End Of The Line For The Croft Pit Incline.
The answer proved to be the mineral anhydrite. Sources of the mineral were discovered locally and it was found that the factory was standing on top of one of the largest deposits of anhydrite in Great Britain. Marchon Products formed a subsidiary company, Solway Chemicals Ltd., in 1951 to sink the anhydrite mine at Kells and subsequently to pursue the manufacture of sulphuric acid. Cement production also became a valuable co-product of this venture. By 1955 the number of employees on the Kells site had increased to 1,500 and Marchon Products had become firmly established as a major manufacturer of detergent chemicals in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile the Corkickle Brake had lain dormant but a new period of activity was about to begin. By the mid 1950's, Marchon Products' rail traffic was beginning to build up to such an extent that it was seriously interfering with the normal colliery output. At that time, all of the traffic had to be handled via the NCB's Howgill Brake down to the Harbour and then worked over the Harbour lines by William Colliery locomotives to and from the exchange sidings at Bransty.
The NCB's Cumberland Area Manager met Joe Macmillan at a site meeting in late 1953 to discuss the problem. Joe suggested that perhaps the answer might be for the NCB to offer to hand over the long disused Corkickle Brake to Marchon Products, If the latter would modernise it, and then agree to work their own traffic to and from the Brake head, he thought that the problem would be solved to everyone's satisfaction. The NCB's Area Manager agreed and the proposals were put to Marchon Products. They very quickly accepted the scheme and work on reinstating the Corkickle Brake soon got under way.
Apart from one or two finishing touches, the modernised Brake was ready for test working to commence by the Spring of 1955. Marchon Products purchased a new Peckett locomotive and this was brought up the Corkickle Brake on 31st March 1955. Full traffic working on the Brake began during May 1955 and this was the prelude to over thirty years of most useful service, a far cry indeed from the two or three wagon loads of sawdust a week and the occasional tank wagon of tar or napthalene which had once traveled to Marchon works.
In November 1955 Marchon Products LTD and Solway Chemicals Ltd. were taken over by Albright & Wilson LTD but continued to trade under their respective names. This remained the position until January 1968 when the title of Albright & Wilson (Manufacturing) Ltd. Marchon Division was adopted for the Kells Works. It was now an important producer of cosmetic detergents and 'fatty' alcohols 400.000 tons of sulphuric acid and other chemicals, and an equivalent tonnage of cement. The workforce totaled over 2.000 and The Company's annual turnover was more than £20 million. There was obviously some dissatisfaction with the Corkickle Brake because a scheme was proposed by Albright & Wilson. BR and the local authority in the late 1960's for a new branch railway to be built from the works at Kells down the escarpment to join with the BR line between Mirehouse and St Bees.
Traffic on the Brake had reached such proportions that it was working at very nearly its full capacity. The proposal was not proceeded with because there was considerable opposition from the local landowners and Albright & Wilson found that it would be a long and difficult task to acquire the land for the new railway. A further snag was that BR was not prepared to guarantee Albright & Wilson more than two trips per day to the works. The modernised Corkickle Brake suffered from a serious fault in that the Brake engine man's control cabin was located in a position where he was unable to see down the full length of the incline and had to rely entirely on his indicators and bell signals from the Brake bottom attendant.
Inevitably, incidents occurred when wagon drawbars gave way or wagons became derailed it was decided that something had to be done. In 1972 a new engineman's control Cabin was built on the roof of the engine house and from this elevated position the engineman at last had a clear and un-obstructed view down the full length of the brake. Meanwhile, the NCB railway along the top of the cliffs connecting Ladysmith Washery and Haig Colliery was still in use and a succession of battered NCB locomotives toiled their way back and forth with Haig coal for washing. This was then returned to the top of the Howgill Brake where it was let down to the Harbour for shipment or Transfer to BR. Many fine NCB locomotives ended their days on Ladysmith's infamous scrap line. Disaster struck in 1971 when the Howgill Brake was put out of action by a landslip.
Following its abandonment in February 1972 a small amount of coal was diverted to the Corkickle Brake and one of Albright & Wilson's Sentinel diesel locomotives was employed moving coal to the Brake head. There was no question of this traffic reaching any great proportions due to the amount of Marchon works' own activities. The Howgill Brake never reopened and the NCB quickly overcame the problem by constructing a loading dock on the site of the old 'beehive" coke ovens at Bransty for filling railway wagons and transporting the coal from Haig Colliery and Ladysmith Washery by lorries. This arrangement continued until December 1976 when a new preparation plant and washery was installed at Haig Colliery, together with a conveyor which carried the coal down to a loading point at The South Harbour.
For more Information and pictures about the Corkickle Brake Incline Visit The wonderful Cumbria Railways website created by Peter Burgess at www.Cumbria-Railways.co.uk. The Cumbria Railways website is dedicated to the lost railways of Northern Cumbria which have all closed during the last century.