Mining and railways were inextricably linked in West Cumbria during the 19th Century. Working down a mine was a hazardous and potentially life-shortening occupation, whereas mine owners (or landowners who granted mining leases) could profit hugely.
The following account from the "Whitehaven News" gives a flavour of the risks to employees:
On Sunday afternoon a shocking accident occurred at Lord Leconfield's iron ore mines at Bigrigg, by which a fine young man lost his life, another escaping almost by "the skin of his teeth". William Jenkinson, 39, joiner, who lived near the Seacote Hotel, St. Bees, was employed on Sunday afternoon last, along with Joseph Pattinson, of Egremont, another joiner, putting into the shaft of one of the pits a ring for the purpose of catching water. They were lowered by the pit engine to the required depth and there got out onto a platform suspended by four chains attached to a rope wound at the top on a winch, by hand labour. The men signalled to be raised or lowered, as they required. They had been at work for about an hour and a half, and had been raised and lowered higher or lower several times when without warning the rope suddenly broke close up to the winch. The platform, which is called a cradle by the miners, at once fell. Pattinson was able to grasp a plank that was fixed across the shaft, and onto this he hung with his hands, while his companion went crash to the bottom with the cradle, a depth of between 30 and 40 fathoms. He was found quite dead. Pattinson was as soon as possible rescued from his precarious support, by which time he was completely done, and was facing the same terrible fall as inevitable just as relief arrived. Jenkinson's mangled remains were removed to his home at St. Bees. He leaves a widow and one child.
Grouping in 1923 saw the new London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) bring the Midland Railway (MR) and the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) under the same ownership, thereby creating a degree of overlap for the railway steamer services then operating from Fleetwood (LWNR jointly with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) and Heysham (MR) to Belfast. In 1926 the LMS decided to transfer all services to Heysham then operating out of Fleetwood, and at the same time rationalise the ships operating the Irish services by ordering three new vessels to replace numerous older ships. Operating two ports in such close proximity made no sense for the newly-amalgamated LMS, and Fleetwood was becoming very congested. The new arrangement was to take effect in April 1928, subject to the prompt delivery of the new ships.
Three new ships were ordered from Wm. Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton. The first of these, named The Duke of Lancaster, was launched in November 1927. She was the second ship to use this name, the first having been built at Barrow in 1895 but sunk by a German torpedo in the North Sea during World War I whilst being used as an Armed Patrol Vessel.
The Duke of Lancaster (II) was destined to have an eventful career. Costing £216,000 she was registered out of Lancaster (which was impossible for her to visit), and with a gross tonnage of over 3,600, was larger than any of her predecessors. She was propelled by steam turbines driving twin screws, could achieve a speed of over 21 knots, and her hull was designed to taper in slightly below main-deck level, which was intended to give greater steadiness at sea. With 68 crew, she was able to carry 1500 passengers (with over 400 cabins - important as the service was overnight), and also conveyed cargo and cattle (300 could be accommodated).
Despite being a modern vessel (to quote the Railway Magazine, "the fastest, largest, and most luxuriously equipped on any cross-channel service"), accidents seemed to follow her round. In November 1928, just seven months into the new service, she ran aground entering Heysham and was stranded for several hours. The following May, she collided with her sister ship, the Duke of Rothesay, and in 1931 caught fire and sank in Heysham Harbour, was salvaged and then re-built at a cost of £107,000. Back in service in 1932, she then went aground on Copeland Island in fog, collided with a trawler in Morecambe Bay in 1934, and went aground again at Point of Ayre, Isle of Man in 1937. Finally, before being requisitioned for war service, she hit and sank a coaster, Fire King, in 1940.
A glorious finale awaited however, as she took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy as a hospital ship, before being transferred to British Railways' ownership in 1948 and finally being withdrawn and broken up in 1956.
The direct threat posed to the south coast of England following the German occupation of France in the summer of 1940, led the governors of the prestigious girls' public school, Roedean, to seek a new home in Keswick at the Keswick Hotel. For five years the hotel was occupied by most of the staff and senior girls, with further accommodation taken in smaller hotels in the immediate vicinity.
Keswick station was pressed into service to provide classrooms, with the five upstairs rooms (including the boardroom) being used. The waiting room was also occupied occasionally, and brave passengers continued to venture in to enjoy the roaring fire, lessons notwithstanding!
The railway conveyed Roedean's furniture, equipment and books from Brighton to Keswick in July-August 1940, whilst the staff arrived during August, and the girls on September 5th. Subsequently, a special train was run south at the end of each school term, and north at the beginning of the next.
The final departure from Keswick was late in 1945. While most of the school staff stayed behind to pack and despatch Roedean's possessions, the girls and a few staff members left on the special school train at 5.25am on November 29th 1945, for a long Christmas holiday, the previous summer holiday having been curtailed to permit this.
Everyone was out on the platform in good time, including Mr. & Mrs. Wavell (owners of the Keswick Hotel), Dixon the hotel porter, Stationmaster Pickthall and his staff, and many other Keswick friends. An account of the occasion states that music from Mr Denwood's loudspeaker van was played, an informal dance was staged on the platform, and John Peel (a traditional Lakeland song) and Auld Lang Syne were sung.
Then the train left on time, accompanied by a fusillade of detonations from the battery of fog signals placed on the outgoing track.
The Kendal & Windermere Railway, opened in 1847, was indeed a local railway, but the way it kept coming up in news reports at the time indicate that it was seen by the locals (and particularly businesses) as the veritable laughing stock of the town of Kendal.
One report from 4th November 1854 illustrates this perfectly:
"A Railway Passengers Timetable for the Kendal and Windermere Railway Co.
On and after Thursday 2nd November, the trains may run as under:
The train usually advertised to leave Kendal at noon will, on Thursdays, wait until the Friends' meeting breaks up, in order to accommodate the Friends who live in Birthwaite. The train advertised to leave Kendal at 3.30 will wait till the goods wagons can be arranged, and may not start until 4 or 4.15.
The train advertised to leave Kendal at 5.15 will, if the rails are slippery, not leave until 6 or 6.15, and in future will stop at Staveley, and reach Windermere, instead of 5.50, at 6.45. As an additional comfort to the passengers, LEAKY LAMPS will for the present be provided in the carriages of this train, and the windows will not be able to be closed, especially as the winter is coming on. The train leaving Windermere at 9.30, advertised to reach Kendal at 9.54, may not arrive until 10.6 to 10.10.
The public are respectively informed of the above important changes, and in future anticipate that they will not be varied from, unless circumstances quite unlooked for arrive."
PGW (with thanks to the Westmoreland Gazette & CRA Journal Volume 4 No.14).
©Cumbrian Railways Association - Registered Charity Number 1025436.