The Heir of Entail, his Factor and the Invercauld Tramway

Charlie Niven

The real story of the people behind a doomed railway


The Duke of Sutherland had his passenger and goods railway in that County (Duke of Sutherland's Railway), the Earl of Dalhousie had his goods line, the Carmyllie Railway, in Angus but the Earl of Aberdeen did not get to build his Branch line from Udny to Methlick in Aberdeenshire. Which other big landowner built part of a private goods line which was then not used?

Various authors have written about the extension of the Deeside Railway beyond Ballater Station to Bridge of Gairn. In fact that is an incorrect statement. The Invercauld Tramway was a wholly separate, standard gauge goods line planned and funded personally by the Heir of Entail (more correctly called Tailzie in Scots Law) of the Invercauld Estate. What and who is an Heir of Entail?

The story starts in 1788 when the then Laird of the Invercauld Estate, James Farquharson, decided to entail his estate to ensure the wellbeing of the line of succession. This meant that his heirs, whilst they inherited the land and other assets, could not in practice make full use of the value thereof. They were able to use the income from the Estate for its upkeep and development but they could not sell any land nor secure loans on it. The law was eased slightly in 1848 so that some changes to an Entailment could be allowed if leave were granted by the Court of Session.

In this case the Heir of Entail was Lieutenant-Colonel James Ross Farquharson, 13th Laird of Invercauld known in London society as 'Piccadilly Jim'. He was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of and a major shareholder in the Aboyne & Braemar Railway Company (A&BRCo.)

The London society magazine Vanity Fair dated 26 August 1876 featured this caricature portrait of James Ross Farquharson, Laird of Invercauld. The artist was (James) Jacques Joseph Tissot 1836-1902). Public Domain image.

It was the A&BRCo. which had built the line from Aboyne to Ballater and had the power in its Act of Parliament to extend the line from Ballater Station to Bridge of Gairn as a tramway. The term tramway as used in the mid-nineteenth Century meaning a goods-only railway. This is made clear in the formal Directors' reports where there are references to 'the Goods Line beyond Ballater' and 'the Locomotive Tram Line to the forests....' Further confusion has arisen in the assertion that the line was to be narrow gauge. This is due to the absence of the term 'Standard Gauge' when referring to railway track gauges at that time in the late 1860s. The contemporary terms were: Narrow Gauge which referred to four foot eight and a half inches and Broad Gauge which was seven feet and half an inch. There is a reference in the minutes to the tramway being of 'the ordinary narrow gauge' i.e. what we now call Standard Gauge.

The remainder of the standard gauge Bridge of Gairn Tramway seen from under the road bridge just west of Ballater Station. Photo taken in 1962. From the R. Sillitto/A. Renfrew Collection Courtesy of Bruce McCartney

The beginnings of a tramway

The Directors of the railway company, which was in no position financially to fund the construction of the tramway itself decided to 'abandon' their right to build a tramway i.e. transfer it to the Heir of Entail of the Invercauld Estate, Col. Farquharson. Thereafter it was Col. Farquharson himself, personally, who took on the responsibility of building the tramway. Initially the agreement drawn up between the two parties was that Col. Farquharson would build a tramway over a distance of twelve miles taking it to the area to the east of Braemar, close to the Old Bridge of Invercauld, where the main part of his forests and the Estate's sawmills lay. It was evidently recognised by Estate management that, in order to effectively market the Estate's timber resources especially that in the Ballochbuie Forest efficient transport to market was essential. However as the letters from Estate's legal advisors, copied into the Board Minutes, show it soon became clear that as the cost was going to be very considerable so the Estate wanted to shorten the line to reach Bridge of Gairn as a first stage but apparently still with a view to extending it towards Invercauld. The real reason was, of course, that Col. Farquharson was prevented from raising funds by taking a loan secured on the Estate he owned. He could only finance the tramway out of revenue from the Estate. He was in a position similar to a railway company which tried to build a line and operate trains on its route without having access to capital from shareholders, debentures, mortgages or other loans.

As A&BR Co. Chairman there is very little about him in the public record apart from one short statement he gave at the September 1867 Ordinary General Meeting of proprietors (shareholders); short it may have been but it was also quite revealing about his dilemma. In answer to Deputy Chairman (also Chairman of the Deeside and Great North of Scotland Railways) John Duncan's question 'As a shareholder I would like to ask what are the prospects of the railway with reference to the bringing down of wood?'
According to the newspaper report Col. Farquharson replied: 'there were lots they could not get down at present. But he thought, speaking as a private individual, that there were good hopes of getting a tramway. It did not lie exactly with that railway, but was pretty much in the hands of the Great North.' It seems that he was hoping that the Great North of Scotland Railway was going to partially fund the remainder of the tramway towards Braemar. The Great North evidently had enough financial problems of its own. In any case John Duncan whilst he was Chairman of the Deeside Railway always insisted that extensions were to be funded by separate companies (The Deeside Extension Railway Company and the A&BRCo) and were not to rely on the original company for funding. After that Col. Farquharson does not seem to have been present at any further General Meetings of the railway company until 1870.

Why did Col. Farquharson not apply to the Court of Session for a change in the Entailment of his estate to allow him to raise funds for the whole 12 miles of tramway? In fact he did just that. A Notice in the Edinburgh Gazette dated 23rd February 1865 showed that he applied to the Court for 'authority to charge the portions of the said Entailed Estates ...with a Debt of L 10,000....' Taking a case to the Court of Session was expensive and there was no guarantee of success. It must have been very novel idea for an estate owner to want to raise a mortgage on the estate to finance a railway on his estate albeit to transport his trees to market and thereby repay the loan. It seems that the Court considered it insufficient reason to alter the Entailment.
In 1867 J.R. Farquharson tried to get a Bill introduced in the House of Lords. Neither of these moves was successful.

The agreed transfer of powers from the A&BR to Col. Farquharson was probably ultra vires. The railway company had obtained the powers of compulsory purchase of the land needed to build the tramway and to build a bridge under the Turnpike Road for themselves under their Act of Parliament which they most likely did. They were not, however, entitled, authorised or permitted to transfer those powers or the land thus purchased to a third party; only an amendment to their Act or a further Act of Parliament could have done that. The agreement, therefore, probably had no legal validity but was never seems to have been challenged.

So, if the laird had his hands tied, who, then, was the driving force behind the development of the railway which was dependent on the revenue from harvested timber?

William Brown, Invercauld Estate Factor

As on most large estates the day-to-day management of the Invercauld Estate was in the hands of its Factor, William Brown and he was a rather exceptional man. Although he seems only to have had a basic education at local schools near Edinburgh until he was 17 and was then employed in supervising tree planting, at age twenty he went on to survey and manage estates in Banffshire. In 1860 he was appointed as Factor at Invercauld on the basis of his previous practical experience of Forestry.

By 1863 he became known to the Deeside Railway Company when he tried to get them to reduce their rates for timber transport from Aboyne, then the terminus of the line. Almost five years after opening, the Deeside Railway Extension was still in competition with two other modes of transport as regards timber transport: carting on the turnpike road and river-floating (rafting). The Traffic & Finance Committee of the Deeside Railway Company had letters from Mr. Brown including one which stated: '...there are 7000 or 8000 trees going by the river within a mile and a half of your station at Aboyne...the cartage from Ballater to Aboyne being so much higher than the rate per Railway is one of the reasons that has induced me to take to the river.
I am still prepared to carry out his suggestion and send all but what may be sold in the neighbourhood and will include Banchory and the stations between it and Aboyne at the same rate viz: 3/6 per ton.' However the Committee members were not to be budged and kept the rate at 4/- per ton having reduced it from 5/- a few months previously. Whether or not Brown subsequently sent the estate timber by rail from Aboyne is not recorded.

William Brown, tramway promoter?

The next time Brown appears in the railway records he is a director of the Aboyne and Braemar Railway as well as the Invercauld Estate Factor and a spokesman for both. The newspaper reports of General Meetings always included a succinct and upbeat report by William Brown on the state of timber transport from the Invercauld forests. He had introduced the use of traction engines as an interim measure to increase the amount of timber hauled to Ballater Station: 'we have sold a very large quantity in the forest of Invercauld to an Aberdeen firm, namely Richard Connon & Company, who have now got a couple of traction engines to bring the timber down. Before the snow storm the first one was working very well indeed, taking down timber at a rate of 15 tons a day for five days in the week.. With two engines, working at the same rate, and reckoning only 150 working days in the season, they will take down 4500 tons, which quantity, of course, will pass over this railway, and taking it at a very fair figure, there must be received for wood traffic from Ballater to Aberdeen next summer, nothing under £1800.' Free Press report of OGM 30th March 1867. Note 1. At that time the half-yearly revenue for the railway was around £1400.
However he was not satisfied with their productivity 'Mr BROWN, Invercauld explained further about the timber traffic, and said that although the traction engines had come up to expectations, they had proved quite inadequate for the traffic.' Free Press report of OGM 27th March 1868. Note 2
He was a strong supporter of the tramway and may have been behind an attempt to get it built within the width of the County(former Turnpike) Road. At a meeting in April 1868 the Road Trustees had received a letter from Col. Farquharson asking: 'if the Trust would view favourably a proposition to lay rails for tramway along one side of the road from Ballater to Braemar for the conveyance of the heavy timber traffic present on the road.'
While this idea did not succeed 'Mr Brown said that he had no doubt that they would see steam at Bridge of Gairn by Whitsunday, as the works were progressing very satisfactorily. The timber traffic was making very satisfactory progress; there had been a very considerable increase on it, and he was sure that the 5000 tons that had come from Braemar during the last twelve months must have been a source of considerable revenue to the Deeside Railway Company. An eighth part of the whole revenue was now derived from this commodity.' Free Press report of OGM 15th September 1868. These quantities of timber quoted should be compared to estimates of between 12,000 and 14,000 tons which were to be transported by the railway according to John Duncan.

An on-line biography mentions Brown as taking an 'active part in improving the roads of the district, and in introducing traction engines for the conveyance of timber to the railroads, and ultimately to the extension of the railway itself.' Although he was in charge of estate management he could not make the decision as to whether the estate could afford to invest in a tramway himself. However he secured the installation of a siding for Richard Connon & Co.'s sawmill next to Ballater Station. One further small investment he achieved was the funding of the installation of a temporary siding at Milton Of Tullich for the loading of timber from the Monaltrie woods.

The likely location of a temporary siding at Milton of Tullich where the line is at grade probably adjacent to the fields numbered 373 and 374.

Otherwise it would have been up to the laird on the advice of his financial and legal advisors but, as we have discovered, Col. Farquharson was in no position to fund the whole tramway himself. In any case after many months of discussion and concessions by the railways concerned such as the Great North of Scotland Railway allowing usage of their timber wagons free of charge and much correspondence between the parties and their respective Civil Engineers concerning the revised layout of Ballater Station, the construction went ahead.

A view of the route of the tramway west of Ballater. Photo courtesy of Ewan Crawford

Devastating news for shareholders

The Bridge of Gairn Tramway, as it then became known, a goods-only 'standard gauge' locomotive railway was designed by George Bruce C.E. and construction was completed. The Aboyne and Braemar Railway Directors' Report for the Ordinary General Meeting on 23rd September 1869 states 'The Goods Line to Bridge of Gairn, constructed by Col. Farquharson, is now almost completed'; however by that time matters had changed drastically with regard to the forests in Brown's charge. The Free Press had to report the announcement of a rather drastic change in fortunes for shareholders. Col. Farquharson was leasing the Ballochbuie Forest to a German prince (Prince Albert had died in 1861 so a close relative and friend of Queen Victoria took on the role) 'His Serene Highness, the Prince of Leiningen and others, as Trustees for behoof of Her Majesty.' They were going to keep the forest intact so that she could enjoy the peace and natural beauty of the area undisturbed by steam loco-hauled goods trains.

Even the timber merchant who had bought the timber gave way when it was obvious he could not do much to prevent the change. It is stated in Richard Connon's obituary: 'A few years ago, Messrs Connon and Company passed over to Her Majesty the Queen the timber of the Ballochbuie forest, which they had purchased from Colonel Farquharson of Invercauld for the purposes of cutting it down and thereby preserved one of the proudest features of the Balmoral amenities.' Col. Farquharson had apparently been in a difficult position: he had rather influential neighbours who did not want a tramway built passing close to their property. At the same time he had an obligation to build that tramway as agreed with the railway company of which he was a major shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Directors. In this case Col. Farquharson did go to the Court of Session to get permission to lease out the Forest for 19 years and he was successful. Thereafter Piccadilly Jim was known as 'the Queen's landlord'.

Meantime it was left to John Duncan, Deputy Chairman of ABRCo, to explain the implications of the lease. He tried to put a brave face on things '...Col. Farquharson had a perfect right to dispose of his property in that way if he chose' but the reality was that there would be no more revenue from that source and with it went the chance of the shareholders receiving a better dividend than the 2-3% they were getting. In fact, he announced to the meeting that as a result of the lease, the Aboyne and Braemar Railway's revenue from timber haulage had dropped significantly. The Directors' Report to shareholders stopped showing itemised amounts of timber after the second OGM Report in 1868. However there is a set of figures within the Minutes of a Board meeting in March 1870 which reveals that for '1869' (exact period unknown) 1499 tons were transported whereas in '1870' only 1267 tons were moved. These figures compare with over 3,000 tons in the half-year ending 31st July 1868. Timber was still being freighted but in much smaller amounts.

Brown moves onwards and upwards

Meanwhile William Brown was still listed as a Director but his address was shown as Trinity, Edinburgh. What had happened to cause Brown to move to Edinburgh? Col. Farquharson had, according to a newspaper report of the Court of Session case, apparently employed an Aberdeen Land Surveyor to value the Ballochbuie Forest as a deer forest for hunting without any reference to its value as commercial forestry. As from the 11th December 1868 the lease had included 'the whole growing timber, wood and plantations therein'; normally the actual trees were excluded from hunting forest leases. The annual rental amounted to the sum of £1500 may well have been a generous rent but did not compare to the income which would have been derived from the sale of the timber. This action was possibly against the advice of his Estate Factor, if he had been consulted, and who was more than capable of doing his own valuation of the Estate including the value of harvested timber. Although the exact reasons remain unknown it seems like this may have been the last straw for Brown, something which he, as a progressive land manager, could not accept and therefore he resigned his post as Estate Factor. His ties to the Railway Company were also severed; he was disqualified as a Director of the Aboyne and Braemar Railway at a Board meeting in November 1869 indicating he had sold his shares in the company. He seems to have stayed in Scotland for only a few more months before moving permanently to Canada with his family to become a farmer and a Land Surveyor for the Province of Ontario. Soon afterwards he was appointed the first Professor of Agriculture on the opening of the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm, Guelph in 1874 becoming its Principal the following year. How many other Factors of Highland estates achieved that?

Tramway left in limbo

With its main promoter absent there was no longer any impetus to use the newly completed tramway to Bridge of Gairn. In any case as the main forests were on the south side of the River Dee and no railway bridge was built across it from the north bank so a terminal could only have operated as efficiently as the means of supplying it from upstream and cross-river allowed. Nor was there any practical advantage in having a timber terminal with no immediate access to a place where floated timber could be landed (landing bank) on the River Dee within the site. Note 3 The Bridge of Gairn terminus was sited a full quarter of a mile from the north bank of the Dee so any logs landed there would have required to be taken by horse and cart or dragged by horses to the loading point. Another consideration which Brown had initially believed would be advantageous for a terminus at the Bridge of Gairn was to circumvent a problem with traction engines on the public road between there and Ballater Station. However that defect was, in fact, rectified by the Road Trustees before the tramway was finished. In April 1867 a newspaper reported that the heaviest logs were actually being floated downstream from Ballochbuie sawmill to a landing bank at Ballater (and presumably carted to the station) while the smaller ones were taken by traction engine on the public road to the railhead.


Was Brown not naive in believing that a tramway to Bridge of Gairn would be built quickly enough to make a difference in solving a road transport problem? Was its construction just a sop by the Laird of Invercauld to placate his Factor and, more importantly, the shareholders of the railway company of which he was Chairman? I believe that both men were actually committed to seeing the tramway fully completed to the Ballochbuie Forest. They certainly seemed to have tried to get the tramway beyond Bridge of Gairn. However building a tramway into the public road was rather impractical and certainly not fundable at the time; it would have meant completely rebuilding the road with the tramway integrated into its surface. Perhaps it was Brown's idea to improve the road at the same time?

Stopping at Bridge of Gairn meant that the tramway could never have been more than a token gesture as it probably did not have a role to play by the time it was completed. Then came the request from Balmoral which Col. Farquharson could not refuse; that killed it off totally. There is no evidence that the tramway was used in anger; agreements were in place to enable a loaded train to run from the Bridge of Gairn all the way to Aberdeen. Perhaps there was a trial run but no document has survived to show that this actually happened. Thus it appears that the tramway may have remained unused except as a route for the first public water supply pipeline for the rapidly-expanding village of Ballater. The water supply reservoir and pipeline was paid for by Col. Farquharson personally and he opened it in 1873 at which time the tramway was reported as abandoned.

However I think we can be sure that trains did run on the line if not for transporting timber or other goods. The Contractors (who they were remains unknown) would have transported materials such as rails and gravel ballast along it and again when the track was lifted another train would have been used to retrieve the materials.

The OS map from 1900 shows the position of a gravel pit which would have been used to ballast the Bridge Of Gairn Tramway; Ballast (Permanent Way) Trains would have traversed the completed track to spread ballast in preparation for the expected timber-carrying trains which did not transpire.

This article is to form part of a chapter in a forthcoming book I am currently researching.


1) Traction engines were still in their infancy in the late 1860s and their use was highly innovative for a rural estate. The Road Trustees were evidently inexperienced in dealing with them and had evidently left some kind of hindrance, perhaps the remains of a toll bar gate, on the road from Ballochbuie to Ballater. All Turnpike Trusts and their tolls were abolished in Aberdeenshire in 1866.

2) There were several Aberdeen newspapers in the mid Nineteenth Century. The two that survived to form the Press and Journal in late 1922 were firstly The Aberdeen Journal originally published weekly and later became a daily paper and secondly The Free Press. The latter was used by the A&BRCo Directors to form the basis of their Minutes of the Ordinary General Meetings i.e. they used a newspaper cutting as the official record bound into the Minute Books!

3) The floating or 'rafting' of timber continued in use on the River Dee into the mid-1880s although its use declined after the railway arrived and was extended westwards in the period 1853 to 1866. Rafts were formed to take the timber from the forests of Deeside to Aberdeen for shipbuilding etc. or to the sawmill at Silverstripe, Banchory for processing and onward movement by rail. Timber was launched from a floating bank, an area of steeply sloping ground cleared of large vegetation and rocks to enable the logs to be rolled easily down into the river by men with poles. A landing bank would, conversely, be a stretch of the river bank which was on a gradual rise and the timber could be dragged out of the water easily by horses.


NRS BR/ABR/1/1 Aboyne & Braemar Railway Company: Minutes of Board of Directors' Meetings

NRS BR/DEE/1/4 Deeside Railway Company: Traffic & Finance Committee Minutes

The Aberdeen Journal 17th April 1867

The Aberdeen Journal 22nd April 1868

The Aberdeen Journal 9th November 1870

The Aberdeen Journal 5th November 1873

The Aberdeen Journal 4th June 1878
Obituary of Richard Connon quoted in the e-book

John Humphrey & Co., Shipbuilders, Upper Dock, Aberdeen 1865-1875

Stanley Bruce 2020

Further reading about William Brown

Further reading about traction engines
The traction engine in Scotland
NMS Enterprises- Publishing 2011
Alexander Hayward

Map extracts are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland see
© 2021 Charles Niven