who enjoyed a valuable income from colliery waggonway rentals, the railway was obliged to pay a toll to them for any coal it carried for shipment. The importance of passengers is reflected in the 1840 timetable, which shows a half-hourly service frequency for much of the day. The railway planned an imposing terminus in Newcastle's Pilgrim Street but deferred this while discussions took place about linking up with other railways, such as the N&C. In the event, a temporary Manors station (adjoining Carliol Square) sufficed until North Shields trains began running into Central Station in 1850.

The East Coast Main Line was a relatively late arrival on the scene, appearing in May 1844 with the completion of a line from Darlington to a terminus at Gateshead Greenesfield. The company chairman, George Hudson: the first Railway King, intended Greenesfield to be the main station for Tyneside but the folk of Newcastle would not let him get away with this. Hudson envisaged continuing the main line to Berwick via a Tyne crossing at Bill Quay, well downstream of Newcastle, but to get support for his project he was obliged to concede a combined rail and road bridge in the town centre to Newcastle Corporation and a central passenger station to the Carlisle company. A temporary timber viaduct over the Tyne was brought into regular use on 1 September 1848, with passenger traffic on the permanent High Level Bridge beginning six weeks before its formal opening by Queen Victoria on 28 September 1849. Next year she was back with Prince Albert on 29 September to open Central Station. It, however, was only partially finished and could not yet accommodate the Carlisle trains.

Hudson's Newcastle & Berwick Railway (soon merged with his Darlington line to become the York, Newcastle & Berwick company) built the first major goods station in Newcastle at Trafalgar Street, while an east-end passenger station was provided nearby at Manors; this would grow into one of the most intriguing and elegant junction stations on the North Eastern Railway. Shortly afterwards, in 1854, the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway opened their Forth goods station, on the west side of Forth Banks. That same year witnessed the merger which transformed the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway into the North Eastern. This amicably swallowed up the Carlisle company in 1862 and their Forth site was soon re-developed to provide the largest of the NER's goods stations.

The last railway company to appear in Newcastle was the Blyth & Tyne. This was a coal system, served by shipping places at Blyth and on the Tyne just upriver from North Shields, which had blossomed into a normal railway. Its Newcastle branch opened in 1864 to a terminus on the north side of New Bridge Street; ten years later the company merged into the NER. Full integration of the Blyth & Tyne passenger service into the North Eastern's suburban network was only achieved in 1909, with the opening of a link line between New Bridge Street and Manors. This entailed the demolition of the Trafalgar goods station and its replacement on a new site by the New Bridge Street goods station, which was a seminal essay in the application of reinforced concrete.

A significant improvement to the East Coast Main Line had been made with the opening of the Team Valley route from Gateshead to Durham in 1868 and its continuation to the main line at Ferryhill in 1872. The natural, though very expensive, counterpart to this was to provide a second Tyne crossing, giving access from that route into the west end of Central Station and relieving the pressure on Stephenson's High Level Bridge. This was finally achieved in 1906 with the opening of the King Edward Bridge. Since then the chief addition to Newcastle's railway network has been the construction of link lines beneath the city centre to create the Tyne & Wear Metro system.










© W. Fawcett, 2011