Tracking the history of town’s railway

Morpeth Rotarian George Brown (pictured left) and speaker Chris Hudson, who talked to members about the history of Morpeth Railway Station.
Morpeth Rotarian George Brown (pictured left) and speaker Chris Hudson, who talked to members about the history of Morpeth Railway Station.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Chris Hudson spoke to Rotary members about the history of Morpeth Railway Station.

The first railway into the town was the Netherton Waggonway in 1829, which brought coal from Hepscott Pit through Stobhill to staithes at Staithes Lane on the River Wansbeck.

The first passenger railway was the Newcastle and Berwick, which later became part of the East Coast Main Line. Passengers could get to London in the record time of 11 hours, but it led to the collapse of the stage coach company.

The station was opened in 1847 and is now a Grade II Listed building.

The line has been operated by six companies, including the North Eastern Railway.

By 1868 a new link was brought to the town with the arrival of the Blyth and Tyne Railway. Co-operation between companies was never very good and it built its own station to the east of the current one, which can still be seen. Some of the railway yard is now Green’s shop and track was in place until the 1970s.

The Wansbeck Valley Railway linked the town to Redesmouth by a line that came around the back of the Blyth and Tyne station. The cutting is still there at Shields Road, with a dip near the golf club.

Later, the Blyth and Tyne tracks were brought into the main station at new platforms where the car turning point is and also the ‘Wanney’ line.

Many people will have seen the tile map of the old railway systems of the North East on display inside. It was whitewashed during the last war to stop enemy soldiers finding their way around.

The most recent addition was a line to take coal to Alcan, built to avoid the need for trains to reverse across the main line.

George Stephenson’s original plan was for a line to run up the coast. If it had not been for the second Earl Grey of Howick Hall, Morpeth would not have been on the main line, but would have had access via a branch line, like Alnwick.

Earl Grey did not want the railway to run through the carriage drive between his estate and the beach so, as he was Prime Minister, it was all shifted westward.

The new route could only be taken with the introduction of a sharp curve and the construction of a viaduct. The curve has resulted in a number of rail crashes, the last one in 1994. In 1955 British Railways wanted to get rid of it, but there were too many houses in the way and it would have been too expensive.

Morpeth is well connected and well used. In 2013 the number of people starting or ending their journeys here was more than 300,000. In 2012 a passenger lift and ticket machine were installed, but hours were reduced for booking office staff.

In 2015 the Greater Morpeth Development Trust began a project to redevelop the station. It is likely to cost £1.8million and will include a bistro café. In July 2016 the project was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £800,000.

The local rail users’ group hopes for an extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro to Morpeth, then to Berwick.

In 1902 there was an integrated rail transport system that linked Morpeth to Bedlington, North Seaton, Ashington and Newbiggin. A project is to consider reopening that service with a link to the Metro system.

Chris was thanked by his host, Rotarian George Brown.