The Glasgow and South Western Railway Association

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Welcome to a short history of the

Glasgow & South Western Railway

The Glasgow and South Western Railway was a compactly arranged medium sized railway company which served the triangle forming the south-west of Scotland to Carlisle and Stranraer, with its headquarters at Glasgow. It became the third largest in Scotland and was formed by amalgamation of earlier railways in 1850, when the line from Glasgow to Carlisle was completed. The earliest constituent - although it was not formally taken over until 1899 - was the Duke of Portland’s privately financed Kilmarnock and Troon Railway of 1808-1812, built to carry coal from the Duke’s pits near Kilmarnock to Troon Harbour on the Ayrshire coast. This line had several ‘firsts’ for Scotland - the first railway viaduct (which still stands), first fare paying passengers, and first steam locomotive - although it was too heavy for the primitive tramroad track, otherwise horse operated.


The main line also had an outstanding structure in the Ballochmyle Viaduct over the River Ayr near Mauchline. This had the largest single span stone arch in the world at 157ft.


Owing to traffic difficulties with the London-Glasgow West Coast companies, which restricted through working, the G&SWR welcomed the completion of the Midland Railway’s Settle and Carlisle line in 1876 and the two lines immediately started running through expresses between London St Pancras and Glasgow St Enoch - a slower route than the London & North Western/Caledonian, but through attractive scenery and using luxurious carriages. Pullman coaches after the American pattern were used in these early days and the Glasgow and South Western continued the ‘Pullman’ nickname for its Carlisle expresses long after the actual Pullman cars were discontinued in favour of Midland built, jointly owned stock.


Coal was always an important part of the traffic owing to the many collieries in Ayrshire and associated ironworks, steelworks, brickworks and other industries. About 60% of the entire G&SWR wagon fleet were coal wagons, the company having a policy to strictly limit the numbers of private traders’ wagons authorised for use on its lines. In common with other railways the G&SWR carried a wide variety of general merchandise, and more specialised traffic like fish from the Ayrshire ports, boilers and machinery from works in Glasgow/Paisley/Renfrew area.


There was a consolidation of routes with various branches and inter-connecting lines being built up to 1906, two of the last being the coast line from Ayr to Girvan via Turnberry (with luxurious railway hotel and golf courses of worldwide fame) and Dumfries to Moniaive.


In 1905 the Kilbirnie loop line was opened, which effectively doubled the capacity of routes from Paisley towards Ayr, as far as Dalry. This loop line was unique in Scotland for its burrowing junction at Elderslie and ‘flying’ junction near Dalry to avoid conflict of train movements with the earlier (1840) line to Ayr. In modern times these would be referred to as grade separated junctions.


In the earliest times locomotives were in many cases built by private firms until the railway company engineers had experience to establish adequate workshops. Patrick Stirling, better known for the latter part of his career (1866-1895) on the Great Northern Railway in England, became locomotive superintendent in 1853 at the age of 33, and arranged for his works and departmental headquarters to be moved from cramped premises in Glasgow to a new site at Kilmarnock. He and his younger brother James virtually standardised on a very successful all-purpose mixed traffic 0-4-2 tender locomotive, gradually enlarged with each succeeding class, with a few 0-6-0s for heavily graded lines and mineral work. Main line passenger trains were hauled by 2-2-2 ‘singles’ soon uprating in power to 2-4-0 and 4-4-0 types under brother James after Patrick had moved on to Doncaster on the Great Northern Railway.


Engines further developed under Hugh Smellie and later James Manson, both of whom trained at Kilmarnock, acquired further promotion and experience elsewhere, and returned to Kilmarnock as locomotive superintendent. Smellie continued the domeless boiler preference of the Stirlings, but otherwise modernised designs to take account of heavier traffic, his main output being two successful classes of 4-4-0 and a standard goods 0-6-0 - also the last 2-4-0 type to be built for the G&SWR, of almost equal power to a 4-4-0 but capable of being turned on a smaller turntable, especially at Stranraer. Manson continued with gradually increasing size of 0-6-0s and 4-4-0s, now with domed boilers and more generous cabs for shelter, and as main line trains regularly required double heading - ‘coupling the Pullman’, they called it - he designed a 4-6-0 in 1903. Even these were not quite sufficient for the heaviest trains, and a later version of which only two were built were superheated which improved performance.


Manson retired in 1912 and was succeeded by Peter Drummond, younger brother of Dugald Drummond whose work he greatly respected. Drummond brought a host of different ideas and practices to Kilmarnock and his first two designs, an 0-6-0 and then a 4-4-0 each copied Dugald’s steam drier and were large, heavy but slow on the hills and coal consumption was very heavy. After these debacles Drummond abandoned the steam drier idea, his brother having died in 1912, and adopted full superheating for the next 4-4-0 and an enlarged 0-6-0 which became an 2-6-0, both of which were much more successful although still not without problems. Drummond also turned attention to tank locomotives, a type which had been markedly avoided on the G&SWR, and introduced a class of 0-6-2Ts, 18 in number, for Ayrshire coal traffic and general short distance goods - also a small class of three dock shunters. One of the latter survived long enough at a colliery, after being sold out of service, to become the only G&SWR locomotive to be preserved, and is now in the Glasgow Museum of Transport.


After having improved his credentials and settled down, Drummond unfortunately died in harness in 1918 and for the last four years before the railway grouping Robert Whitelegg was the locomotive superintendent, then Chief Mechanical Engineer which title was becoming more widely used. Whitelegg came from the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, by then taken over by the Midland. Whitelegg had to get to grips with a backlog of maintenance and ageing of engines during and since the 1914-18 War and embarked on a programme of reboilering using new standard boilers of his own design. Performance and steaming of these rebuilds was said to be poor, as were his modifications to Manson’s version of Stephenson valve gear in the aim of having fewer moving parts. However, Whitelegg’s two new designs, his large 4-6-4 ‘Baltic’ tank for the coast expresses, and 4-4-0 ‘Lord Glenarthur’ a 1922 nominal rebuild of a one-off Manson 4-cylinder 4-4-0 of 1897, were generally satisfactory.


Under the London, Midland and Scottish regime after 1923 in which the former Caledonian Railway was the dominant partner, the lines and stations saw little change until line closures began to be common after 1930, but the greatest change was in rapid scrapping of locomotives and replacing them with Caledonian or new LMS types, partly because the boilers were not compatible with Caledonian boilers which were to be perpetuated. Whitelegg did not fancy being only a divisional officer and left railway service to work for Beyer Peacock.


Traffic on the Clyde Coast, serving numerous resorts amid outstanding scenery, was a very important aspect of the traffic, as well as minerals and the main line to London. The Glasgow and South Western developed its fleet of passenger steamers on the Firth of Clyde, which had a handsome livery of French grey hull with white topsides and paddle boxes, and deep red funnel with black top. These provided a service including the Isles of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae, and places on the mainland between Greenock and Stranraer, but were not permitted to carry passengers upriver from Greenock nor to sail to Campbeltown or Inveraray. Fast connecting trains serving Greenock Princes Pier, Ardrossan Winton Pier and Fairlie (near Largs) ran to and from Glasgow St Enoch in competition with the Caledonian Railway. However by 1908 this traffic was recognised as insufficient for the intense resources provided by the railway companies and pooling arrangements e.g. on the Ardrossan-Arran run were set up to share the use of steamers. Several steamers served in the First World War; ‘Mars’, ‘Neptune’ and ‘Minerva’ were casualties of this conflict, and never returned.


During the 1930s there was some small reduction in the network by closures of uneconomic routes, but more closures took place in the 1950s and others following the ‘Beeching Report’ or ‘Reshaping of British Railways’ of 1963. This also included a general reduction in goods facilities as more traffic turned to road competition. The last closure was as recently as 1983 being the Paisley Canal line and the remaining part of the Greenock branch, to Kilmacolm. However the tide was turning in favour of railways regarding local authority economic support. The Glasgow/Paisley to Ayr, Ardrossan and Largs lines were electrified by 1986 and part of the Paisley Canal line was re-opened in 1990, followed by re-opening of certain stations on other lines, particularly for commuters. There was also further investment in new generation multiple unit trains.

We have touched on a few of the aspects of railway history in the south-west of Scotland, but there are many more - coaching and goods stock, signalling, engine shed facilities, staffing and welfare and recreation. Some of it is interesting only to historians, other aspects only to modellers, but the G&SWR Association aims to cater for as many aspects as possible.


Why do people have interests in railways? It may be because of a relative who worked on the railway, or an imposing station or a favourite locomotive class. Sometimes the interest passes on from father to son through model railways. One thing leads to another, reading many books and watching trains. The hobby is incredibly diverse and leads on to diverse skills, for example knowledge of a country’s geography, D-I-Y and craft skills in modelmaking, and photography both of moving trains, and the backs of signal boxes for historical records.


If you would like to know more, why not contact the Association through any of the addresses on our list.

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