Alnwick and District Local History Society

At the last meeting of the season, Alistair Sinton gave a delightful talk to the Alnwick and District Local History Society about the history and architecture of the region surrounding the now defunct Alnwick to Cornhill railway.

Since so much of this is dependent on the presence of the railway, it was not surprising that Alistair soon strayed into his more familiar territory, the history of the railways of Northumberland. The talk was accompanied by slides.

We started at the Tenantry Column in Alnwick, the first of four columns to be seen en route.

This was followed by the the impressive station building at Alnwick, now Barter Books.

Most of the stations along the line are still there. All are very good buildings, with hipped roofs and other fine architectural details, and most are in good condition.

It has been said that the line, constructed by the North Eastern Railway, has the best local railway architecture of the whole of the UK.

Only Wooler and Cornhill stations have disappeared, and it is hoped that the now derelict Whittingham will soon be saved.

The route taken by the line is not at all direct. It leaves Alnwick travelling south-west, and takes a circuitous route through some beautiful countryside. Expensive to build and to run, the railway was never very profitable, and was largely constructed to prevent the Northumberland Central Railway from building their own projected line.

Passenger services were introduced in 1887, and withdrawn in 1930. It was useful for troop movements in war-time, and some goods services continued till the line finally closed in 1965.

Leaving Alnwick, the trains climbed rapidly to Alnwick Moor past Lemmington Branch Farm, an eye-catcher for the residents of Lemmington Hall, where the second column can be seen.

This commemorates John Evelyn, the diarist, and is a fine monument designed by Sir John Soane. It was brought at great expense in pieces by train from Surrey.

The route is visible from Corby Crags, where a fine view of the Eglingham viaduct, the pretty church and remains of the castle can be seen.

After this, the line passes the Devil’s Causeway, the Roman road leading from the Tyne Valley to Berwick.

It travels past Battle Bridge, commemorating a Viking victory of 875, Whittingham village, with its fine tower, and Crawley Tower at Powburn.

At Hedgeley, Percy’s Cross marks the site where Lord Percy was killed in battle in 1464, and the lovely Ilderton Station follows.

A wooden veranda in dark brown and cream, the line’s colours, is at the back.

This is the old waiting-room and was a café until recently.

Shortly after, we come to the Lil Burn. This is tiny generally, but burst its banks in the great flood of 1953, washing away the railway bridge. This was never rebuilt, and the line became two separate railways.

There is a particularly interesting building north of Ilderton at Ewart Park, an Italianate structure unoccupied since the war.

This was built by Horace St Paul, a director of the Northumberland Central Railway, for himself.

He also built a huge station hotel nearby, with blind windows on the north side, away from the railway which was never built.

Passing Maelmin and Coupland Castle, we arrive at the third column, the Lanton Column, built to commemorate John and Alexander Davison. Then Ad Gefrin, the centre of Northumberland administration in the seventh century.

Continuing north, we pass more lovely scenery as the route bends round the hills, arriving at Cornhill to see the fourth column on the line, dedicated to a past MP of Berwickshire, Mr Marjoibanks.

Sadly, the line was not rescued for the future by any steam railway enthusiasts –it would have been quite a draw! Nor can it all be walked, as some land is now privately owned. Perhaps a new campaign can be started?