Talla Railway

Author: 
John Furnevel

2005 sees the centenary of the closure of the line from Broughton to Victoria Lodge - yet parts of the route are still in use!


Tweedsmuir: The trackbed and viaduct at Glenrusco near Tweedsmuir in 2004 looking towards Victoria Lodge. Closed a century earlier but still in use carrying water back to Edinburgh from the reservoir the line was built to help construct. John Furnevel 13/11/2004 [Ref 6025]

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.


Map: A map showing the route of the Talla Railway at the beginning of the 20th century running south from the junction with the Symington, Biggar and Broughton Railway to the terminus at Victoria Lodge. John Furnevel 01/02/2006 [Ref 2624]

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.

Members 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.

Unfortunately the firm of James Young & Sons was declared bankrupt in 1899 and the main contract was subsequently taken over by John Best of Leith who, up until the bankruptcy of Young, had been one of the two main sub-contractors on the project - the other being one Robert McAlpine & Sons.


Crook: Henry Moore eat your heart out. The surviving piers of a long abandoned bridge over the trackbed of the Talla railway north of the Crook Inn, in October 2003. John Furnevel 11/10/2003 [Ref 6024]

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.

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Crook: 'Time gentlemen....PLEASE!' ...the landlord called, from his bunker at the far end of the car park. All part of that special Friday night ambience at the Crook Inn in the early part of the 20th century, thanks to contractor John Best, a wooden platform off to the left and the workers trains from Talla. [] John Furnevel 13/11/2004 [Ref 6068]

Events at 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!

Sadly, not everyone made it to the Crook Inn on those Friday nights, as a memorial stone just inside the main gates of Tweedsmuir churchyard bears witness. The stone is inscribed as follows

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Tweedsmuir: Sadly, not all made it to the Crook Inn on those infamous Friday nights in the early 1900s. The Talla Memorial stone, stands near the main gate of Tweedsmuir churchyard. The inscription reads: 'To the memory of the men who died during the progress of the Talla water works 1805-1905 of whom over 30 are interred in this churchyard. Erected by their fellow-workmen and others.' [] John Furnevel 30/11/2005 [Ref 6066]

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.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.


Victoria Lodge: Lines around Victoria Lodge 1904/5. John Furnevel 01/02/2006 [Ref 6655]

Below is part of the report on the proceedings which appeared in 'The Scotsman' the following day -

'The 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 scene at the reservoir had quite a gala day aspect. Flags and banners and bannerets fluttered in the breeze. 

The roadway to the embankment and the great dam across the valley were set off by lines of streamers. Victoria villa (sic.) was decorated with festoons of crimson cloth and shields; over it waved the Union Jack; while on the terrace in front of it was a tall flagstaff, at the head of which was the Scottish Lion on its field of gold.'

Following 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.


Tweedsmuir: View north along the Talla Railway trackbed near Tweedsmuir on 26 December 2011. Amazingly not only has the trackbed's ballast survived here but the indentations from sleepers are still obvious, now grass-lined. Ewan Crawford 26/12/2011 [Ref 37001]

A century later much has changed.

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: Frontage of Victoria Lodge in 2005. The top of the stairway down to platform level can be seen on the left. The EDWT boardroom lies behind the bay window on the ground floor. John Furnevel 30/11/2005 [Ref 6072]

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.

As for Friday nights at the old Crook Inn.….well…...let's just say things are a lot quieter down there these days.….

John Furnevel
November 2005

Bibliography

The Scotsman digital news archive 1895-1905
The Talla Railway - James Veitch - (The Scots Magazine Nov 1974)
Peebles Railways - Peter Marshall - Oakwood Press
Rails to Talla - Harold D Bowtell - SLS Journal - Oct 1966

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. 

John Furnevel
2nd Feb 2006

Related links

History of the Symington, Biggar and Broughton Railway.
All photographs of the Talla Railway.
Poem: The Talla Waterworks From 1895 to 1905.