The Talla Railway
During the last decade of the 19th century engineers undertaking surveys on behalf of the Edinburgh and District Water Trust (EDWT) identified the area around the ancient loch at Talla in the hills above Tweedsmuir in the Scottish Borders as an ideal site for a new reservoir to cater for the increasing demands of the expanding city of Edinburgh, some 28 miles to the north.
And so it was that, in the mid 1890s, the land was secured from the Trustees of the Earl of Wemyss and March Estates for the princely sum of £20,000.
The scope of the project, given the remoteness of the location, not to mention the fact that the reservoir would be 1,000 feet above sea level, meant that the only viable means of delivering the equipment, raw materials and men necessary to carry out the work was to build a railway.
Some 8 miles to the north of the planned reservoir as the crow flies lay Broughton station on the line originally built by the Symington, Biggar and Broughton Railway Company, by this time part of the Caledonian.
Accordingly an approach was made to the Caledonian who eventually agreed to double the line from Broughton to Rachan, a mile to the east. The cost of the associated work was to be met by the EDWT who, in return, would be granted sole use of this section.
By the beginning of 1896 work in connection with the additional infrastructure had been completed by the Caledonian including the upgrading of the original single platform Broughton station to three through platforms with the south side of the new island platform assigned to traffic on the Talla line.
Sidings, together with a shed and platform were built by the Talla Railway alongside the A701 south of Broughton near the Ford road while a mile further on at Mossfennan they erected workshops, offices and accommodation for the men who would be employed on the construction of the new line.
The main contract for the project had been awarded to James Young & Sons of Edinburgh who in turn recruited a 300 strong workforce to handle the project - including a large number of Irishmen.
They set about the task with a vengeance.
Materials to be brought in by rail in connection with the reservoir construction project were many and varied. Stone and aggregates were obtained from quarries in North Queensferry and Craigleith. Local whinstone came from workings at Glenrusco on the east side of the Tweed. Pipes, valve gear and pumping equipment came from various mills and engineering firms in central Scotland - and from the Carluke area came Puddle clay, the mix of clay, gravel and sand used to form a watertight seal and perfected by master canal builder James Brindley - over 100,000 tons in all being required in the building of the reservoir.
The one alleged 'extravagance' on the project at the time came with the construction of the Tweed Viaduct, a 100-foot girder bridge built to carry the railway and water pipeline across the river at Glenrusco to the north of Tweedsmuir. In this case the abutments were constructed from high quality granite obtained from the Della Casa quarry in Italy.
Much of the material required for the reservoir and dam, after unloading at the depot at Victoria Lodge, had then to be trans-shipped from the railhead up to the required point on the 30-acre construction site. This was done by means of a 'Blondin' - an overhead ropeway named after Charles Blondin, the Frenchman who had come to fame by walking a tightrope suspended across Niagara Falls.
On September 29th 1897, a stone-laying ceremony took place at the Talla terminus in connection with the commencement of the construction of Victoria Lodge, the premises which would accommodate staff of the EDWT directly involved in overseeing the reservoir project, as well as providing a local headquarters, including boardroom, for use of the Trustees themselves.
of the Trust together with other worthies and guests were brought down
from Edinburgh for the occasion on a special train dubbed 'The Tweedsmuir
Express' by Caledonian staff at Princes Street station. The train consisted
of six Caley 6-wheelers. The locomotive of the 'Express' was replaced
at Biggar by two short-wheelbase tank engines for the section over what
were described at the time as 'curves of a rather sharp nature' on the
final leg down to Victoria Lodge.
One of Best's most imaginative moves, and one which it is said helped considerably with his cash-flow situation, was the construction of a wooden platform alongside the locomotive watering facilities approximately 2 miles north of the reservoir at Crook Siding. This was a short walk from another 'watering facility' - namely The Crook Inn (dating from 1604 and reputedly the oldest licensed Inn in Scotland) - in which Best himself had taken a financial interest.
The Crook Inn on Friday nights during that period, following the arrival
of 'The Paddy' from Talla after the wages had been paid out, can only
be imagined - at one stage it was said that Best paid his workers their
wages on a Friday and, by Monday, had most of the money back!
By late 1904, with the main construction work virtually complete, run-down of the project commenced. Talla Water was diverted into the bed of the completed reservoir on May 20th 1905.
The official opening ceremony took place some 4 months later on September 28th and was carried out by Lady Cranston, wife of the Lord Provost.
Below is part of the report on the proceedings which appeared in 'The Scotsman' the following day -
large company from Edinburgh was conveyed in two special trains of saloon
and corridor carriages to the Talla reservoir - the first arriving at
noon and the second a short time thereafter. For the last eight or nine
miles from Broughton station the trains were hauled by small service engines
on the Trustees' line which was alongside the Tweed and crosses that stream
at a point where the Talla (burn) joins it. To many, this part of the
country, hitherto somewhat inaccessible, was quite new, and the view of
the infant Tweed and high hill screen of the valley in its beautiful autumn
colouring was very much enjoyed.
the opening of the reservoir and its associated works the Talla Railway
effectively fell out of use and was finally sold for scrap to P&W
Maclellan Ltd of Glasgow in 1910. Lifting of the line was completed by
the summer of 1912.
The final freight-only section of the line from Symington to Broughton itself closed in 1966 and, whilst little remains at the Broughton end, much of the former route down to Victoria Lodge, including the Tweed Viaduct itself (with the Della Casa granite abutments looking as good as ever) is still clearly visible from the A702 road between Broughton and Tweedsmuir.
The old viaduct is in fact busier than ever these days, supporting the pipeline which, as part of the 28 mile 'Talla Main' aqueduct system, carries millions of gallons of water daily to the city of Edinburgh.
Victoria Lodge, which still stands on the hillside above the overgrown platform at the railhead, has long been a private house, commanding the same magnificent views as ever over the reservoir and surrounding countryside. Coincidently it appeared on the property market not long ago.
The Talla Railway - addendum
Those who read the article on The Talla Railway, published on this website in December will recall that Victoria Lodge, built above the railhead at Talla reservoir by the Edinburgh and District Water Trust just over a century ago, had appeared on the property market in recent times.
The house was in fact bought by David and Rosemary Bannister and, following publication of the article, Rosemary e-mailed the website extending an invitation to visit the Lodge in order to photograph the boardroom and other items of interest.
I paid her a visit on 1st February and spent an enjoyable hour or so exploring and photographing the house and grounds.
A selection of these photographs has now been added to the website.
My thanks to Rosemary Bannister for making me so welcome and for giving of her time so freely.
Finally, my very best wishes with the B&B venture she has recently launched at Victoria Lodge – it’s good to know that many future visitors will get the opportunity to sample its unique atmosphere.
Locations along the former line
Crook / Crook Inn
Victoria Lodge, Talla