Intrigue and rivalries

editorial image

With the new Borders railway now under construction, a book on the history of the North British Railway – the company behind the Waverley line in the 19th century – has just been released.

Founded in 1842 and based in Edinburgh, the North British was the largest of Scotland’s railway companies in the great age of steam and the force that gave us the renowned Waverley line.

The book, by historian and railway expert David Ross, gives a full account of the intrigues, infighting and rivalries that surrounded the construction of the first Borders route, from Edinburgh to Hawick, and then onwards to Carlisle.

The company chairman, Richard Hodgson, himself a Border squire from Carham battled for several years to get the line completed and the book gives the full story of the epic struggle.

The story is also told of the Border Counties Railway, once part of a ‘main line’ between Edinburgh and Newcastle, the Berwickshire Railway between St Boswells and Berwick, and the North British Railway’s bold extensions into Northumberland.

Fighting in a locomotive cab between Riccarton Junction and Carlisle, poetic arguments as to the merits of Canonbie and Plashetts coal, grand schemes for a five-mile tunnel under Carter Bar all contribute to a complete account of the heyday of Border railways.

Speaking to The Southern, Ross explained what had prompted him to tell the story.

He said: “I decided a few years ago to write the histories of each of the five main Scottish railway companies, as no real satisfactory history of any of them existed, and two had virtually nothing at all.”

Ross, whose interest in railways goes back to his primary school days, said that the new Borders line, scheduled to be completed by summer 2015 was ‘bold and exciting’.

However, he warned: “It will be successful only if it is well used. Anyone who reads my history of the original Border Union line will see that even in the 19th century, with no road competition, they had to fudge the figures to make its results look better.”

The 288-page hardback has more than 160 photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries, along with 17 maps.

The book, priced £30, is available to buy postage-free from Stenlake Publishing by visiting or calling 01290 551122. The hardback is also available from Amazon or from all good bookshops.

David Ross is giving a talk on how the Carlisle-Glasgow railway line came about in the 1840s, in Moffat Town Hall on November 13, as part of the Moffat History Festival.