Prototype Inspiration: Railways around Lowca

Back in November last year (remember those days when we used to be able to go outside?) OTCM went on a mad tour to exhibit Six Quarters at Solrail 2019 in Workington. There was a reason other than sheer madness for this – SQ was inspired by the industrial railways immediately south of Workington itself. The trip itself was covered off in an earlier post, Solrail 2019: Better late than never!

Given how close we were to the prototype, and the fact we are usually in the opposite corner of the country, it would have been rude not to head down to the village of Lowca to see what the location looks like today. This then got considerably more involved as we ended up chatting to a couple of drivers that worked at the location while at the show, who gave us plenty of additional information, as well as kindly sharing some photos from their own collections. However one thing was clear, the area provided great modelling inspiration! So why not grab a cup of tea (preferably in an enamel cup) and read on, as I suspect this might be quite a long post….

While today the only rail activity in the area is the Cumbrian Coast Line, running from Barrow in Furness through Whitehaven and Workington to eventually reach Carlisle (taking quite a long time to do so…), this was far from the case in times of old, with a plethora of lines concentrated around Whitehaven, Workington and the various mines and iron works in the surrounding area, as attested by the RCH Junction Diagram below. Connecting into these lines were an even more complex array of industrial railways serving the mines themselves, although these thinned out considerably after WW1, the small mines they served becoming worked out. Some of these lines featured fearsome gradients, to the extent there were a number that had to rely on rope working to get the coal out, but these fall a bit outside our sphere of interest so we will focus on some that survived a bit longer, in particular the yellow coloured line heading off the bottom of the map.

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The village of Lowca sits on the cliff tops about 3 miles south of Workington, and, rather confusingly, Harrington No5 Colliery was located here, and not in the village of Harrington, just up the road. Given all the other lines in the vicinity were at sea level, or just above, and nowhere near the cliff tops, there was a fairly significant issue when it came to rail connecting the village and it’s collieries, but we assume the local railway builders adapted an attitude of ‘sh1t happens’ and cracked on regardless, approaching the village from both the East and the North – after all, why have one big gradient when you can have two!

From the East, the colliery and washery were accessed via a 1 in 25 gradient climbing from a small set of exchange sidings (Bains Sidings) adjacent to the erstwhile Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Junction Railway, which joined the Cumbrian Coast Line at Parton. Not to be outdone, the Lowca Light Railway approached the village from the North, linking it directly to Whitehaven, climbing onto the cliff tops at a gradient of 1 in 18! The Light Railway also served Micklam Brickworks, located just north of the Washery, as well as Harrington Docks, the branch to these dropping at 1 in 15 from Rosehill Junction. For a short time after WW1, the line was graced with passenger trains… Indeed Copperas Hill station, located half way up the gradient, was believed to be the steepest graded adhesion worked station in the country – quite understandable really.

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The remains of Copperas Hill station, looking South.
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Copperas Hill looking North, down the gradient – we wonder how many over run incidents there must have been in this direction!
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Looking down the trackbed of the Harrington Harbour Branch…. the steepness of the gradient is evident.
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On the southern outskirts of Harrington, the Harbour Branch crossed the Cumbrian Coast Line on a heavily skewed bridge, still at 1 in 15 we think! The sports fields over to the left of the shot were once the site of much heavy industry.

Harrington No5 Colliery closed in 1968. However, the washery remained open and ensured the survival of both lines, if anything leading to the most inspiring part of the sites life for a modeller. With the former WC&EJR line closed North of the exchange sidings, coal from collieries at Workington was worked by BR along the coast to Parton, passing Harrington washery 200ft above it on the way. It was then required to reverse, propelling up the stub of the former line to reach Bains sidings. At this point the NCB took over proceedings – one of Harrington’s Austerity tanks being assigned to drag 5 or 6 loaded wagons up the bank, through the centre of Lowca, and into the former colliery site. From here they were shunted out onto the cliff top, around a remarkably sharp 90 degree curve, climbing again at 1 in 25 to reach the connection into the washery, before propelling the wagons back in. Once reloaded with washed coal, the wagons had to head back to the top of the gradient, crossing Lowca High Road a second time, to be weighed, before they could be shunted over and returned to the exchange sidings.

By this era, trains from the North consisted almost exclusively of British Steel workings coming up from the steelworks in Workington itself to be loaded with coal, presumably used for coking. By the time of most photographs, and our interest, these were hauled by a pair of Yorkshire Engine Co 0-4-0 diesels, usually working cab to cab. However, NCB locos were known to make forays down the line from time to time too.

Today, little remains to identify the colliery and washery site, it having been landscaped and turned into a rugby club. However, if you pass this and head round onto the coast path itself, Micklam brickworks is still in situ, and the coast path continues to pick up the former Lowca Light Railway trackbed heading northwards, through the remains of Copperas Hill station and Rosehill Junction. In Lowca itself, many of the buildings that surrounded the line are still recognisable, and the line down to the exchange sidings has been converted into a cycle path.

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The remains of Micklam Brickworks, high on the clifftops.
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We believe this building was once the original loco shed, before it was closed and moved into the colliery site itself – The style of the building would lean towards that being the case, and it has not changed on OS Maps over the years.

As mentioned previously, we were lucky enough to be able to chat to two former drivers that had worked at Harrington during our period of interest, although not at the same time – John Harkness and Ray Penn. They shared some interesting stories, and were able to point out that Oly’s model of the level crossing keeper was inaccurate the prototype, who’s name escapes me, had landed that job after loosing an arm in an accident underground, while Oly had modelled him with a full complement of limbs! John was kind enough to share some photos from his collection with us, which are included below – apologies for the poor quality of the scans:

John leaning on an Austerity by the weighbridge. The level crossing over Lowca High Road and the colliery yard are in the background, with the post office to the left.
Looking the other way, with the post office on the right of the image, some British Steel internal user opens are brought into the former colliery site.
A rake of 21T hoppers crosses Lowca High Road – this is the view that inspired Six Quarters, and was modelled, albeit in reverse.
Sitting outside the colliery loco shed, with the washery sidings at a higher level in the background.
Looking across the colliery yard.
The Washery building and sidings, with a mix of BR 21T hoppers and British Steel Internal User wagons in the sidings.

The location was visited by Gordon Edgar a number of times during it’s latter days, with many of his photos appearing in his book ‘Industrial Railways of Cumbria’ which if you do not already own, comes highly recommended, purely on account of the level of filth it contains within its pages. With his kind permission, we have included a number of his photos below, and have added our own aligned as closely as possible to the originals, to provide a ‘now and then’ album of the site, starting at Bains Sidings and working up the hill…..

Storming the Bank

Storming the Bank

A train of coal is seen climbing the 1 in 25 up to Lowca, in the first image this has not long left Bain’s Sidings, while in the latter it is passing the connection into a loop that once served a much smaller pit. Today this section of the line is a cycleway, with the driveway to a garden centre build alongside:

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Last Run

As the line comes into Lowca village, it passes various terraced houses – some newer buildings now surround this site, but the original buildings are still there:

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Lowca Weighbridge

The site of the weighbridge was more or less the top of the gradient, the line running alongside a rendered wall to pass through the village itself. Today the wall is still there and a footpath uses the old trackbed, although this has been landscaped somewhat:

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Trains from the weighbridge then had to cross Lowca High Road to access the colliery itself. Readers probably recognise the building here from Six Quarters! Today the building remains intact, and the road has a noticable flat spot where the railway used to cross.

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Lowca Colliery Remains

Within the colliery site itself, we think this vaguely aligns with what is now a rugby club but landscaping has made it hard to tell exactly:

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The line now curves through a sharp 90 degree bend and starts climbing again as it reaches the clifftops, a very exposed place, which has today been returned to nature:

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Irish Sea View

Slightly further round the curve sidings joined the ‘main line’ before it climbed through a short cutting to the washery link. Again this is now returned to nature and landscaped:

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Lowca Light Railway

Reaching the top of the gradient, before the line started descending again as the Lowca Light Railway. This pair of BSC locos show the gradients! Although not a direct comparison, this panorama shows the area today:

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So what about modelling this? We think it would make an ideal, if very different, round the room style layout for the industrial modeller. A fiddle yard could easily be located under the colliery site, with trains being pushed out by BR locos into a model of Bains Sidings, situated in one corner of the room, from where NCB locos could run up a gradient into the colliery itself. A tight curve in one corner of the room would then take you round to a model of Micklam Brickworks, before another steep gradient finished in a very small fiddleyard representing the other end of the Lowca Light Railway…. it could also make quite an attractive L shaped exhibition layout, although keeping things moving over the whole layout while at a show might prove quite challenging!

That’s all for now folks…. If you’ve got this far, well done and thanks for reading! We must extend our thanks to John Harkness for sharing his photographs with us, and to Gordon Edgar for the images used to illustrate this post – it should go without saying that he retains the copyright so please don’t pinch them for use anywhere else! Oh, and Gordon’s series of books on industrial railways, particularly the Cumbrian one, make great reading and are ideal for browsing if, say, you were told to stay in isolation for several months…. and remember your friendly railway book retailers have taken a big hit with the cancellation of so many shows, so try and buy from them rather than multinational conglomerates that may have names starting with A and finishing with Mazon!

Chris and Oly

Solrail 2019: Better late than never!

It’s a while back now, but the weekend of the 16/17 November last year saw us out on the road to Solrail 2019. Whats notable about that I hear you ask? Well, principally the fact it takes place in Workington, which, for a layout that lives in Deal, couldn’t be much more the opposite corner of England if it tried. It may not have passed readers by that Six Quarters takes it’s inspiration from the area, so if anything it was like taking it ‘home’ – well at least that was the logic behind such a mad trip!

So at 06.45 Friday morning, we were on the road in the Citroen Berlingo hired in for the job – it may not have been daylight but we were checking out the features that had made this Van of the Year 2019, as we headed off towards the A2 to commence the mammoth journey…


The early start saw us making good time until we came to a halt in the roadworks on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, where we were able to take in the technical details of shipping container design on the plentiful HGV’s alongside us, and have a good old moan about why they aren’t travelling by rail.


Fueled by a couple of coffee stops, progress was rapid and by lunchtime we had made our first port of call – Locomotion at Shildon. Numerous interesting exhibits were on show with quite an LNER bias:


Our favourite exhibit had to be this Clayton mine loco though, brought to the surface from the last deep mine in the North East and still in the condition it came out the ground, which is largely comparable to most of the rolling stock we turn out!


One footlong Turkey and Ham with all the trimmings later, we were crossing Stainmore Summit, keeping our eyes peeled for signs of the railway that once was – it’a a shame the massive metal viaducts were all dismantled. Next stop was the Eden Valley Railway at Warcop for a quick sniff around, despite it being closed. Oly had got wind there was a bit of 400 action available, and this turned out to be the case, making us feel much closer to home! There was also an interesting collection of industrials sat awaiting their turn in the restoration queue.


After this we blasted off into the North Lakes, arriving in Workington just before the sun set: the building the show was housed in being quite impressive:


We were setup in no time and soon ended up in conversation with our next door neighbours, who were fortunately local and able to provide some gen on good curry houses and spots for decent beer. Unfortunately the gen on the second point was that ‘Workington is sh*t for beer’, something we couldn’t argue with it turned out! Fortunately the curry was good though and this got us through to the Saturday… where Oly was able to adopt his ‘look chilled while operating’ pose for the camera.


It was immediately obvious the layout was attracting a lot of interest from the locals, with numerous people recognising the building on the layout or actually living in Lowca itself. Given that we are used to answering questions regarding where the layout is set with ‘in Cumbria’ needing to give an answer that the road would be Lowca High Road and the railway crossed by the rugby club was a little unusual…

Sunday took this to another level as we ended up meeting two drivers from the prototype location, Ray Penn and John Harkness, it was great to have a chat with them about operating practices in the early 70’s on the site, and some of the staff who worked there. To top that off, SQ received it’s first piece of silverware!

Before heading home on Monday, we took the opportunity to have a poke around some of Workington’s rail infrastructure, which is all very attractive and modellable, before we headed down to Lowca to see the prototype site ourselves. Another blog post will follow looking at Harrington No 5 Pit in the near future, hopefully with plenty of then an now images to show how things have changed, so for now here are some photos from Workington:


And one from Lowca, with Oly posing in the Van of the Year 2019:

With the sun shining, we headed off through the Lake District, the better weather being more conducive to admiring the view:


Before being hit with a wall of fog as we headed into the Pennines!


The rest of the journey was uneventful, a foot long Turkey and Ham with all the trimmings was consumed at Scotch Corner (there’s a theme developing here…) and the layout returning to it’s shed at about 18.00. All in all a very enjoyable weekend and well worth driving 850 miles for! Many thanks to Phil for the invite and to all those who made it a really interesting experience.



Catching Up

Well it’s been a while since the last post, the intervening time having been rather hectic with work as well as the usual distractions around Christmas, with endless grief of a house move also going on, most of that seems a long time ago now, although relocation is ongoing! This all left me feeling rather uninspired at the back end of last year, but things have got a bit better recently, so what’s been going on Railway wise?

November saw us exhibiting Six Quarters at Solrail in Workington, with a prototype research trip built in for good measure… more of that in a follow up post though – there’s a bit much to get in here!

Christmas brought me a couple of packs of NCB IU HUO hoppers from Accurascale, taking advantage of the substantial saving available in their Black Friday sale. These are a bit modern for us in NCB livery, so will be repainted into BR livery in good time. Also arriving was a Dapol Bolster E, which I decided to weather taking advantage of a bit of time off:

This really is a lovely model, Dapol have pulled the stops out and it shows they are right back in the game having shaken the legacy of a certain someone… I backdated slightly removing the TOPS code but otherwise it’s just had the detail bits from the box fitted.

This inspired me to finally get started on the Rumney Models detailing kit for the older Lima model, which I’ve had sat around for a couple of years….

I’d not tackled anything like this before so it was an interesting challenge. I struggled with a few bits but it’s a well designed kit and patience turned out something looking half decent, certainly a huge improvement on the original!

I think the running plate is the only bit left of the original model, so it’s been quite an in depth project – I now quite fancy doing another but with a bit of a different prototype in mind. I should probably get this one painted and finished first though.

As a bit of a side project, I’ve dug out a model that’s been sat in the projects draw for about 2 years since I last touched it…. an interpretation of a Diamond T that I found a photo of in service with the NCB Mines Rescue Unit – I’ve been unable to find any more details other than it obviously being a winch of some nature, so it’s very approximate, but something a bit different! I need to sort some transfers and wing mirrors, but otherwise it’s almost done:

I don’t think there’s a huge amount more to update on – BWS is next out on the road on the 15th February at Tonbridge I really need to sort a few more bits for it before then, so need to keep inspired!


Uckfield 2019: In retrospect

I can’t believe a month has passed since Uckfield, and I’m only just getting round to actually writing about it, but with a weeks holiday and a trip to Workington with Six Quarters (more on that in a later post) having taken place in the interim, I guess it’s easy to see where the time has gone…

Anyway – Uckfield was, as ever, a great show, and I’ll stick by my previous comments that it is now the best show in the South East if the finescale end of the hobby floats your boat… on display was a top quality line up covering most scale and gauge combinations, and a wide variety of prototypes.

The Uckfield club did a great job of looking after us for the weekend, and were jumping at the gun to help me unload when I arrived on Friday evening, which is always a nice touch even after a short drive. Even better the tea was brewed and ready to go too, and at the end of the show, a rapid exit resulted in the layout being safely tucked back away in my loft within 90 minutes of the show closing, which must be a winner.

BWS performed well all weekend, with guest operator Will learning the ropes quickly…

And Saturday night was spent on the bash as the show conveniently ties in with the Spa Valley Railway diesel gala and real ale festival, which is a complete winner for Saturday evening entertainment at a show!

I didn’t take photos of all the layouts, but here are a few that caught my eye:

Orford (7mm)

Midland In Bristol (7mm)

Thakenhan Tiles (7mm)

Chica, IL (HO)

Blueball Summit (2mm)

Roll on next October for the 2020 show!


Wordy Wednesday

I ain’t dead. I’ve just been busy.

Sometimes my involvement as part of the operating team on the 1:1 scale model railway, ‘The Great Northern” gets in the way of anything smaller scale.

2019 has been mental, I’ve started a degree, I’ve introduced the class 717s and got to do my first full scale repaint, wrapping a class 313 driving coach in Network Southeast. Trust OTCM to get moaned at by enthusiasts by using a new hybrid scheme on the second coach. OTCM bodgery in action on the real thing.

Modelling has never been far away though, Tim Horn made me the headboards for the 313 and Brian from Shawplan providing the livery details. So again modelling crossing over to the real deal but in reverse.

Hybrid liveries and laser cut headboards

We raised £10k mainly for mental health charities, so I’m proud of that and proud in a round about way my modelling helped out.

Not only are distractions at work paramount I live in a smaller house with no room for SQ, so we live apart. A layout of divorce. Which has unintended positive consequences, I don’t see it for months on end. So I have a pang of pride everytime I set it up and take a look. Lot of pride in this post.

And this weekend SQ goes full circle. We’ve been invited to Solrail in Workington.

Which for a lad on the Kent coast is somewhat of a trek. For the more continental readers it’s like driving the entire length of Florida (which I bet most of you do to visit your aunt) but for us is a huge undertaking and for the show organisers. We are going as SQ is based just a few miles out of Workington so it’s a ‘local’ layout. It means we can go and visit the buildings modelled, that still stand and trace the line it was based on. Which will be a surreal experience. Fair play to the exhibition manager, Philip, for inviting us effectively blind.

To make sure we don’t screw up such a kind invite I’ve had SQ in the dining room for two weeks making sure it works and it looks its absolute best.

Its had a thorough shake down:

So armed with a Citreon Belingo and a pack of strong mints, Chris and I set sail for the North on Friday.

The hobby has been getting a tremendous amount of positive press recently. Only today Sir Rod Strewart and Jools Holland were on national radio (BBC no less) chatting model trains which neither of them could believe as much as I couldn’t believe listening to it:

Rod and Jools chat trains – from about 37:00

With another series of the model railway challenge ending on TV it seems we’re on a path to do what we want with our hobby. I’ll be out flirting with Mums and explaining to interested kids how it all works this weekend. Embracing a new fascination with the hobby can only be rewarding for us all.

Come and say hi in Workington. We’ll be the funny sounding ones worried about dragons in the corner.

See you around,


On the road to Uckfield 2019

Next weekend, 19th and 20th October, Bottom Works Sidings will be making its second exhibition appearance at Uckfield 2020.

Uckfield is always worth a visit, probably being the best show for finescale modelling in Kent and Sussex. It’s a shame this year they’ve let their standards slip by inviting BWS but there we go!

If you are visiting the show, do come and say hi, and feel free to comment on the good and bad bits of the layout. Mark Tatlow and Andy Jones will be helping out so if anything falls off it’s Mark’s fault.

Oly won’t be around though, he will be in Inverness instead. Personally that seems a bit of an extreme measure to avoid 3 link couplings under OHLE but each to their own!


Little improvements for the Oxford Janus

It’s been a while since my pair of Oxford Rail YEC Januses got any attention – readers with long memories may well remember the last time they appeared on the blog: A pair of Janii… Or a brace of Januses?

Anyway I finished that post saying that I’d sort the handrails out. Some time ago at one of our modelling days, I took the opportunity to sit down with some 0.45 brass wire and the soldering iron, and put together the required handrails ready for install. These looked nice and tasty on completion:

And after a coat of primer and a black rattle can, we were really in business:

These were then stored in the modelling draw awaiting me feeling in the mood to fit them – I also wanted to fit better decoders and some form of stay alive to the loco as we found them to be very sensitive to my dodgy track laying at Railex, and it seemed sensible to sort that before fitting new fine bits…

Fast forward about 5 months and with BWS’s next appearance at The Uckfield Show looming in a couple of weeks, I thought I should probably get my arse in gear and sort them! Space inside the Janus bonnet is incredibly limited, particularly width ways, so fitting the decoder and stay alive was a bit of a squeeze but with the bodies back on and test running showing a definite improvement over dirty track, I got the handrails glued into place. To top this off I also fitted the Narrow Planet works plates that I’d been carrying around in the loco box for ages!

I’m pretty happy with the finished results – the handrails definitely look better than the originals even though they are far from perfect, and with running improved as well it’ll be good to get them out in the public eye.