Stornoway’s Underground Railway System

15 10 2008

Many people in Stornoway will have forgotten about (or be unaware of) the old underground railway which used to serve the town. Began in 1920 by Lord Leverhulme, the underground railway, or underground railway as it was known, provided a cheap and convenient method of getting the messages home, going visiting your grannie or simply taking a wee spin round the town.

The underground system was part of Lord Leverhulmes grand designs to turn Stornoway into the Athens of the north west. He spent a goodly part of his vast fortune on the long tunnels, ornate stations and rolling stock. He even invested heavily in new technology to provide the town with special peat-fired engines, which provided a pleasant aroma to commuters as well as been economic.

An earlier attempt at an underground railway by Sir James Matheson failed when it became aparent that he only wanted the underground, (which ran from the harbour, up James St, up Matheson Rd and into the Castle Grounds),  to convey huge truckloads of his drugs to his Castle.

The first trial tunnel was dug in January 1920 and work progressed at a great rate of knots until the whole system was completed in August 1922. The underground was officially opened by Lord Leverhulme on 23 August in a moving ceremomy which marked not only the opening of the underground, but Leverhulmes farewell to the island. In a move seen as customary of his philanthropic tendancies, Leverhulme gifted the underground to the Stornoway Town Council at the same time as he gifted the land to the Stornoway Trust.

The underground consisted of a ‘circle line’, reaching out from the town centre to all parts of Stornoway. Six engines operated at the same time, (starting at different nodes on the network obviously) ensuring a frequent and timeous method of communication to the inhabitants of the town (and those maws permitted to travel on it on special occasions). Each engine pulled two carriages, capable of carrying twenty passengers each. There were even freight wagons available for taking goods to the mail boat and for taking sheep to the slaughterhouse. The subway trains all went in an anti-clockwise direction. Apart from the times when the drivers were confused by the darkness in the tunnels or were ‘overenthused with alcohol’. Luckily, these head on crashes were all minor in nature and didn’t result in any fatalities. (of humans at least, in 1952 over 50 sheep were killed when the 3.15 from Manor Farm hit a flock being driven down the tunnel as the crofter didn’t want to get his sheep getting wet en route to the Barvas show.)

The underground network was served by 13 stations, located at prominent locations throughout the town. A full circle of the town would take an hour. The underground operated from 6.00am until 12.00 midnight. A Church Service special train was available on Sundays, from 10.00am until 1.00pm and from 6.00pm until 9.00pm, but had to be driven by Church Elders only. The various denominations, schisms and splinter groups were separated by carriages. In March 1930, an unfortunate incident occured at Mossend station when a new porter mistakingly let a crowd of FP’s onto the Free Church carriage, resulting in three days of rioting and the station platform in need of repainting.

The underground operated successfully until the mid 1960’s when the rising price of peat put the trains out of business. Many of the tunnels still exist, deep under the ground, but unfortunately many of the stations no longer exist, having succumbed to the march of progress and cheap workmanship.

The underground stations were;

Townhall: This was directly underneath the present day Town Hall, and was accessed by steps where the Registrars Office is today. It featured a wooden escalator, encrusted with jewels, to be in keeping with the Town Councillors high opinions of themselves. The various jewels were nicked after one particulary boisterous Town Council meeting to set the Rates.

Newton: Next station was Newton, situated where Isles FM now have their studio. This station was popular for the workers at the various kippersheds, boat builders and gas-works.

Battery: The next stop after Newton took you to the Battery. This was a handy station for Mill workers, plus the Naval Reserve and was also a favourite for underagers due to the close proximity to Cathy Dhalls off-license.

Mossend: Named after the farm and fields nearby, Mossend was often used by the good folk of Sandwick and was also a terminus for the Point Buses.

Clock Tower: After Mossend, the underground made its way underneath Sandwick Road down to the Clock Tower School. The entrance to the station was inside the tower itself. Due to the narrowness of the tower, passengers had to descend some 30 feet by a long ladder made out of old kipper boxes, until they reached the station platform. This station was a popular one with school teachers and also saw the ‘school special’ train dropping off the kids at 9.00am and collecting them at 4.00pm.

Goathill Cross:After leaving the school, the underground headed north up Matheson Rd to Goathill Cross. This station was unofficially known as the ‘Church stop’ as it was convenient for many churches in and around the Goathill/Church St intersection. Because of its proximity to Matheson Rd it was also the poshest of all the stations, having lino on the platform. The station itself was where Radio Na Gaidheal now resides. The old station is still in existence and is used by the BBC as a bunker in the event of nuclear war, so that Coinneach Mor can still broadcast to the nation (or gaelic mafia).

Goathill Farm:After the cross roads, the underground trains headed up Goathill itself, stopping at the Goathill Farm. This station was famed for its milk urns lined up on the platform, ready for Tee-dee’s cows to fill up, as the station also doubled as the dairy.The milk train left from here every morining to deliver the milk to the town centre and suburbs. Passengers were also advised to wear wellies when alighting at this stop because of the over-abundance of cow droppings on the platfrom. This was also a popular station for sunbathers heading for the ‘Cockle-ebb’ beach at the foot of Goathill Farm. (on the two sunny days per year)

Coulregrein:A short ride down to Coulregrein followed. This station was located in the basement of Coulregrein House (also known as the Poor House) and could only be found after negotiating a maze of tight passages, dank cellars and catacombs. There are rumoured to be parties of tourists still wondering around down there.

Manor Farm: From the back of the sun the tube made its way to Manor Farm. The station was located just about Joe Blacks dairy used to be and was handy for Alec Mairs shop. Again, this station was a terminus for the country buses, and a major area for sheep and cattle pens, awaiting the short trip to the mail boat or slaughter-house.

Porters Lodge: From the farm it was a short ride to the Porters Lodge. This is one of the few underground station buildings still standing, although you can no longer get down to the platform, due to the entrance been full of 40 years worth of the remains of carry outs.

Bayhead: From the Porters Lodge, the tube made its way down to Bayhead, where it stopped at the foot of New Street, roughly where the YM car park used to be. As the YM was the scene of many’s a dance and social, this station was always filled with youngsters, causing all sorts of bother like speaking loudly and wearing disgraceful clothing.

Perceval Square:Second last stop was in the town centre itself, at Perceval Square. This was the busiest stop of the line, as townsfolk went to get their messages, buy Sunday hats and queue for the Gazette.

Mailboat: Final stop was the station down on the pier. This station thronged most evenings when the mailboat came in. I say most evenings, as a design fault meant that it could only be used at low tides, the rest of the time it been submerged under water. It was here that the newspapers were taken to Nicolsons and Roddy Smiths, sheep were shipped to Dingwall and students came home at Xmas.

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4 responses

23 10 2008
The Guireans

Not mentioned in the otherwise comprehensive history of the Stornoway Underground system is the long-deserted and little known station at… Goathill Crescent.

Listeners to Radio Ranol’s long running panel game “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Guth”, will of course be familiar with the complex game of logic and strategy of the same name.

Each week, chairman and trad jazz chanterist the late Humphfree Churchorduighean (RIP) presides over a fractious group playing for high stakes and furiously debating the legalities of the various moves and stratagems.

In last week’s episode, regular panellists Mac an t-Shronaich, D*gg*m Da and T*m Br**ke T*ylor almost came to blows over a move direct to Goathill Crescent from Newton, which missed out Mailboat despite the fact that it was a Thursday and they were playing in accordance with Oss*an’s 89th sheriff court diagonal bypass rule. Imagine.

31 07 2010
Enid Blyton: Clippie « The (Made Up) History of Stornoway Weblog

[…] place in a gorse bush, Lassie chases a rabbit and finds a ventilation shaft for Stornoway’s underground railway (see previous entry). They decide to climb […]

4 08 2010
Arnish Lighthouse

I think there was a plan afoot, a few years ago, to introduce a tram in Stornoway, running from the Water Wheel along the Bayhead River to the Bridge Centre, thence to the Cromwell Street Quay. Whether the publication date, 1 April, had anything to do with the fact that nothing ever came to it, I couldn’t say.

18 01 2011
Donald Morrison

I well remember my old man saying that in the thirties when he attended the Nicolson and was in lodgings all term how they used to go down to Willie Johns (Bobbie Bhraggaidhs nowadays) early on a Saturday morning as there was always a plentiful supply of discarded screwtops to be found in the wee recess between the butchers and Geordie Stewarts (Sportsworld today).

Then it was down to the harbour for some mogs off the boats and home for a lunch of mogs, stale beer and aran eorna sent by my granny.

Yup – them were the days.

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