Strabathie Light Railway
(Blackdog Light Railway; Murcar Railway)

The Strabathie Light Railway was not a tramway as such, but a 3.25-mile, 3ft 0ins-gauge industrial railway owned by the Seaton Brick and Tile Company Ltd; it ran from just north of Aberdeen (not far from the terminus of Aberdeen Corporation Tramways' Bridge of Don terminus), northwards to the company brick works near Blackdog. It was built to transport raw materials and finished products, as well as the company's workers. Steam-hauled services for workers commenced in 1900, and though workers were transported in ex-Aberdeen District Tramways Company horsecars, modified and re-gauged to 3ft 0ins, it was nevertheless still very much a railway rather than a tramway.

From the 5th June 1909, the company allowed members of the newly founded Murcar Links Golf Club, which was situated about half-way along the line, to use the railway services on Saturdays, the club being contractually obliged to provide an 'attendant', who also took the fares. From the 25th December 1909 however, the club took over services itself, operating them on weekdays and Saturdays using a petrol railcar, the driver-cum-attendant being an employee of the club.

Following several difficult years during the Great War, the golf club was voluntarily wound-up on the 27th December 1917; railcar services presumably ceased around this time. The club was reopened in March 1918 as the Murcar Golf Club, members without their own means of transport being reliant on the services of the Seaton Brick and Tile Company. The petrol railcar was put back into operation in March 1919, money thereafter flowing into the club's coffers for ferrying Royal Naval personal to the wireless station that had been set up at the club house.

The brick and tile company entered liquidation in August 1924, the golf club purchasing 1.75 miles of the company's track, and the land on which it stood, in the following November. Although a new railcar was purchased in 1932, and the permanent way was completely overhauled in 1933, the railway ran at a loss, its necessity being continually challenged. Perversely, the outbreak of the Second World War, and the advent of petrol rationing, as well as the closure of other golf clubs, allowed Murcar to stay open, more golfers using the railway, even though services were reduced.

The railway and the cars were put back into good order after the war, though the running costs remained a burden on the club, one that it eventually decided to divest itself of. The last services were withdrawn on the 30th June 1950, having effectively fallen victim to increasing car ownership.


Photographs of steam-hauled services have not survived, however, drivers would almost certainly have worn typical steam-footplate attire. The situation with respect to the use of conductors is unclear, as workers were carried free of charge, so if an individual was indeed tasked with overseeing loading and unloading, then his duties would have been more akin to those of a railway guard; if such a position ever existed, it is highly unlikely that the incumbent would have been provided with a uniform.

All surviving photographs from the golf club era (1909 onwards) bar one, show staff wearing informal attire (jackets, mufflers and the fashionable headgear of the day), the sole badge of office being a cash bag. The one exception is a photograph taken between 1919 and 1921, which shows a driver-cum-attendant wearing a uniform and a tensioned-crown peaked cap; closer inspector however, suggests that the uniform and cap were possibly military in origin, and devoid of insignia, perhaps a re-purposed Great War uniform or war surplus.

Given that drivers changed fairly frequently over the subsequent decades, buying a new uniform for each incumbent, for the limited services operated, would have made little financial sense.

I am indebted to Gordon Pirie for providing all the photos below, and for the background information.

Further reading
For a detailed history of this unique line, see Gordon Pirie's: 'The Strabathie Light Railway'; Railway Archive No 17, Lightmoor Press (2007).


Drivers and conductors
Strabathie Light Railway
A photo of Murcar Links Golf Club members, purportedly taken on the opening day, Saturday 5th June 1909. Although of poor resolution, it shows a figure (back row, right-hand end) who is wearing a cash-bag strap, and who is in all probability a train attendant (conductor), a post the club were contractually obliged to fill. Photo courtesy of Murcar Links Golf Club, with thanks to Gordon Pirie.

Strabathie Light Railway Thomas Sim and railcar
Driver-cum-attendant Thomas Sim, pictured at the railway's Bridge of Don terminus sometime between 1919 and 1921. Photo courtesy of the Sim family, with thanks to Gordon Pirie.

Strabathie Light Railway Thomas Sim
An enlargement of the above photograph showing Thomas Sim. He is wearing a smart uniform devoid of insignia, which looks suspiciously like a Great War army jacket and cap. This is the only photo depicting a uniform, which suggests that it was a one-off.

Strabathie Light Railway railcar driver
Railcar driver-cum-attendant — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s or 1940s. Apart from his cash bag, he is wearing informal attire (jacket, trousers and waistcoat). With thanks to Gordon Pirie.

Strabathie Light Railway Driver Jim Fiddes 1948
A photo of driver Jim Fiddes ringing his departure bell, in informal attire and without insignia of any kind. The photo was taken for a newspaper article, which appeared in October 1948, so doubtless Mr Fiddes had ample warning, and was therefore probably able to don his 'Sunday Best'. Photo courtesy of the Aberdeen Bon Accord and Northern Pictorial, with thanks to Gordon Pirie.

Strabathie Light Railway Driver Jim Fiddes 1948
Another shot of Mr Fiddes taken on the same day. Photo courtesy of the Aberdeen Bon Accord and Northern Pictorial, with thanks to Gordon Pirie.