The Railways of Strathearn

The Railways of Strathearn

Kildrummie Station near Methven 

NB The following is extracted from The Scottish Central Railway Perth to Stirling  by Peter Marshall published by The Oakwood Press , 1998 ( Ref ISBN 0 85361 522 )


Perth was an important port and market town for the region  but during the depression of the 1830s its citizens had been unsuccessful in raising support for a railway to improve communication with the more populous regions to the south. The mid 1840s saw the return of affluence with good harvests in 1842 and 1843 when there was said to be 25 million pounds in inactive capital in the London Stock Exchange bringing about a widespread investment in the new form of transport unfolding throughout the country . Local gentry and merchants began to see the the advantages of Perth’s situation on a prospective line from London to the north of Scotland. With their support emerged a revived line between Dundee and Perth  and another western neighbour , the Scottish Central Railway. ( SCR ) .

A survey for a possible line south from the Fair City had been commissioned as early as 1841  but with the economy then in recession it was not until the pivotal year of 1844 that a positive move to establish the railway took place. That year Parliament had 66 railway bills before them of which 44 were passed.

On the 23rd of February 1844 a formal meeting of the “ Committee for the Railway from Perth by Stirling to the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway “ met under the chairmanship of Charles Graham Sidey  , Lord Provost of Perth  . Foremost among the land owners named in the minute were Laurence Oliphant of Condie who was a former MP for Perth City , HL Colquhoun, Esq of Clathie and Archibald Turnbull of Bellwood plus Robert Allan and James L Hill both of Edinburgh and many other gentlemen from the district . A letter was read to the meeting from John Campbell , the second Marquis of Breadalbane , one of Scotland’s major landowners who lived in Taymouth Castle . He urged the propriety of immediately issuing a Prospectus for a railway to be built from Perth to a junction with the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway near Falkirk. The assembled gentlemen unanimously agreed to his Lordship’s proposal and prepared a draft of the Prospectus was formally read out.  The secretaries were asked to apply to the “different country gentlemen to act as members of the committee of management until  a meeting of subscribers to the new railway can be called “ . A formal Prospectus followed soon afterwards on 15th of March.

Railways were considered to be statutory companies and as such had to obtain an Act of Parliament before they could raise capital either through a share issue or loans  , or be authorised to build their line. Interest could be paid on long and short term loans during the period of construction and also on the shareholders’ paid up portion of calls . This latter activity became illegal in 1847 when it was identified that these payments were usually made out of capital since they often exceeded earnings. With a guaranteed income from the very onset , an investment in railway promotion was seen as secure in the mid - 1840s.

It was customary when floating a railway company to publish a Prospectus and invite applications from likely proprietors to purchase shares. Those who were successful in their applications were sent a letter of acceptance allotting them shares.  A deposit was then paid on the shares which were taken up acknowledged by the issue of a scrip certificate giving the holder title to the share once the company had been incorporated.

There had been little share dealing on the two stock exchanges in Scotland prior to the growth of railway shares. Stockbrokers were virtually unheard of in Edinburgh or Glasgow before the 1830s and the transacting of business in those  and other centres could be undertaken by accountants  or even estate agents .  By 1844 there were 66 railway companies authorised in Great Britain capitalised at forty seven million pounds around one third of the capital employed in the country . In order to make the most of the feverish monetary activity which accompanied the times , Robert Allan was a asked to act as broker for the Scottish Central share issue and to “ engage brokers in all other towns in both Kingdoms “ to advance the sale of the shares. His commission for this onerous task was 1s. 6d. for each twenty five pound share sold. Not a large amount ( 3% of the first instalment ) but larger commissions would be earned on fully paid shares. 

A few weeks after the February meeting the focus of promotional effort transferred to Princess Street in Edinburgh when, on Tuesday 12th March 1844, a meeting of interested parties was held at 2pm in Gibbs Royal Hotel . This time the Marquis of  Breadalbane himself attended along with Lord Kinnaird , who was also a promoter of the adjoining Dundee and Perth Railway ( D& PR ) , and his co- director and neighbour in the Carse of Gowrie , Sir Patrick Murray Threipland .Included amongst the 39 gentlemen who attended the meeting were the Provosts of Falkirk and St Andrews and John Stirling of Kippendavie and Kippenross near Dunblane , later to be powerful force in the creation and management of Scottish railways especially the North British Railway.

The Marquis referred to the survey and report originally obtained in 1841 showing the practicality of a line from Falkirk to Perth and suggested that “ the low price of materials and labour with the superabundance of unemployed capital presented such a fortunate combination of propitious circumstances “ . He believed the line could therefore be constructed for a much smaller expense than might have been the case three years previously . Lord Kinnaird moved that it  would be  “ highly advantageous that a connection by railway be established “  and a fellow sponsor James Johnson , a landowner from Auchterarder , added his support being encouraged  by the “ traffic ascertained in 1841 , the great increase of communication since that period and the immediate prospect of the opening of an unbroken chain of railway communication to Scotland from the south “ .  The importance of this last remark was to remain at the forefront of the creation and expansion of the proposed railway . A provisional committee  with the power to sub- commit was appointed , comprising the Marquis of Breadalbane as chairman , the earl of Dunmore , Viscount Strathallan , Lord Kinnaird , Lord Ruthven , Lord Abercrombie , Fox Maule MP and Sir Patrick Murray Threipland . Most of the 71 members appointed to the provisional committee were from Strathearn to the west of Perth .


An engineering survey of the proposed route was desired by the subscribers. An offer was made by the brothers Joseph and Alexander M Mitchell of Inverness who on 14th March 1844 undertook to provide such a survey and estimate. The Mitchell’s father John had served as an assistant to Thomas Telford when he was constructing the Caledonian Canal and roads in the Highlands . Their third brother Thomas Telford Mitchell was resident engineer on the Newtyle and Couper Angus railway for two years and went on to the same position on the Slammanan Railway in 1836 only relinquishing the post in 1844 to join the contractors on the  Scottish Central .

The Mitchell’s offer was accepted by the subscribers  who also agreed to appoint Alexander MacKenzie and Archibald Reid as Secretaries  . They were the joint Town Clerks to Perth Town Council and were appointed on the same terms as the Mitchells . James L Hill , the lawyer who had attended the original meeting in February  was appointed as agent in Edinburgh .

The Scottish Central had two possible routes under consideration for its line between Stirling and Perth , initially both following a  common line from Stirling rising through Strathallan  to Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, then onward to a summit near Auchterader . from here the line could take one of two feasible approaches to Perth . the Strathearn route would follow the low lying land along the broad Strath through which flowed the River Earn from the mountains to the north , turning eastwards to join the River Tay  below Perth. To enter Perth from this route  a major engineering undertaking for the time had to be faced , a tunnel through Moncrieffe Hill , part of the range of hills which protected Perth to the south. The alternative route would turn north from near Auchterarder towards Crieff and then swing east to travel along the River Pow  to reach Perth from the north . The gradients were not too severe and the obstacle of Moncrieff Hill would be avoided were this line to be selected. The engineers spent the summer working on their survey assessing the merits of each route.

By the autumn they were ready to respond to the promoters and on Friday 18th October 1844, Errington reported to the committee on what he believed were the merits of the two options . Having established levels for the two lines , he was satisfied that the virtues of both had been tested . Borings had been taken through Moncrieffe Hill , revealing that there would be no difficulty in forming a tunnel . Locke stated that this narrowed the choice of route , confirming that in engineering g terms at least the 1841 report to support the course along Strathearn . This meant forgoing the northern route and so any further attempt to place Crieff on a main line route along the Pow . In addition , the likelihood of an extension of the railway northwards along the forthcoming Strathmore line of the Scottish Midland Junction Company would mean that Perth could find itself at the end of a branch some two miles south of the main line if the Pow route was a adopted. This line also had the disadvantage of being longer and costing fifty thousand pounds more to construct ( although the cost per mile would be no greater ) and of not providing the same level of traffic as the Strathearn route. Errington considered that there would still be time to introduce a Bill and open both the main line and a branch to Crieff simultaneously . The meeting had little difficulty in accepting Errington’s report. 

The plans and sections of the proposed route through Strathearn were deposited with the House of Commons before the beginning of the 1844- 45 session of Parliament . The route would seem familiar to today’s traveller between Perth and Glasgow with one exception , the location of the Perth terminus which was later to become the centre of a long and acrimonious dispute . The plans to which Joseph Locke and John Errington appended their names showed the intended railway to begin at the eastern edge of the South Inch in Perth . The land here was jointly owned by the harbour commission and the Town Council and lay opposite unoccupied coal and lumber yards next to the waterworks .The track would run south parallel to the shore until it crossed the Craigie Burn immediately adjacent to the general prison holding close to the margins of the river before passing round the harbour . Rising at 1 in 150 as it passed Sir Thomas Moncrieffe’s Bone Mill near Friarton pier , the line then entered a  tunnel , 990 yards long beneath Moncrieffe Hill on the level . The route curved to the south west through the tunnel on a one mile radius to emerge at Hilton quarry , which was owned by Sir Thomas Moncrieffe , and then descended to the River Earn where it resumed a level aspect once more, crossing the meandering river at three locations .  The various landowners of these stretches of the River Earn ,such as Laurence Oliphant  , the Earl of Kinnoull and Lord Ruthven let them out for salmon fisheries to Thomas Duncan amongst several others . They were therefore keen to protect these fishing rights from the onslaught of the railway and required compensation for any diversion of the flow or isolating of the meanders . As the planned route  headed west through Forgandenny and Forteviot on a steady incline  with a maximum of 1 in 100 , it resumed a straight course crossing the water of May and the Baquhandy Burn , before curving round north of Dunning and on through James Johnson’s property to the south of Auchterarder . Crossing the water of Ruthven on the next engineering feature , the 130 yards long viaduct near Kincardine Castle ,the route turned south briefly before climbing to a summit of 443 feet where the Perth to Stirling turnpike crossed the Gleneagles road at Loanhead .

From Strathearn , the line then descended into Strathallan on easier gradients of  1 in 342 until it reached the main turnpike once more at Blackford , where several roads at the north of the village would have to be diverted . Blackford was 18 miles from Perth
and the first settlement to be found directly on the line since leaving there. Even the rails would divide the from their church which lay just to the north . Much of the land here was owned by yet another of the line’s promoters , Major William Moray Stirling , who lived further west at Ardoch House near Braco .Three miles on, falling more gently at 1 in 792 , the line passed over the Crieff turnpike ( and former Roman road ) at the Braco starch works , keeping very close to the course of the Allan Water over most of the distance .

Crieff had been the destination of one of the proposed branch lines from the Central in 1846 . In mid 1847 J Stewart Hepburn of Coquhasie (sic ) ( Colquhazie ? ) expressed the concerns of the people of Crieff over a rumour that a new survey was being undertaken to take a branch for the town from the main line at Dunning . He pointed out that all were opposed to the idea . The Central Board allowed the letter to remain unanswered leaving the possibility that such a move was contemplated . Although Crieff had strong ties with Perth , it tended to look to Stirling and Glasgow for trade and so a junction further south on the railway was desirable . The eventual line turned north  from the main line just to the east of the summit at Greenloaning but the branch was not built to coincide with the opening in 1848 for the financial constraints which the company suffered at that time brought about the postponement of any construction .

A separate company to create the nine miles long line was formed on 15th August 1853 when the Crieff Junction Railway Bill received Royal Assent . Thomas Bouch was appointed as the engineer of the line  with his reputation  for building cheap railways in Scotland .

NB Sir Thomas Bouch was the engineer who designed the notorious Tay Railway Bridge. Then known as Sir Thomas Bouch he went down in history as the person responsible for the design and carried the blame . At the time of the disaster in 1879 he was working on the design of the Forth Bridge project and was summarily dismissed . He died shortly thereafter , his health having been affected by the trauma of the Tay Bridge catastrophe .

The contractor was James Gowans  who offered an optimistic opening date for the summer of 1854 , but this was never likely to be achieved  . Bouch had taken on too many projects and neglected the short branch in rural Perthshire , missing meetings and omitting to inform the Central of his plans for the junction with its line . Although a later date of September 1855 was promised delays occurred again and again . The Crieff Junction Railway ( CJR ) was to be operated by the Scottish Central at cost and the Directors pressed Bouch to negotiate with the main line company . The Central provided the necessary locomotives and carriages and allowed one third of the revenue generated on the Central by the CJR . Staff were employed by the little company to meet the earlier dates and had to be released when it was clear the line was not ready .

As many had come from the Central  , the CJR asked that the SCR take them back on its payroll , but new staff had been recruited  and the posts filled . The Crieff company made ready for the opening by ordering the materials of daily operation  , but further delays resulted from the dispute  between the Engineer and the contractor who claimed that he had not been paid  and would obstruct the Board of Trade inspection in January 1856 .

On the opening day , the 13th of March 1856 the Central refused to permit its locomotive to pass over the track work at Crieff Junction station  , to the east of Greenloaning ( later renamed Gleneagles ) as it was claimed that it was not satisfactory  A hurried journey was made by Gowans to Perth for a meeting with William Paterson SCR Engineer . There he confirmed a modification to the rails to the satisfaction  of the Central , but the opening had to be delayed until the following day .

The Junction was remote from the nearest settlement at Auchterarder and served only as a transfer point , there being no tickets issued  on the instruction of Latham the SCR General Manager . This brought about a dispute with the CJR who wanted to allow the people of Crieff to undertake return trips on “ their “ railway  . These were eventually allowed with the undertaking that inspectors from the Central could stop any passengers from travelling onward without a through ticket . The operating of the line was not without incident and on at least one occasion  the Central had to complain to the CJR that its carriages were not being cleaned at Crieff . However , as part of the final amalgamations prior to absorption into the Caley , the Crieff Junction Railway was
given over to the Scottish Central on the 29th of June 1865. A line was opened to Perth from Crieff in 1858 along the valley of the Pow which together with the CJR would have taken the approximate line of the early proposal for the main line .

In 1864 , the Crieff and Methven Junction Railway was established . Support for the 12 miles long new line , which would occupy the Pow valley to the east of Crieff , was not universal and hinted at old rivalries  between the Central and the Midland . The line joined the Perth , Almond Valley and Methven line established earlier , in 1856 , to form the continuous route to Perth which had originally been rebuffed as the main line . The SNER  had backed the Bill in 1864 but the measure  was opposed by its immediate neighbour , the Crieff Junction Railway , which was leased in perpetuity to the Scottish Central . The line was authorised by an Act on the 14th of July with share capital modest compared with earlier schemes at fifty thousand pounds in ten pound shares .

At the end of February 1865 , a special meeting was held at the Drummond Arms Hotel Crieff to consider the offers for the works . The tender of twenty six thousand for hundred and seventy seven pounds from J & A Granger of Perth was accepted , enabling the first turf to be cut on the 23rd of March . A procession left Crieff Town Hall at the 1 pm on that day and walked to a field behind the Crieff junction Station . The wife of the Chairman, Lady Lucy Dunbar was unfortunately ill and the turf was cut by Mrs Maxtone Graham . In attendance was the ubiquitous John Stirling of Kippendavie representing the SNER and officers of the new company including the Secretary , Ironside .  The Central was represented by Malcolm , the goods manager , and the Crieff Junction Railway by Veitch , its Secretary.

The line was promised to be open quickly even suggesting the summer of that year , so easy were the works deemed to be . However at the end of October , it was reported that only eight miles of rail had been laid . The following spring , a more realistic date of 2nd April was given .  There had been a run over the full line to Methven on 9th March . In the event , a full inspection of the line was undertaken on 21st May , 1866 and the line opened for traffic on the same day . The Caledonian Railway , ever the expansionist at the time , paid the line a visit on the 10th of October , 1865 to inspect the junction with the Crieff line at the station . With its purchase of the sympathetic SNER the following year , the Caley offered in , in September 1866 , to buy the Crieff and Methven Junction Railway at the face value of the shares  and 5 % on capital . The line was eventually transferred to the Caledonian in July 1869 . 



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