The Berwickshire Railway
Duns Station looking east 1962
In August 1849 the North British Railway (NBR) opened a double-track branch line, 8½ miles in length from Reston Junction on the main Edinburgh Berwick line to Duns with stations at Chirnside and Edrom. The station at Duns was built about half a mile south of the town because of the marshy nature of the ground. The railway had initially met with a certain amount of opposition. When restoration work was recently being carried out at Gunsgreen House Eyemouth a draft memorial was uncovered drawn up by the Rev. Abraham Home then residing in the property protesting at the opening of the Railway and particularly at the running of services on the Sabbath. A copy of this draft is in the Society Archives.
On the opening day the public were carried free of charge, the first train at 2.00 p.m. having no fewer than twenty carriages and it was reported "floral and evergreen arches bestrode the long serpentine row of carriage, a flag waving over the top of the little wooden hut which at present does the duty of a Station House and the Dunse Brass band played". The train apparently took three quarters of an hour to reach Reston where the passengers were not allowed to alight. In the evening there was a celebration in the Town Hall with speeches and copious toasts including the health of the NBR directors. It is reported that this was drunk with "all honours and much enthusiasm". The evening however was not free as those who intended to attend had been requested beforehand to send their names to the Swan Hotel and advised that the evening would cost 8/-.
The opening of a double track line was certainly a most ambitious one but the venture was to prove less than successful, it being recorded for instance that in 1861 there were only two freight services each week, cattle to and from Berwick on Mondays and grain to Edinburgh on Tuesdays. Eight years later one of the lines was lifted.
However in 1862 a new Company was formed, The Berwickshire Railway Company (BRC) with the purpose of extending the line a further 21 miles to meet the Hawick to Edinburgh (NBR) line at Ravenswood Junction just north of St. Boswells and involving crossing the River Tweed at Leaderfoot. At this point work was underway to extend the NBR line to Carlisle, a route subsequently to be known as 'The Waverly Line' which would mean not only that the journey to Carlisle from Duns would be cut by 31 miles but also that here would be a direct route to the northwest of England.
The new Company had an authorised share capital of £100,000 half of which was to be raised by local subscribers and the other half by the issue of preference shares to shareholders. The Berwickshire Railway Act was passed in 1862. Among the provisions of this Act was a stipulation that although the Railway was to be single track nonetheless enough land was to be bought for the provision of a second track in due course. The line would be worked and maintained for the first six months by and at the cost of BRC but thereafter the line would be operated by NBR for a period of ten years renewable by agreement.
Initially it was provided that BRC should have five directors two to be appointed by NBR and the remaining three by BRC these to be Sir Hugh Hume Campbell, Bart of Marchmont, George Cranstoun Trotter Cranstoun of Dewar and James Dalrymple of Langlea. The two NBR appointments were for life not subject to rotation or re-election.
The ceremony of turning the fist sod took place at Greenlaw, then the County Town of Berwickshire on 14th. October 1862. Just over a year later construction had reached Earlston with stations having been built at Marchmont, Greenlaw, Gordon and Earlston.
Now however a major obstacle faced the engineers namely the crossing of the River Tweed at Leaderfoot a crossing which involved the building of a nineteen-arch masonry viaduct 907 feet long and 126 feet above the level of the River. The work was carried out by Engineers Charles Jopp and Messrs Wyllie and Peddie and is universally regarded as a magnificent feat of engineering. This viaduct survives and is now a public walkway having been extensively restored by Historic Scotland between 1992 and 1995.
This delayed the completion of the line by almost two years but it was eventually completed on 2nd October 1865. There was later a siding at Lintmill serving RAF Charterhall. Once completed the line provided a direct service from Berwick to St. Boswells with some trains going on to Kelso and certain goods trains running straight through to Hawick. At St. Boswells there were connections for Edinburgh Waverley and Carlisle. Initially there were four services per day between Berwick and St. Boswells, the journey taking approximately one and a half hours.
The line never really proved successful partly because it was running in competition with a more southerly line from Berwick to St. Boswells via Kelso. Although freight was reasonably supported particularly livestock, coal and the transport of building stone from the Earlston area passenger traffic was always disappointing. Trains were infrequent. Below is timetable from Duns showing, apart from a special 6.30 a.m. train to Edinburgh on Wednesday mornings, only three trains per day to Edinburgh and Berwick. The date of this timetable is not known but probably before 1861 when Crumstane disappeared from timetables. By the standards of the day the fares are not particularly cheap. For instance a first-class fare of 10/6d to Edinburgh in even 1880 would equate to something like £70 today.
To those who think that unruly behaviour amongst youngsters is a modern phenomenon it might come as something of a surprise to learn of the conduct of children travelling to school at Duns in the inter-war years. Their behaviour was such that the Railway Company confined them to a special coach - an ancient third class vehicle without upholstery. It was also recorded that it was not unknown for them to change compartments along the footboards even during the course of the journey. Pupils from Eyemouth would also apparently tie cod heads to the end of a string attached to a rod which they would swing at the track workers as the train progressed.
Following the floods of August 1948 passenger services were suspended pending repairs to the trackbed between Greenlaw and Duns which was washed away. These, however, were never fully carried out and while freight traffic continued for a while the line was eventually closed on 16th. July 1965. The line closed without ceremony, the last service being a goods train running from Greenlaw to Hawick.
* Much of the above information was obtained from a paper written by John Duncan on the effects on the Railways on Peebles and Duns and also an article in the Magazine BackTrack of August 2011 both of which are available in the Society Archives.
Duns Station looking west
The Railway Track near Duns
A recent photograph of the bed of the RailTrack now a walkway