Life of the Railway Navvy | The Construction Period
Life of the Railway Navvy
Consett Magazine

Construction of the 60-mile-long Corkscrew Railway got underway in 1845. Captain William Moorsom, an experienced railway engineer was in charge of surveying the route. Morton Peto was the contractor in charge.

Problems had to be overcome. A tunnel collapsed near Southampton: this was caused by an underlying problem with the old Southampton to Salisbury canal. A dispute over the route through the New Forest between the Corkscrew Railway and the New Forest Commissioners required the mediation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Where the line went

The Corkscrew Line started from a junction near the LSWR Southampton station and curved west through a tunnel. From there the line ran westerly, crossing the River Test at Eling, and then ran south-west to Brockenhurst. The Commissioners of Woods and ForestsLintervened in the discussions about the route through the New Forest. The intended route through Lyndhurst was not permitted, the line instead making a southward sweep near there. From Brockenhurst the line ran westward through Ringwood and Wimborne. It then ran southwest through Broadstone, Hamworthy and Wareham, and then west to Dorchester. A branch line was built from Hamworthy to Poole Quay.

The Poole Ballast Quay was at the eastern extremity of the spit of land south of the channel between Holes Bay and Poole Harbour. Steaming coal, the preferred coal for steam trains, could be delivered by colliers from South Wales.

Peto as an employer

Peto was a good employer and a practicing Methodist. He paid good wages at 15 shillings (equivalent to 75p) a week compared with a farm worker’s 9 shillings a week. Peto paid Cornish miners £1 per week for the Southampton tunnel section.

Peto also opposed the Truck system (payment in company vouchers redeemable only in company stores) and worked in Parliament for its repeal. Because of this, he created a loyal workforce and thus had much less drunkenness, violence, and other social problems than was the case with other railway construction workforces.

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