UK Heritage Hub Articles - Crovan's Gate Works

Sir Richard talks at length about the Sodor locomotive works at Crovan’s Gate

The North Western Railway, as I'm sure you're all very much aware, was built from an algamation of three other railway companies existent on Sodor during the latter half of the 1800s. These, the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Railway, the Wellsworth and Suddery Railway and the most famed, The Sodor and Mainland, covered each section of the Island's southern region - the one relevant to discussion today, the Sodor and Mainland, was established in 1853, serving Kirk Ronan Harbour, Rolf's Castle, Crovan's Gate and Ballahoo.


Crovan's Gate station was originally a very modest affair - as was much of the S&M. However, as time went on it was recognised as a perfect 'hub' station, and, as it was almost in the centre of the Sodor and Mainland's mileage, it soon gained a series of sidings for light maintenance and storage of railway vehicles. It wasn't long before it was fighting for supremacy with the harbour terminus of the line at Kirk Ronan.


The Sodor and Mainland, was, I'm sorry to say, not the luckiest of railways. It often chased business opportunities and seldom had success. Their original aim, as the name of the company may suggest, was to meet Barrow in Furness - first with a tunnel underwater through the Ballahoo ridge, which failed when said ridge collapsed. The second attempt with a bridge across the Walney Channel. The Admiralty fought against the venture.


Following this was an attempt at steamer services to Dublin from the Kirk Ronan terminus. This too had little success, and, combined with planned extensions to Peel Godred similarly coming to nothing, attempts at growth and investment soured the company's fortunes, which soon grew stagnant. In 1910, their finances collapsed, and in 1914 the company joined with the remaining companies on Sodor to form the North Western Railway, to plans from the United Kingdom's sponsorship for reasons of Coastal Defence - this would also result in the Admiralty becoming the driving force of the bridge to the Mainland being laid in 1915.


The NWR proved to be a successful venture, of course, and would go on to bring success to most of the S&M's plans for investment - but of particular focus is the growth of Crovan's Gate, which was now being used to its fullest capability. The sidings built by the S&M soon became a centre for maintenance, repairs and construction of stock for the growing railway.


Crovan's Gate works was originally not a massively capable 'plant'. It would replace smaller components and repair breakdowns, but it did not have capability for complete overhauls or fabrication of parts. This meant that larger, more capable works, would find themselves competing for contracts of overhauls and fabrication of parts in the name of the NWR. It continued this way for over twenty years - when larger incidents occurred, such as Henry requiring a rebuild after his accident with The Flying Kipper in 1935, followed swiftly by Gordon for a rebuild of similar scale, both had to go to the NWR's favourite mainland works (not least due a strong relationship with chief engineer, one Mr. Stanier), Crewe.


In time, of course, my predecessors knew this simply wouldn't do, and soon Crovan's Gate became a priority for development. By the close of steam on the Mainland, it had become capable of repair, overhaul and fabrication of larger components on the NWR's stock list. It took many thousands of pounds worth of investment and several loans but the Railway could now rest easy knowing trips to the Mainland for failures was not a requirement. Just in time, too, as facilities for steam locomotives were shrinking at a startling pace on British Metals.


The NWR soon gained contract for repairs to the Peel Godred mountain railway - thus putting an end to the Swiss-built engines there being sent back to country of origin for overhauls. Similarly, the Skarloey Railway soon found great benefits to relocating major work to the centre, and the Arlesdale Railway had the majority of their stock repaired and, eventually, even saw many items constructed under the authority of our experienced engineers.


The NWR 'plant' is now capable of any job required on locomotives working on our island, no matter of gauge, traction, age or priority! Similarly, it can carry out commissioned work on traction engines, tractors, and even petrol engines for the buses owned by Sodor Roadways LTD. This has not only made the works a major employer for the island, driving numbers of those in a skilled profession higher than the majority of regions on the United Kingdom, but a major part of life on the island - practically every company on Sodor has seen a link with our facilities, and truly, we have ceased to be a 'locomotive works' and have instead become, in every essence of the term, 'The Works' of Sodor.


I am now continuing orders of investment and modernisation in our growing traction repair centre, like my father before me - Crovan's Gate now sees supply trains every week or so for raw metal, machinery, replacement parts and special equipment - it has even been estimated by the works manager that we could 'take on' three overhauls at once, and have all of them completed within less than two months quite capably. We only hope it shall never happen!


With the arrival of Pip and Emma, the works has also seen further improvements in maintaining a higher speed of operation on the permanent way. Only a month or so ago we completed our own specialist track equipment, all constructed on site - to our own design. This has only further cemented our independence as a company and has proven very successful - continuing track work on Sodor to enable higher speed running is being completed in record time, with the main line now being concrete-sleepered, smoother in terms of curve and gradient (although Gordon's Hill is still of obvious difficulty!) and maintained to a standard Network Rail could only hope for -delays on Sodor have been reduced dramatically, as have vehicle breakdowns and the impact of such mishaps.


If Tidmouth is the main station, Crovan's Gate is undoubtedly the main component of all to do with the North Western Railway. It is the most important part of our infrastructure, a marvel of the industry, and you'll be lucky to find a works worldwide more capable than the one Gordon, Henry, James, et al, have rolled in and out of countless times.


The Works is an industrial environment through and through, thus is rarely accessible to the public - however, we do allow two tours a year during quieter periods of operation, wherein people, media and photographers may visit our facilities and see the scales in which we work. These are very popular, however, so pick up your leaflet at one of our larger stations and book as quickly as you can!

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