Swalwell station about 1930


Map showing the railways of Swalwell and Derwenthaugh


The wagonways serving the coal mines of the northeast were the first railways and horses were used to pull the coal wagons along tracks from colliery to river for shipment and take the empty wagons back for the next load.

In 1712 a wagonway owned by Clavering and Brummel linked the Byermoor, Lintz and Bucksnook collieries to Derwenthaugh via Burnopfield and Swalwell but was abandoned in 1726 when in 1721 a rival wagonway (the Western Way) operated by the Bowes family opened. Bowes also operated a route to staiths at Dunston which Clavering and Brummel were not permitted to use and this too closed following the opening of the rival wagonway

However, a new route between Burnopfield and staiths at Derwenthaugh along the west side of the Derwent valley opened in 1739 and the original Western Way was abandoned between Burnopfield and Swalwell.

This line later had a branch serving pits at Thornley, Garesfield, and in 1837, High Spen, but the section from Burnopfield to Rowlands Gill was eventually abandoned. Originally, coal was taken by keelboat to ships lying in the Tyne below the old Georgian bridge at Newcastle until staiths were built at Derwenthaugh when the new Swing bridge opened in 1876 made loading further up river possible. In very early days coal may have been brought down Coalway Lane to the river for shipment, probably using horses.


The Derwenthaugh staiths together with Garesfield colliery and the railway linking them were eventually acquired by the Consett Iron Company in 1889 and extended in 1913 and the old Garesfield colliery wagonway branch of the new Western Way, also known as the Main Way, from the Pontop and Dipton area to Derwenthaugh was in use carrying coal from Garesfield, High Spen and from 1894, Chopwell pits. There was an extension to Whittonstall from 1908. This line became known as The Garesfield and Chopwell Railway. The section from near Winlaton Mill later served the Derwenthaugh cokeworks built in 1929 using the line down to Derwenthaugh where there were extensive sidings, a locomotive shed and workshops starting from near the allotments at Swalwell and running down to Derwenthaugh. After the last war Clockburn Drift was opened at Winlaton Mill with a tunnel connection to Marley Hill colliery, providing more traffic for the railway as the coal supplied the the coke works. A level crossing once existed near Bates Cottages just over the old Swalwell Bridge when it still carried the main road to Blaydon. These lines were later part of the National Coal Board system but the Garesfield wagonway closed south of Derwenthaugh cokeworks in 1960 after Chopwell colliery was closed in 1959 and High Spen (Garesfield) in 1960. After the closure of Derwenthaugh staiths, coke was moved out by rail via a junction with the Blaydon to Dunston line just west of the Derwenthaugh bridge (illustrated, right).Many will remember using the wooden footbridge, now demolished, that used to cross this line after crossing the Derwent railway bridge en route to the Skiff Inn and the staiths.

Clockburn Drift closed in 1983, the cokeworks then using coal supplied by rail or road from elsewhere. The cokeworks finally closed in December 1985 and the section of railway from the cokeworks at Winlaton Mill to Derwenthaugh closed then too, bringing to an end railway working on this historic line. The railway trackbed is now in use as a walk and cycle path, running from Derwenthaugh past old Swalwell Bridge and along the north side of the River Derwent's wooded valley to a new footbridge beyond Winlaton Mill when it crosses the river and continues on to join the Derwent Walk at Lockhaugh Viaduct. The cokeworks site has been cleaned up and landscaped by Gateshead Borough Council and now forms part of the Derwent Park leisure area. The railway was mostly single track but with sidings and passing loops. Much of this area is barely recognisable now to those who knew it in the past.

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Apart from the early nearby wagonways alongside the Derwent to the Tyne near Derwenthaugh, the first railway to actually reach Swalwell village was a branch from the line running through from Blaydon to Derwenthaugh, on the original route of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (see Branches). However, a more permanent railway, so far as passengers were concerned, came through Swalwell village early in 1868 when a station was opened on the line running up the Derwent valley.

The North Eastern Railway Company (NER), which sought to keep other railway companies out of its territory, were pushed into building a line in the Derwent valley in order to prevent the rival London and North Western Railway from gaining access to Newcastle through its support for the proposed Newcastle and Derwent Valley Railway of 1859. This railway was to have been part of a route from Liverpool to Newcastle via the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway form Tebay to West Auckland and the Stockton and Darlington's line from there to Hownes Gill near Consett, then running down the Derwent valley and via the still independent Newcastle and Carlisle Railway into Newcastle. The NER challenged this proposal with its own Blaydon and Conside (later Consett) branch scheme for the Derwent valley. The rival proposal was defeated but the North Eastern's own scheme was also defeated due to opposition from supporters of the rival scheme. The Newcastle and Derwent Valley promoters did not give up and submitted a new proposal to Parliament in 1861, this time supported by both the London and North Western and the North British Railway in Edinburgh. The route was to have been from Newcastle over a bridge at Redheugh, through Dunston, Swalwell and up the Derwent valley to Consett and West Auckland and with several branches. Thus, this scheme threatened not only the North Eastern but other railways too. Although the House of Commons passed this new Newcastle and Derwent and Weardale Railway Bill and rejected the NER one, the House of Lords overturned the Commons' decision. The North Eastern then negotiated with its rivals whose plans were abandoned and the North Eastern's own plans were approved in 1862. The NER took over the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway in 1862 and the Stockton and Darlington Railway the following year preventing any further attempted incursions into its territory.

Nothing more was done until 1865 when work commenced on the 11 mile line, which left the main Newcastle to Carlisle line just south of the Tyne near Blaydon, reaching Swalwell after running on a mile long embankment across the flood plain of the Derwent, crossing it by means of a 3 arch stone bridge. The Hexham turnpike road in Swalwell was crossed by another stone bridge (the 'black bridge') just before the station. The line then continued up the Derwent Valley with stations at Rowlands Gill, Lintzford, Ebchester, Shotley Bridge and Blackhill where it made a connection with the 1862 line through Consett and Lanchester to Durham. There was a loop line from the outset connecting with the Redheugh branch (see Derwenthaugh below) facing Blaydon, allowing trains carrying iron ore from the Carlisle direction to reach Consett. Double track was laid for 300 yards south of Scotswood Bridge junction, but most of the rest of the branch was single track initially

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The railway opened to passenger traffic on 2 December 1867 although Swalwell station itself was not ready and did not open until early in the following year. Although mostly single line, traffic growth made it necessary to double the whole section from north of Swalwell to Rowlands Gill between 1905 and 1908 plus the two bridges at Swalwell. You can see evidence of this doubling on the Swalwell viduct over the Derwent and the remains of the bridge which once crossed the main road, and on the Lockhaugh viaduct near Rowlands Gill. Swalwell also got a second platform, staggered from the first. An additional station was opened in 1909 at High Westwood., serving Chopwell and Hamsterley as well as Westwood. There were various links to the line from the Redheugh branch. In 1897-1898 a curve was built south of Scotswood bridge junction joining the Redheugh branch to the east. The south-east curve, allowing trains from the Consett direction to reach Dunston without the need to reverse at Blaydon, was opened on 24 February 1908.
The route eventually linked to other railways through Consett, Annfield Plain, Stanley and Pelton; to Durham via Lanchester as stated earlier, and lastly to Crook and Bishop Auckland via Rowley and Tow Law. Serving the coal mines, coke works, brickwork and farms of the Derwent Valley there was quite a heavy goods traffic but passenger traffic, although fairly substantial in the first few decades, began to fall off after the Great War as people turned to the more convenient - and frequent - buses, many of the railway stations generally being some distance from the villages they served. High Westwood was the first station to close (in 1942). Eventually the passenger service to most stations, including Swalwell, was withdrawn on 2 November 1953; some of the other stations closing somewhat earlier, and finally with the closure of Rowlands Gill on 1 February 1954 the whole passenger service as far as Blackhill ceased. Swalwell continued to accept parcels (until 1955) and goods and excursion trains but closed completely on 7 March 1960.
Goods traffic continued to decline as local collieries closed and with the closure of Rowland's Gill station on 11 November 1963 the whole line as far as Blackhill became disused. Note that this was prior to Dr Beeching's programme of closures.The rails were lifted in 1964-5. The Blaydon loop survived for a little longer until 1966. The route became the Derwent Walk from 1972 after the trackbed was cleared of growth and the drainage reinstated, and is now used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Part of the embankment carrying the line from Scotswood rail bridge to Swalwell is incorporated in the Gateshead Western Bypass. One of the abutments to the bridge carrying the line over Hexham Road remains and there is a representation of a locomotive affixed to the top advertising the Walk. The Up Platform also remains, almost hidden amongst the undergrowth, near the start of the walk. Up, in railway jargon, means towards the main terminus, and Down, away from the main terminus, thus the Up platform at Swalwell was for trains travelling in the direction of Newcastle, Down, away from Newcastle

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Click timetable for LNER timetable 1936

Click timetable for BR timetable 1948

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The 1936 serviceruns between Durham and Newcastle via Lanchester and Blackhill, then on through Rowlands Gill and Swalwell to Newcastle. Most trains, however, only run from Blackhill and Swalwell to Newcastle There is a Sunday service. There was also a service from Blackhill and Consett via Annfield Plain and Birtley to Newcastle. By 1948 the route has changed to a circular one, Newcastle to Newcastle, the 1936 Derwent valley service now connecting with the Blackhill, Annfield Plain to Newcastle service and running through Birtley, Annfiield Plain, Consett, Blackhill, Rowlands Gill, Swalwell and Scotswood and thence back to Newcastle. There is only one Sunday train left. The Lanchester valley line has closed for passengers in 1939. Note also that the passenger service from Blackhill to Darlington via Tow Law and Crook shown in the 1936 timetable has been withdrawn (from 1939). Note the short journey times between Newcastle and Swalwell as shown in the timetables, compared to the buses of today.

Map from 1948 showing the pre-war route taken by services from Newcastle through Swalwell and Blackhill to Durham. Also showing the circular route, returning from Blackhill to Newcastle via Consett, Annfield Plain and Birtley after the line between Blackhill and Durham had closed to passengers.


A single track branch from a junction with the Blaydon, Gateshead and Hebburn Railway at Derwenthaugh to the Henry Pit near Harrison's farm in Swalwell existed from 1847 and part of it was in use until the closure of the opencast coal disposal point in 1985. A passenger service to Derwenthaugh ran briefly from 1852 to 1853 on this branch. Derwenthaugh also had a passenger service of its own on the Redheugh branch of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway for a brief period (see Derwenthaugh). Before a bridge was built at Scotswood the Newcastle to Carlisle line ran to Gateshead along the south side of the river through Derwenthaugh. There was also a short branch from the Blaydon Main colliery to a staiths at Derwenthaugh, linking also with the Redheugh branch at Blaydon Main Junction,opened in 1853 and closed about 1908 following closure of the colliery.

A note on signals: The signal illustrated above left shows splitting distant signals combined with the previous stop signal, cleared for divergence to right at the next signal box. Stop signals are coloured red with a white stripe and distants are yellow with a black vee stripe and a vee notch cut out at the end. Homes or stop signals allow trains to enter a block section when in the 'off' position, while distants indicate caution, giving the train driver prior warning of the position of the stop signals ahead, and may be passed even when 'on'. Railway track is divided into block sections, only one train normally being permitted in a section at any one time, the signal boxes controlling train movements into and within each section by means of the signals.Home and distant signals were often fixed on the same signal post and read from the top down, the distant giving an advance warning of the position of the next home signal ahead.


The station was approached from Whickham Bank along a short road near Axwell Park colliery. There were eventually two platforms after doubling of the line to Lockhaugh in 1908, and sidings for the pit, a loading dock and the usual station buildings including a station master's house. Sentinel steam railcars were introduced on this very scenic line in London and North Eastern (LNER) days between the wars on the Newcastle - Blackhill - Lanchester - Durham route . A signal box was situated at the west end of the station. Other signal boxes nearby (see map at top of page) were Swalwell North, (see picture under Opening, above), and Blaydon South on the embankment between Swalwell and Blaydon, Blaydon Main between the Derwenthaugh line and the southeast curve from the Dunston direction to Swalwell, and Derwenthaugh just east of the Derwent bridge. There were sidings into the steel works and paper mill from the line just before it crossed Hexham Road, and extensive sidings into Axwell Park Colliery.

Footnote: A former Stationmaster at Swalwell, a Mr William Morris, is buried in the graveyard at St Andrew's Church, Bywell, Northumberland. His gravestone is just inside the entrance on the left.

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The Blaydon, Gateshead and Hebburn Railway (BG and HR) was formed in 1831 to construct a line linking those towns to carry coal to the staiths at Hebburn, dispensing with the use of keelboats. The company co-operated with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (N and CR) on proposals to build a bridge across the Tyne at Redheugh but the smaller company ran out of money after only a mile of line east of Blaydon was completed. The N and CR bought our the BG and HR and completed the line to Derwenthaugh by 1836 and on to Redheugh by 1st March 1837, but the section to Hebburn was never finished. Originally, the bridges across the Team and the Derwent were wooden ones.The N and CR thus originally ran east through Blaydon to Derwenthaugh, where a station served the inhabitants of Swalwell, and on to Redheugh quay (Gateshead), from where passengers crossed to Newcastle by the old 18th century bridge or by ferry, or a connection could be made at Blaydon by road coach. This line briefly had a passenger service. A Swalwell branch was opened on 24 May 1847 running half a mile south from Derwenthaugh.

With the opening of the railway bridge at Scotswood in 1839, passenger services to Newcastle ran on the north side of the Tyne although the Redheugh branch via Derwenthaugh still had a passenger service connecting with trains to Carlisle at Blaydon. The line continued in use for freight after the passenger service ceased in 1850, although Redheugh branch passenger services east of Derwenthaugh, including the short Swalwell branch, reappeared briefly from 1852 to 1853. Blaydon and Derwenthaugh services continued until Swalwell station on the Derwent valley line opened in 1868. Services again had to use the Redheugh branch after Scotswood railway bridge was destroyed by fire in 1860. Until a temporary replacement was built the follwoing year all trains ran via Derwenthaugh and Redheugh and up the incline to Gateshead station and crossed the Tyne over the new (1849) High Level Bridge.

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A temporary wooden bridge was built at Scotswood which remained in use until 1868 when a permanent iron girder bridge replacement was opened. This was used until 1982 when the Newcastle to Blaydon via Scotswood section of the Newcastle and Carlisle line closed and all trains (except some coal trains serving Stella North power station) were diverted via the King Edward Bridge and Dunston. Early passenger services from Blaydon as far as Derwenthaugh ran only until the opening of Swalwell station in 1868.

Freight traffic at Derwenthaugh was heavy, with coal, bricks, iron and steel and clay being carried, and of course a massive coal traffic at the nearby staiths. There was a complicated series of junctions near Derwenthaugh allowing trains to reach Swalwell from either the Scotswood, Blaydon or Dunston direction.(See above and map). The bridge at Derwenthaugh was renovated in 2002/03 at a cost believed to be 4 million. The foundations for the original wooden bridge, replaced at an unknown date by the present bridge shown below, can still be seen at low tide in the River Derwent next to the existing bridge, which also carries a footbridge on the south side. As mentioned above, the line through Derwenthaugh carries the passenger service from Newcastle to Hexham and Carlisle, now calling at the Metrocentre station. There was also a short wagonway from Blaydon Main colliery, near the site of Blaydon swimming baths, to staiths at Derwenthaugh.

During the mid eighteenth century, when public interest in the great rowing contests took place on the Tyne involving the famed Harry Clasper, James Renforth and others, on June 22 1846, the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway advertised a special train running along the south side of the river, following the race being rowed on that day.

The photo above left shows Derwenthaugh railway bridge in June 1957 with a class J94 saddle tank 0-6-0 locomotive, number 68010 crossing.


Later Developments East of Derwenthaugh

Although not strictly in the area covered by this history, it is worth noting that additional lines were built east of Derwenthaugh in the early twentieth century to cope with the growing coal traffic. Dunston staiths opened in 1893 and were served by a line from Low Fell via Norwood which also had a connection with the line between Blaydon, Derwenthaugh and Redheugh near the mouth of the river Team. In 1904 a shorter link to Derwenthaugh was opened running from Norwood Junction through Dunston, with a new station, to join the old line at Whickham Junction near the site of Dunston Power Station. Opened early in the twentieth century the siting of the power station meant the diversion of the Derwenthaugh and Redheugh line to the south. Further improvements in the area were completed in 1907 with a link from Norwood Junction to Bensham with a tunnel under the East Coast Main Line. Other links allowed trains from Bensham to reach Low Fell via this tunnel thus avoiding the main line. These links are still in use today. The bottleneck at the High Level bridge was eased in 1906 when the King Edward bridge opened. The old staiths at West Dunston near the Delta works, which predated the new Dunston statihs, eventually closed in the inter-war years and the whole area with its extensive sidings is now covered by the new road linking Dunston with Derwenthaugh, and the by the Metro Centre bus park. The route of the original Newcastle and Carlisle railway through Dunston can be traced behind the Royal Hotel for a short distance and is now a cycle track.

The Derwent Walk Express is a 33 metre sculpture located on the bridge abutment of the railway bridge which crossed Hexham Road near the station. It was opened in 1987 by Norman Buchan MP and designed by Andy Frost and is made of marine plywood and steel and painted with gloss and lacquers.


Although steam railcars operated passenger services for a time in the 1920's and 1930's, locomotives used were usually tank engines of Classes G5 and H1 (later A8). British Railways saw J39's and K1's on the line. The Garesfield wagonway, Swalwell sidings (both Ellis's and the opencast disposal depot) used steam (saddle tank) locos until the 1970's when diesel locos appeared.


In July 1913 two boys were hurt on the Consett Iron company's railway at Swalwell near Swalwell Bridge. They had boarded a set of wagons being taken from Derwenthaugh to Winlaton Mill and when the wagons reached Swalwell the bottom boards suddenly dropped and the two youths fell out onto the railway. Some of the wagons passed over the foot of James Hope aged 13, which was badly crushed and Thomas Todd, aged 14 had his right foot crushed.. They were carried to their homes by cart and later taken to the Newcastle Infirmary where James Hope's left leg was amputated below the knee and the greater part of Thomas Todd's right leg was removed. In the 1950's a goods train was derailed on the embankment east of Derwenthaugh and the driver and fireman severely injured when the engine fell onto its side and slid onto the embankment.


The railways of Swalwell and Derwenthaugh are covered in detail in The Railways of Consett and North-West Durham by G Whittle.(David and Charles 1971). See also The Private Railways Of County Durham by Colin E Mountford. (Industrial Railway Society 2004) for detailed coverage of the Main Way and Derwenthaugh area NCB railways.

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