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History of our railway

What is now called the North Tyneside Steam Railway runs for two miles from the Museum at Middle Engine Lane down to Percy Main. This narrow strip of land at one time contained four independent railway routes all heading South to the Tyne. 


High Flatworth Waggonway (Backworth Railway)

The first line to use this corridor to the Tyne was the High Flatworth or Murton waggonway. This waggonway is displayed on John Gibson map of 1788 and maps of 1812. This line is believed to have developed in to Backworth Waggonway. By 1810 new partners took over Backworth royalty, including famous North East Colliery Viewer John Buddle. They commenced sinking the Alergnon colliery, and on 17th May 1810 Buddle wrote to the Butterley Iron Works to purchase new iron rails, relaying the railway and in 1821 the line was converted to steam operations via rope haulage. With a haulage engine being constructed at Murton Row.  The Backworth way continued to serve a large number of collieries – Church, Algernon, Blue Bell, Maude, A, B, C, East Holywell, Fenwick, Bates, West Cramlington. The route continued to operate down the route of the old Waggonway, until the 24th August 1969. When the contraction of the Backworth collieries meant it was easier to dispatch coal via British Rail and the section of line between the Allotment and Hayhole staithes closed. So by closing the oldest route on our site. 


Cramlington Waggonway (Hartley Main)

In 1823 Cramlington Colliery began raising coal and like most pits in the area the coal needed to travel to the Tyne. And so they constructed a line, which joined the Backworth railway at Murton Row. However increasing traffic from Cramlington, Seghill and Backworth led to congestion. So the the Cramlington way was extended, running parallel to the Backworth line and passing under the Seaton Burn lines. This extension was completed in 1839 so by completing another route running to the Tyne at Hayhole via Murton Row and Middle Engine Lane.  The line continued to serve the pits of the Cramlington area without change until 1929 – when the Cramlington Coal Company the Seaton Delaval Coal Company merged to for the Hartley Main Collieries LTD. Hartley main with its eclectic mix of locomotives survived as one of the largest colliery railways, until the closure of Seaton Delaval colliery in 1960, when the associated line to staithes also closed. 


Brunton & Shields Railway (Seaton Burn Waggonway)

The Brunton and Shields railway opened in 1826, connecting the pits at Fawdon, Brunton and Seaton Burn to the Tyne at Hayhole. It became the second line to run along the corridor to the Tyne. The line was worked from the beginning with a mixture of horse worked sections and five rope hauled inclines. One of which was operated by a stationary engine, known as the Middle Engine, this gave its name to the adjoining lane and stood on the site of our museum and station. The line changed its name to the Seaton Burn Waggonway in 1850 and was converted to Standard gauge and locomotive working in 1868. The section now occupied by our line was closed in around 1920, however the northern reaches of the system survived into the 1980’s. 


Seghill Railway & the Blyth & Tyne

At the point the most well-known railway in this area enters the field, it would be later known as the Blyth & Tyne, originally the Seghill Railway. In 1826 agreement was reached to send Seghill coal via the Cramlington and Backworth railways to the Tyne. As traffic grew these lines became more congested. So in 1839 a survey was commissioned and on the 1st June 1840 the Seghill railway opened. And by August 1841 a passenger service has commenced with stations at Seghill, Holywell, Prospect Hill and Percy Main. The line was worked by locomotives between Holywell and the allotment. A stationary engine was used to pull trains up to Prospect Hill and then lower them to the staithes. In 1853 the gradients were eased at Prospect Hill, removing the rope working and allowing locos down to the staithes. The company obtained its act of parliament and became known as the Blyth & Tyne from 1852. Passenger services ceased to Percy Main in June 1864, this was because a new route to Newcastle had been opened via South Gosforth. Leaving Percy Main just with a station on the Tynemouth to Newcastle line.  

The railway then settled down as a freight only route. With a major addition being a connection to the Rising Sun colliery opened by the LNER in 1939, this branch included the bridge over which our line climbs. 

The railway retrenchment began in the 1960, the last coal trains ceased with the closure of the Rising Sun in 1969. The final traffic using the B & T were tanker trains accessing the Esso terminal, opened in 1970, this traffic had ceased by 1975. And all the remaining track along the formation had been removed by 1980. This brought to an end the routes use as a commercial railway. 

After 1864, a small amount of passenger traffic did use the Southern reaches of the B & T, boat trains operated serving the Tyne Commissioners Quay, using a platform here to transfer passengers to the ferries bound for Norway. These operated as the Norseman, leaving London King’s Cross to connect with the ferries. In 1969 BR withdrew the direct service and replaced it with a DMU connection from Newcastle Central to the Quay. This was withdrawn in 1970. 

Metro Test Track – A new dawn

In 1973, the Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Executive commissioned a report into the future of transport on Tyneside. One method suggested to reduce congestion on Newcastle was a light railway system. In 1975 a test track was constructed between West Allotment, via Middle Engine Lane where the depot was located, down a 1 in 25 gradient as far as the coast road bridge. A small shunter and two prototype Metro cars were tested on the new railway, until the closure of the Test track in 1980. The track wove it way down the rail corridor, using new formations, combined with sections of the Backworth, Rising Sun and Blyth & Tyne routes. 


A Heritage Railway

In 1981 the Monkwearmouth Station Museum Association were forced to leave the old station goods shed, due to the poor condition of the building’s roof. A new home was settled on at the Metro test track workshops, with exhibits moving into building at Middle Engine Lane during 1981. Whilst a few runs were undertaken over the test track before it was dismantled. The newly renamed North Tyneside Steam Railway Association began laying track. Starting in the yard on the site of Seaton Burn railways, Middle Engine, the track follows a new formation to join the former Rising Sun Colliery Branch. Using the Rising Sun Bridge, before joining the Blyth & Tyne Railway. The new museum route follows the Blyth & Tyne down to Percy Main. Originally terminating North of the Metro (Newcastle & North Shields Railway) bridge, however in 1997 the railway extended to a new Percy Main station on the site of the old Blyth & Tyne Locomotive workshops which had opened in June 1855. The works was used to build, maintain, and store the Blyth and Tyne locos until they were taken over by the NER in 1874, when loco work was transferred to Gateshead. Percy Main shed, then became a running shed, becoming British rail shed 52E, the shed normally housed ex NER J 27 locos in its later years. The shed closed in February 1966. 

Our railway has seen continuous rail traffic from 1788 to the present day. Our line has seen railways progress from the earliest horse drawn wagonway’s, through rope haulage, steam worked colliery lines right through to the development of Modern urban light rail through its 233 years of use.

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