Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland

The Glasgow, Johnstone and Ardrossan Canal and Railway
By the late E.S.Nicoll, as edited and contributed to Johnstone History Society by Stuart Rankin

On October 2, 1903, the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald contained a paper on the above subject, read at Ardrossan by Clement F. Stretton of the Society of Engineers. The following is a summary of the salient points:-

As early as 1800, the Earl of Eglinton, in order to facilitate export from his coalfields to Ireland, saw the importance of making a harbour at Ardrossan and connecting it by canal to Glasgow. For this purpose he engaged a celebrated canal and railway engineer, William Jessop of Butterley, Derbyshire, to inspect the proposed route. Jessop foresaw no problem with the works, which he estimated would cost £140,000.

The Earl persuaded several of his friends to join him in promoting the necessary Bill, and on June 20, 1806, the Royal Assent was given for the "Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal Company". The promoters took around £40,000 in shares, and amid much rejoicing the foundation stone was laid at Ardrossan quay. As work proceeded the original capital was exhausted, and an appeal to the public for the balance produced the disappointing total of £4342. This sum was inadequate even to complete that part of the canal which extended from Glasgow to Paisley to Johnstone. The works came to a standstill, and a meeting of the proprietors was called. Jessop was again consulted, and his recommendation was that the canal should be completed to Johnstone but abandoned beyond there and replaced at less cost by a railway. In order to complete the canal to Johnstone the whole value of the works had to be mortgaged to raise the money by Bills and loans varying from £6000 to as little as £55. By this means the canal was completed to Johnstone, but little was done towards completing the railway end of the undertaking.

Seeing that little value would accrue to his coalfields unless a through communication of some kind was obtained, the Earl decided to invest a large sum of money for further facilities. As much of the necessary land belonged to him, this investment would obviously benefit his properties.

When it became known in 1810 that a railway of some kind was in the offing, the advocates of the "Jessop-Edge-Rail-Way" and the "Outram-Plate-Way" attended urging the Earl to adopt their respective systems, both of which used rails and plates of cast iron 1 yard long. However at this point a new competitor came into the field for railway construction, namely wrought iron, which at that time was often referred to as malleable iron..

As early as 1805, the Walbottle Colliery near Newcastle-upn-Tyne tried wrought iron rails or bars of 2 foot length, but three years later wrought iron rails of 3 foot length were laid down at Lord Carlisle's Collieries. Nothing further was done towards the introduction of wrought iron for railway purposes until 1811, when Birkinshaw of the Bedlington Iron Works rolled railway rails in lengths of 15 feet, but instead of square bars, bars in the form of a letter "T" having a flat top 1 ¾ inches wide and a total depth of 1 ¾ inches were produced. To support the rails he adopted cast iron chairs (very similar to the Jessop pattern) but made in two patterns - "joint" and "intermediate".

The "joint" chairs rested upon a base of 5 ¼ " x 4 ½ " and two pins passed through the chair and one through each end of the rail. The "intermediate" chairs, which were placed 3 feet apart rested on a base 5 ¼ " x 3", but had only one pin through the rail.

The first quantity of this new rail made by Birkinshaw was sufficient for one mile of railway, and the Earl, hearing of this, bought it and had it brought to Ardrossan by sea. The rails proving satisfactory, a further order for 4 1/2 miles was placed and also delivered by sea, while a third order was also placed. This enabled the connection by rail and canal from Ardrossan to Glasgow to be completed as from 1811.

However, there was this break in the system between railway and canal, which Jessop overcame by a method his father had used in a similar situation in Leicestershire. In order that wagons could travel direct to Glasgow, a boat or float was constructed with rails along its whole length, and was made square ended so that it met the end of the dock, enabling wagons to be run on or off. Sidings were provided at the Glasgow end of the canal.

Matters continued in this way from 1811 to 1827, by which time the rails were badly worn and the gradients over the fields were far from satisfactory; so on June 14, 1827, George IV gave his assent to a new railway from Johnstone to Ardrossan. This second Act shows that as only £44,432 had been raised for the first railway, debts amounting to £57,860 10/- had been incurred. The new railway was unable to take on this debt, and so the Act stipulated that the debt would be a first charge on the portion of the canal from Tradeston to Johnstone, while a second charge would be subscription loans of œ13,348, made by some of the proprietors. Free of these debts the new railway had now only to raise £95,658 towards the original estimate of £140,000, and the Act also stipulated that accounts for railway and canal were to be kept separate.

Again all was not well financially, and the public subscribed only £28,300 during the next thirteen years, by which time the line had been made only as far as Kilwinning from Ardrossan with a branch from Dubbs to Doura, and from that branch a branch to North Fergus Hill.

By 1840, therefore, there were only 12 miles of railway laid out of the 22 authorised and to the Scotch gauge of 4' 6". From 1837-1839, 80,000 tons of coal a year were carried with similarly 31,000 passengers in carriages holding 16 passengers inside and 8 outside with horses as locomotion. Fares were 1d per mile, increased in 1838 to 1 1/3d per mile. The unions of canal and railway had long proved expensive, and in 1839 a bill was raised to separate the two, and in 1840 the "Ardrossan Railway Company" came into being with powers to replace horses with locomotives and to standardise the gauge to 4' 8 ½ ". New rails, chairs and stone blocks were required and two engines to the design of |Bury & Co. of Liverpool were ordered from Barr, McNab & Co. of Paisley. The head office of the company was at Ardrossan, and James Moffat was secretary and general manager.

The greater importance of putting the Ardrossan line into proper order was that it could form a junction at Kilwinning with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Railway, the Act giving the latter Company running powers to Ardrossan.

During the "mania" years (1845-1846) several proposals were made to purchase the Ardrossan line, and an agreement to sell to the Caledonian Railway was turned down by the shareholders. A new Company, the "Glasgow, Kilmarnock & Ardrossan" was then formed, and obtained its Act on July 16, 1846, taking over the old railway property and Ardrossan harbour and railway for £208,000.

When the new works and improvements were made, this Company arranged to lease its property to the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Company, which on October 28, 1850 ceased to exist on amalgamation with the Glasgow, Dumfries & Carlisle Company under the name of the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company. On 1 August 1854 the Ardrossan Railway was vested in the G&SWR.

On June 24, 1869 the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company leased the old Glasgow, Paisley & Johnstone Canal, and on June 29, 1871, raised new capital to pay off the old debts and shares of the old 1806 canal which had been made a first charge on the Canal Company when the new line was made to Ardrossan in 1827.