The Newcastle to Carlisle line opened in 6 stages. The line reached the canal at Carlisle in 1837 thus creating a connection between the River Tyne and the canal basin at Carlisle. The official opening of the completed line was on 18th June, 1838 and the first journey on the railway saw four thousand passengers, travelling in 130 carriages and drawn by 14 engines.(i)
John Wilson Carmichael's study of the opening of the Newcastle-Carlisle railway
Pat Newman secretary of the Warwick Bridge and District Local History Group writes
"One of the aims of the day was to demonstrate the power of the new technology. The plan was for people from Carlisle should go to Newcastle for breakfast and return with the people of Newcastle to Carlisle for dinner, and the Newcastle people to return home that evening - thus putting in the power of any man to travel. a distance of 180 miles in one day," ran a report of the time. (A return trip that took stagecoaches two days)
The line engineer, John Blackmore, accompanied by some directors had travelled the route already to check that all was well.
From 4am members of the trade guilds gathered with their flags and banner, while spectators hired rooms in houses lining the route of the band-led procession, which began at 5.30am to the railway station.
Six locomotives, "sending forth volumes of smoke as tokens of their impatience to be at work", pulled five trains, each carrying 200 passengers. Mr Blackmore was aboard the "pilot" locomotive.
Spectators lined the route, and Greenhead in Northumberland greeted the cavalcade by firing small cannons. At Whitchester, passengers had their first experience of travelling through a tunnel in darkness. At Haydon Bridge, Allendale Band and Mr Beaumont's band joined the train "adding greatly to the gaiety of the scene". At Hexham, there was the firing of guns and the ringing of bells.
The first train reached the Redheugh stop in Gateshead at 9.30am, having covered the 60 miles in three and a half hours, to be greeted by more gun firing from Newcastle Castle Keep. The Mayor of Newcastle sent his ceremonial barge with its 12 rowers to pick up the Mayor of Carlisle, Peter Dixon. Boats carried passengers across the river to Newcastle where the bands led the procession up Grey Street to the Assembly Rooms for "an ample and splendid breakfast".
But at the time fixed for the return journey - 11am - only those from the first two trains had made an appearance. The rest had been delayed by the collapse of a gangway taking passengers on to boats, which pitched people into the river. "Many missed their breakfasts and travelled 120 miles without food.
For the return trip, 14 locomotives left Tyneside an hour late, with 4,000 passengers. Most were in open carriage, and it began to rain. Rapide was the pilot engine, followed by Meteor carrying the Mayor of Newcastle and the Allendale Band.
Then came the locomotives Victoria; Wellington; Nelson; Lightning, with the Carlisle Band; Tyne, with a steam organ; Carlisle; Eden; Goliath, Atlas, with the Newcastle Volunteer Band, and Samson. A crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000 watched.
It was 5pm before the first three engines reached Carlisle - the time originally set for the start of the return journey to Newcastle.
A meal had been provided for 1,000 by the railway directors at the Coffee House and the Bush Inn. With the new departure time fixed for 7pm, about 3,000 people made for the station and took their seats.
At 9pm it started to rain again, heavily. The journey did not begin until 10pm. It was between 2am and 3am that the first train arrived back on Tyneside and 6am when the last arived. Most people were in open carriages in the dark." (ii)
(i) [Ref: Farne Archive http://www.farnearchive.com/show_images.asp?id=G0811701&image=1]
(ii) Warwick Bridge and District Local History Group, booklet A Grand Event