New images of Fort William-Mallaig railway construction in BBC documentary

A series of newly-published Victorian photographs chronicling the building of the final section of the West Highland line made famous by the Harry Potter films is to be featured by BBC ALBA on Hogmanay.

One of the recently-published images of the Fort William-Mallaig line under construction in 1900. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum

The pictures include portraits of nurses who cared for the many workers injured during the project between 1897 and 1901.

They were discovered in a collection of negatives at an auction in Cornwall in 2017 and are thought to have been taken by Thomas Malcolm McAlpine, a son of line builder Robert MacAlpine.

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He was badly hurt while supervising a rock blasting operation during the construction work.

Two of the nurses who cared for the hundreds of workers injured during construction of the line. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum

The documentary, Ceol na Loidhne (Song of the Track), to be broadcast at 9pm on Thursday, sees Glenfinnan-based musician Ingrid Henderson following the story of the photographs while composing an album in tribute to the railway builders.

It features the Glenfinnan viaduct, which attracts thousands of visitors a year because of its role in the Harry Potter film on the Hogwarts Express’s route to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The line, which extended the Glasgow-Fort William route to the fishing port of Mallaig, helped pioneer the use of concrete on a large scale, including for the viaduct and five others on the route.

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A group of injured workers. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum

Producer Annie Cheape, of Sgeul Media, said of the photographs: “Along with construction, they document the people working on the railway, and the dangerous conditions they encountered.

“These images reveal the faces of the nurses who tended the injured in makeshift field hospitals.

"They are smiling, look relaxed, happy and enjoying themselves.

"It’s unusual to see women of this period photographed in this informal way.”

The images were unearthed among a batch of negatives in an auction in Cornwall. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum

"Many hundreds [of workers] were injured while blasting through the rocks, most of them navvies from Ireland or the Scottish islands.”

The death toll is unknown but could run into hundreds, from blasting, crushing, falling and drowning incidents as well as from disease and hypothermia.

Ms Cheape said: “Many men were injured during the rock blasting, but alcohol was a huge problem too.

"Men died of hypothermia after drinking too much, or had accidents on Monday morning while still under the influence.

Navvies building the single-track line. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum

The photographs were published last month in a book, Building the Mallaig Railway – a photographer’s story, by Glenfinnan Station Museum curator Hege Hernaes.

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The images were published in a book last month. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum
Workers pose for a photograph aboard a construction locomotive. Picture: Glenfinnan Station Museum
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