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Early railway proposals


By the mid 1830’s, Britain was gripped in the first rush of enthusiasm to build railways wherever it was thought a profit could be turned. A railway between Dundee and Arbroath was planned at a public meeting in October 1835, agreed in Parliament in May 1836, and opened in October 1838. Concurrently, other railways in the area were being planned: from East to West between Dundee and Perth, and from North to South across the county of Fife. However, in the event these schemes took many more years to reach fruition, principally because obtaining the agreement of all the landlords on whose lands the railways would be built proved extremely difficult. The Dundee and Perth Railway finally opened in 1847, and the Edinburgh and Northern Railway across Fife opened in 1850. But during 1835 and the years following, there was high expectation that these railways would also be just around the corner.

Matthew was on the Committees of early Companies drawn up for both the Dundee and Perth Railway and the trans-Fife scheme (the Forth and Tay Railway Company). In characteristic style, Matthew saw the bigger picture and could see the long-term benefits of a national inter-connected rail system which joined up all the local schemes. Thus, he looked to how the proposed Dundee-Perth and trans-Fife schemes could be linked up. The great natural barrier was the Firth of Tay. In letters to the Press, Matthew proposed that the schemes should be linked via a bridge across the river Tay just before it widened out into the Firth, across Mugdrum Island near the small town of Newburgh. Guided by his desire to see his proposed bridge approved, he argued in favour of a “South route” for the Dundee and Perth Railway (hugging the North coast of the Firth of Tay) and in favour of a “West route” for the trans-Fife railway (linking Kirkaldy in the South to Newburgh in the North-West rather than Newport in the North-East).

Matthew’s conviction in the correctness of his views shines through, as it does in almost all his writings. Furthermore, the roots of his opposition, many years later, to the proposed Tay Rail Bridge between Newport and Dundee can in part be traced back to his early advocacy of his own rail bridge scheme, located at what he thought to be a much more sensible location of the mouth of the Firth of Tay.

“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Fife Herald, 1 October 1835, p.3 col.4 (pdf image)
A short report noting that the survey for the Dundee and Perth Railway, “under the auspices of Lord Kinnaird, an enlightened and liberal nobleman”, had resumed (following the harvest season) and would be soon completed. Similar reports appear in the Dundee Courier and Inverness Courier.

Matthew (1835-11-12): “Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, 12 November 1835
Matthew promotes the many advantages of a railway between Dundee and Perth, and also of a Tay bridge near Newburgh at Mugdrum Island to form the main “North and South Road” through Scotland.

“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, 26 November 1835, p.1 col.1 (pdf image)
Official minutes of a meeting to form the “Dundee and Perth Railway Company”, with Matthew on the Committee. On a vote on which route to adopt through the Carse of Gowrie, Matthew proposes to hold the decision until more data are available, but his proposal is not supported, and the “North line” is agreed by all except Matthew. These minutes also appear in the Caledonian Mercury (28 November and 7 December 1835) and Aberdeen Journal (2 December 1835).

“Dundee”. Perthshire Advertiser, 26 November 1835, p.3 col.4 (pdf image)
A separate report of the same meeting to form the Dundee and Perth Railway Company, with more details of the objection raised by Matthew to the North line. It appears that Matthew was not the only one to object to the North line: “Messrs Matthew of Gourdie Hill, and Hunter of Blackness, expressed themselves in favour of the south line, and objected to the north from its passing over the muirs of Meggiuch, where no solid bottom could found. Mr Buchanan answered this objection stating, that the line could be taken either right or left to avoid any soft parts, as that part of the country was extremely level. Mr Calman said, that the north line would command the trade of the Carse, while the south would only have the traffic between Dundee and Perth, and pressed his motion; which being put to the vote, carried unanimously,— Mr Matthew protesting against its adoption.”

Matthew (1835-11-26): “Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, 26 November 1835
Matthew protests at length against the “north line” adopted by the Committee of the Dundee and Perth Railway Company, in part because the “south line” would afford an easy junction with his proposed Tay bridge at Mugdrum near Newburgh.

Editorial on Fife Railway. Fife Herald, 3 December 1835, p.2 col.1 (pdf image)
An editorial discussing the various proposed railway routes through Fife, and their pros and cons. The main line to Newburgh would be beneficial if a Tay bridge at Mugdrum could be built, but the main line through Cupar to the Dundee ferry at Newport would “penetrate a much richer agricultural country”, and would follow the current “course of intercourse between Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, &c.”

“Dundee and Perth Railway Company”. Perthshire Advertiser, 10 December 1835, p.3 col.5 (pdf image)
Report of a meeting of the Dundee and Perth Railway Company held the previous Wednesday. Minor business is conducted. It is noted that investors as far away as Manchester are interested in buying shares.

“Prospectus – Forth and Tay Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, 28 April 1836, p.1 col.2 (pdf image)
Prospectus and minutes of a meeting to discuss forming a “Railway through the county of Fife, from Kirkaldy to Newburgh, with a Branch to Cupar’, named in the Prospectus as the “Forth and Tay Railway”. Matthew is appointed to the Committee. The report mentions that two rival companies (one of them the “Fife Junction Railway”) have also been formed to compete for this line, forcing them to publish their prospectus earlier than they would have liked. The Prospectus and minutes also appear in the Fife Herald (21 and 28 April 1836).

“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Manchester Times, 30 April 1836, p.1 col.2 (pdf image)
Advert for those wishing to buy shares in the Dundee and Perth Railway Company, outlining the various advantages to investment. A shorter version of this advert also appears in the London Standard (9 May 1836) and many other newspapers around this time.

“Dundee and Perth Railway”. Perthshire Advertiser, 26 May 1836, p.1 col.3 (pdf image)
A small notice to the effect that most of the shares in the Dundee and Perth Railway have now been sold, and an additional allocation is now being offered to those living close to the proposed line.

“Railway” (col.4) and “Forth and Tay Railways” (col.5). Fife Herald, 14 January 1841, p.3 col.4-5 (pdf image)
A snapshot of the situation 5 years later. Neither railway has been built yet, and it will be another 6 years before the Dundee-Perth Railway is opened, and 9 years before the trans-Fife railway is opened. The “Forth and Tay Railway Company”, that Matthew was a part of, has not succeeded. A new company, the “Edinburgh, Dundee and Northern Railway Company”, has come to the fore. On Column 4 is a report of a meeting of that company, proposing to run the “eastern route” through Fife connecting the ferry ports to Edinbugh and Dundee, not the “western route” favoured by Matthew. On Column 5 is an editorial copied from the Dundee Courier, arguing strongly in favour of the “eastern route” through Fife, and laying scorn (as being less flat and more round-about) on a western route crossing the Tay at the confluence of the Tay and Earn to join “the proposed line from Dundee to Perth”: “If the gentlemen of the west of Fife and the people of Perth will have a railway by the Kinross line, then by all means let them give it its proper name — “the Edinburgh and Perth Railway,” and not affront themselves by so palpable an imposition on the good folks of the east of Scotland, as to talk of the advantages it would confer on Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, and Aberdeen”. In the end, the “eastern route” won out, and Matthew’s proposed bridge over the Tay at Newburgh, the lynchpin of his grand vision of a “North and South Road” through Scotland, never came to be.

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