The West Sodor Railway

The project to link Sodor’s capital with the harbour at Brendam began construction in 1867. One of the principal backers was Benjamin Quayle, who believed the railway, together with his quarrying concern, would bring prosperity and growth to the area.

On Tuesday 12th July 1870, amid crowds of onlookers, the Earl of Sodor declared the Wellsworth and Suddery Railway open and the first train drove in to Suddery station. Why the line’s owners chose the name of the middle two stations when the line extended from Crosby to Brendam is unclear, Charles Hatt theorised that the backers believed Wellsworth and Suddery gave the railway an air of importance that the smaller settlements lacked!

Traffic grew steadily for the first 10 years, but by 1880, Suddery’s small harbour was silted up beyond use, and Brendam was proving to be an inadequate port, in an exposed position on the south of the island. Quayle argued that the quarry could not expand its operations without a deep water dock.

Up the coast from Crosby, the Knapford and Elsbridge tramway had established a harbour on the breakwater at Knapford for the export of lead. If a deal could be struck with the K&E for the use of the harbour, then the W&S could survive.

The Crosby Tunnel opened in 1884, and as part of the agreement for use of Knapford Harbour, the W&S was engaged to provide passenger services on the Knapford-Ffarquhar line for 20 years.

Both railways knew that Knapford was in itself a short-term solution, and the real goal was Tidmouth. Located in a sheltered bay, Tidmouth was the ideal location for a large port. The firm responsible for the Crosby Tunnel was once again employed to cut a route through the hillside to Tidmouth, the joint line opening in 1893.

This period of rapid expansion 1880-1900 was dubbed ‘Sodor’s Railway Mania’ after the mainland trend of the 1840s. The last gasp of this wave of private enterprise was to come in 1898.

The neighbouring Sodor and Mainland Railway, the first standard gauge railway on the Island, had long held a vision of a united Sodor, linked from end to end by a main line railway. However, after a flurry of construction, this company had been denied permission to build a bridge between Vicarstown and Barrow, and was trying to make do with a ferry service. The S&M was in financial difficulty. It had already sold most of its motive power (the Furness Railway was contracted to provide services for a percentage of revenue). The backers saw unification as the only means of survival, and the development of Tidmouth was their last chance.

The S&M mainline terminated at Cronk, high on the hillside. The original contractor for the Cronk viaduct had gone bankrupt, and so work was abandoned in 1877.

The local government supported a union of the railways in Sodor, and a loan was approved in 1894 to build the viaduct and link the S&M with the W&S at Cronk, via a branch line from Wellsworth.

A period of integrated operation followed, with through services being provided by the FR under the S&M to Tidmouth, and local passenger and goods being handled by the W&S, which itself was renamed the West Sodor Railway. After the link-up, the Wellsworth-Brendam route was demoted to branch status.

Both companies were combined into the North Western Railway in 1915 as part of a scheme to provide a defensive railway along the coast. The threat of U-Boats in the Atlantic led to Tidmouth becoming a valuable safe haven for merchant ships.

Motive Power

When opened in 1870, the W&SR had two brand new tank locomotives built by Manning Wardle to their class ‘M’ design.

This pair was supplemented in 1887 with No.3, and 1891 by No.4.

No.2 was withdrawn in 1900 with a life-expired boiler, and was cannibalised for spares to keep No.1 going.

In 1902, a purchase was made of an ex-LBSCR Class A1 ‘Terrier’, which the Brighton were selling off in large numbers. Its relative power for its size made it a good deal. This took the number 2 from the withdrawn loco.

All four locos were absorbed into NWR stock in 1915.