The Ffarquhar Branch Line - A History

The Ffarquhar Branch rose to prominence when Thomas became the resident engine.  However, the line had served as part of the NWR for many years prior, the first section opening in 1885 to extract lead from the mines at Toryreck, to be shipped out from Knapford Harbour. 


One of the first railways in the area, the original line was a lightly built horse-worked tramway, which ran from Knapford to Elsbridge, branching off to Toryreck lead mines.  The Harbour at Knapford proved problematic, requiring constant dredging, which by 1905 had become prohibitively costly.  As an alternative, the railway company extended around the headland to Tidmouth, making use of the embankment walls that A.W. Dry had built to prevent flooding in the Knapford area and allow for easier access for the miners.  The first locomotives to run on this line were ones designed by a young Topham Hatt I, who had arrived from Swindon not long before.


This line was destroyed in a storm in 1908, which led to mass unemployment and distress.  However, A.W. Dry seized the opportunity to set things right and employed the out of work miners to cut a tunnel through the ridge south of Tidmouth.  In July 1910, the first train of the newly formed Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Railway steamed through thanks to their determination. 


In 1912, the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Railway formed an alliance with the Wellsworth and Suddery Railway, with a new line built through Crosby to join the two railways at Knapford, which would become the junction, and relegate the Elsbridge section to a branch line.  Upon the formation of the NWR in 1915-16, trains on this section no longer ran through to Tidmouth and continued to be served by Topham Hatt’s vertical boilered engines.  By 1925, the mines at Toryreck had began to decline, but the quarries nearer to the town of Ffarquhar were yielding greater levels of traffic and longer-term prosperity.  The decision was taken to extend the line there and place greater emphasis upon serving them instead.


After a probationary period at Wellsworth, Thomas was given the duty of running the new Ffarquhar Branch Line (RWS #2).  Thomas initially worked the line alone, running a regular passenger service as well as the freight duties on the line.  Sir Topham Hatt’s veritcal boilered locomotives were kept in reserve in case of emergency, but were later scrapped.  Due to an incident with an overzealous Policeman on the Quarry Branch’s roadside tramway, Thomas was joined by Toby the Tram Engine in 1951, to see that the railway was complying with Ministry of Transport regulations on the roadside tramway (RWS #7 ).


The Branch Line extended again in 1956/7 when Sir Topham Hatt began his Harbour improvement scheme at Knapford to ease the congestion felt at Tidmouth.  In order to carry out the work, Percy was relieved of his duties as the station pilot at Tidmouth, being replaced by Duck (RWS #11), and transferred to work on the project.  In addition to the improvements being made at the Harbour itself, the junction was moved from the south side of the river to the north, with a new line being built on an easier gradient to meet with the Main Line.  The original line to the Harbour was kept as a freight only route.  The two lines spur off from one another at Toryreck, with Percy and Toby working the freight route to the Harbour.


In the 1960s, Thomas suffered an unfortunate accident and crashed into the front of the Station Master’s house (RWS #16).  As a consequence, Sir Topham Hatt II had to acquire an additional engine to cover the shortfall, and brought Daisy the Diesel Rail-car to the Branch line to cover the passenger duties in Thomas’s absence.  Following Daisy’s trial run, Sir Topham Hatt II found her to be a useful addition to the fleet, and took the opportunity to expand the Branch Line’s passenger operations as a result.


To cope with the growing demand for their stone, the Ffarquhar Quarry Company purchased a Drewry Diesel locomotive which they named Mavis to help shunt in the sidings at the Quarry.  Following an incident in the thaw of 1972, which saw Toby placed in perilous danger on a fallen bridge, Mavis was granted running rights to Ffarquhar yards to assist with the movement of freight traffic from the Quarry (RWS #26).


From this point to the mid-1990s, very little changed on the Ffarquhar Branch.  However, several weighty construction projects began to arise which would require the use of Ffarquhar stone.  The construction of the SodOil Refinery at Brendam Bay was one of the colossal undertakings.  By 1996, the Ffarquhar Quarry Company found themselves over-stretched and Toby and Mavis could no longer manage alone. A Class 14 Diesel named Ted was purchased jointly by the NWR and Quarry Company to meet the demand (ERS #46), and to provide some breathing space for the additional loads of stone, the Fat Controller expanded Knapford Harbour – bringing in Brad, a USA Dock Tank, from the Steam Trust to assist with the rebuilding work (ERS #53).  Both engines were welcomed to the Branch Line fleet in 1997.


In 1998, the NWR and Sodor Island Council received a joint deputation from the people of Ulfstead. Alarmed at the increased road-traffic through their town from the quarry, which was disrupting tourist business as well as their peace and safety, the townspeople presented a campaign for an extension of the Ffarquhar Branch to Ulfstead, in order to remove as much road traffic from Ulfstead as possible. Plans drawn up for an aborted extension of the line in the 1920s were quickly dusted off, checked, redrawn, and with an agreement of co-financing such an extension, the NWR, FQC and SIC prepared a bill to present to Parliament, which was passed in early 1999. 


Throughout the year, the Fat Controller began making the necessary preparations. To ease handling of stone-trains from Anopha Fell, a new stone-handling yard was built near Hackenbeck, and the branch between there and Ffarquhar became double-tracked to cope with the rising levels of traffic. This work was co-funded by the Ffarquhar Quarry Company, and upon official opening was dubbed ‘Croarie Sidings’.  In the course of construction, Thomas became damaged, and Percy took over responsibility for the line (ERS #55).

With Thomas’ return from Crovan’s Gate, The Fat Controller announced the true nature of his scheme to the engines – an extension to Ulfstead. Before construction could begin however, Ffarquhar station and yard received an extreme makeover to prepare for through-running and increased traffic.


The improvement project included a massive renovation and expansion of the existing Ffarquhar Station site in 1999 (ERS #62).  The sheds were expanded to house six tank engines instead of three, a turntable was placed at the Ulfstead / Anopha Fell end of the sheds, allowing easier access for engines at the eastern end of the shed.  The adjacent carriage sheds were replaced with a new workshop facility, which is intended to save the costly and time consuming journey to Crovan’s Gate, particularly in times of minor repair.  The new, expanded carriage sheds were moved onto the site of the former fuel depot, which is where Daisy, Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta and the three new Southern Railway style coaches now reside.


Ffarquhar Station was also transformed throughout the proceedings, receiving a large expansion and a second platform.  Platform No.1 now takes passengers to Ulfstead, whilst Platform No.2 takes them to the Knapford end of the line.  In addition to this, new cattle-pens and fuelling facilities have also been provided on the site.


In 2000, work began in earnest with the extension to Ulfstead itself.  With the plans decided and finalised, the necessary infrastructure in place, and flush with cash from the refinery, work proceeds full-steam, thanks as well to the addition of another engine to the branch’s roster, Rosie, a USA Dock tank and relative of Brad, formerly of the Longmoor Military Railway (ERS #68).


Sir Topham Hatt decided to shuffle motive power around for the completion of the extension in 2003, moving Percy, and later Toby also, to the Ulfstead end of the line to concentrate on efforts there.  Edward was temporarily drafted in from the Wellsworth Branch to assist with duties in their absence.  However, an incident involving Rod the Road Crane during the construction of the five-arched viaduct needed to cross the headwaters of the River Els prompted a very serious concern.  It was found that the land beneath the viaduct would be too marshy to sink the foundations.  As a result, work fell behind whilst a solution was sought with great haste.


Despite numerous set-backs thanks to bad weather and some accidents, the work soon got back on schedule, and the foundations for the bridge were successfully sunk onto solid bedrock.  However, a last minute failure with a crane’s winch meant that the third and largest span of the viaduct could not be lowered into place.  Resorting to more desperate measures, Thomas, Edward, Toby and Percy with the aid of some smaller cranes levered the final span into place using a block-and-tackle method.  Although dangerous and extremely risky, they were successful in uniting the extension at last (ERS #99).


In Spring 2004, With much pomp and circumstance, the Ulfstead Extension of the Ffarquhar Branch was inspected, certified, and opened to the public (ERS #100).  Thomas and Rosie were given the proud distinction of hauling the ceremonial train, whilst Edward led the cavalcade of engines on the big day.  Shortly afterward he was returned to the Wellsworth Branch, and regular services began running out of Ulfstead as part of the new Ffarquhar Branch timetable.


In 2007, the Ffarquhar Branch was used for the filming of a new film – The Tidmouth Lightningbolt by Richard J. Pemberton of Pemberton Films.  The film saw Brad take the starring role, and made use of many locations across the branch line (ERS #133).


As the recession kicked in, and the spate of construction projects on Sodor quelled, there was less of a need for a second engine at the Anopha Quarry.  The Quarry Company sold their shares in Ted to the NWR and he was moved to work at Tidmouth Station as the Station Pilot, taking over from Jinty, in 2009 (ERS #152).