RICHARD CAIL was a remarkable engineer, responsible for giving visitors to Kynren an unforgettable backdrop and passengers on the East Coast Main Line an unmissable view.

But his family tree is even more amazing. It is a veritable rollercoaster ride down through the generations to a theme park and his great-great-great-great-niece whose financial acumen is responsible for the rebirth of Newcastle United.

The Northern Echo: Newcastle director Amanda Staveley on the pitch at half-time during the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture date: Monday May 16, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Newcastle. Photo credit should read: OwenAmanda Staveley, of Newcastle United

Richard was born in Gateshead in 1812 and set himself up as a builder when he was 20, cheaply importing timber and stone from Aberdeen.

Then he hitched his wagon to the railway revolution and he was awarded the contract to build three wooden viaducts to the east of Durham on the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway in the early 1840s. The longest of these primitive-looking affairs, designed by Robert Stephenson, was the Sherburn Viaduct, 660ft long and 80ft above a beck, on the very first stretch of mainline.

The Northern Echo: Sherburn timbver viaductSherburn Viaduct, made of timber, with Durham cathedral behind

However, timber was not the future, and in the 1850s, Cail teamed up with Thomas Elliot Harrison, the North Eastern Railway’s chief engineer, to build in stone.

As our special railways edition (Memories 655) told, his biggest project was in the mid 1850s connecting Bishop Auckland with Durham City, which featured two fabulous stone viaducts. Both were designed by Harrison, but the construction of both tested Cail’s ingenuity to the limit.

The Northern Echo: An amazing picture, perhaps from 1856 and showing the North Eastern Railway chief engineer Thomas Harrison standing beneath his newly opened 11 arched viaduct at Bishop Auckland, that took the railway to Durham via Relly Mill. In the background is theThis is believed to be designer Thomas Elliott Harrison and builder Richard Cail beneath the 11 Arches viaduct at Bishop Auckland on the line into Durham

At Bishop, there was the 11 arch Newton Cap Viaduct, 828ft long and 105ft above the riverbed of the Wear, although such was the unstable nature of the ground that its foundations were sunk a further 20ft into the riverbed. This viaduct now carries a road and gives its name to the 11 Arches home of the Kynren nightshow.

At Durham, there was a second 11 arch viaduct, 790ft long and 100ft above Flass Vale, and curving gracefully into the city station.

Flass Vale was a notoriously boggy area. To conquer it, Richard had to hammer six huge timber piles into the ground to give stability to each of the stone pillars. It took 18 months – and the life of one carpenter who fell to his death – to achieve.

The Northern Echo: John North - Durham viaduct

This viaduct (above) still it carries the East Coast Main Line (the timber piles, though, were replaced by concrete in the 1940s), and the view from it across to the cathedral is one of the great railway sights in the country – the Queen Mother always instructed the royal train to slow when it crossed the viaduct so she could take in the dramatic panorama.

After such a triumph, Cail moved from railways into water: his engineering skills rescued an initiative to build the Whittle Dene reservoir to the west of Newcastle. It was actually a series of linked reservoirs but it had juddered to a stop as a 3,887 yard tunnel beneath a hill was needed to connect the reservoirs. Richard employed up to 300 men to get the tunnel completed and the water flowing.

He became a Newcastle councillor, was twice mayor of the city, and had numerous business interests, including promoting the construction of the first Redheugh Bridge over the Tyne.

On October 18, 1893, he presented a paper to a town council meeting about his idea of bringing water from Lake Ullswater into Newcastle to cater for the growing population. As he finished, he felt ill, but still drove home where he died, aged 81, two hours later. In his will, he left instructions for his last construction project: a four ton block of granite in the shape of a fallen tree to be placed over his grave in Jesmond Old Cemetery.

Fabulous genealogy work by our regular contributor Billy Mollon, of Framwellgate Moor, shows that Richard Cail had a younger brother, Septimus. Septimus had a son called Henry who had a daughter called Nancy who married Captain William Arthur Miles Staveley, of the Green Howards, whose family had farmed at North Stainley, near Ripon, for centuries.

The Northern Echo: adrian popeThe Ultimate at Lightwater Valley

In the late 1960s, Nancy’s son, Robert, opened the family farm to the public to pick their own fruit. From there, children’s attractions were developed – a lake, BMX bikes, go karts – until in 1987, it reopened as Lightwater Valley with the world’s only subterranean rollercoaster, the Rat Ride, as its main feature.

After adding the 1.2 mile long Ultimate, the world’s longest rollercoaster, in 1991, Robert handed the theme park to his children, Amanda and James. Amanda Staveley was already a very successful businesswoman in her own right, with connections in the Middle East. In 2021, she helped a Saudi Arabian consortium take over Newcastle United. She became a director and the Magpies themselves embarked on a rollercoaster ride which has taken them to the top league of European football.

The Northern Echo: File photo dated 10-11-2021 of Newcastle club director Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) with newly appointed Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe. Newcastle's new owners celebrate a year in charge at St James' Park on Friday.Newcastle club director Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) with newly appointed Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe

However, the question remains: upon which would you rather ride, the Ultimate, built by Robert Staveley, or the Durham Viaduct, built by his great-great-great-uncle, Richard Cail?