Plenmeller Halt

Plenmeller Halt and Colliery c1919. Ken Hoole Collection courtesy of Head of Steam - Darlington Railway Museum

Gelt Bridge

Engraving of the ‘Newcastle and Carlisle Railway. Oblique Bridge over the River Gelt, Cumberland’ by John Wilson Carmichael, 1836 (National Railway Museum)

Title page of the Wear Valley Extension Railway plans of 1845

Poster advertising the cutting of the first sod for the Wear Valley Extension. The celebrations attracted hundreds of visitors. Source: Weardale Museum

The Tortie Stone
Original Location: Private collection
Current Location: Darlington Railway Museum
Theme: Industrial
Period: Post Medieval/Modern
Date: c.1919

What is it?
A photograph showing the railway halt at Plenmeller, built in 1919 on the Haltwhistle-Alston branch line to serve Plenmeller Colliery where coal was mined between 1847 and 1932.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
There is evidence of coal mining in the North Pennines around Tindale Fell from the 17th century onwards though it may have begun much earlier. The first shaft at Plenmeller was in use in 1847 with the North East Railway providing a private siding from 1909; Plenmeller Halt opened in 1919 for miners working at the colliery.

Railways grew rapidly throughout the North Pennines in the 19th century driven by the industrial development in different areas.  In the north and west, coal was the main cargo for Lord Carlisle’s line from Lambley and Tindale to Brampton which developed from a horse-drawn waggonway opened in 1799, and also, in the 20th century, for the the Haltwhistle-Alston branch line which served the Plenmeller Colliery. The line had initially been built by the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway in 1850-52 to serve the Alston Moor lead mines. The lead mining industry also drove the development of the Hexham and Allendale Railway which opened in 1867. In the northeast, the Stanhope and Tyne Railway, which opened in 1834, was used to transport limestone from quarries in Stanhope to the iron works at Consett.  Further south, the Wear Valley line opened to Frosterley in 1847 was extended to Stanhope in 1862 and to Wearhead in 1895, and the Tees Valley line to Middleton opened in 1868.

The development of the railway network in the North Pennines provides excellent examples of the various ways in which companies developed services during the ‘Railway Mania’ of the mid-19th century.  Some lines were built by new companies created to exploit the opportunities for profit that railways offered, while others were subsidiaries or branch lines for existing services.  Most companies were established by Act of Parliament, though the Stanhope and Tyne Railway was unusual as it instead used ‘wayleaves’ from landowners who were paid annual rents, and  no act was required for the Brampton railway which was built on Lord Carlisle’s own land.

Many more lines were planned but never built and several of these were very ambitious. The Wear Valley Extension Railway plans of 1845 set out a route to connect Middlesbrough to Western Scotland including branch lines to Stanhope and Allendale, and at about the same time a number of proposals were made to connect Newcastle to Merseyside.

Why is it important?
The legacy of the railways continues to have a major impact on the landscape of the North Pennines. The difficult terrain was a challenge to railway engineers and required many embankments, cuttings and bridges, such as the spectacular Lambley Viaduct and the Gelt Bridge, one of the earliest and largest skew arch bridges in England. While only two heritage lines remain in use – the South Tynedale Railway at Alston and the Weardale Railway linking Stanhope to Bishop Auckland – footpaths or cycle tracks such as South Tyne Trail and the Waskerley Way use the routes of old railways to provide access to some of the more remote parts of the area.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • Bell, T. 2015. Railways of the North Pennines. ISBN-13: 9780750960953
  • Jenkins, Stanley C. 2001. The Alston Branch. ISBN 9780853615743

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