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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Sepia Saturday: Working on the Railway

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs.

No tunnels feature  in my albums but I am delighted to write about men at work on one of the many lost lines in railway history  - the Berwickshire Railway that for 102 years (1863-1965) went through my home village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders.   

Station staff at Earlston
The Berwickshire Railway through Earlston in the Scottish Borders  linked two major lines - on the east coast the North British Railway between  Edinburgh and London  and in the central Borders the historic Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle.  The cross country line was built in three stages - to Duns in 1849, westwards to Earlston in 1863 and the final stage two years later in 1865  with the completion of the Leaderfoot Viaduct across the River Tweed. 

Station Road, Earlston, leading down to the railway. 
Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   All Rights Reserved

 Earlston Station

"The Kelso Chronicle" of 20th November 1863 reported on the opening at Earlston with an  article which seemed rather prosaic and low key. 

In  contrast 14 years earlier in 1849, the nearby town of Dunse had  welcomed the railway with much celebration.  On the opening day the public were carried free of charge, the first train at 2.00 p.m. having no fewer than twenty carriages and it was reported "floral and evergreen arches bestrode the long serpentine row of carriage, a flag waving over the top of the little wooden hut which at present does the duty of a Station House and the Dunse Brass band played". [The Berwickshire Railway - Dunse History Society]

The major engineering feat on the line was the crossing of the River Tweed and the building of the Leaderfoot Viaduct, which involved  a nineteen arch structure  907 feet long and 126 feet above the level of the river bed.  

                                           Leaderfoot Viaduct opened in 1865
Copyright © N.F.Donaldson.  All  Rights Reserved, 2015. 

On December 4th 1863, "The Kelso Chronicle" noted   "The new railway [at Earlston] is in regular working order and appears to be giving great satisfaction.  The trains run smoothly and keep tolerably good time.  We are already feeling the benefit of railway communication".

However the Berwickshire Railway line was never a busy one, with roughly equal traffic of goods and passengers. In Earlston, coal was brought in and stone from the local quarry taken out, with agricultural produce and livestock the mainstay of  business.  Devastating floods across the county in August 1948 meant that passenger services were suspended,  due to parts of the trackbed begin washed away.  Repairs were never fully carried out and only freight services continued on part of the line, which  was eventually closed without ceremony  on 16th July 1965 - a major blow to the Earlston economy. 

Two trains in Earlston station
Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   All Rights Reserved

            The last train through Earlston Station - July 1965. 
On the left is the train driver,  with the couple who  worked the level crossing and 
the station master with his young son. 

Copyright ©  Bruce McCartney at http://www.geoffspages.co.uk/monorail/bmcc01.htm  
 All  Rights Reserved, 

This marked the end of the 102 year old line of the Berwickshire Railway through Earlston.

The site of the old railway line at Earlston in 2015
Copyright © N.F.Donaldson.  All  Rights Reserved.  

Signs on the gates of the Level Crossing Cottage. 

Postscript:  In 1969 amidst the notorious Beeching Cuts,  the Scottish Borders lost all its rail services, making it the only region in mainland Scotland without a  train station.  But this all  changes in September this year, when part of the Waverly Line re-opens for 35 miles south of Edinburgh into the central Borders. 


With thanks to Auld Earlston, Cathy Chick, N.F. Donaldson and Bruce McCartney 
for the use of their photographs.

 Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday bloggers 
are reflecting this week's prompt.


  1. Interesting post Susan. I've been skipping Sepia Saturday this year but I may have to join in this one.

  2. Viaducts always seem so grand to me, and I long to walk on top of one like the Leaderfoot shown in your photo. Perhaps the end of cheap oil will mean a return to the railways for future generations. We can but hope.

  3. The Leaderfoot Viaduct with those graceful arches is truly a work of art. The last picture of the site of the old railroad line in Earlston seems to indicate the old railroad line - at least in some places - has been turned into a walking path? That has been done here in various places.

  4. I echo Brett’s thoughts, especially about the grandeur of the viaducts, which have a beauty all of their own. It’s allways so sad to hear about the ‘end of the line’ and this one was comparatively short-lived. Your post ensures that it will live on!

  5. This is a good story, Sue - the lifespan of the Berwickshire. It's funny how things come and go. Here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, there used to be cable cars, but they were removed when cars became more popular. Now the roads are so crowded that electric rail is making a comeback -- but not fast enough for me!

  6. It's sad how all these railway lines have come to be no longer used, especially when you think of all the work that went into their construction. Very kind of Sir Hugh to give some navvies a free ride!

  7. Tghat's a lovely picture of the viaduct.

  8. What an interesting story and well illustrated too Sue. Thanks for sharing.

  9. What a nice history you've put together, Sue. I love your photo of Station Road and also the one of the viaduct. It looks very grand. It is sad that the railroad closed. Even in the U.S. there are very few passenger trains anymore.

  10. I'm glad some of the lines are scheduled to return. On our holiday to the Scottish highlands last year we saw several remains of ghost lines that must have once offered fantastic trips to remote parts of Scotland.


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