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Birmingham and Henley in Arden Railway Company

The Birmingham and Henley in Arden Railway Company was a GWR inspired initiative to take over the abandoned embankments and infrastructure partially completed under a previous railway initiative dating from 1861. The earlier railway had been conceived as a mixed gauge line but work on the railway stopped due to the lack of funding when only half of the line was complete. Whilst the Birmingham and Henley in Arden Railway Company's branch line commenced at Rowington and terminated at Henley in Arden, a distance of some three and a quarter miles, local passenger services actually started from the Great Western Railway's Kingswood station (renamed Lapworth in 1902). Rowington Junction was located one mile fifty chains south of Lapworth née Kingswood station. The Act of Incorporation of the Henley in Arden and Great Western Junction Railway Act occurred on 5th August 1873. Other particulars included 'Henley in Arden and Great Western Junction Railway (Revival of Powers Act dated 23rd June 1884, the name of the Company was changed to the Birmingham and Henley in Arden Railway Company. The line was worked by the Great Western Railway Company under an Agreement dated 4th August 1888 which was confirmed by the Great Western Railway Act dated 12th August 1889. The Railway was amalgamated with the GWR on 1st July 1900 under the auspices of the Great Western Railway Act of 30th July 1900, a month before the GWR also took over the Birmingham and North Warwickshire Railway Company, both being part of its strategy to open a new main line to the West of England.. Whilst the contemporary notice advertising the opening of the line (as seen in 'gwrha2786') states that passenger services commenced on 6th June 1894 with goods traffic commencing on 2nd July 1894, Gale's Official List for the GWR states that the line officially opened on the latter date, the 2nd July 1894.

When the North Warwickshire Railway was opened, a spur 50 chains in length from the new railway was built to connect the new line with the original station's goods yard and shed. From 1st July 1908 the North Warwickshire Railway became the the principal route for passenger services from Birmingham and consequently the new line made the branch superfluous for both passenger and goods services. Although the original station had closed to passengers when the new station opened, some services from Rowington were retained but these now terminated at the new station. The limited passenger service from Lapworth continued until the branch closed to passengers from 22nd March 1915* and to goods during the following year (with a formal closure date of 1st January 1917). The gradients on the line were noted as being heavy resulting in a maximum speed limit of 20 mph with a further speed restriction of 10 mph from the 2¼ Mile Post into Henley in Arden station. Presumably the driver of the tank engine seen in the images 'gwrha669' and 'gwrha669a' did not obey the instruction. Other restrictions on the line included: trains restricted to be hauled by tank locomotives (although this was lifted by 1916 when goods only trains were running - see image gwrha2795'); the maximum loading for mixed trains to be restricted to three coaches, six wagons and a brake van; a maximum load of ten six-wheeled vehicles; and a warning whistle to be sounded in the cutting before Henley in Arden in order to warn the public using the level crossing.

The journey took thirteen minutes and there were no other stations on the line although there has been speculation (see below) as to whether two halts were created, one at Rowington Junction and another at Lowsonford, for a brief period. With the exception of a short siding at Rowington Junction and the spur to Henley in Arden goods yard, the line was taken up in May and June 1917, intended for use behind the trenches in France. Unfortunately it was never used as the ship carrying them sank in the English Channel. The original terminus station was converted as accommodation for the station master whilst the goods yard and shed continued to be used as the town's goods depot. According to the article in Great Western Railway Journal No 11 powers to formally abandon the line were granted by the GWR Act 1935. Trains using the goods yard now accessed it from the North Warwickshire Line by reversing part of the way until they had arrived at the set of points installed in order for the train to move forward into the yard - see image 'gwrha2769'. The yard was closed for rail-borne movements from 5th November 1962 [BR WR Midlands Division Birmingham District Freight Train Notice No. TF 152 dated 29th October 1962] - the depot continued to be used for road-borne movements of smaller items until 31st December 1962 when it finally closed.

* Richard Maund writes, 'I have done some delving at The National Archives and can now state - on the strength of the GWR Passenger Train Alterations Committee minutes and GWR working timetable supplement (RAIL 271/4 and RAIL 937/116 respectively) - that the passenger service over this line was not withdrawn until 22nd March 1915. Unfortunately, secondary sources until now have erroneously given the withdrawal date as 1st January 1915.'

Lapworth Station [66]
Rowington Junction[14]
Henley in Arden (Birmingham and Henley in Arden Railway Company) [18]
Terminus Station [40]
Engine Shed [6]
Henley in Arden Station (North Warwickshire Railway) [46]

Painting of a contractor's 0-4-0ST locomotive being driven up the High Street to the B&HRC terminus station
Ref: gwrha2818
RS Carpenter
Painting of a contractor's
0-4-0ST locomotive being driven up the High Street to the B&HRC terminus station
View of the 22 feet 6 inch long girder bridge carrying the branch line over the Stratford-on-Avon canal one third of mile from Rowington Junction
Ref: gwrha1379
J Whybrow Ltd
The girder bridge carrying the branch over the Stratford-on-Avon canal just under ½ mile from Rowington Junction
View looking towards Rowington Junction showing the end of the forty chain double siding
Ref: gwrha2798
R Ferris
View looking towards Rowington Junction showing the end of the forty chain double siding
View of the abandoned track in the cutting at Lowsonford with Potato Lane bridge in distance on 3rd March 1961
Ref: gwrha2787
R King
View of the abandoned track in the cutting at Lowsonford with Potato Lane bridge in distance on 3rd March 1961
An elevated view of the abandoned branch line looking in the direction of Henley in Arden some forty plus years after the track had been lifted
Ref: gwrrj260
P Hopkins
An elevated view of the abandoned branch line looking in the direction of Henley in Arden

An unidentified King Class locomotive passes Rowington Junction with a down express on 3rd March 1961
Ref: gwrrj2772
R King
An unidentified King Class locomotive passes Rowington Junction with a down express on 3rd March 1961
GWR Banana Van converted from a 10 ton covered Wagon telegraph code 'Mink' stored at Rowington Junction
Ref: gwrrj2765
P Garland
GWR Banana Van converted from a 10 ton covered Wagon telegraph code 'Mink' stored at Rowington Junction
View of the stop blocks at the Henley in Arden end of the sidings looking south-westwards Finwood Road overbridge
Ref: gwrha3221
R Maund
The stop blocks at the Henley in Arden end of the sidings looking south-westwards to Finwood Rd overbridge
A low resolution version ofthe Signalling Diagram for Rowington Junction Signal Box in 1912
Ref: gwrrj2248
SRS
A low resolution version ofthe Signalling Diagram for Rowington Junction Signal Box in 1912

Copy of the front page of the 1884 Act of Parliament which revised previously granted powers
Ref: gwrha2785
Rowington Records
Copy of the front page of the 1884 Act of Parliament which revised previously granted powers
A notice advertising the opening of the route from Kingswood to Henley in Arden on 6th June 1894
Ref: gwrha2786
Rowington Records
A notice advertising the opening of the route from Kingswood to Henley in Arden on 6th June 1894
The working timetable for May 1899 which shows not only passenger services but mixed passenger and goods services
Ref: gwrha2788
Richard Maund
The working timetable for May 1899 which shows not only passenger services but mixed passenger and goods services
The Sunday working timetable for July 1907 also shows the restrictions placed on the services operating the branch
Ref: gwrha2789
Richard Maund
The Sunday working timetable for July 1907 also shows the restrictions placed on the services operating the branch
The working timetable for July 1904 which shows passenger services, mixed services and goods services
Ref: gwrha2794
R Ferris
The working timetable for July 1904 which shows passenger services, mixed services and goods services

The working timetable for week days in July 1916 showing no passenger services only goods services
Ref: gwrha2795
R Ferris
The working timetable for week days in July 1916 showing no passenger services only goods services
Copy of the official dates for incorporation etc as given in Gale's Official List for the GWR
Ref: gwrha2796
R Ferris
Copy of the official dates for incorporation etc as given in Gale's Official List for the GWR
A page from the March 1929 Appendix to the STT regarding working of goods trains to Henley in Arden
Ref: gwrha2796
R Ferris
A page from the March 1929 Appendix to the STT regarding working of goods trains to Henley in Arden
The 1859 Ordnance Survey Map showing the proposed route of the Rowington to Henley Branch Line
Ref: gwrha2784
Rowington Records
The 1859 Ordnance Survey Map showing the proposed route of the Rowington to Henley Branch Line
The 1872 Ordnance Survey Map showing the proposed route of the Rowington to Henley Branch Line
Ref: gwrha2781
Rowington Records
The 1872 Ordnance Survey Map showing the proposed route of the Rowington to Henley Branch Line

The 1901 Ordnance Survey Map showing the actual route of the Henley Branch Line from Rowington
Ref: gwrha2785
Richard Maund
The 1901 Ordnance Survey Map showing the actual route of the Henley Branch Line from Rowington
The 1859 Ordnance Survey map for the Rowington end of the branch line to Henley in Arden
Ref: gwrha2782
Rowington Records
The 1859 Ordnance Survey map for the Rowington end of the branch line to Henley in Arden
The 1859 Ordnance Survey map showing the last two miles of the approach of the branch line to Henley in Arden
Ref: gwrha2783
Rowington Records
The 1859 Ordnance Survey map showing the last two miles of the approach of the branch line to Henley in Arden
Another extract from the ‘Great Western Railway Regulations for Train Signalling on Double and Single Lines’
Ref: misc_equip250
Great Western Railway
Another extract from the ‘GWR Regulations for Train Signalling on Double and Single Lines’

Were there Halts on the Rowington Junction to Henley in Arden branch line?

The following is derived from the website 'Rail Chronology' with full permission of Richard Maund.

Richard writes, 'The question arises, every so often, as to whether or not there were two halts on this, the Great Western's original branch line to Henley in Arden, which is generally accepted as having opened in 1894 - on 6th June for passengers, on 2nd July for goods'.

The claims that halts existed at Rowington Junction and Lowsonford rest on the following:

  • a letter from Paul S Boness in Railway Magazine, November 1968, p. 675*
  • a query in Railway Magazine, November 2000, p. 45 - "it has long been alleged locally that a halt existed at Lowsonford" which was answered by the late Ralph Rawlinson in the June 2001 issue, p. 29, stating that it did exist, but closed when the line was extended in 1908
  • J V G Butt’s much derided work, The Directory of Railway Stations, which includes Lowsonford Halt (opened 6th June 1894, closed 30th June 1908) but not Rowington.

Ralph Rawlinson, when asked to provide provenance for his assertion, said: 'My letter to the [Railway Magazine] was posted soon after I obtained a book on the Henley-in-Arden branch/GWR lines in Warwickshire from the British Library but I no longer have the title or author.' All in all, the pro side of the argument is pretty thin gruel.

The arguments against the existence of these halts are:

  • Charles Clinker’s very detailed Chronology of the Railways of the West Midlands (1953) ignores them (he lived in the county at the time of its compilation)
  • in a letter in Railway Magazine, February 1969, p. 104, he wrote: “I am interested to read Mr Boness' statement in your November issue (page 675) that there were halts at Lowsonford and Rowington Junction because, after careful research some years ago, I dismissed this as myth. There is no evidence in any contemporary working instructions, timetables or maps of the existence of these halts, neither were they marked on the engineer's two-chain plan. Could Mr Boness please quote contemporary evidence to back up his statement? - C.R.CLINKER, Padstow, Cornwall”. Nothing further from Mr. Boness appeared in Railway Magazine
  • the Great Western's public and working timetables for the whole period in question (available at the National Archives, Kew in the RAIL 936 and RAIL 937 series, respectively) fail to mention the "halts".
  • Ordnance Survey large scale maps of 1905 (1:2500) and 1906 (1:10560), which show every signal post and mile post, carry not a whiff of any halt at the road underbridges at Lowsonford or Rowington Junction [these maps can be consulted at the Old Maps website, using coordinates 418600 268200 (Lowsonford) and 419300 269000 (Rowington Junction)].
  • railway historian T.R. Perkins, who lived in Henley in Arden and who travelled on the line, referred to it in the Railway Magazine on three occasions (February 1908, p. 118, September 1928, p. 234, and April 1937, pp. 297-9) and made no mention of any intermediate stopping place(s).
  • they do not appear in the Railway Clearing House's 1904 edition of its Handbook of Stations.

As an example, the GWR working timetable for May 1899 (RAIL 937/70) shows absolutely no evidence to support halts at either place. The services at this period were worked by "trains" (as opposed to "rail motors"), with most shuttling to and from Kingswood (now known as Lapworth) but some running through to or from farther afield: the 7:35am and 7:00pm Kingswood came from Birmingham, the 3:40pm Sundays from Wolverhampton. The 7:55am from Henley ran through to Dudley, the 7:20pm and 8:05pm Sundays to Wolverhampton. Hardly the sort of stock to be picking up or setting down at platform-less locations. The Sunday service was worked by a light engine from Leamington (reversing at Rowington Junction) and, after working one round trip, continued to Bordesley Junction. The notation CS at Rowington Junction showed that the single line train staff was taken up or set down at the signal box, but that no traffic stop was to be made.

While it must be clear that no halts or platforms ever existed, it is more difficult to disprove than to prove the existence of informal stopping places. Had either of the locations sported a level crossing that task would have been much more difficult, but at both prospective locations the railway was on a rail over road bridge, so readers can judge for themselves the likelihood of the GWR stopping casually to pick up prospective passengers who had scrambled through the boundary fence and up the embankment side. Frankly, as one who once hailed from that part of the world, I am quite certain these halts are a relatively recent (sub-)urban myth - although I remain curious as to why such myth should have come into existence.

Richard Maund

This article is based on material which originally appeared as paragraphs in Railway and Canal Historical Society Railway Chronology Group Coordinating Newsletter no. 58, April 2009 and 59, July 2009.

Postscript

* Paul Boness has subsequently contacted us (48 years after his letter was published in the Railway Magazine) and writes, 'I have just seen a reference to a letter I wrote to the Railway Magazine in 1968 on your website. I would just like to set the record straight: I did provide the Railway Magazine with my source in a subsequent letter, but it was never published.

The source of my information on possible halts at Rowington Junction and Lowsonford was a Mr Ben Taylor, a resident of Lapworth, now long deceased. He told me quite firmly and convincingly that he was taken to Lowsonford by train as a child. He also stated that a stop was made at Rowington Junction.'

In response to the above by Paul Boness, Richard Maund writes, 'I see that you have published a note from Paul Boness; he wrote me in similar terms (although he did not specify his source's name), and I responded as follows:

'The Great Western - where it opened halts - was always very keen to publicise them in their public timetable, unless they were purely for some war time factory (that did not, of course, apply here) - although in the latter case they were always included in the working timetables. As I have stated, no intermediate halt appeared in any GWR public or working timetable for the whole period of the branch's life, nor did any record of any such facility appear on GWR engineering records. It is clear, therefore, that there were no official intermediate stopping places on the branch. I also comment, in my webpage, on the (relative) impracticability of accessing track-side which would have made use as an unofficial stopping place difficult, while acknowledging that it would be impossible to prove that no-one was ever unofficially set down - perhaps even your late "elderly resident". That, however, would not qualify as an official halt or stopping place. I'm afraid Lowsonford and Rowington have to remain in the "urban myth" category.'

Robert Ferris writes, 'My personal opinion is that there is insufficient evidence for any halts on the branch. I believe there has been a suggestion that the Rowington stop was to pick up the single line staff and the 'CS' reference on the Working Time Table (WTT) would support this). The relevant page from the Winter 1906 Working Time Table shows, like the other WTTs already on the website, there are no references of additional halts.'

N.B. A Working Time Table (WTT) is the rail industry's version of the public timetable. It shows ALL movements on the railway(s) including freight trains, empty trains and those coming in and out of depots, etc. It also includes any identification codes for each train, and intermediate times for journeys, including which stations a train is not scheduled to stop at. 'Its important to note this document should NOT be confused with the passenger timetable which only provides the times of trains arriving and/or departing from stations'.

The Great Western Railway's Winter 1906 Working Time Table for the Lapworth to Henley in Arden branch line
Ref: gwrha3192
R Ferris
The Great Western Railway's Winter 1906 Working Time Table for the Lapworth to Henley in Arden branch line