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:
- 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.
- 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 .
- Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sep 1845, p3 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
- Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 23 Sep 1845, p3
- Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
- Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3 ; and Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
- Dundee Courier, 30 Sep 1845, p3
- 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.
- Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
- Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 7 Apr 1846, p1
- Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 5 Jun 1846, p2
- Fifae Pars Orientalis, Blaeu, 1654 ; and The Frith of the River Tay …, Adair, 1703 at the National Library of Scotland
- Old Parish Records, Forgan parish 431/1, baptism of James Gilcrest 8 May 1726 , ScotlandsPeople
- 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