Annan’s Two Railway Stations and the Solway Viaduct

The railway station at the southern end of St John’s Road was built in 1848 for the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway Company. It was subsequently managed by the Glasgow and South Western Railway, British Rail and currently by Abellio ScotRail.  A fine two-storey sandstone design in the Italianate style with columned entrance porch and incorporating the station master’s house, it is regarded as one of the best-surviving early stations in south-west Scotland.  The original lattice-girder iron bridge to the down platform survives with modifications.   The signal box dates from 1877 and is important as a surviving Glasgow and South Western Railway Type 1 box.  The glazed platform roof with elegant cast-iron columns and the small single-storey brick building at the west end were added circa 1900.  Modernisation in the last 25 years has meant the disappearance of original features such as the main platform waiting room, toilet and ticket office. The down platform stone waiting room has been replaced by an open fully-glazed structure.  The main building is now occupied by the Station House pub. Outside the station the original goods yard and buildings were demolished to make way for the present commercial buildings. 

The photograph for this tinted postcard was probably taken soon after 1900.

Annan Shawhill Station and its goods shed survive on the south side of Scott’s Street, at the east end of the town, but are now occupied by the premises and scrap yard of John Walker & Son.   It was one of the stations on the Solway Junction Railway, which opened in 1869 to carry the iron ore from the West Cumberland mines to the Lanarkshire Steel Works. A full passenger service across the new Solway Viaduct to Bowness on Solway and Whitrigg began in the following year.

The Solway Railway Viaduct was constructed of 74 piers of tubular cast iron columns braced with longitudinal wrought iron girders.  The first sod was cut on 28th March, 1865 by William Ewart MP, the occasion being marked with a commemorative medal, a ballad and a ‘Déjeuner in Annan’ hosted by the seven directors, known locally as ‘The Seven Wise Men’.  The viaduct opened for goods traffic in September 1869 and for passenger trains in July of the following year.

This postcard photograph emphasises the length of the viaduct, showing the end of the Annan sandstone-faced embankment and the watchmen’s hut.
The viaduct in a photograph probably taken in the 1920s, with fisherman Tom Rule holding a salmon caught from this whammel boat. The slender 12 inch diameter cast iron columns of the viaduct would always be a weakness of the design.

By the mid-1870s the profits from the ore traffic were beginning to decline because of the cheaper imported Spanish ore.  The maintenance of the viaduct was proving to be expensive, with the cast iron columns of the viaduct often in need of repairs from frost damage. In January 1881 the watchmen in the huts at the ends of the viaduct listened with alarm to the terrifying noise “like artillery fire” as huge chunks of ice 6 feet thick and as much as 27 yards across destroyed a large section of the bridge. At night local onlookers watched sparks being struck by the collapsing iron sections. The repairs were difficult and extremely expensive, and the line did not reopen until May 1884.  During the First World War there was a brief resurgence in the use of the viaduct when the supply of pig iron became vital. However the fragile condition of the bridge meant the imposition of speed limits, daily inspections and the use of new locomotives of lighter weight.   In May 1921 the Caledonian Railway Company closed the line, partly because of a miners’ strike but mostly because of the huge cost of yet more repairs. A limited passenger service was in operation until the last train in April 1931; this was sufficient to allow children from Bowness on Solway to travel by train to Annan Academy, their nearest school.  The demolition of the viaduct began in 1933, much to the disappointment of those Annan drinkers who had regularly crossed it on foot to the English pubs in Bowness on Sundays when the Annan pubs were closed.

A rare photograph taken about 1935 at the Annan end during the final demolition process. The vessel is the schooner General Havelock, equipped with cutting gear, a crane and high explosives. The operation proved difficult and took 19 months to complete, costing the lives of three Annan workers. Note the details of the rail lines and fish plates.

The line from Annan Shawhill to Kirtlebridge Station and its junction to the main Carlisle to Glasgow line remained open for goods traffic until 1955.   Annan Shawhill station was built of local sandstone and had a single platform, with an adjacent loop siding and three freight sidings controlled from a signal box.   Passenger traffic was never high, but the goods yard was busy handling coal and the livestock for the local auction mart.   Because it is now the private house and yard of John Walker & Son, the station site is inaccessible today.  However it is possible to walk beyond it for about a mile along the fine sandstone-revetted railway embankment as far as the Solway shore end.  This embankment was in recent years used to carry a pipe from Chapelcross Atomic Energy Station to empty the cooling water from the towers into the Solway.

Annan Shawhill Station was still in use in the 1930s for the passenger service to Kirtlebridge. (photo: D & G Council Archive). Note the milk churns and the pens for livestock.