Tasmanian who played an important role in the early history of Settle-Carlisle railway

Craven Herald: Betty Harrington’s impression of life at Batty Moss, featuring the horse-drawn van. Right, George Horner completing a model of the same horse-drawn van Betty Harrington’s impression of life at Batty Moss, featuring the horse-drawn van. Right, George Horner completing a model of the same horse-drawn van

The men who put the construction of the Settle-Carlisle line into effect were typically Victorian in their drive and energy. They were inspired by James Allport, general manager of the Midland Railway. He brought the matter to a head. The construction of the railway was supervised by John S Crossley, the Midland engineer. Dr Bill Mitchell, of Giggleswick, writes about the little-known Sharland, a Tasmanian who surveyed the route that the new railway would take. He also tells of the so-called Contractor’s Hotel – a four-wheeled, horse-drawn truck – that appeared at Ribblehead in 1869.

As I researched the early history of the Settle-Carlisle line, long years ago, I located a single reference to Sharland. It appeared in FS Williams’ book about the Midland Railway.

I could find no other reference to Sharland, who was a most important figure in the preliminary stages of the Settle-Carlisle.

The survey of the route the line would take was supervised by Sharland. He was an Australian. Definite proof of his existence came one evening when the telephone rang at my Giggleswick home. An Antipodean voice remarked: “Say, my name’s Sharland.” I was offered information and a photo of Charles Stanley Sharland (to use his Sunday name).

Sharland was a former assistant in the office of the Maryport and Carlisle Railway. He came to the notice of Crossley, the engineer, as he was a member of his staff. Sharland became fascinated by all aspects as, with half a dozen workmen, he walked the entire length of the rail route. The work was held up for a while when a farm-cum-inn known as Gearstones, near Ribblehead, where the party stayed, was “snowed up”.

Alas and alack, gravely ill with tuberculosis, Sharland was forced to resign from the project in the autumn of 1870. He retired from the Settle-Carlisle to Torquay. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 25 years, he died.

Ribblehead – then known as Batty Green – had a bleak aspect until, in 1869, a four-wheeled caravan, towed from London by a steam engine, came to rest hereabouts. It became the temporary quarters of the engineers who were making experimental borings for the piers of the proposed viaduct.

Donkeys were used to carry heavy survey equipment to the places where the bases of piers would be sunk. The donkeys did not take kindly to the extreme back-end weather and were kept under cover in the worst of it. As darkness came, one of the men stationed himself at the van and held up a bull’s eye lantern to guide his fellow workmen who were homecoming through the waste.

The environment was far from friendly. The chief engineer commented on the glacial drift. He had known the men blast the boulder clay like rock and within a few hours had to ladle out the same stuff from the same spot like soup in buckets.

Such comments were recorded by FS Williams, who wrote up the history of the Midland Railway. He noted that when a man struck a blow with his pick at what he thought was clay, he discovered there was a big boulder, almost as hard as iron, underneath. “The man’s wrists, arms and body are so shaken by the shock that, disgusted, he flings down his tools, asks for his money and is off.”

On one of my many visits to the Harringtons at Giggleswick, I persuaded Betty – an accomplished artist – to provide some impressions of life at Ribblehead during the construction period. One of her drawings showed a caravan similar to the one already described. She conveyed an impression of payday for the navvies; they queued up, some of them holding spades, and by the caravan was a table with pay-clerks.

So to George Horner, of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. I knew him well, especially when he was on railway duty, manning the Blea Moor signal box, which lay over a mile from near Ribblehead viaduct where he parked his car.

George retired. We chatted at Settle most market days. Now and again, I visited George at his home at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. If he was not at home, he was almost certainly at his workplace – a hut on a lawn in the back garden. He was a great pipe-smoker. Much of his time was spent tending tobacco in the bowl of the pipe.

It was at George’s hut that, on successive visits, I was fascinated by the progress of the hut-on-wheels. It was a remarkable copy. One day, he took it to Ribblehead and photographed it in the foreground of a view of the celebrated viaduct.

Whenever I visit Ribblehead, my thoughts are largely on the small army of men who created the viaduct and adjacent embankments. And especially Young Sharland, who played his part in the project but did not live long enough to see the railway completed.

Comments

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree