The Tidmouth, Knapford and Ffarquhar Railway

With origins dating back to the horse-drawn tramway between Knapford and Elsbridge (opened 1859), the Ffarquhar branch is one of the oldest railways on the island.

Steam power arrived on the line in the form of a Head-Wrightson vertical boiler 0-4-0 locomotive in 1873. The locals were so impressed by its haulage capacity compared to the horses, that the young engineer, Stephen Hatt, constructed three more locos reverse-engineered from the original, which he also rebuilt. The first of these entered service in 1881.

Principal income came from the lead mines at Toryreck, and the sight of one of the little locos, known ‘Stubbins’ after the manx cats with short tails, trundling down to the harbour with a string of chauldron wagons in tow became a common sight.

At Elsbridge Wharf, stone from Tobias Croarie’s quarries at Ffarquhar was transhipped from river boats, as well as wool from the surrounding farms. This double-handling was slow and as such, a new route to Ffarquhar was surveyed in 1883.

Mr Croarie, a local landowner, agreed to finance half the construction of the extension, as well as provide stone for the tunnel and bridge needed.

At the other end of the line, there was a new company in town. The Wellsworth and Suddery Railway had arrived in Knapford in 1884 in order to use the harbour (Suddery and Brendam now being silted up and inadequate for larger vessels). As part of the access agreement, the W&S was to provide passenger services on the new Knapford and Ffarquhar Railway for 20 years. Elsbridge Station opened that year, followed by Ffarquhar in 1887.

Since the extension, the line’s four locos had been taxed to their limit on the heavy stone trains coming down to the port at Knapford, and while the neighbouring W&SR was providing passenger services as part of their access deal to Knapford Harbour (resulting in empty stone wagons often being attached to passenger trains on the uphill direction), the little engines were wearing out.
On the other side of the island, the Sodor and Mainland Railway forged a deal with the neighbouring Furness Railway to provide motive power, and in 1891 sold their Dübs 0-6-0T No.4 to the K&F, becoming their No.5.

This allowed the prompt withdrawal of K&F No.3, which disappeared into the workshop and was dismantled to provide spares for the other 3 0-4-0VBTs.
No.5’s strength and power allowed the ‘Stubbins’ to be located solely at the harbour and quarry on shunting duties.

In 1893, a joint project between the K&F, W&SR and the Benjamin Quayle China Clay Co. saw the main line extended to Tidmouth via a new tunnel. The K&F and W&SR shared running powers to the new Tidmouth station and thus the K&F became the TK&F.
1904 saw the end of the W&SR’s (now the West Sodor Railway) contract to supply passenger services, and though an extension of the deal was forged for 3 years, the need for another loco was apparent. With no suitable second hand locos available, management authorised the purchase of a new machine.
The new loco, made by Kitson, arrived by ship from the mainland in March 1908, being unloaded at Tidmouth Docks and steamed up on the quayside. A second Kitson 2-6-0T followed in May.
The two new locos were heavier and more powerful than No.5, and were steadier at speed.

No. 4 was worn out by 1908 and withdrawn, No.2 followed in 1922, leaving No.1 as the sole surviving ‘Stubbin’ (though by this time it comprised parts from all 4 locos).

The last remaining ‘Stubbin’ at Knapford Harbour in company with the steam crane. (original photo from Beamish Museum)

In 1923, the TK&F was absorbed into the NWR. Whilst not being part of the grouping as such (the railways on Sodor not being subject to this), this was part of an effort to consolidate transport companies on the island.

The NWR spent much of the 1920s in a locomotive crisis, which resulted in NWR 301, the large and powerful E2 0-6-0T, being permanently allocated to Ffarquhar sheds after 1923 to free up the smaller TK&F locos for elsewhere.

A filthy NWR No.301 drifts downhill with a rake of wagons, circa 1931

No.1, the longest-serving ‘Stubbin’, was finally withdrawn in 1939 and plinthed at Tidmouth Station.


No.5 stands with a train of elderly coaching stock