In the mid to late 1800’s there was massive interest in the building of railway links into the North East to serve the growing industrial development of the area. One such link was the Castle Eden branch of the North Eastern Railway. Known locally as the “Cuckoo Line” it rans from Bowsfield Junction on the Stockton/Darlington line to Wellfield where it joined the line via Seaham to Sunderland and Tyneside.
Although named the Castle Eden Branch the line does not actually go through the village of Castle Eden. The route chosen was a compromise between engineering and financial considerations and also needed to take account of the village of Thorpe Thewles and Wynyard Hall as well as a number of outlying farms, becks, roads and tracks.
The main contractor was Thomas Nelson, a well-known railway builder, and work commenced in 1875. The influx of workers caused disruption to the local communities as their camps were squalid and overcrowded and they were noted for their heavy drinking.
The main structure required was a viaduct at Thorpe Thewles to cross the Thorpe Beck Valley. It consisted of 22 arches, used 8 million bricks and cost £37,000.
The first section of the line was opened on 1st May 1877 this gave access to the coalfields of south Durham. The remainder of the line was opened for freight traffic on 1st August 1878 and passenger traffic between Stockton and Wellfield on 1st March 1880.
Freight carried was mainly Weardale limestone, Durham coal, and Cleveland ironstone to support the growing industries on Teesside, also agricultural produce and livestock.
This was a sparsely populated area so the passenger services were not well used. Thorpe Thewles Station served Grindon (pop 345). Thorpe Thewles village was served by Carlton Station. Wynyard and Hurworth Burn were only a collection of farmsteads. Wellfield Station, opened in 1882, served a number of mining communities which could provide a large number of people wanting to travel to market at Stockton.
Express trains from Newcastle to Manchester/Liverpool and Oxford/Bournemouth used this line but only stopped at Stockton and Sunderland. It has been recorded that in 1894 permission was granted to Lord and Lady Londonderry of Wynyard Hall, that they could stop the 7.30am ex-Newcastle and the 6.30pm ex-York trains at Thorpe Thewles station if they needed to.
A local source has said that on occasions when royalty arrived at Thorpe Thewles to visit the Londonderry’s, a red carpet was rolled out and the hedge along the roadside was specially cut and lit by oil lamps for the coach which would take the royal party to Wynyard by the Golden Gates entrance.
In 1905 the coastal route between Sunderland and West Hartlepool was completed, this replaced the Castle Eden Branch as an express passenger route. The line was closed as a through route on 6th July 1966 and the final section from Carlton Junction to Bowesfield Junction was closed in 1968.
In 1979 the viaduct was demolished to make the Thorpe Thewles bypass.
In 1977, Cleveland County Council purchased the Cleveland end of the railway line to develop as a walkway with the financial help of the Department of the Environment and the Countryside Commission. It was opened to the public in 1981. The old stationmasters house was opened as a Visitor Centre in 1983.
- The Railway History (Castle Eden Branch Railway History)
- The Castle Eden Branch of the North Eastern Railway – Alan Betteney
- Norton’s Iron Road – C Fox, Norton Heritage Trust
- Alan Betteney
- J W Armstrong Trust