An introduction by Heather, Ouseburn Trust Heritage Officer:

While enjoying a stroll down the often-deserted Byker Link recently, from Byker wall to St Peter's Basin, I was struck by how few people who frequent the Ouseburn Valley know of the existence of this urban green corridor. Even fewer people remember this was until the 1970s part of the Riverside Branch Line, a railway servicing the east of Newcastle before the arrival of the Metro in 1980. I turned to Jeff, Victoria Tunnel guide and local railway enthusiast, to fill us in on the details and offer his personal perspective on this lost trainline.


The route of this former freight and passenger railway ran from Byker in the west, to Percy Main in the east. A total of 6.5 miles hugging the north bank of the River Tyne, double-tracked all the way with 7 stations - Byker platform, St Peter’s, St Antony’s, Walker, Carville, Point Pleasant, and Willington Quay. Although it was a loop line it was called the Riverside Branch Line. It was authorized in 1871 and opened in 1879 and was built with the purpose of serving the shipyards and other industries close to the river, along with new communities that were expanding rapidly. To give an example, Byker's population grew from 7,040 in 1850 to 30,500 by 1870 and then up to 45,460 by the start of the 20th century.

The section I am going to concentrate on is the western section from Byker to St Peter's.

Map showing the Western section of the Riverside Branch Line with Byker Platform top centre 1942

Map showing the Western section of the Riverside Branch Line with Byker Platform top centre - 1942

As previously mentioned, the line opened in 1879, having been authorised in 1871. The length of time taken to build it reflects how much work was involved in building bridges, tunnels, large retaining walls and embankments.

Steam trains provided the motive power for the line for both passengers and goods until the early 1900s when the new electric trams began to take passengers away from the railway. The North Eastern Railway (N.E.R) then decided to electrify the riverside branch along with the line to the coast and the Quayside branch. In 1904 the Riverside branch was used to trial the new electric trains. It was a great success and within 10 years the railway had restored its passenger numbers.

After the second world war passenger numbers again started a slow decline and the electric system was removed in 1967 with the stock replaced by cast-off diesel railcars until the line eventually closed in 1973.

Byker Platform, with Beavan department store on Heaton Park Road in the rear (with two lift shafts). 1964

Byker Platform, with Beavan department store on Heaton Park Road in the rear (with two lift shafts) - 1964

The area is now Byker Morrison’s car park, but with the former Beavan department store still visible. 2021

The area is now Byker Morrison’s car park, but with the former Beavan department store still visible - 2021

Byker station, or Byker platform as it was known, was the first station on the riverside branch, travelling from Newcastle. It first opened as an unadvertised halt in 1884 for use by workmen and then officially to all passengers in 1901. It was situated on Roger Street off Heaton Park Road and because it was so close to Heaton Station all receipts from its tickets were credited to Heaton. Despite being called Byker platform it had two platforms but no goods facilities and remained in use until 1954.

St Peters station with diesel locomotive. 1972

St Peters station with diesel locomotive - 1972

The next station on the line after Byker was St Peter's, really Sir Peter’s Quay, a wharf leased by Newcastle corporation to Sir Peter Riddell and corrupted over the years to St Peter's. Before the station, the line passed Malings pottery and various other industries such as Byker Ropery and St Peter's oil and gas works. These firms all had railway sidings linked to the riverside line to transport their goods. St Peter's station was situated south of Walker Road just off Glasshouse Street. It was opened in 1879 and closed to freight in 1966 and passengers in 1973. The sidings to the scrap yard continued to be used however until 1988 before the line closed completely and the track was lifted.

My interest in this railway starts with visits to my grandparents’ homes in the St Anthony's area of Walker in the early 1960s. One grandparent lived on Belmont Street and had a disused station at the bottom of her street, with an exciting, spooky, subway tunnel running under it with the legend above saying the subway will only open when a train is due.

My other grandparent’s house in Merton Road had a real live railway, with real Iive trains on an embankment at the bottom of their garden, it was as if I had my own train set. I was hooked.

I only ever travelled on the Riverside branch line once, despite years of nagging my parents to have a ride on it, and that was in 1970 after the Tyneside electric trains had long gone (1967). I was one of a handful of passengers on a noisy slow diesel railcar one sultry Saturday afternoon leaving Manor’s station (platform 8) and crossing John and Benjamin Green's Ouseburn railway viaduct before leaving the east coast main line.

The riverside branch line started by bending sharply right just after the junction of South View West and Elizabeth Street before stopping briefly at the, by then, derelict Byker platform station (now Byker Morrison’s car park) so that the driver could remove an old pram that had been dumped on the line.
The train then resumed its slow journey through a tunnel under Shields Road (Beavan's department store) before emerging into a shallow cutting with pigeon crees clinging precariously to the sides.

Location of the former tunnel under Beavan department store, Byker. June 2021

Location of the former tunnel under Beavan department store, Byker | June 2021

Scrap metal train entering the tunnel under Shields Road, Byker, now the site of Buzz bingo. 1985 Scrap metal train entering the tunnel under Shields Road, Byker, now the site of Buzz bingo - 1985

igeon crees alongside Riverside Branch Line tracks from Dunn Terrace bridge, Byker, looking towards Shields Road and Heaton with the new Metro bridge in the middle ground.  c.1980’s

Pigeon crees alongside Riverside Branch Line tracks from Dunn Terrace bridge, Byker, looking towards Shields Road and Heaton with the new Metro bridge in the middle ground - c.1980’s

Byker Link walk and cycle way looking towards Shields Road and Heaton with pigeon crees on the right. June 2021

Byker Link walk and cycleway looking towards Shields Road and Heaton with pigeon crees on the right - June 2021

Malings Ford B pottery now appeared on the left with Hoult’s Yard and derelict sidings. Then it crossed over city road on a bridge before turning east passing the site of Newcastle United’s first ground on Stanley Street on the left with Spiller’s silo on the right before ambling into St Peter’s station with its huge scrapyard to the north, its accompanying sidings and a fantastic view of the River Tyne a short distance away to the south.

My journey continued past both my grandparents’ homes and ended at Walker station where I was the only passenger to alight. It was all a wee bit sad.
Facilities on the stations were a bit basic with only tall lampposts, a booking office and a small waiting shelter at both St. Peter’s and Walker along with most of the other stations.

There had been wooden benches on the stations with station names on them, but they were sold off to the Waren Mill caravan park in Budle Bay. I know this as in 1966 on a family holiday I found them all on the road that ran round the site.
Some of the old track has been converted to a walk and cycle way from Byker as far as Carville, with the section from Byker to St Peters known as Byker Link.
This for me has been a trip down memory lane, after all it was my own personal train set.

Sources

  • “A Regional history of the railways of Great Britain volume 4 the North East" by Ken Hoole
  • “Pioneers of the North” by Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish
  • Wikipedia
  • Jeff's memory!