07 July 2010

Good Times: England's First Coast-to-Coast Railway

By Michelle Styles

On 18 June 1838, the Newcastle to Carlisle railway officially open with a planned Grand Event. Rail traffic had already been travelling along the line since 1834, but 18 June marked the first time railway carriages would go the full length of the line. Newcastle to Carlisle was the first coast to coast railway and boasted such innovations as stations designed for passengers as well goods (Hexham).

The day was meticulously planned with passengers from Carlisle taking six early morning trains to Redheugh. They then went by steamer to the Newcastle quayside. (Newcastle Central Station was opened in 1851) So far, so good. And the organisers were justifiably proud of the event. They should have perhaps noted that the 18th of June is Waterloo day and that Waterloo was a close run thing. But at this stage, the organisers were enjoying the day.

Things began to go wrong when a gangway collapsed and dumped about dozen people in all their finery into the Tyne.

Breakfast at the Assembly Rooms took rather longer than expected. When the various Great and Good went to find their seats, they discovered the general public had already boarded the trains. The chief magistrates of Carlisle and Newcastle were obliged to take refuge in a pig cart while the rest of the civic dignitaries scrambled for seats in the open carriages.

Finally, the 13 packed trains started off with one engine having a steam engine fitted to its front and gaily playing music.

Unfortunately for the Great and the Good stuck in the open carriages, the heavens opened and it rained solidly to Brampton. Once the very delayed trains reached Carlisle, there was a stampede for refreshments. The arranged procession through town had to be cancelled, and again there was a rush for the few remaining seats. It is to be supposed that the Great and the Good thought their ordeal had ended.

Unfortunately the journey back was worse. The rain continued. One train hit the back of another with two passengers injured. With the delays came, the call of nature and several gentlemen heeded it, only to have to rush back, clothing askew as the whistle sounded much to the amusement of other passengers. No comment is made about the discomfort ladies suffered.

Instead of arriving back in the early evening, the first train arrived back in Newcastle at 3 am, and the last at 6 am on the 19th.

It was a memorable day...if not quite what was planned.

The Newcastle to Carlisle railway is still in use today. The train journey is somewhat less fraught.