Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

Sir Walter Scott
A caricature of Sir Walter,
 aged 73.

Walter Scott was born in 1826 at the Wheatsheaf Inn, Abbeytown, the second of six children. He education was minimal.

At fourteen, he was apprenticed to a mason and then found work with the Caledonian Railway. Railway work took him to Newcastle-on-Tyne where, in 1849, he established his own business as a builder and contractor. He specialised in large-scale contracts, mainly railway and dock construction.

Scott was engaged to build a printing factory for the Tyne Publishing Company, but the company failed in January 1882.

Although Scott had no experience in printing or publishing, he took over the business in lieu of payment for the factory.

He appointed David Gordon, a bookbinder, as general manager and the business prospered. The company was the first to publish Ibsen in English.

Building and contacting continued, with railway work still the mainstay. The company were responsible for building the new docks at Silloth which opened in 1885.

Silloth, new dock
A busy scene in the new dock at Silloth, built by Sir Walter's company.

Scott built the first deep underground ‘tube’ railway in London working alongside its engineer, James Greathead. The line was opened in November 1890 by Edward, Prince of Wales. It ran from King William Street, under the Thames, to Stockwell.

King William Street Station

Interior of an original tube carriage.
Poster for first tube line

At first, it used a system of cable haulage but this was soon abandoned and replaced by electric traction. The line became known as The Tuppeny Tube. The station at King William Street and the tunnels under the Thames were closed in 1900. The station was re-opened in 1940 and used as an air-raid shelter.

Scott's business interests widened and, before he died, he had a seat on the boards of at least eighteen companies including steelworks, coalmines and shipyards. He was a councillor and JP for Northumberland. He was created a Baronet in the king’s birthday honours for 1907.

Sir Walter's first wife died in 1890. He erected the magnificent East Window of Holm Cultram Abbey Church in her memory. He was later remarried to a widow, Helen Meikle.

He died, while on holiday, at Menton in France during April 1910. He left just over £1,424,000 – one of only fifteen true self-made millionaires in Britain before 1939. His company continued to build tube railways into the 1920s.

His own memorial at Abbeytown was the restored oak ceiling in the Abbey which, sadly, was completely destroyed in the fire of 2006.

The memorial tablets in Abbeytown Church to Sir Walter and his first wife and, on the left, all that remained of the oak ceiling after the fire of June, 2006.

version of this
The Story of King William Street Station and the City and South London Railway
More on the C&SLR with pictures from the old tunnels

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Sir Walter Scott, Civil Engineer