IN the 1890s engineers for the Edinburgh mad District Water Trust (EDWT) identified the area around the ancient loch at Talla in the hills above Tweedsmuir as an ideal site for a new reservoir to cater for the increasing demands of the expanding city of Edinburgh. The land was bought from the Trustees of the Earl of Wemyss and March Estates for the princely sum of £20,000. It was a big project, given the remoteness of the location so the only viable means of delivering the equipment. raw materials and men necessary to carry out the work was to build a railway.
There was a station in Broughton on the line originally built by the Symington, Biggar and Broughton Railway Company, by this time part of the Caledonian.
The work on the additional infrastructure was completed by 1896 including the upgrading of the original single platform Broughton station to three through platforms. Sidings, a shed and platform were built by the Talla Railway alongside the A701 south of Broughton near the Ford road. Workshops, offices and accommodation were erected at Mossfennan. The main contract for the project was awarded to James Young & Sons of Edinburgh who recruited a 300 strong workforce - including a large number of Irishmen. They set about the task with a vengeance.
Materials were brought by rail; stone and aggregates from quarries in North Queensferry and Craigleith; local whinstone from workings at Glenrusco on the east side of the Tweed. Pipes, valve gear and pumping equipment came from various mills and engineering firms in central Scotland. From the Carluke area came Puddle clay, the mix of clay, gravel and sand used to form a watertight seal and perfected by master canal builder James Brindley – over 100,000 tons in all. One alleged ‘extravagance’ came with the construction of the Tweed Viaduct, to carry the railway and water pipeline across the river at Glenrusco. The abutments were constructed from high quality granite obtained from the Della Casa quarry in Italy. The materials unloaded at the depot at Victoria Lodge were then moved up to the 30-acre construction site. This was done by means of a ‘Blondin’ - an overhead ropeway named after Charles Blondin, the Frenchman who had come to fame by walking a tightrope suspended across Niagara Falls.
On September 29th 1897, a stone-laying ceremony took place at the Talla terminus to mark the start of the construction of Victoria Lodge which would accommodate staff of the EDWT directly involved in overseeing the reservoir project, as well as providing a local headquarters, including boardroom, for use of the Trustees themselves, Members of the Trust, other worthies and guests v.'crc brought from Edinburgh on a special train dubbed ‘The Tweedsmuir Express’. Tile locomotive of the ‘Express’ was replaced at Biggar by two short-wheelbase tank engines for the section over what were described at the time as ‘curves of a rather sharp nature’ on the final leg to Victoria Lodge.
When James Young & Sons went bankrupt in 1899 the project was taken over by John Best of Leith. One of Best's most imaginative moves, which it is said helped considerably with his cash-flow situation, was the construction of a wooden platform alongside the locomotive watering facilities at Crook Siding. This was a short walk from another ‘watering facility’ - The Crook Inn, in which Best himself had taken a financial interest.
Events at The Crook Inn on Friday nights following the arrival of ‘The Paddy’ from Talla after the wages had been paid out can only be imagined. It was said that Best paid his workers their wages on a Friday and, by Monday, had most of the money back!
Unfortunately, there were many deaths. A memorial stone in Tweedsmuir churchyard was erected in memory of over 30 men who died in the progress of the Talla Water Works 1895-1905.