The world’s first signal box
the ingenuity of Robert Skeldan,
and the railway emigrants to
Was Portobello the home of the world’s first railway signal box?
East of the station, the North British Railway’s new trunk lines to Berwick and to Hawick diverged.
Many will remember the busy
box beside the
According to C.R. Hamilton Ellis’s history of the North British Railway, it was around here in 1847 that a youth named Robert Skeldan was serving as pointsman at the new junction, with two fixed signals to look after under the old time-interval system. He found that by fixing up some cable with a counterweight made from a broken rail-chair he could work both signals without leaving the shelter of his hut. He was reported for reprimand, but the railway directors thought it a good idea, and the Royal Scottish Society of Arts awarded him a silver medal for his ingenuity.
The origins and eventual
fate of Robert Skeldan have not since been
identified. He may have been a member of a family of that name from Innerwick, further down the NBR line to Berwick. Many of
the early railway staff locally had been in the service of Edinburgh &
Dalkeith Railway which passed through Portobello on its way to
John Law, formerly of the
Edinburgh & Dalkeith Company’s St Leonard’s depot and responsible for
supervising the company’s complicated crossing at Musselburgh (Fisherrow), is known to have emigrated to Otago, New Zealand in 1848, unhappy at the NBR’s policy to start Sunday working. Law’s testimonial
claimed he’d had charge of a level crossing of the most dangerous kind for
several years without a single accident of an injurious nature. His wife Agnes
–a member of Edgehead’s
click image to view NLS site for map of Fisherrow, Musselburgh in 1853 (sheet 7)
John Somerville had worked
on the formation of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith, authorised by Parliament in
1826. From its depot at St Leonards under Salisbury Craigs it reached out to the south and east of the city.
Built to the old “scotch gauge” of 4ft 6 inches, the railway’s operations were
superintended by David Rankine, a military engineer
who later was to work for the Caledonian Railway. John Somerville joined the company’s
employment, taking his family to
The 1840s was a decade of unprecedented social change. Many in the Church of Scotland followed Thomas Chalmers and others in the great Disruption which formed the new Free Church of Scotland in 1843. And two important denominations which had left the Church of Scotland much earlier, amalgamated themselves into the United Presbyterian Church in 1847. Many hard working families of weavers, fishermen and railway workers were longstanding members of UP congregations. Others were drawn to the energetic Free Church, for which Hugh Miller was a persuasive advocate.
In 1847 the public began to
advocate the running of Sunday trains.
The North British railway company –subscribed largely by English
capital- prepared its staff to meet these demands. At the NBR’s allied
company, the Edinburgh & Glasgow, pressure for Sunday working resulted in
the departure of the chairman, John
Leadbetter. Because the Somervilles,
Laws and Beggs were all opposed to Sunday work they
decided to leave the railway service and emigrate en masse. At that time the new
Rev Thomas Burns
The emigrant railway
families sailed out from
NUMBER 26 of the 1
most visited KOSMOID& MAKERSwebpages