Brunton and Shields Railway

Project Profile

Project Title :

Brunton and Shields Railway, Weetslade

Client :

One North East

Type of Work :


Project Gallery 

Excavation and recording through a section of the railway   Brunton and Shields Railway (in 1828)  
Stone sleeper block with recess for iron chair and boltholes   Spoil heaps, Weetslade Colliery prior to landscaping  


Brunton and Shields Railway

A fragment of railway history - The Brunton and Shields Line

A section of the Brunton and Shields Railway was excavated near Wideopen on North Tyneside, in advance of major landscaping around the former Weetslade Colliery to create a country park. The railway opened in 1826, and ran from a number of inland mines to staithes near North Shields on the Tyne. The line was adapted many times during its life, and remained in use as a mineral railway for over 150 years.

Like many railways of the early 19th century, the Brunton and Shields had horse-drawn sections of line and used a rope-haulage system known as balanced inclines, to move goods uphill. Under this system, empty coal waggons were pulled up a slope by the weight of full ones travelling down it. This was commonly used across the country, but the Brunton and Shields line was one of the first to use a stationary steam engine to haul the full waggons up the slopes. The technique was pioneered by the line's engineer, Benjamin Thompson, and the principle was seen as a viable alternative to locomotives in the 1820s and was adopted on many railways in the first half of the 19th century, even on a number of passenger lines.

Remains of two distinct phases of trackbed were found during the excavation, both of early 19th century date. The original 1826 line, which was horse-drawn around Weetslade, lay in a cutting over 1m deep, which protected the remains from later disturbance. The line was re-laid in 1839, in advance of the introduction of a locomotive engine (called the Hazlerigg) on that section. Both lines used rectangular stone sleepers and wrought iron rails, and several of the stone sleepers, dating from the original 1826 line, were found.

The remains of the 1826 line matched closely contemporary descriptions of track construction, having been carefully laid on a gentle gradient, with a separate foundation layer and flanking drainage ditches. The second track had been dug through the original trackbed in a much less careful manner. It did not follow the original gradient or have proper foundations or drainage, despite the fact that a heavy locomotive was being used.

The survival of two separate, and dateable, phases of early 19th-century railway is a significant discovery, especially considering the line's continuous use over such a long period. The Brunton and Shields line was constructed in a generation that saw the introduction of both locomotive and steam-powered rope haulage to the railways of Britain, and few lines of this date have been examined in any detail. Railways were a vital part of the industrialisation of the north-east of England, both through the concentration of coal extraction and transport in the region, and in the influence of the 'Newcastle Waggonway' on national and international railway development.

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