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This is the third (and final) post to be themed around the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway, completed in 1812. Not the least of its claims to fame is that it carried the first railway locomotive to be seen in Scotland, ordered from George Stephenson by the 4th Duke of Portland and brought to Kilmarnock by George’s brother Robert. Unfortunately, its weight and the downward impact of its vertically-acting drive rods soon proved to be too much for the flat cast iron rails.

Until fairly recently, much of the locomotive’s story was shrouded in mystery. There seem to be no contemporary references in the press to its trial – perhaps to avoid embarrassment to the duke in case of failure. Although the 1839 Kilmarnock section of the New Statistical Account and local artist John Kelso Hunter’s 1864 recollection of witnessing the first trial run are consistent in dating it to 1816, various publications gave other dates. However, Professor Roland Paxton of Heriot Watt University (who was the driving force behind the restoration of the railway’s Laigh Milton Viaduct in 1995-96) examined the company accounts and found a big jump in payments for replacing broken rails in 1816, for which the locomotive was presumably responsible.

There had been also been uncertainty as to what became of it. Samuel Smiles, in his biography of George Stephenson published in 1862, claimed to have information that, after being fitted with wooden wheels, it continued in use until 1848, and this has often been repeated. It is clear from reports of the 1820s and 30s, though, that only horse haulage was then in use on the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway. Professor Paxton has now established that the locomotive was sold to the Earl of Elgin in 1824 and taken to Fife, where a horse-haulage railway connected the earl’s coal mines to his harbour at Charlestown.

However, the locomotive would not be forgotten in Troon. Its memory would be invoked as the symbol of the town’s enterprise, and of the part played by the dukes of Portland in its development.

Troon’s burgh seal on the plaque at the war memorial

Troon’s burgh seal on the plaque at the war memorial

 The first manifestation was in 1897 when the 6th Duke of Portland presented a gold provost’s chain to the town, which had become a burgh the year before. He had himself designed the burgh seal on the chain’s pendant, which included the locomotive. On the wall at the rear of Troon’s seafront war memorial is a bronze plaque bearing the burgh seal as it appeared on the chain. It depicts a four-wheeled locomotive with vertical cylinders, obviously based on drawings of the four-wheeled engines built by George Stephenson for Killingworth Colliery on Tyneside.

The cover of the first issue of the Ayrshire Railway Preservation group’s magazine depicted a four-wheeled Killingworth-type engine.

The cover of the first issue of the Ayrshire Railway Preservation group’s magazine depicted a four-wheeled Killingworth-type engine.

The portrayal of Troon’s burgh seal in the 1903 ‘Arms of the Baronial and Police Burghs of Scotland’ was based on details provided by the town clerk. He described the locomotive as ‘the first steam-engine, called the Rocket’, and it ended up being depicted as the famous Rocket built by George Stephenson’s son Robert in 1829 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

The portrayal of Troon’s burgh seal in the 1903 ‘Arms of the Baronial and Police Burghs of Scotland’ was based on details provided by the town clerk. He described the locomotive as ‘the first steam-engine, called the Rocket’, and it ended up being depicted as the famous Rocket built by George Stephenson’s son Robert in 1829 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

Troon Town Hall was completed in 1932, and above its front door is a stone panel bearing yet another representation of the locomotive. It has become a bizarre hybrid − grafted onto the tubby body of the Killingworth-type locomotive, with its vertical cylinders, are the asymmetric wheels and side-mounted cylinder of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket.

Troon Town Hall was completed in 1932, and above its front door is a stone panel bearing yet another representation of the locomotive. It has become a bizarre hybrid − grafted onto the tubby body of the Killingworth-type locomotive, with its vertical cylinders, are the asymmetric wheels and side-mounted cylinder of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket.

The 1914 silver presentation model of The Duke. (Image courtesy of South Ayrshire Museums & Galleries)

The 1914 silver presentation model of The Duke. (Image courtesy of South Ayrshire Museums & Galleries)

In 1914 the 6th Duke of Portland and his lady celebrated their silver wedding, and the people of Troon presented them with a splendid silver model of the pioneer locomotive, which had according to tradition been called The Duke. This is the most accurate representation of the engine. It was designed by William Steele Watson, engineering manager at the town’s Ailsa Shipyard. He was clearly aware that John Kelso Hunter’s eyewitness recollection of a six-wheeled locomotive, with chains connecting the axles, tallies exactly with drawings in the 1816 patent of George Stephenson and William Losh. The model has been based on these, with details added from drawings of other Killingworth-type locomotives.

According to John Kelso Hunter, the teeth on the axle sprocket wheels (connected by chains which kept all the axles and drive rods moving in unison) were frequently damaged when they struck the heaped-up gravel which formed the horse-path between the tracks. (Image courtesy of South Ayrshire Museums & Galleries)

According to John Kelso Hunter, the teeth on the axle sprocket wheels (connected by chains which kept all the axles and drive rods moving in unison) were frequently damaged when they struck the heaped-up gravel which formed the horse-path between the tracks. (Image courtesy of South Ayrshire Museums & Galleries)

The model was gifted back to Troon in 1964 by the 7th Duke of Portland. It was put on show in the town hall, but since the 1997 theft of the provost’s chain from the hall it has been in storage at Rozelle House, Ayr, in the care of South Ayrshire Museums & Galleries Service.

The Arms of the Burgh of Troon 1960-1975

The Arms of the Burgh of Troon 1960-1975

The 1897 seal had never been approved by the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and therefore had no official status in Scottish civic heraldry. In 1960, the Lord Lyon finally granted a coat of arms to the Burgh of Troon. It bore the cross of the Benticks, earls of Portland, the chevron of the Cochranes, earls of Dundonald, and the otter heads of the Fullartons, who for centuries had been in possession of the area. The motto translates as ‘industry enriches’. In heraldry, abstract symbolism is preferred to realistic depiction, and the locomotive was reduced to the abstraction of a single wheel and a pile of clouds representing the chimney smoke. (The coat of arms went out of use when the 1975 local government reforms ended the town’s self-governing status.)

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A previous post told of Scotland’s first passenger rail service on the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway. In July this year, to commemorate the bicentenary of this pioneering railway’s completion, a new plaque was unveiled for Laigh Milton Viaduct – the world’s oldest surviving public railway viaduct. The plaque commemorates the great Devonshire civil engineer William Jessop, the surveyor John Wilson (who eventually came to manage both the railway and Troon Harbour, and is buried at Crosbie Kirkyard near Troon) and the unsung hero of the railway’s construction, the resident engineer Thomas Hollis.

The restored viaduct at Laigh Milton, which carried the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway over the River Irvine.

The restored viaduct at Laigh Milton, which carried the Kilmarnock & Troon Railway over the River Irvine.

When the Marquess of Titchfield (he became the 4th Duke of Portland in 1809) engaged William Jessop as consultant engineer, Jessop’s health was already beginning to fail – he would die in 1814 – and it was on his fellow Englishman Thomas Hollis that most of the responsibility would fall for building Scotland’s first proper railway.

Part of the original railway plan. Towards the left, the red line of the railway crosses the river on the viaduct.

Part of the original railway plan. Towards the left, the red line of the railway crosses the river on the viaduct.

In 1809 Thomas contracted with Glenbuck Ironworks for 1,000 tons of rails to be cast, in sections 3 feet long and 4 inches wide. In March 1810, tenders were invited for the carving of stone sleeper blocks from local quarries – a total of 60,000.

Tenders are invited for stone railway sleeper blocks. (From the Ayr Advertiser.)

Tenders are invited for stone railway sleeper blocks. (From the Ayr Advertiser.)

The L-section cast iron track lengths were pinned to wooden plugs in the centre of the stone blocks, which were covered by gravel. In the stretch of replica track on the viaduct, exposed concrete blocks have been substituted.

The L-section cast iron track lengths were pinned to wooden plugs in the centre of the stone blocks, which were covered by gravel. In the stretch of replica track on the viaduct, exposed concrete blocks have been substituted.

Thomas took up residence in the house which would later become Marine Cottage, near Troon’s South Beach. (The flats at Marine Court View now occupy the site.) The Dundonald Old Parish Registers record three sons born in Troon to Thomas and his wife Ann in 1812 (Thomas Hall Ashmead Hollis), 1814 (John Hollis) and 1815 (Nicholas Alexander Hollis). The couple may have been the Thomas Hollis and Anne Davis who are on record as marrying in Manchester in 1799.

On 31st May 1816 one of Thomas’s colleagues in the Duke’s railway and harbour management team at Troon, William Evans, was hanged at Ayr having been found guilty of forging bills of exchange. This affair must have in some way reflected badly on Thomas (who had been a character witness for Evans at the trial). It is surely no coincidence that it is at this very time that his employment by the Duke appears to have been terminated. The sale of his furniture and livestock was advertised in the local press. However, it seems that he remained in the district and, having in unknown circumstances reverted to single status – probably through the apparently unrecorded death of his wife Ann – he in due course married again.

 Thomas has to sell up and move out of his house in Troon. The house itself was owned by his employer the Duke of Portland, who had apparently sacked and evicted him. (From the Ayr Advertiser.)

Thomas has to sell up and move out of his house in Troon. The house itself was owned by his employer the Duke of Portland, who had apparently sacked and evicted him. (From the Ayr Advertiser.)

In May 1830 the marriage is recorded in Kilmarnock of a Thomas ‘Hollins’ and an Ayrshire-born widow, Catherine Smith. The Dundonald burial register records the death at Crosshouse on 10th March 1833 of a Thomas ‘Hollas’, and his burial at Dundonald three days later.

In Dundonald Churchyard stands a stone bearing the names of local-born monumental sculptor Joseph Boyd and his wife Mary ‘Hollies’, who erected it in 1864 in memory of one of their children. On the side of the stone Joseph also commemorated his father-in-law Thomas ‘Hollies’ and his mother-in-law Catherine Smith. The day and month given for Thomas’s death, 10th March, corresponds with the 1833 record, but the year on the stone is 1836. (Thomas’s age at death is given as 60.)

The stone in Dundonald Churchyard on which monumental sculptor Joseph Boyd commemorated his wife’s parents.

The stone in Dundonald Churchyard on which monumental sculptor Joseph Boyd commemorated his wife’s parents.

On the 1879 death certificate of Catherine Smith, her second husband is noted as having been Thomas ‘Hollies’, civil engineer. On the 1885 death certificate of Catherine’s daughter Mary, the wife of Joseph Boyd, her father is given as Thomas Hollis, civil engineer, and it is as Mary Hollis that she appears on the family gravestone in Ayr Cemetery. All of this, and the rarity of the surname in the district, surely confirms that the Thomas ‘Hollies’ commemorated in Dundonald Churchyard is the Thomas Hollis who was resident engineer of the Kilmarnock &Troon Railway.

Joseph Boyd and his family moved from Dundonald to Ayr, and in the town’s Holmston Cemetery are many examples of his work, including a number of fine portrait medallions. Here is his family gravestone in the cemetery.

Joseph Boyd and his family moved from Dundonald to Ayr, and in the town’s Holmston Cemetery are many examples of his work, including a number of fine portrait medallions. Here is his family gravestone in the cemetery.

In early census records, the age attributed to Mary indicates that she was born around 1831/32, but later records accord with the age at death in February 1885 of 50 which appears on her death certificate and gravestone. (No birth/baptism record for her has emerged.) If she was indeed born in 1834/35, it probably explains why Joseph Boyd engraved 1836 on the Dundonald stone as the year of Thomas’s death – to conceal the fact that, having actually died in March 1833, he was not Mary’s father.

This has been an interesting case study in family history detective work, as well as illustrating the vagaries of spelling which an unfamiliar name may undergo in older records.

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