Blane Valley Railway

Illustrated Essays

RAILWAY MANIA

By 8.30 on the morning of Monday 1 July 1867 an excited crowd had gathered in Blanefield near the bottom of the Cuilt Brae to greet the community’s first passenger train. Britain was in the grip of railway mania. The 1861 Blane Valley Railway Act provided for land purchases, engineering work, construction and the issue of shares in the project, which had several enthusiastic local backers, including the Coubroughs, who ran the calico printworks.

 The work to extend the Campsie Railway by around eight miles from Lennoxtown to Sauchie (outside Killearn) had been completed in three years and four months at a cost of £47,195 8s 2d. Operated by the North British Railway Company, which had put up much of the capital, it was a single track line with stations along it at Campsie Glen, Strathblane, Blanefield and Dumgoyne. The journey time from Blanefield to Glasgow was around 45 minutes and involved a detour via Kirkintilloch.

On 4 July 1867 the Stirling Observer reported: “Although there was no ceremony or anything of a festive character connected with the opening of the new line, the people of the district which it intersects did not let the important event pass without notice; for at different points they collected to see the train pass, and they, as well as the very workers in the fields, expressed by hearty cheers their good wishes for the undertaking. With respect to the new district now opened up by a railway, although hitherto quite terra incognita to the great majority of the people of this city, it is about the most beautiful of all traversed by the North British system. From Lennoxtown near to Killearn there is close on one hand the Campsie range of hills, terminating in the peak of Dumgoyne, one of the most conspicuous eminences in this quarter of Scotland; and on the other the forest-clad hill of Dumgoik.”

Blanefield Station and Printworks Undated B/W postcard
Cutting from Stirling Observer 4 July 1867

BLANEFIELD STATION

Blanefield had an island-style station with a line on either side, providing the means for two trains to pass one other for the first time since Lennoxtown. The station building was wooden and access to the platform was via a footbridge at the signal box, which also controlled the level crossing on Station Road. There was an end loading bay and a goods shed. And in 1877 at the east end of the goods yard a loop line was built which entered a private siding into the Blanefield Printworks.

The line had opened for freight in 1866 and was expected to carry mainly agricultural produce into the city (especially milk, which had previously been transported via Balloch).

View of trains at Blanefield Station 1938
View of line from the Gowkstane, including railway and Dumgoyne (Coloured postcard)

The history of our community might have been very different if the Duke of Montrose had got his way in 1890 when he proposed building a line between Milngavie and the Lake of Menteith via Blanefield, which would have dramatically cut journey times into Glasgow. The Milngavie, Strathendrick and Port of Menteith Railway Bill passed the Commons but was stymied in the Lords by the objections of the North British Railway Company and Sir Archibald Edmonstone (5th Baronet), who claimed there was no need for a second railway line north of Milngavie.

Plan of Station 1918
Ordnance Survey Map 1898

KING’S VISIT

The weekend of the 11th and 12th September 1909 were red-letter days in the parish as described in the Stirling Observer of the 18th September 1909. For some weeks prior to the visit, stationmaster Thomas Shanks and the villagers had been busy making preparations for the visit of King Edward VII to Duntreath Castle. No expense was spared to ensure that Blanefield Station looked its best for the occasion. It is no coincidence that Blanefield won an award for the best kept station that year! For the convenience of the royal party, a special gangway was constructed across the line. Mrs McLennan of Ardoch (noted for its fine gardens, which were opened to the public) had created a floral tribute in the form of a crown of red, white and blue flowers. The entrance to Duntreath off Station Road displayed an archway of purple heather erected under the supervision of Mr. Horsburgh, the factor on the estate.

The parish was the place to be that weekend. Crowds poured in. They came by train, motorcar, carriage, bicycle and on foot. The barricades around the station were densely packed with sightseers. At 5.30pm the royal train, driven by a Mr. Forsyth, glided into the platform where Sir Archibald Edmonstone and the Duke of Montrose awaited the king’s arrival. The king, smiling graciously and repeatedly raising his hat to the crowd, was met with loud cheers. He was then conveyed by car along the avenue to Duntreath.

The following Monday the king was sent on his way with a guard of honour provided by local boy scouts and flag-waving children from Blanefield School.

Crowds waiting for the visit of King Edward VII, 1909
1st Strathblane Scouts who formed a guard of honour for the King’s departure from Blanefield Station.
(They included the father and uncle of the late Murray O’Donnell, co-founder and leading light of Strathblane Heritage Society.)

STRATHBLANE STATION

Strathblane Station was situated at the south end of the lane leading from the parish church to the old manse.  There was also a footpath opposite the end of Dumbrock Road. It had a house for the station master and a single goods siding with loading bank and crane. The line crossed Milngavie Road on a low bridge, which restricted the height of vehicles using the main road right up to its demolition around 1960.

Strathblane Station in 1926. The men on the platform are clerk Robert Love and porter Cameron Cuthbertson, whose father William (a famously gruff Highlander) was the stationmaster for many years.
The railway bridge over the main road near Dumbrock Road. The white building on the left is the Kirkhouse Inn.

HOLIDAY RESORT

The Blane Valley line was the first tourist route to exploit the beauty of the Campsie Fells and Blane Valley. Initially the line was extended from Lennoxtown out through Campsie Glen, Strathblane and Blanefield. Due to lack of funds the line initially terminated at Dumgoyne. In 1882 it joined up with the Strathendrick & Aberfoyle Railway. The original proposal was to continue the line to Aberfoyle and from there to Inversnaid on Loch Lomond. This did not happen due to objections from the Duke of Montrose. However, Aberfoyle and the Trossachs were reached due to the railway being able to join and subsequently utilise a section of the Forth & Clyde Junction Railway from Gartness to Buchlyvie and then on to Aberfoyle.

Passengers departing from Glasgow travelled by rail to the Trossachs terminal at Aberfoyle, then took the road route to Loch Katrine where the waiting steamer ferried them to Stronachlacher , where another road route conveyed them to Inversnaid on Loch Lomond. The trip back to Glasgow was then undertaken via Balloch by steamer and rail. The fact that the 34-mile railway route to the Trossachs ran on the rails of no less than four railway companies at one stage no doubt created its own problems!

Sketch map of the Blane Valley Railway and how it linked Glasgow with Aberfoyle along with three other railway companies.

In 1891 the Blane Valley Railway was absorbed by the North British Railway.

Following the closure of the printworks in 1898, Blanefield became something of a holiday destination for day trippers and for Glasgow families decamping for the summer to the rows of cottages vacated by printworkers. However, the combination of infrequent services and high fares meant dwindling passenger numbers on the Blane Valley line. By 1913 a 2s 6d return fare to Glasgow from Blanefield meant many preferred to walk to and from Milngavie from where the 3rd class return fare to the city centre was only 9d. Also competition from cheaper, faster buses further added to the decline in passenger travel. In 1926 an article in the Stirling Observer, headed “Bus Versus Train”, noted that trains in rural districts often were running nearly empty since the arrival of cheaper buses.

Stirling Observer December 30 1926

DANGER ON THE RAILWAY

There was a darker side to the Blane Valley Railway in the form of several fatalities. In July 1884 two men, including the train guard, were killed instantly just outside Strathblane Station when an engine overturned after flood water from the Blane Water washed part of the embankment on to the line. A third man, fireman James Ross, died of his injuries soon afterwards. Peter McKillop, the Strathblane Stationmaster’s 13-year-old son was also severely scalded but survived.

15 July 1884, Ayr Observer

The Stirling Observer writing in the 1890’s during the construction of the Second Water Tunnel recounted an incident when one of the navvies living in the huts on the Football Field managed to be run over by a train when the worse for drink. He survived with a broken arm! The Stirling Observer also recorded a number of incidents when a body was found by the railway line. It is thought that these were suicides. Another fatality involved Alexander Kenny from Kilsyth, a 24-year-old miner who was killed on the first of June 1896 after falling from a train near the station.

In September 1919 a number of newspapers reported the death of 19-year-old Irish potato digger Owen O’Toole at Blanefield Station. He had been carrying goods across the rails and failed to detect the approach of waggons being shunted against the buffers in a siding.

Milngavie & Bearsden Herald 12 September 1919, Report of the death of Owen O’Toole, aged 19, who was crushed to death at Blanefield Station.

LOCOMOTIVES

Initially, the Wheatley Class E (J86) tank engine became the regular branch engine. By the late 1890s it had been replaced by the Drummond D51. Throughout the North British Railway era and through to the early 1930’s, regular through passenger services from Glasgow were the norm and were worked by Eastfield locomotives, including the Reid J37. In the 1930’s the general pattern became one of using Eastfield locomotive hauled services to and from Blanefield with passengers travelling on to Aberfoyle transferred to the Sentinel Railcar 312 “Retaliator”. D11/2, D30 and D34 classes were used on the line right through to the final years of passenger operation. During major holidays such as the “Glasgow Fair” traffic could be extensive on the line. Eight coach bogie sets were often used, particularly on Glasgow Fair Saturday. It would travel through to Aberfoyle on the Saturday and return on the Monday.

A train coming through the level crossing at Blanefield Station. The white building is the Cuilt Farm.
(Photo courtesy G Philips)
The Signal Box and Level Crossing Blanefield Station – the island Station can be seen just in the background.
Passenger train for Blanefield standing in Queen St Station, Glasgow in 1936. This former North British Railway Class C/6 was a regular on the line until passenger services were withdrawn in 1951.
A Reid J37, built at the North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow in 1918. Picture in Blanefield Station, 1951.
Sentinel Railcar, Retaliator, which carried passengers between Blanefield and Aberfoyle from the 1930s.

END OF THE LINE

In 1923 the Blane Valley line became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).

By the end of the 1920s charabancs and omnibuses were running daily to and through the valley. The Blane Valley Railway could not compete on either fares or journey times.

In 1934 the Forth and Clyde Junction Railway closed to through passengers, obliging travellers for the Trossachs and elsewhere to disembark into a steam railcar at Blanefield.

The line was used during the Second World War to move service personnel and munitions but by 1947 the timetable included only six trains a day from Blanefield to Glasgow and just three from Aberfoyle. This clearly indicated the light nature of the traffic in the rural area north of Blanefield.

1947 Timetable for trains between Glasgow and Aberfoyle

In 1951 the Blane Valley line closed to passengers and eight years later to freight. At least two special excursion trips were laid on for rail enthusiasts, following the closure of the line to passengers. One that is often labelled as Strathblane’s “Last Train” was special train 189, which is pictured here at Blanefield Station on 3 May 1958. (The lad perched on the fence on the left is the now-retired local builder Willie Wallace.)  On 16 May 1959, 92 years after the line opened, a second passenger special organised by Glasgow University Extra-Mural Education Committee left Queen St for a final run to Aberfoyle, stopping at Blanefield Station one last time. In September that year a notice in the Glasgow Herald announced that freight services on the line would cease on 5 October.

By this time the station buildings in both Strathblane and Blanefield had been destroyed by fire. At both sites the stationmasters’ houses are now private residences. Much of the route of the line between Blanefield and Strathblane is now a popular footpath, named the Gary Wright Way, after the 22-year-old Royal Marine from Blanefield, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2006. An information board erected in 2021 by Strathblane Community Development Trust  tells something of the history of the Blane Valley Railway for those who never heard the whistle of a D51 or chug of a J37 coming down the track.

3 May 1958 Steam Special stops at Blanefield, seven years after passenger services were withdrawn from the line
16 May 1959 Steam Special disgorges its passengers at Blanefield Station one last time.
September 1959 Glasgow Herald announcement that freight services would cease from 5 October.

PEOPLE ASSOCIATED WITH THE BLANE VALLEY RAILWAY

THE COUBROUGHS

Owners of Blanefield Print Works, Anthony Park Coubrough and his son Anthony Sykes Coubrough were enthusiastic backers of the Blane Valley Railway. It meant that coal and materials no longer had to be carted five miles from Lennoxtown or 12 from Glasgow. In 1877 a siding (still visible) was opened into the printworks, paid for by the Coubroughs. The closure of the works in 1898 was a nail in the coffin of the line. An additional siding was laid during July 1899 and at the same time a transfer siding was installed. As the printworks had closed in November 1898, it can only be presumed that these sidings were erected to assist in the demolition of the Printworks, which was not completed until 1910.

Anthony Park Coubrough
Blanefield Printworks 1886 , photograph by John Coubrough

ALICE KEPPEL

Many of those in the crowds greeting Edward VII on his formal visit in 1909 had no idea that His Majesty was a more frequent visitor to the area than they had realised. Alice (The Hon Mrs George Keppel), sister of the then Sir Archibald Edmonstone, was introduced to “Bertie” when he was the Prince of Wales, and became the mistress whom he called “La Favorita”. After he became Edward VII in 1901, they were often seen together at social gatherings and to facilitate discreet meetings a halt was constructed on the Blane Valley line near Duntreath Castle. The present Sir Archibald Edmonstone relates that his grandfather, Sir Archibald, was a groom in waiting to the king and entertained His Majesty at Duntreath on many occasions. Enormous house parties were given for shooting, and flirtations, with perhaps 30 members of staff to make life comfortable for the guests.

Queen Camilla is the great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel.

Portrait of Alice Keppel

ALEX URQUHART

From 1905 the Urquhart family from Maryhill rented a flat in Dumbrock Road when the railway ran past on the far bank of the Blane Water across the road. Son Alex loved watching the trains from his attic window. Later he wrote: “On our right we could watch the slow train from Glasgow discharging its passengers at Strathblane Station and thus had knowledge of who came and who departed. On our left we could not see Blanefield Station but we knew when the train departed by puffs of smoky steam appearing above the hillock like the signals of the Red Indians.”

Alex Urquhart portrait 1914

JIM CRAIG

The late Jim Craig worked on the Blane Valley Railway as both a fireman and a driver during and after the Second World War. He later retired to Strathblane: “I remember coming through here with a double header and 40 vans full of munitions. After the War, on a typical morning we’d come up with an engine and guard to Blanefield, then stop to pick up at every station back into Queen St.”

A bench now sits near the site of Blanefield Station bearing this plaque: In memory of Jim Craig (1923-2013), an engine driver on the Blane Valley line – “the wee happy railway”.

Portrait of Jim Craig

©Strathblane Heritage 2023

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