Bowes Railway Museum (Springwell Line) originally opened in January 1826 and was planned and laid out by George Stephenson to serve Springwell Colliery which at the time was in the process of being sunk. It was intended that the railway was to work by using a combination of steam and gravity powered inclines.
The History of Bowes Railway Museum
Stephenson intended to use some of his own patented locomotives to work the flatter sections of the line. The Bowes Line opened a year before Stephenson`s famous Stockton & Darlington Line. The Springwell Line did not hit the headlines like it`s much publicised contemporary for the simple reason that it was not a public passenger line. The Springwell Line continued to operate in almost the same way until 1974 – a testament to the success of the original concept.
Soon after opening, the line was extended to serve the Mount Moor Colliery. To reach its destination, the line needed to cross an uphill piece of land known as Blackham`s Hill. To help the wagons up the hill, a stationary steam engine was sited at the top of the incline to haul them up and lower them down into Springwell Colliery Yard. The line was added to in future years using this principal. Added destinations included Kibblesworth Colliery, Marley Hill as well as others and at the end of the line, Dipton Colliery, the total length of the line was 15 miles. This enabled the collieries to avoid paying the heavy fees charged by the mainline railway companies. The fact that the line led directly to the Jarrow Stathes also gave The Grand Allies (the company which owned the collieries) complete control over the shipping and distribution of their coal.
During the depression in 1932, the company remodeled the line as the Bowes Railway (John Bowes – a powerful name in the North East coal mining trade – was one of the company`s major partners) and all its locomotives and rolling stock were painted with their own `livery`. Money was invested in the company when it became part of the National Coal Board in 1947 and this allowed for some modernisation to take place. In addition to this, Springwell Colliery, which had been closed in the 1930s was reopened. The railway was further extended in 1955, when it was connected to the already existing Pelaw Main Railway which had been running adjacent to it.
During the 1960s the pits began to close and as they shut down one after the other, so the railway line was also cut back to Kibblesworth and later closed altogether in 1974. The site was then taken over by a group of enthusiasts who sought government backing to preserve the railway as a national monument. The result of this is The Bowes Railway Museum – Springwell Workshop Complex and Railway, from Blackfell Bank Head to Springwell, which has now been restored to working standard. Included in the restoration was the section of line served by the Blackham’s Hill hauler house and its rope worked incline system. Work is currently ongoing in different areas of the Complex to restore and preserve as many aspects of the industry as possible so that today’s community can have an insight into how things were done when the mines were in their heyday.
The Ghosts of Bowes Railway Museum
Given the history of an industrial site such as this, you can imagine there have been hundreds of deaths recorded. If there is anywhere that could be haunted you would think this would be it. There have been numerous incidents experienced by the staff at the museum. What follows are a couple of the reports we have been told.
- John, who works at the museum reports that he is not particularly keen on The Blacksmiths – he claims there is an eerie feeling within the location and is glad when the room is locked up on a night. Previous investigators have allegedly run out from this room screaming and upset.
- In the main workshop, numerous strange and unexplained noises have been heard by members of the staff.
- It is said that a man, wearing a flat cap and possibly dating to the 19th century, has been captured on camera sitting next to one of the trains within the Loco Shed.
- The site has 3 Alsatian guard dogs and the refuse to upstairs into the Joinery Exhibition Room and are very uncomfortable and skitty within the area.
- It is said that all locations have reported activity including reports of footsteps (even during the day) and a strong smell of what is described as soap. There are also reports of items constantly being moved around the workshop