Colliery Railways: Hartlepool to Sunderland via Haswell 1835/36-1993

Hartlepool to Sunderland via Haswell 1835/36-1993

The Past

In 1832 the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company began to build a passenger/freight line from Hartlepool to Haswell (via Hart Station, Hesleden, Wellfield and Shotton) with the intention of pushing through to Pittington, Moorsley, Rainton and beyond and hopefully diverting coal trade from collieries en route towards Hartlepool. In the same year a rival company, the Sunderland Dock & Railway, started to build a line from Sunderland to Haswell (via Ryhope, Seaton, Murton and South Hetton), which opened on August 30 1836. Both lines terminated at Haswell but initially there was no connection between them as they were on different levels and almost at right angles to each other. There were two separate stations.

Between 1836 and 1839 the Durham and Sunderland also constructed a western branch line from Murton Junction to Durham (Shincliffe) via Hetton, Pittington and Sherburn House. This extension reached the very places (Moorsley and Rainton) that the Hartlepool Dock and Railway had been aiming for and so that company abandoned any idea of expanding their line beyond Haswell. A proper junction was then created at Haswell so that passengers could change trains and companies with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience but there were still two stations. Seaham was bypassed by the Sunderland to Haswell/Shincliffe railway but a long walk to any of the three stations at Murton, Seaton or Ryhope gave access to the rest of the world. From Seaton Sunderland was now just a ten minute train journey away and Durham (Shincliffe) fifty minutes. The Rainton and Seaham line crossed the new railway at a point just south of Seaton and a junction was created to enable Rainton coals to be sent on the new line to Sunderland docks. A junction was also effected between the new railway south of Haswell and the South Hetton line (the Londonderry Pesspool branch). The Hartlepool Dock and Railway was gobbled up by the new, giant N.E.R. in 1857. The Durham and Sunderland was also snapped up not long after. A single station was then constructed at Haswell and through trains began running from Hartlepool to Sunderland.

The directors of the new Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell Railway in 1832 had been unconvinced by the early locomotives produced by George Stephenson and others and instead opted for fixed engines which could manage steep gradients far better. Later locomotives had the power to cope with gradients but by then it was too late and the company was stuck with the archaic method of transport until it was taken over by the giant North Eastern Railway in the 1850s.

The advantage of fixed engines was that they overcame the necessity for much of the excavation work required to make a railway line as level as possible. Consequently, for reasons of economy, the Sunderland to Durham (Shincliffe) & Haswell ended up with some of the steepest gradients in the British railway network and was later used to test the power and brakes on new models of locomotives. From Ryhope to Haswell via Seaton, Murton Junction and South Hetton was a continuous upslope. One night in the 1890s the brakes on a downtrack loco failed at Murton and the runaway train raced past Seaton before derailing itself on the curve ahead. Several people were killed.

The disadvantage to fixed engines was that they made a journey tortuous in the extreme due to the need to change haulage equipment for each leg of a journey. From Sunderland to Ryhope, which was flat, the trains were hauled by a locomotive. There the loco was replaced by a chain connected to the fixed engine house at Murton Junction. The coaches were than pulled uphill, stopping at Seaton on the way. At Murton the chain was changed for another one connected to Haswell fixed engine house. To get to Durham was even more complicated. It was necessary to change trains at Murton Junction and gravity brought the coaches (still connected by a chain) downhill to Hetton. From there to Durham (Shincliffe) via Pittington, Broomside and Sherburn House was comparatively flat but there were several more fixed engines to attatch to en route. It was barely quicker than walking but this method of transport was used some 20 years after the development of powerful locos which could do the entire journey on their own regardless of the gradients.

In 1880 the N.E.R. constructed a branch from the Hartlepool and Sunderland line at Wellfield to Stockton via Wynyard Park. This created a connection between Wynyard and Seaham via Wellfield, Murton Junction and Ryhope. Coal travelled from Seaham Colliery to heat Wynyard Hall and the Londonderry family travelled between their two Durham residences on their own private train with private stations at either end. As well as a rental for the use of his land the 5th. Marquess was given the right to halt any trains he wished in order that he could get on board, regardless of the inconvenience to other passengers.

In the early 1890’s the 6th. Marquess’ younger son Reginald, in his teens, developed an interest in engineering and would spend days on end travelling in the cab of a train on the family’s private locomotives between Wynyard, Seaham and Sunderland. He learned to drive the train, ate with the drivers and stokers and often returned home begrimed. He took a greater interest in the family’s northeast businesses and possessions than anybody since his great-grandmother Lady Frances Anne Vane Tempest. Reginald developed TB and was sent first to a sanatorium in South Africa and then to stay with Cecil Rhodes as his guest. His health kept declining and in May 1898 his mother had to travel out from Britain to bring him home, which to him was Seaham Hall. He died there on October 9 1899, aged 20. The shops in Seaham remained shut during the funeral service and six enginemen acted as his pallbearers. According to his wishes he was buried at St. Mary the Virgin at Seaham Hall, the only member of the Londonderry family to lie in the town they created. A large Celtic stone cross was erected over the grave but this has since been removed for safety by the current Marquess of Londonderry. The passenger service on the so-called Castle Eden branch line between Wellfield and Stckton via Wynyard ended on November 2 1931. It remained open for goods traffic until 1951. It was finally closed between 1966-68 and the line was dismantled. It has now become the splendid Castle Eden Walkway. Passenger service on the Hartlepool and Sunderland via Haswell was withdrawn on June 9 1952. The line remained open for freight and minerals until the mid 1960s when it was dismantled. The northern section from Hawthorn Shaft to Ryhope remained open until the closure of Murton colliery in 1991. This last segment was dismantled at the end of 1993.

The Present

At the risk of repeating myself a walkway now exists from Ryhope (old A19 Flyover) to Hart Station, just north of Hartlepool. With a little diversion it is also possible to walk from Ryhope to Stockton via Wynyard. With a much bigger diversion because of a 200 yard gap at Murton, it is also possible to walk from Ryhope to the edge of the Cathedral City. Needless to say Seaham is not connected to this because ‘The Yellow Brick Road’ stops short at Cold Hesledon.

The Future

There needs to be a connection to bridge the short gap at Murton.