How they built the Settle-Carlisle railway: D - Contract 2

This page presents a selection of contemporary accounts relating to the construction of the Settle-Carlisle Railway in the Dent Head to Kirkby Stephen area between 1869 and 1876.

They have been extracted from “How they built the Settle-Carlisle railway” by W.R. Mitchell (published by Castleberg in 1989, reprinted in 2001) and the extracts are reproduced here with the kind permission of Dr Mitchell. The extracts are presented as they were written in the original sources, which means there are variations in the spelling of place names and in punctuation. The numbers at the beginning of each extract were not part of the original text: they have been added to aid cross-referencing.

The Foreword and Introduction page explains how these extracts were obtained and provides a key to the abbreviations used.

Contract No. 2: Dent Head to Kirkby Stephen

2.1: Contract No. 2 commences in the midst of Yorkshire hill scenery. It was let to the contractors in September, 1869. The strata is chiefly boulder clay, which accounts for the works being in their present unfinished state. The material is so hard that blasting is necessary to sever it, but in wet weather it turns to mud and slurry. The rain of 1872 greatly retarded this contract. W.A. (1874)

2.2: According to report, the rain which fell at Dent Head in 1872 was 92 inches and at Kirkby Stephen 60 inches. The excessive wet of that year retarded the works seriously by driving many of the workmen from that high moorland district, diminishing the number of working days and rendering much of the material for the embankments so soft that it could not be tipped until the return of fine weather. On the same account many of the large cuttings had to be deserted for a time. L.G. (1873)

2.3: Arten Gill Viaduct is the first great work on Contract No. 2 and consists of 11 arches, the same size as those of Batty Moss Viaduct, but 120 feet high in the deepest part: by diverting the line the viaduct was made 50 feet less in height, as it now crosses over the top of a waterfall instead of the bottom. W.A. (1873)

2.4: At a short distance from Dent Head Viaduct, Messrs Benton and Woodiwiss's contract begins, and one of the heaviest works on their line is Artengill Viaduct. This is a work of considerable difficulty, and it has been carried on under many disadvantages. The works of late had been much retarded through the breaking of the machinery for lifting stone. The gill is very deep and rugged, and its sloping banks on each side are very steep. Before the viaduct was begun there was a waterfall of 60 foot descent, which is now partly filled up with debris.

The viaduct is 235 yards in length, and consists of ten piers and two block piers. The block piers at their base are 42ft by 28ft, and the smaller piers are 38ft by 15ft. The piers are 45ft apart, and the highest is 103ft to springing, and 26ft above that will be rail level. The foundations are all on rock, and some of them are 60ft below the surface. L.G. (1872)

2.5: The stone used for the work (Artengill Viaduct) is dug from a quarry at the bottom of the gill and the immense blocks are conveyed by bogies to the staging and fitted to their places by a steam traveller. This machine on account of its perpendicular, transverse and longitudinal motions is a very handy apparatus.

As no sand could be found in the neighbourhood, Mr. Crossley, the head engineer, to overcome this difficulty, suggested that burnt clay should be ground up with the lime. This compound is found to be an excellent plastic substance, which in a short time becomes almost as hard as cement. The lime and clay are burnt on the spot, and a steam engine is employed to grind and mix the mortar.

No serious accident to life or limb has occurred on this undertaking; though the man who has charge of the steam traveller a short time ago had a marvellous escape. When lifting a stone from 6 to 7 tons weight, the sling chain broke, when, in consequence of the concussion, one of the uprights was knocked from under the staging. As the horizontal beam through the pressure of the engine was gradually giving way, the engine man made his escape from a small window, and walked on a side beam to a safe standing. He was but just out of harm's way when the steam traveller and its tackle fell with a terrible crash into the bottom of Artengill.

While we were on the staging, a stone about 5 tons weight was lifted by this machine a height of 70ft in 2½ minutes. To lift the same stone by a hand traveller would have taken 6 men an hour. L.G. (1872)

2.6: All the foundations are laid but one, and that is in progress. While on the staging, a block of black limestone was lifted for one of the block piers which measured 14ft by 6ft, and one foot thick, containing 84 cubic feet, and weighing over 6 tons. One accident, fatal to life, had happened from a stone in the quarry at the foot of the viaduct falling upon a workman who, after lingering some time, died from the effects of the injury. L.G. (1873)

2.7: By diverting the line, the height of Artengill Viaduct was reduced more than 50 feet, as it crosses a waterfall at the top side instead of the bottom, as originally intended, and this without any decrease in the radii of the curves. It is built in blue limestone obtained from a quarry in the side of the hill close by; the same class of stone is cut and polished at Mr. Nixon's marble works in the valley and is used for mantel-pieces and such like articles. . .

Great difficulty was met with in getting foundations for the piers. Some are more than 55 feet below the surface of the ground, the timbering and strutting to support the ground looking quite a mass of wood in all directions. At a short distance from the Viaduct is an occupation bridge which was also the cause of much expense in the foundations, for after sinking 30 feet deep, piles were obliged to be driven another 25 deeper into the ground. W.A. (1874)

2.8: Between Artengill Viaduct and Rise Hill or Black Moss tunnel, there are some very heavy works. An occupation bridge to the high moors, though as a rule a matter of little difficulty, in this case proved, on account of the nature of the soil, a serious undertaking. After sinking the foundations 30ft it was found necessary to rear the superstructure on piles driven 25ft deeper. A little futher [sic] on the line there is a deep cutting containing 95,000 cubic vards. L.G. (1873)

2.9: Kell Beck culvert was, owing to the state of the ground, built in steps, and as there are from 20 to 30 breaks in the descending underground watercourse, the repeating falls of the mountain stream have a pleasant effect on both the eye and the ear. On the east side of this culvert a number of men were employed getting stone from an immense quarry, out of which rocks had been dug for most of the bridges and culverts in the neighbourhood.

The next cutting is one of considerable length and depth, containing 150,000 cubic yards, and over which the coal road from Lea Yeat runs by Helmsike Hill and Alick's Fold to the coal pits, which are at an elevation of more than 1,700ft above sea level. Shortly beyond this cutting there is a very large embankment over Cowgill containing 160,000 cubic yards of filling.

At the bottom of the gill is the largest culvert on the contract, measuring 540ft in length, and the opening for the stream, which is a pointed or Gothic arch 16ft by 10ft in width. The mason work of this culvert is of great strength, rendered necessary by the superincumbent matter and the immense quantity of water which will flow through it in heavy rains. The height of the embankment in the centre of the stream is 80ft, and at the south west of it about 100ft. Workmen were building on this side of it an immense dry breast-wall, 50ft high, to prevent the embankment from slipping away. L.G. (1873)

2.10: Cow Gill [south of DentJ is crossed by an embankment about 100ft in height. The culvert is a gothic arch in shape and 540ft in length. The embankment has to be dry packed with stones for 50ft in height to prevent it slipping away. In this Gill stones full of iron pyrites were discovered. W.A. (1874)

2.11: It is supposed that a station will be made near the Cowgill coal road. At one time it was in contemplation to make it at Dent Head. Whichever site may be fixed upon, the ascent to it will be steep and difficult. L.G. (1875)

2.12: At the bottom of Rise hill or Blackmoss we came to a deep and wide gully, through which runs Cowgill beck. Many disasters of a nature to retard operations have occurred during the progress of the work on account of the frequent rains and floods. At times it was impossible to go on. As it was impracticable to divert the stream in consequence of the gully on both sides being so steep, the staging and other materials were frequently washed away.

The filling up of this gully will be a great and a difficult operation on account of its great depth, and the miry nature of the earth in the immediate district. Although it was calculated that it would take about 200,000 cubic yards of earth to fill up this gully, now it is thought that it will take 155,000 cubic yards more.

At these works there are a mortar mill and two powerful steam cranes. The stone, as at Artengill Viaduct, is laid in Crossley cement. L.G. (1872)

2.13: There are now about 1,400 men employed on No. 2 contract, and since the works were begun about 17,000 men have "jacked up" as it is called. It is true that some of the 17,000 were discharged from the works, but the great bulk left of their own accord. L.G. (1872)

2.14: A deal of plant in this locality [above Dentdale], which was conveyed from Kirkby Stephen on to the line at a great cost, has not only been useless for want of workmen, but has fallen to decay. Indeed, there is such a lack of men, that four could be employed where there is only one. L.G. (1872)

2.15: Being curious to see what was going on in Black Moss [Rise Hill] tunnel, I descended with two of the men into number one shaft. The gloom in the rocky excavation, the hammering of drills, the voices of the men and the dim lights of candles gave to the murky scene a novelty that will long be remembered . . . Some idea may be formed of the hardness of the rock when it is stated that thirty-five drills have been blunted with 18 inch boring. The atmosphere is so close in the tunnel that the men have to strip to their flannels. In blasting the rock it requires more than ordinary care as sometimes pieces of 15cwt fly to the distance of 20 yards. L.G. (1872)

2.16: The cutting at the entrance of [Rise Hill] tunnel is attended with numerous difficulties; consequently the progress is very slow. The side of the hill is breaking away in many places, and the excavated matter is little else but what is called in railway parlance "slurry" or slush. One of our informants remarked that it was nothing but slurry and boulders and that the slurry stuck to the tools like treacle. Some of the water-marked boulders are three tons in weight. The slurry is chiefly removed by grafting tools and water buckets. L.G. (1872)

2.17: At No. 2 shaft [Rise Hill tunnel] there are a blacksmith shop, eight huts, miners' cabin, store-room and engine-house. The engine is a double cylinder one, of twenty horse power, and used for blowing air into the tunnel and lifting the debris from the excavation. At No. 2 shaft there are a steam engine of twenty-five horse power, and a double cylinder of twelve horse power, for drawing up the steep ascent from Garsdale coals, provisions and railway material. There are also a blacksmith shop, a general store-house, a mortar mill and five huts... From the summit of Rise Hill, we descended the steep incline at a quick rate in bogies. It was a trial of a man's nerves who was not accustomed to such a mode of locomotion. At the bottom of the hill were numerous huts, a weighing machine, stabling for ten horses and a blacksmith shop. L.G. (1872)

2.18: Black Moss or Rise Hill tunnel, one of the heaviest on the line, is mined from two shafts 170ft deep, and at the headings of the south and north entrances. The excavation is through solid and hard rock, some of the pieces weighing more like iron than stone. The tunnel is 1,230 yards in length and 26ft in width and 20ft in height. In the middle of it about 500 yards had been mined, in addition to a large heading of 250 yards, which had been driven beyond this point. About 120 miners are employed in the tunnel. Descending No. 2 shaft in an iron skip one was soon down at rail level, when the mining south and north was examined, until one felt an ardent longing to see the brighter world above.

To a stranger there is something unearthly in the sounds and appearances of mining operations so far beneath the surface of the earth. Dimly burning candles, uncouth looking wagons standing on the rails or moving to and fro, men at the facings, some above and some below, with their numerous lights like twinkling stars in a hazy night, the noise of the twirling drills beneath the terrible force of big hammers wielded by stalwart men, and the hac-hac or half sepulchral groan at each stroke, the murky vapour, the chilling damp, and the thick breathing make a novice to such scenes feel a thrill of more than ordinary pleasure when he ascends to breathe the unpolluted mountain air.

It will be necessary to arch the tunnel with masonry, as the rock is so full of backs and joints it is not possible to mine the roof to the shape required. In some places, large pieces of rock have fallen and left the roof for 20 yards quite flat. L.G. (1873)

2.19: Rise Hill Tunnel unites the Dent Valley with Garsdale and is under the superintendence, as well as Blea Moor Tunnel, of Mr. William Thomson. W.A. (1874)

2.20: Rise Hill or Black Moss Tunnel was finished with the exception of about 239 yards of arching. About two-thirds of the arching is of brick and stone, and the rest solid rock. At intervals, the arching is strengthened by iron ribs. In different parts of the tunnel one passed under stages where the bricklayers were quietly performing their daily task. L.G. (1875)

2.21: Between the north end of [Rise Hill] tunnel and the junction with the Hawes line there is a long culvert in Cotes gill where the water on the Garsdale side falls 30 feet. The bank over this gill, on the low side especially, was made with difficulty, and it was necessary to buttress it with a stone wall containing 6,000 tons of stone. As the gill on both sides of the line is lined with trees, it gives an ornamental appearance to this portion of the moorland route. L.G. (1873)

2.22: As an indication of the inaccessibility of this spot [head of Garsdale], we may mention that every tip wagon here used by the contractor had to be brought by road up from Sedbergh and that the carriage of them cost a guinea each. M.R. (1876)

2.23: With Dandry Mire Moss embankment, which is near Moorcock, the miry state of the ground has given the contractors and managers an inconceivable amount of trouble and labour. Tipping went on for more than two years, and instead of a solid embankment being formed, the peat yielded to the weight of the filling to such an extent that it rose on each side of the line in the form of a high bank - in some places 15ft.

Finding after more than 250,000 cubic yards had been tipped that the bog would not sustain the weight of the clay and stone used for filling up, it was decided to make a viaduct in the deepest part of the moss —a viaduct of six arches, each of 45ft span. The greatest depth is 53ft, and for nearly the whole length it will average from 45ft to 50ft from foundation to top of the peat. The peat varies from 5ft to 15ft, the greater portion of which had to be dug out before the embankment which is to join the viaduct could be formed. LG. (1873)

2.24: Messrs. Benton and Woodiwiss, the contractors for making the line from Dent Head to Kirkby Stephen, requiring the services of a locomotive engine for earth work, received one by rail at Sedbergh on Monday last, named the Lorne, which was conveyed to Garsdale Head by about 20 horses. One or two slight mishaps occurred on the road owing to the great weight of the engine, but by the patience and perseverance of the men in charge they were overcome without much difficulty. C.W.A. (1873)

2.25: Near the moss is the Moorcock bridge which skews at an angle of 70 degrees. This fine and massive-looking bridge which crosses the Hawes and Sedbergh road contains about 3,000 cubic yards of masonry. The structure, which is finished, with the exception of the coping stones, has a span of 35ft and it is 36ft in height. At the foot of the bridge on the Moorcock side is the boundary stone which divides the North and West Ridings. L.G. (1872)

2.26: There are a few dreary cuttings before the summit of the railway is met with at Ais Gill Moor. The level of rails at the summit is 1,167ft above the sea. Near this spot, three rivers take their rise, the Eden, the Ure and the Swale. The railway follows the first-mentioned to Carlisle. W.A. (1874)

2.27: Good progress is being made at Aisgill Viaduct, which consists of 4 arches 66ft high and 45ft span. The breadth of the piers at the base is 33ft, which taper to 29ft at the top. The length of the viaduct is 99 yards. The gill on the south side is very romantic and on account of its overhanging rocks it presents to the eye a very bold appearance. The stone which is dug from the gill on the high side is lifted to the viaduct by a steam jib crane. LG. (1872)

2.28: No. 19 bank down Mallerstang is 20 chains in length and 80ft in depth. The workmen on this bank have been tipping on the same metals for 12 months without getting the bank any higher on the top. The material is of such a loose and soft nature and made more slushy by the constant rains, so that instead of forming a permanent way, it spreads itself out in the valley. L.G. (1872)

2.29: On the 10th December, William Ridley, a driver 23 years of age, was following his ordinary employment, and driving a waggon at Aisgill Moor, on the line, when he was accidentally run over, and had his right leg severely crushed. Dr. Harrison of Hawes attended him and amputated the leg on Tuesday, the 13th, but Ridley sank and died last Sunday. The coroner did not think it necessary to hold an inquest. C.W.A. (1870)

2.30: After passing through a heavy cutting [in Mallerstang], the line is carried along the Intake Bank, about 100 feet high. At this point an extraordinary circumstance occurred; the tipping proceeded for twelve months without the embankment advancing a yard. The tip rails, during the whole period, were unmoved, while the masses of slurry rolled over one another in mighty convulsions, persisting in going anywhere and everywhere, except where they were wanted. M.R. (1876)

2.31: The first sod of the Settle and Carlisle Railway (in the county of Westmorland) was cut on Monday, the 24th ult, in the township of Mallerstang, on the property of Sir Richard Tufton, of Appleby Castle, by Mr. Parkin Blades (Sir Richard's agent). Mr. Blades said he should be glad to give Messrs. Benton and Woodwiss, the contractors, every facility in carrying on their operations through the property. C.W.A. (1870)

2.32: A terrible accident happened in Birkett tunnel, near Kirkby Stephen, on May 18, between four and five a.m. Among the miners at work at this early hour were John Roberts and Caleb James, known as "Birmingham Bill". The miners are frequently cautioned not to meddle with any holes in the rocks in which there may be unexploded dynamite. From report, the two men were attempting to drill a hole containing dynamite, and that while in the act of drilling it exploded, and so injured James that he died shortly afterwards. The explosion knocked out the eye of the other man, and it is likely that the sight of the other eye is destroyed. L.G. (1874)

2.33: Birkett Tunnel, the Burleigh Rock Drill is being used with good effect. This drill makes a hole a foot deep in five minutes, the same depth taking two men at least 40 minutes. W.A.(1874)

2.34: At the south end of the Birkett Tunnel in the cutting, a very fine vein of lead ore has been cut and a Company are now driving levels underneath the Railway to work it out. W.A. (1876)

2.35: Intake Embankment which for two or three years caused so much trouble and extra labour, on account of the slushy character of much of its tippings, is now an unyielding bank, equal to any on the line. L.G. (1875)

2.36: In passing through Kirkby Stephen railway yard, we noticed the hospital for accidents, stabling for 25 horses, saddlers, blacksmiths, and carpenters' shops, and an engine for sawing woodcutting hay and crushing beams and oats for 100 horses. L.G. (1872)

2.37: A machine for excavating the boulder clay lies near here [Kirkby Stephen Station!. The machine is patented by two gentlemen engaged on the railway, but we hear diversity of opinion exists as to its capabilities. Being a trial machine many improvements are already seen in it, but the "modus operandi" is entirely new in construction and ingenious in design. W.A. (1874)

2.38: Kirkby Stephen Station was in an advanced state and shortly it will be finished. A four-wagon goods shed was being roofed in. Six cottages and the station-master's house were finished. The station, which is a smart building, is built of freestone from Bradford and dressings from Barnard Castle. A good many men were employed in making cattle docks and by-sidings. L.G. (1875)

2.39: Being at Kirkby Stephen, and having twice previously walked over the whole line, one naturally felt a wish to take a ride on an engine to Settle. With Mr. Hay, manager for Messrs. Benton and Woodiwiss, I mounted one of the engines going south, and though the day was cold and cloudy, still the ride was a very pleasant one. . . At Mallerstang Sidings, a pilot engine was attached to ours and we had to follow in its wake to the other side of Cowgill Embankment. . .   After   passing   over the highest elevation of the line, which is something over 1,100ft, the rate of speed was much accelerated. L.G. (1875)

2.40: The staging [at Smardale Viaduct] is up and many of the piers are being raised. One of the arches will span the South Durham line at an elevation of 38ft. The view down the deep and wooded glen with Scandal beck winding its course between the rugged banks, will have charms for sight-seers both in summer and winter. L.G. (1872)

2.41: Smardale Viaduct consists of 12 arches, 45ft span, and will be 130ft high above the stream to rail level. It is built in grey limestone of most excellent quality from off the South Durham and Lancashire Union (North Eastern) Railway, about half a mile further up Scandal Beck. A complete absence of sand also in this Contract has added a large item to the expense, burnt clay being used instead of it, by permission of the Engineer-in-Chief, and it has been a most complete success. W.A. (1874)

2.42: On Tuesday, the completion of Smardale Viaduct was celebrated by an interesting ceremony. The "last stone", on which was inscribed the following words —"This last stone was laid by Agnes Crossley, 8th June, 1875" —was well and truly laid by the lady. [Source not stated.]

Series Links

The other pages in the series "How they built the Settle-Carlisle railway" can be accessed via the following links:

Section menu for contemporary accounts and memories