Denny Branch Railway

Stoneywood Branch Railway (SMR 1753)

Castlerankine Branch Railway (SMR 1722)

In 1860 the Denny Branch Railway which ended at Denny Station (NS 8128 8254) was extended under an Act of 1857 as a single line by the Scottish Central Railway 1.6km westward to the Stoneywood Goods Depot (NS 7985 8282).   The new yard had a goods shed, sidings, and a loading bank to serve the various paper mills in the area.  The line was on a continuous rising gradient of about 100ft from Denny Station to Stoneywood and the contractor was John Mackay.  Around 1890 the rails were taken across the Fintry Road into the Carrongrove Paper Mill (NS 7976 8286) the new line passing round the south side of the goods yard and reaching sidings at the mill via a level crossing on the B818. 

In 1888 a secondary line diverged off to the south near Stripeside (NS 8046 8252) to serve ironstone and coal collieries up the hill (Carronrigg Colliery at NS 7915 8169) and was called the Castlerankine Branch.  It was 1.5km long and the track climbed from 58m OD to 107m making running operations rather difficult and the drivers had no control of the brakes on the wagons.  It had many embankments made of ash and coal waste, in places perched on the steep slope of the valley of the Castlerankine Burn.  It only had a limited usage and lifetime but its substantial embankments, cutting and bridges can still be seen.

Illus 1: 1861/65 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Over the years these branch lines served the following commercial concerns:

Carronbank Iron Works sidingSteven & Co/ Steven & Wallace/Paul & MacLachlan0.08 mile
Custonhall Chemical Works sidingRobert Benny/Donald MacRae0.34
Carronrigg Colliery sidingA.G. Moore & Co.0.43
Herbertshire Colliery Pit No 2 (Stripeside) sidingRobert Adie & Sons0.45
Herbertshire Brickworks sidingCallendar Brick Co/ Cannerton Brick Co0.63
Stoneywood goods depot1.02
Carrongrove PapermillCarrongrove Paper Co1.03

A record of 1895 described the Carrongrove Paper Works:

The works cover an area of 27 acres and are admirably arranged and organised throughout.  Upwards of 250 hands are employed.  A siding from the Caledonian Railway runs right into the works, thus affording excellent facilities for transport purposes…” 

It remained the largest user of the Stoneywood branch for many years.

Just to the west of Denny Station the Stoneywood Branch (labelled as “Denny Branch Extension” on the 1865 Ordnance Survey map) crossed Glasgow Road by a level crossing which until the final closure of the line had two hand-operated gates.  John Mcnab spent some time in the goods office at Denny in 1959 and recalled that :

The Carrongrove Paper Company was still busy, so the Stoneywood branch received a great deal of wagon-load traffic, mainly consisting of esparto grass.  This emanated from Grangemouth or Granton, and these loaded trains would be propelled up to Carrongrove by the inevitable Caledonian Jumbo going flat out, as the Stoneywood Branch was uphill.  I would be called out to assist in the closing of the two crossing gates, one at a time, across the relatively busy main road, which was rather a daring task.  A three-lever frame next to the crossing needed to be manned and a lower quadrant signal sets lamp bracket and spectacle glasses long since missing) would be pulled-off and this action, with much shouting and arm waving from the staff, would set the train off to Carrongrove.  We closed the gates across the railway, and maintained them thus until we heard a whistle which indicated that the locomotive and empties were on their way back.  With the gates closed to road traffic once more, we pulled off the third lever of the frame, which operated the catch points on the down grade, and then the signal lever to pull off an equally ‘eyeless’ signal for the train to proceed across the road into the yard.  It was all even greater fun on dark, wet winter days.”

Illus 2: 1913/1918 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland) showing the Herbertshire Brickworks siding on the right, the Carronvale Goods Depot in the centre and the Carronvale Paper Mill on the top left.
Illus 3: Carrongrove Paper Mill looking north-west, c1910.

The Stoneywood Branch Railway also crossed the minor road from Stripeside to Garth by a level crossing near Hall, alongside a similar crossing for the spur leading into the Woodyet Pit.  On 15 May 1903 Mr McMillan was on his way to the pit office there when he was run down by an engine on the Stoneywood branch. He was laid flat between the rails and the engine, which was running tender first, passed over him.  The accident was unobserved by the engineman, but the pointsman saw McMillan being tumbled up by the brake gear under the engine, and the sight made him feel as if for the moment paralysed. 

Unloading the esparto grass at the paper mill was equally primitive.  In September 1945 Lachlan MacGregor died as the result of an accident when he was helping to unload a consignment of bales of grass from a railway wagon at Carrongrove Paper Mill and stepped back to get out of the way of a bale being lifted by a crane, falling 18ft (Stirling Observer 27 September 1945, 4).

Illus 4: Clearing up work after a serious fire in the esparto grass store in August 1913.

When picked up, Mr McMillan was in a dazed or somewhat semi-conscious condition, and blood flowed freely from a wound on the head.  The brake gear had apparently caught his trousers and one of his boots, as these were torn.  Besides a couple of wounds on the head, there were bruises on his thigh, legs and one of his feet.  He was conveyed home where he made a recovery.  It was thought that the wind had masked the noise of the approaching engine and caused him to avert his eyes (Falkirk Herald 20 May 1903).  Just two years later, in September 1905, Martin Hill, slater from Denny, was found near the same crossing in an insensible condition.  His skull had been cut open above the left eye (Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser 23 September 1905). 

Illus :5 Stoneywood Goods Depot looking east.

Just to the east of the Stripeside crossing was the junction with the Castlerankine Branch Railway.  This was particularly dangerous as it had a sharp bend at the foot of a steep hill (1 in 25 part of the way).  On 10 May 1892 an engine with a complement of 26 wagons loaded with coal was on its way from the Castlerankine Coal Pit to Denny, when a number of the brake “snibbles” snapped owing to the heavy load and the steep incline.  The driver lost control of the train, and it dashed onto the Stoneywood Branch at great speed heading for Denny Station. 

Thankfully, it was caught by the runaway points at Dryburgh.  These catch points were designed to divert the train onto a short side track ending in an artificial mound of earth and thus derail such runaways.  Here the engine became embedded in the embankment, and with the sudden halt, 16 of the wagons were smashed.  A couple of hundred yards before the points those in charge of the train, five in number, had sprung from the train and escaped with little injury.  Had it not been for the catch points (also mentioned in Macnab’s description above) the train would have smashed into the five o’clock passenger train which was nearing Denny Station at the time.

Not long afterwards, on 29 January 1904, a goods train went off the rails at the Stripeside level crossing. The train was coming from the Castlerankine Pit on the Castlerankine Branch Railway with a load of coal and had evidently picked up too much speed on the sharp descent.  It failed to take the sharp turn at the crossing and the engine swung nearly right across the rails, and the occupants were badly shaken, though only one of them suffered injury, a broken rib.  The couplings of the first wagon broke with the strain, and it and the next one, both full of dross, toppled over on their sides, and were badly smashed.  Three other wagons were also derailed but remained standing.  The accident stopped all traffic on the line for the day (Falkirk Herald 30 January 1904, 5).  By that date the lane to the level crossing had been closed and pedestrians used a nearby bridge instead.

Illus 6: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland). The Stripeside crossing had been closed.

Illus 7: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

On the forenoon of 20 October 1862, a serious accident did occur on the Stoneywood Branch when a luggage train collided with several ironstone trucks which had broken loose from their moorings at one of the pits near Stoneywood.  At the point where the collision took place there was a considerable curve upon the line, which prevented the engine-driver from perceiving the trucks approaching until they were within a few yards (presumably they were coming from the Castlerankine Branch) so that the train made contact with them before he had time to put off steam.  The trucks were thrown off the line and shattered.  One of the men on the engine was thrown from his place but escaped uninjured.  The whole damage was estimated at about £60 (Glasgow Herald 23 October 1862, 3).

Illus 8: Bridge over the Brewster Burn looking north.

The negligence of operations at the pit was highlighted just two days later when on the morning of 22 October 1862 another ironstone truck broke loose from a number of others which were lying at the Garth Pit and rattled along the branch leading towards Denny Railway Station.  In its course it smashed into the gates at the level crossing at Dryburgh, which were swept before it like chaff.  The truant truck was finally brought to a stand-still after it had passed the station (Glasgow Herald 23 October 1862, 3).

During the working life of the Stoneywood branch and its offspring to Castlerankine several other incidents were reported in the newspapers and are listed below in chronological order.  Some “accidents” were averted thanks to proper maintenance and some by chance.  In 1862 a serious incident occurred which involved sabotage.  A couple of cope stones were thrown from a bridge on the Stoneywood branch and placed upon the rails, with the evident intention of upsetting a train.  Fortunately, they were discovered and removed before the morning goods train came along the lines (Falkirk Herald 6 December 1862, 4).  It is therefore possible that the runway trucks mentioned above were also the result of industrial sabotage.  This, however, pales into insignificance compared to the use of dynamite at the Custonhall Chemical Works in 1914!

On the evening of 28 February 1889 a goods train left the metals on the Stoneywood Branch, but further than a lengthy blockage, little damage was done on that occasion (Falkirk Herald 2 February 1889, 6).

As was often the case, the line of the railway was used by a telegraph service and poles were set up along it.  The wires had to be maintained and in November 1939 a small team employed by the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company was engaged in the re-wiring of the telegraph poles on the Stoneywood Branch.  David McTaggart of Glasgow was amongst them.  When he was at the top of one of the poles, to which he was attached by a belt, as was customary during such operations, the pole broke at the base, and McTaggart was precipitated to the ground, with the pole on top of him.  After the pole had been removed he complained of a pain in the region of his stomach, but after a time he was able to proceed home by bus, accompanied by one of his workmates.  His condition subsequently became more serious, and necessitated his removal to the infirmary, where he died (Falkirk Herald 25 November 1939, 6).

Illus 9: The railway path looking east with Dryburgh Avenue on the left and the Station House on Glasgow Road beyond it.

The Castlerankine branch closed shortly after the Carronrigg Colliery, around 1906.  The Stoneywood Branch Railway and goods yard closed in 1971.  The site of the yard is now housing (Kirkland Drive) as is the site of the former Carrongrove Paper Mills which closed in 2005 (Redwood Drive, Corthie Court, and Stein Crescent).  Most of the track was lifted in 1972 and a footbridge which connected the Council housing at Kerr Place with that at Sinclair Crescent was removed at the same time.


Illus 11: The railway path going under the motorway.
Illus 10: The Nethermains Road underpass with the original stone abutments.

The line of the railway through Denny was acquired by Falkirk Council in the 1970s and much of it has been properly surfaced to provide a good quality path traversing the town from west to east.  Whilst neatly landscaped it still retains much of its character as a relatively straight well-engineered course.  The railway passed between the station house and the Town House, both of which are still present, and having crossed the Glasgow Road ran along the south side of Dryburgh Avenue.  The path makes a slight ascent and skirts a new housing estate where the Carronbank Foundry used to stand.  After 740m it reaches Nethermains Road (the Spine Road) which can be crossed by an underpass which reuses the masonry bridge abutment from the railway.

Another 100m on is the old stone-arched bridge over the Castlerankine or Brewster Burn.  Beyond that, provision was made when the motorway embankment was constructed to keep the railway open and here it is interesting to note the concrete baffles at either mouth.  Landscaping for the motorway removed most traces of the Stripeside Pit whose shaft lies under its line.  Emerging from this tunnel the Herbertshire Brickworks occupied the site of the modern housing at Knights Way and St John’s Gate.  The path continues to rise and skirts the north side of Cowden Hill before reaching Kirkland Drive and the recent housing development at the Carronvale Paper Mill site.  The renovated Carrongrove House (Glen Carron) is well worth a look – it was built by the mill owner in 1860.

Illus 13: Farm Bridge looking south.

Illus 12: Farm Bridge and Embankment north-east of Carronrigg Colliery looking north-west

By comparison, much of the northern end of the Castlerankine Branch has been eradicated and all of it is in private ownership.  At its south end glimpses of terracing may be observed in the woodland on the south side of the valley of the Castlerankine Burn and it emerges into the fields further west on a low embankment with two steel bridges with wooden decking supported by snecked rubble stone abutments (at NS 8046 8252 and NS 7915 8169).


Macnab, J.2010‘Out on a limb to the branches of Bonnybridge (Canal) and Denny,’ Steam Days.
Mitchell, I.c2019‘Denny’s Bygone Railways (2), The True Line 141, 9-15
Railscot  website

Geoff B Bailey, 2023