Report by Sandra Millsopp
Members of Bangor Historical Society enjoyed a very interesting talk on the Belfast and County Down Railway at the opening meeting of 2015 on 8th January.
The first part of the talk was given by Ian Sinclair who focused on the Bangor line. The BCDR had been established in 1845 and by 1848 had opened a line between Belfast and Holywood. Subsequently lines were opened to Comber and Newtownards and in 1859 to Donaghadee. The latter line went from Newtownards and its nearest point to Bangor was at Conlig. Plans to extend the line from Holywood to Bangor were held up by opposition from the Kennedy family at Cultra.
Finally a new company, the Belfast, Holywood and Bangor Railway agreed to build the line to Bangor on a slightly inland route. They took over the BCDR section from Belfast to Holywood and the complete line opened in 1865. It was not a very profitable line and by 1884 the BCDR had taken full control of it. During the Second World War the line was used very much and little maintenance was carried out.
Mr. Sinclair then talked about the stations on the line, with some excellent photographs of buildings and locomotives. Ballymacarret was the scene of a very serious accident in 1945. Twenty three people were killed when a train crashed into another one which was stopped at a signal.
One interesting photograph showed an early rail motor train which had the locomotive attached to the coach. Helen’s Bay station, originally called Clandeboye, was specially designed for the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. The original Bangor station was enlarged in 1890 to cope with the growing traffic and a new platform was added. It was demolished in 1999.
Len Bell told the wider story of the BCDR in the second part of the talk. It was again illustrated by excellent photographs. A line ran from Belfast through Knock station and Dundonald to Comber and Newtownards. Mr. Bell then showed some photographs of the Ards T.T. which included the railway. Newtownards station was 13 ½ miles from Queen’s Quay in Belfast, but only eight miles by road. The station at Donaghadee was built at a terrace of houses which the BCDR acquired.
From Comber the line went to Ballygowan, Saintfield and Ballynahinch. The signal box and station buildings at Saintfield still exist in private ownership. The line then reached Newcastle where a distinctive station was built.
Photo at top right is of Ballynahinch Junction in the 1930s (Photo from The Belfast & County Down Railway Museum Trust)
In 1948 the BCDR was taken over by the UTA and soon almost all the lines were closed and the engines etc sold for scrap. John Elder proposed the vote of thanks for a superb and entertaining talk. Jenny Ferguson of the National Trust spoke about the volunteering day on 24th January. Ian Wilson, who chaired the meeting, explained about a proposed society visit on 5th March.