A Tunnel Under Tayfield

The Intricacies of Railway Mania

Rendel’s floating bridge

Following on from the previous blog Big Plans about the Edinburgh and Northern (the E & N) Railway’s plans for a line from Cupar via Leuchars to Tayport and then possibly on to Newport, other companies were desperate to run the line through Fife to Dundee.

In September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Junction Railway (the G & D J) proposed to go from Glasgow via Stirling and Kinross, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty and Cupar to Newport. In its journey through Fife it would meet the E & N, presumably at Cupar, ‘from whence it will proceed directly to Newport … where there is a short and commodious ferry.’ ‘No tunnelling will be necessary. The gradients and curves are unexceptionable, and the work throughout will be light.’ The prospectus said that the whole line ‘is supported by a majority of landowners through whose properties it is intended to pass’ 1 . The wording in the prospectus is unclear – did it mean that the railway would stop at Cupar and use the E & N rails to carry the traffic; or did it mean it would connect with the E & N and then itself go directly to Newport (but without tunnels)?

Also in September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Direct Railway (the G & D D) put out their prospectus 2 . Despite their name, they took as their starting point Dundee harbour and from the outset intended to use Mr Rendel’s floating bridge across the river to Craighead* (shown as a purple dashed line). The floating bridge idea had been approved by Parliament in 1843 3 and originally was intended to (1) provide a replacement or additional ferry terminal at Craighead and (2) operate it as a chain ferry (or floating bridge) by converting one of the existing steamers 4 . But the G & D D prospectus went further – ‘railway carriages and wagons were to pass without change from … Glasgow to Dundee and Arbroath’ – in other words the wagons were to roll on to the floating bridge and roll off at the other side – just like that!

Once on Fife ground, the G & D D line was to take ‘the most direct line’ from Craighead (Newport) to Kinross and then on to Stirling. It was also intended to form a short branch to Cupar.

But ambition doesn’t guarantee success. The G & D D’s grandiose plans lasted only a week before the company was amalgamated with the G & D J 5.

While all this is going on, surveyors and engineers must have been on the ground. Two months later, in November 1845, the plans are issued for public consultation prior to presentation to Parliament 6 . And what a dog’s breakfast they are.

The plans, now nominally G & D J plans, are for a line – shown in blue, tunnels in dashed blue -from Craighead, with no mention of connection to the floating bridge, then west along the coast to Newport Pier. From there, 2 alternatives were given:

  1. a line continuing along the shore past Woodhaven and Scroggieside, round a bend to pass Wormit Farm, then through the Wormit Gap in the hills and round the hill at Sandford. The main line would run from there west through open countryside past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty, then on to Kinross and eventually Stirling and Glasgow. (4.6 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm). Yes, you read correctly – the main line would run past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty.
  2. a line heading south past Tayfield and Friarton, then turning southwest to join up with option (1) at Easter Kinnear Farm. (3.5 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm).

Both options would connect to a branch to Cupar and St Andrews. [Interestingly, there was no proposed link for traffic approaching from the west to get to the Cupar & St Andrews branch. Cupar was to be reached by a minor branch much further west, while St Andrews would have been unreachable from the west. All the attention seems to have been on the Dundee to Kinross line.]

I have a whole page showing the planned line in Newport and Woodhaven on here.

The direct route, option 2, (and railway promoters were always pushing for the ‘direct’ route) is thus over a mile shorter than option 1. However, and there is a big ‘however’, route 2 passes through hilly ground. The usual answer to this is to make cuttings and maybe a tunnel – but these are expensive. Tunnelling is very expensive. Having climbed from Newport pier there would have to be a tunnel under the eastern part of St Fort Hill (between the Old Kirk Road just south of Newport and Friarton), and another under Knockhill (between West Friarton and South Friarton). But the plans show tunnel all the way from Tayfield North Lodge to West Friarton. Would it have to be tunnelled all this way? I doubt it. The ground rises steadily but not excessively as it goes from the lodge, through what is now St Serfs grounds, to Kirk Road. Tunnelling here is not an engineering necessity.

If it was a case of being hidden from sight from the grounds of Tayfield, then there was also the issue of smoke, fumes and noise as a north-bound train exits the tunnel at Newport – and that would quite easily be seen from Tayfield House. South-bound trains would create more noise and smoke but this would mostly be cleared by the wind before entering the tunnel.

What did option 2 have in its favour to justify the additional expense? Why was that route even considered? Was it a legacy of its original G & D D ‘direct line’?

Was its expense simply there to make the Wormit route more attractive?

What about the support of the landowners? Was Mr Berry in favour? He had been unsuccessful in arguing against the floating bridge at Craighead in 1843 7 . Was this another obstacle to the G & D J line to help make it economically unviable?

Whatever the reasons, the G & D J went ahead and sought Parliamentary approval. But all did not go well. While passing through parliamentary scrutiny in April 1846, it had numerous objectors and the drawn plans in particular were criticised and found to be wanting. The bill was therefore thrown out for failing to comply with standing orders 8 .

The G & D J was short-lived. Only 9 months after being proposed, the company was wound up 9 , leaving the E& N line to Tayport as the only railway crossing to Dundee – until the next proposals appeared .

*Craighead is the point of land immediately west of the Fife end of the Tay Road Bridge. Craighead Cottage and, later, Craighead Farm and eventually Craighead housing scheme all take their names from their proximity to this point of land. On 17th century maps it is called ‘Scarness’, but by 1703 Adair’s map of the River Tay names it as ‘Craig head’ 10 , and there is a baptism recorded at Craighead in 1726 11 .

References:

  1. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sep 1845, p3 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 23 Sep 1845, p3
  3. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3 ; and Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  5. Dundee Courier, 30 Sep 1845, p3
  6. Bound plans and sections of Glasgow and Dundee Junction Railway from Stirling to Newport and Dundee via Kinross… at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85254.
  7. Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  8. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 7 Apr 1846, p1
  9. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 5 Jun 1846, p2
  10. Fifae Pars Orientalis, Blaeu, 1654 ; and The Frith of the River Tay …, Adair, 1703 at the National Library of Scotland
  11. Old Parish Records, Forgan parish 431/1, baptism of James Gilcrest 8 May 1726 , ScotlandsPeople

Additional reading:

  • The Railways of Fife, William Scott Bruce, 1980
  • Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, vol 15 North of Scotland, John Thomas & David Turnock, 1993

Big Plans

Local History from Railway Plans

First, the Good News

From the 1830s on, the Forth and the Tay were challenging problems for the railway companies wanting to expand north of Edinburgh. To get to Dundee and Aberdeen, they could bypass Fife altogether by going via Stirling and Perth; or they could somehow cross the Forth, traverse Fife and then somehow cross the Tay. Any lines which were to run through Fife would end up at either Ferry-Port-on-Craig (later renamed Tayport) or Newport. As the principal ferry port on the south side of the river, Newport would figure in many of the schemes.

Numerous competing railway companies proposed lines to pass through, or end at, Newport as a means of getting to Dundee. To gain interest from potential investors, schemes and plans were drawn up. Any initial or pipe-dream plans were small scale – maybe showing the whole of Fife as the size of a postcard. The more serious the proposals became, the larger the plans became. Once they got to the stage of seeking Parliamentary approval for the construction of the line, the detail shown on the plans and accompanying documentation becomes much more accurate and completely comprehensive, if only for a very limited area. This was necessary if the company was to acquire the land and buildings on the line of the new railway.

The complexities of the competing railway company proposals in the mid-1800s are manifold. Always driven by finance, the companies competed, collaborated, and frequently collapsed in their bids to gain traffic over a particular route. But even the publication of a plan and bill seeking Parliamentary approval didn’t mean that the line would be constructed. Schemes were changed, finance may not have been forthcoming, and shareholder pressure could alter the proposals.

As an example, one scheme which sought Parliamentary approval was by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway Company which proposed, in November 1845, a branch to run from Cupar through Ferry-Port-on-Craig (Tayport) then along the coast to a terminus at the Newport ferry (shown in red).

These plans are interesting from the railway historian’s point of view, but once you know they exist, the accompanying book of reference gives the local historian a lot of detail, including ownership and occupancy, about properties along the line of the intended railway at a particular point in time.

This sketch map is taken from the Edinburgh & Northern Railway (Cupar to Ferry-Port-on-Craig and Newport extension) plans, November 1845, at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85261.

Newport map 1845

The solid red line indicates the positon of the proposed railway line. Apart from this, the plans show who owned, lived in, and had an interest in, every property along the proposed line. The properties are limited in scope to a small distance on either side of the railway line (the ‘limits of deviation’ – shown by red dashed lines), which is why some buildings are detailed on these plans while others, which are possibly more important, are not mentioned. The numbers refer to the details given in the accompanying Book of Reference.

Example from the Book of Reference:

55 : Dwelling houses & garden ground, owner William Berry, occupiers William Turnbull, John Bell, Alexander Milne, Alexander Harris, Mrs Menzies Mackie, John Kidd, Thomas Pinn & Mrs Catherine Brown. [These were houses on the west side of the present High Street.]

I have a full page about this branch line here.

This part of the line was never built. The company decided to make its terminus at Ferry-Port-on-Craig where they built a substantial harbour and operated a successful roll-on, roll-off ferry service (designed by Thomas Bouch) to Broughty Ferry.

There were many planned lines and branches over the years. I will be able to include a few of them here in due course.

The routes of some of the proposed lines do raise a few eyebrows.

Now, the Bad News

The following is not for those of a nervous disposition. It may help local historians but from a genealogist’s point of view, at the moment, it is not worth the effort.

How can you find out about any railway plans in your area? Well … with a great deal of difficulty. First you have to know that there was a railway line or a proposed line. Knowing the date and railway company can also be useful. Plans had to be submitted to the local sheriff court, so the bulk of them will now be in the National Records of Scotland (NRS), Edinburgh, referenced RHP. Some may also be in a local archive. Searching the online NRS catalogue is not an option – it is not broken down by parish. However, if you know the railway company, then you could search for that. There is another way…

For those plans in the NRS, in theory you can search ScotlandsPlaces:

  • find the parish concerned
  • then ‘Maps, drawings & photographs’
  • options
  • Organisation: National Records of Scotland
  • apply filter

This will bring up a list of all plans which refer to the parish. Then, you have to search through these entries to find a set of plans for the appropriate railway company at the appropriate date. Don’t expect any links, images or further help; the location maps you are presented with are meaningless. You will only be able to find that a plan exists for that railway company somewhere in the parish. Then you will have to go to Edinburgh to see the plans and find out whether you have been lucky.

Eventually … (deep breath) … you should be able to search for and view these plans at either ScotlandsPlaces, ScotlandsPeople or the NRS websites. I think this may well be several years in the future. Good luck!