Full steam into the past

'The North British Railway - A History'
'The North British Railway - A History'

A battle between railwaymen at Thornton, the burning down of Leuchars station and a festering dispute over a rail line in north Fife are just some of the fascinating stories to emerge from a recently-published book.

‘The North British Railway - A History’ is the result of extensive research by best-selling author and historian David Ross.

The 288-page tome, packed with period photos, examines the life of North British, founded in 1842 and which was to become one of the largest old railway companies in Scotland during the great age of steam.

Over eight decades, the company became particularly dominant in the east of Scotland and especially Fife.

Based on original sources, the “definitive” new history has, within its chapters, a look at the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879, when the then longest bridge in the world collapsed, resulting in 71 deaths.

Eight years later, brass and flute bands paraded and 300 guests celebrated the opening of Methil’s new dock - with the boom in mining providing rich pickings for rail companies as well as docks operators who were having their own “wars.”

The book notes that, in 1889, North British became owner the of the Wemyss and Buckhaven Railway and the docks at Leven and Methil.

Burntisland was apparently upset by the purchase of Methil, feeling its position as the company’s prime port was threatened.

There was anger in Kirkcaldy too where, after a couple of bad years for the coal trade, the Seafield dock and railway scheme was still struggling to get under way.

The book mentions many long-running industrial relation problems over the decades, which came to a head in 1921 when railwaymen joined miners and dockers at a battle at Thornton junction, involving strikers and non-strikers.

Fifteen people were convicted of mobbing, rioting and looting and a further 95 for theft.

Another long-running saga recalled was a messy dispute over revenues between Newburgh and North Fife Railway and North British, which went to the Court of Session. Eventually, after several years, the Railway and Canal Commission found against North British.

One of the more sensational stories concerns the setting fire to Leuchars station in 1913 - apparently by suffragettes.

Cupar Town Council made a bid for the junction site to be transferred, but Leuchars station was rebuilt to a “more commodious design.”

The book, published by Stenlake Publishing Ltd., retails for £30.