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GWR Routes

The Great Western Railway in Warwickshire

The history of the Great Western Railway in Warwickshire was, like the London Midland Railway, a story of competing independent railway companies which over time became the GWR. Robert Ferris traces the origins of the company from the early days of railways in the county to its last days of independence when on 31st December 1947 it became the Western Division of British Railways.

Use the map to see the GWR's routes in Warwickshire.

Use the links below to access the following sections on this page.

Through the Window - Paddington to Birkenhead
Ref: gwr-misc1819
Great Western Railway
Summer 1915 map of GWR Lines and Stations in the Birmingham and District Area

Broad Gauge Plans and Politics

The first Great Western Railway Line in Warwickshire could have been the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway. This together with the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway (CGWU) and Bristol and Gloucester Railway (BGR) formed a through route from Birmingham to Bristol. These later two railways linked to the Great Western Railway at Bristol and Swindon respectively and both were to be constructed as broad gauge railways. Furthermore the CGWU which was to build the important link between the other two railway companies, from Cheltenham to Standish Junction (south of Gloucester) was in debt to the Great Western and eventually purchased by them in July 1843. Already owning the middle section the Great Western Railway was somewhat arrogant in its negotiations with the other two companies and when the Midland Railway made a better offer, they accepted and this trunk route was absorbed into the Midland railway on 3rd August 1846. The Great Western Railway had been outmaneuvered and humiliated.

The opening of the Great Western Railway broad gauge branch line from Didcot to Oxford on 12th June 1844 set the scene for another possible northwards expansion of the broad gauge into the industrial heart of Victorian England. Mining and manufacturing interests in the West Midlands wanted another railway route to the capital to compete with the “monstrous monopoly” of the London and Birmingham Railway (L&B), who were seen as unreliable, uncooperative and expensive. The alternative was the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWW), a new broad gauge route, which would link at Oxford, with the Great Western Railway and at Wolverhampton, with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR). The GJR operated between Lancashire and Birmingham and were also looking for an independent route to the capital. The Great Western Railway agreed to support the OWW and once completed, to lease the line for 999 years.

At the same time that the Great Western Railway was supporting the OWW with a route to the North-west of Oxford, it was also looking North-east and promoted a second broad gauge line from Oxford to Rugby, where it intended to link to the Midland Counties Railway. The parliamentary bills authorising construction of these two lines were hotly contested (particularly by supporters of the L&B, but also by others who feared the extension of the broad gauge may jeopardise their railway investments). The one narrow gauge railway which supported these two new broad gauge lines was the GJR, who wrote to their shareholders explaining that “the directors have ascertained the perfect practicality of adding the Broad Gauge on the Grand Junction at a very reasonable cost”. Both new broad gauge lines received their Royal Ascent on 4th August 1845, although a provision was included that narrow gauge rails must also be laid down on certain sections if required by the Board of Trade.

The Great Western Railway had won the parliamentary battle for these two lines, but their opponents had managed to have set up a Royal Commission to investigate the Gauge Question. The eventual result of this commission was a halt to broad gauge expansion and after 1846 no more broad gauge lines were authorised by Parliament, outside the area already served by existing broad gauge railways.

Neither of these two new broad gauge lines from Oxford served Warwickshire, but the GJR now suggested that a branch line from their Curzon Street terminus in Birmingham to Fenny Compton on the Oxford & Rugby Railway should also be built. This would provide another possible route to London in addition to that via the connection with the OWW at Wolverhampton. When in the following year the GJR and L&B patched up their differences and amalgamated to form the LNWR, the Great Western Railway continued to promote this branch and in the absence of the broad gauge rails on the GJR, to extend it further to join the OWW near Wolverhampton. The three bills for this broad gauge line received Royal Ascent together on 3rd August 1846. They were the Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway, Birmingham Extension Railway and Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway. The OWW initially supported the Great Western Railway’s plan, but soon realised that these new lines would be directly competing with the OWW for the same traffic.

Relationships were further strained with the economic crisis of 1846, when the Great Western Railway refused to underwrite the escalating costs of the OWW construction and in 1849 work on the construction of the OWW had to be stopped due to lack of funds. When the slump finally ended the following year the OWW declared independence from the broad gauge camp and started to look for other allies.

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Railway Construction and Gauge Conversion

The first railway of the future Great Western Railway system in Warwickshire was the Stratford to Moreton tramway, which had opened on 5th September 1826 and had been subsequently extended by the opening on 11th February 1836 of a branch from Longdon Road to Shipston-on-Stour. It had been authorised as a horsedrawn tramway and a Parliamentary Act would be required to allow the use of locomotives. This tramway crossed the route of the Oxford Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway (OWW) at Moreton and therefore in 1847, this company decided to lease it as a branch. The OWW main line opened on 4th June 1853 and six years later, on 11th July 1859, the OWW opened its own Stratford branch from Honeybourne to Sanctuary Lane in Stratford-upon-Avon. This resulted in the Longdon Road to Stratford section of the tramway becoming superfluous, but although the track was lifted for scrap in 1918, this section of the tramway was only officially abandoned on 4th August 1926 (see 'gwrlr812'). In the 1880s the remainder of the tramway was reconstructed by the Great Western Railway and following two Parliamentary Acts in 1882 and 1884, became a proper railway able to use locomotives or other mechanical power.

The nominally independent Oxford & Rugby Railway was absorbed by the Great Western Railway on 14th May 1846 and a single track broad gauge line was built to Banbury and opened on 2nd September 1850. The line was continued to the proposed junction with the Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway at Knightcote (2 miles north of Fenny Compton), but of the remaining route to Rugby, only a quarter of a mile embankment north east from Knightcote was ever constructed. In 1848, the Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway was also absorbed by the Great Western Railway, but only after an expensive legal battle to stop the LNWR taking control. On 1st October 1852, Great Western Railway trains were running from Oxford through Banbury and Leamington to what became known as Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. The track between Banbury and Birmingham was built as double track and mixed gauge in accordance with parliamentary requirements. At the same time the line between Oxford and Banbury was also reconstructed as a double mixed gauge line.

The authorised route of the Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway was to the old GJR terminus at Curzon Street and although this connection was no longer required, a brick arched viaduct was constructed for the line. Today, sections of the unused Duddeston viaduct still straddle Bordesley as a reminder of the changing allegiances and rivalries between the original Railway Companies (see 'gwrbg671'). At this point the main line is actually the Birmingham Extension Railway, which was authorised to construct the short section between a junction at Adderley Street (now Bordesley Station) on the Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway and a new joint station with the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway at Livery Street in the centre of Birmingham. Prior to February 1858, this station was referred to as Livery Street or Great Charles Street, but from that date the station was officially known as Snow Hill. In 1859 a journey from Birmingham to London on the Great Western Railway took 2 hours and 50 minutes, 10 minutes quicker than the rival LNWR service. The original Snow Hill station was a temporary affair with wooden structures, but this was rebuilt in 1871 and the original station roof was reused at Didcot as a carriage shed (see 'gwrbsh69'). The line to the south of the station ran through a deep open cutting before reaching a tunnel. This cutting was roofed over in 1874 to provide valuable retail space and a grand shopping arcade following the line of the tunnel was erected in 1876.

On 14th November 1854, the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway had reached Priestfield. This was the junction with the OWW, over which the Great Western Railway had running rights to Wolverhampton. Two months before, on 1st September 1854 the Birmingham & Shrewsbury and Chester & Shrewsbury Railways amalgamated with the Great Western Railway and this had brought 80 miles of narrow gauge track from Wolverhampton to Chester, via Shrewsbury. The final link from Paddington to the Mersey was provided, when the Chester and Birkenhead Railway came into the joint ownership of the Great Western Railway in 1860. Soon the third rail was extended south of Oxford to Paddington and on 1st October 1861 standard gauge trains commenced running through Birmingham to the Mersey.

The Great Western Railway main line to Birmingham and the North sprouted several branches along its length. The first branch in Warwickshire was the Stratford-upon-Avon Railway from Hatton which opened as a mixed gauge single line on 10th October 1860. The section between Bearley and Stratford closely followed the Stratford Canal which was sold to the Great Western Railway in 1856. The Stratford-upon-Avon Railway was nominally independent but all trains were owned and operated by the Great Western Railway. By this time the OWW had grown to become the West Midland Railway and relationships with the Great Western Railway had improved. Significantly on 24th July 1861, the single line Stratford branches of the two companies were linked together forming a through line with trains running from Worcester to Leamington. The Stratford-upon-Avon Railway eventually amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 20th August 1883.

Finally on 1st August 1863, the rift with the OWW was healed when the Great Western Railway amalgamated with the West Midland Railway and the addition of a further 280 miles of narrow gauge track made conversion from broad gauge inevitable. Thus on 1st April 1869, the 80 miles of mixed gauge line between Oxford and Wolverhampton and also the 10 mile Stratford branch was the first large section of Great Western Railway track to be converted to the standard gauge. Over the next twenty years all the remaining Great Western Railway broad gauge track was converted, with the last lengths in Cornwall eventually changed on 23rd May 1892.

On 4th September 1876, the Alcester Railway, a secondary branch to Alcester from Bearley on the Stratford-upon-Avon Railway was opened and on 22nd July 1878 it was jointly vested in the Great Western Railway and Stratford-upon-Avon Railway. The final Warwickshire branch was the Henley-in-Arden Railway, which had languished when funds ran out in 1866. After several unsuccessful attempts this 3 mile branch to Henley-in-Arden from Rowington was eventually revived and completed as the Henley-in-Arden & Great Western Junction Railway on 6th June 1894 (see 'gwrrj264a' & gwrha655).

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Into the Golden Age

Broad gauge conversion had resulted in the time to travel from London to Birmingham increasing. Prior to conversion the 129.5 mile trip from Paddington had taken 2 hours 50 minutes, but after conversion, in 1870, the fastest train took 3 hours 20 minutes. This was woefully slower than the LNWR competition and these were dark days for the Great Western Railway as it struggled to economise following the expenses of amalgamations, gauge conversion and the construction of the Severn Tunnel.

Slowly Great Western Railway Warwickshire's Lines saw improvements to the train timetable through the county. On 1st July 1880 a new prestige express service was introduced. This left Paddington at 4:45pm for Wolverhampton with connections onto Birkenhead. It was unofficially called the ‘Afghan’ or sometimes the ‘Northern Zulu’ to differentiate it from the Zulu express to the West of England, which had been introduced the previous year. It was hauled by one of the 7-foot singles (2-2-2 locomotive) of the Queen class and despite the normal heavy load of nine eight wheeled coaches it averaged 49 mph on its non stop journey to Oxford, where three of the coaches were detached for Worcester.

To decrease journey times between Paddington and Birmingham, water toughs were constructed at strategic positions on the route. In October 1899, the 560 yard water toughs near Rowington Junction were constructed on a level section of track. These water toughs allowed water to be scooped up directly into the tender, which meant that there was no longer any need for engines to stop at intermediate stations to replenish their water supply and this enabled non-stop express running (see gwrrj262). The first non-stop express services to Birmingham commenced in 1901 and the fastest time recorded in that year was 143 minutes for the 129.3 miles (an average speed of 54.2 mph).

To facilitate more non-stop expresses between Paddington and Birmingham, while maintaining an equally fast service to the principle stations on route required the introduction of slip coaches. These coaches were positioned at the rear of the express and coupled with special apparatus that allowed a Slip Guard (who rode in the slip coach) to disconnect the coach from the main portion of the train. This slipping operation took place just prior to the desired station and the slip coach then travelled under its own momentum with the Slip Guard regulating the speed with the coach's modified vacuum brake gear until it finally was stopped at the station. Slip coach operation broke the fundamental safety rule that there must never be more than one train in a block section. Special identification lamps were therefore carried on the rear of both the slip coach and the main train.

In Warwickshire slip coaches were detached at Leamington, Warwick, Knowle and Hatton Junction (see 'gwrhj107'). The majority of these services were destined for Stratford-upon-Avon; on Birmingham to Paddington trains (up) the slip coaches were detached at Hatton, the Stratford branch junction, but on Paddington to Birmingham trains (down) the slip coaches for Stratford were detached at Leamington, prior to the steep climb up Hatton Bank. This had the advantage of reducing the number of coaches that the express train had to haul up the incline.

There was a steady increase in the number of slip arrangements, but the number of slip operations peaked just prior to the First World War and never again recovered:

Location 1885 1902 1910 1914 1922
Leamington (down) 1 2 3 5 1
Knowle (down) 1 1 1 1 0
Knowle (up) 1 0 0 0 0
Hatton Junction (up) 3 5 6 3 0
Warwick (up) 1 2 2 1 0
Total 7 10 12 9 1

In tandem with the service acceleration, the passenger's facilities were also improved; firstly with the provision of corridor trains from March 1892. These were steam heated and were advertised as fitted with reserved compartments for Ladies, Smoking Saloons and Lavatory compartments accessible to all three classes ~ this was a first for the Great Western Railway and any other UK railway. In addition an electric bell system was provided in each compartment by which passengers could summon the guard.

Secondly, dining cars were provided on the Warwickshire expresses from 1904, following the introduction of the Dreadnought (dia H8) Dinning cars. These were the first Great Western Railway mainline stock to be built without a clerestory roof. They had a central kitchen with an elegant first class saloon on one side and a combined second / third saloon on the other. Lighting was electric and there were electric fans in the saloons and a refrigerator in the kitchen. By 1910 all classes of passenger facilities had improved to such an extent that it was no longer justified to have three levels of service and Second Class compartments were abolished.

Stories about the quality of the permanent way and the smooth riding of the coaching stock also circulated; the gentleman who regularly shaved during the journey in the end lavatory compartment, using a cut-throat razor but without cutting himself once, the sovereign coin dropped at Paddington, but found again at Birmingham Snow Hill resting on the coach's running board after a journey of 129 miles. The stories may be factual, but even if they are urban myths they would not have circulated if there was not an element of truth regarding the comparative smoothness of the ride.

The faster trains and heavier coaches required an improvement in motive power and coupled driving wheels of the bogie 4-4-0 locomotive provided the adhesion and power requirements necessary, while keeping the axle weights and wheelbases within the limits of the day. The result was a series of Great Western Railway 4-4-0 express locomotives culminating in; the Badminton class which introduced the raised belpaire firebox, the larger Atbara class with their austere lines and domeless boiler and the City class with their tapered boilers and record breaking speeds (see 'gwrls159').

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Cut Offs and Direct Lines

The branch status of Stratford-upon-Avon was a cause of much dissatisfaction amongst the town's residents and businesses. To rectify this, an independent the Birmingham, North Warwickshire & Stratford-upon-Avon Railway (BNW&SR) was promoted and this line was authorised on 25th August 1894. This route had been supported, and was to be financed, by the Great Central Railway (GCR), who saw it as providing access to Birmingham via its running rights on the East & West Junction Railway, which joined the proposed line at Stratford and crossed the GCR London extension near Woodford. However by 1898, the GCR were having difficulties with their London extension, in particular relationships with the Metropolitan Railway, with whom their line connected, were strained and instead they forged an alliance with the Great Western Railway.

Since the BNW&SR would be in completion with existing Great Western Railway routes, the GCR withdrew their support and their money from this scheme. The BNW&SR scheme was almost rescued as an independent concern by a proposed extension, which would link it to the Midland & South Western Junction Railway (MSWJR) at Andoversford. This would provide a new through route from Birmingham to Southampton, however the required parliamentary Act was rejected, mainly over doubts as the financial ability of the MSWJR to fund this scheme, but coupled with a promise from the Great Western Railway to link Honeybourne with Cheltenham if the scheme was rejected. The Great Western Railway obtained the Royal Assent for its Honeybourne line on 1st August 1899, but despite the promise, other major construction projects had priority and construction of the Honeybourne Line was only started in 1902 following a threat by a Mr Andrews of Toddington to present a Private Bill to parliament to enable him to construct the railway himself.

To pacify the residents of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Great Western Railway had opened the North Loop at Hatton on 1st July 1897 to facilitate a direct Birmingham service, but the BNW&SR still continued to campaign for a more direct line between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon. Eventually they decided to compromise with the Great Western Railway and on 9th August 1899 obtained the necessary parliamentary powers to abandon their independent route into Birmingham and instead planned to join the Great Western Railway at a junction at Tyseley. Despite this modification, finance for the line remained unavailable and the delay resulted in the powers being transferred to the Great Western Railway in July 1900.

After opposing this route for years the Great Western Railway, who had never really forgiven the Midland Railway for stealing the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway and Bristol & Gloucester Railway from under their nose, finally realised that this was the opportunity to create a direct route; not just between Birmingham and Cheltenham via the Honeybourne line, but via their old running powers over the Bristol & Gloucester Railway, on to Bristol. This route would be 40 miles shorter than their existing route via Didcot and only 10 miles longer than the Midland Railway’s route. Accordingly the BNW&SR scheme was amended again, now it would join the Alcester branch just to the west of Bearley (reducing the new construction length to approximately 18 miles) and this change together with the North to West Curve at Bearley and a connection to the old station at Henley was approved by Parliament on 26th July 1901. Purchase of the necessary land took two years to complete and construction of the North Warwickshire Line commenced on 5th September 1903 and opened for goods traffic on 9th December 1907 and for passengers on 1st July 1908 (details of the line are described in the contemporary accounts see The North Warwickshire Line).

The Great Western Railway of 1900 deserved the reputation that its initials stood for Great Way Round. With the exception of the London to Bristol route, its other main lines had grown as amalgams of many shorter lines. This was particularly true of the London to Birmingham route which ran via Didcot and Oxford. Although the accelerated expresses were an improvement it was difficult to compete with the LNWR main line to Birmingham when the LNWR route was significantly shorter. Help however came from an unlikely source in the shape of the Great Central Railway (GCR), who were supporting the new London & South Wales Railway in 1895, which if built would compete for the valuable coal traffic from South Wales. The situation changed when the Great Western Railway obtained parliamentary powers to build a railway from Acton to High Wycombe in 1897.

Since this was the last route available through the Chiltern Hills that would not need expensive earthworks and tunnelling through the chalk, the GCR decided instead to forge an alliance with the Great Western Railway for an alternative route to the capital and agreed to withdraw their support for the new London & South Wales Railway. In return 20th March 1899 the GCR commenced working goods and coal trains to London over Great Western Railway metals by way of Aylesbury, Princes Risborough, High Wycombe and Maidenhead and on 1st August 1899 the Great Western & Great Central Railways Joint Committee was established by an Act of Parliament to construct a new 76 mile main line between Northolt and the GCR north of its junction with the Metropolitan Railway at Quainton Road.

The Great Western Railway had originally intended to construct the southern section of new joint main line by itself and then upgrade the Princes Risborough to Oxford line to provide a more direct route to Birmingham, but the need to extend the joint line further north opened up the possibility of an additional 18 mile cut off from Ashendon, through Bicester to Aynho, avoiding Oxford completely. This would shorten the London to Birmingham route from 129.3 miles to 111 miles (two miles shorter than the LNWR route) and allowed the introduction of 2 hour expresses. This Bicester cut off was completed and opened for goods traffic on 4th April 1910 and for passengers on 1st July 1910. The new joint line and cut off had been designed for speed, with gentle gradients and curves, but the northern section, in Warwickshire, was the old Birmingham & Oxford Junction Railway with the stiff ascent up Hatton Bank. Hauled by Saint Class 4-6-0 No 2902 Lady of the Lake, the first of the regular 2 hour expresses to Birmingham left Paddington in July 1910. At Paddington Station a passenger threw a horse shoe onto the locomotive’s footplate for luck and it was later mounted permanently in the cab.

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Improved Stations, Services and Engines

With the completion of the new routes came an increase in traffic. Even before the North Warwickshire line was built, approximately 400 trains were handled every day at Birmingham Snow Hill Station. As a result Snow Hill needed to be rebuilt again, this time with two huge island platforms 1200 foot long and 88 foot wide, each punctuated by two long bay platforms at their northern end to serve the Wolverhampton, Dudley and Stourbridge suburban traffic and the Cardiff Expresses (see 'gwrbsh81'). The through running lines were retained and a lofty overall glass roof gave the station an impressive feel. Two new signal boxes were provided with innovative electrically powered signalling. The South Signal Box had 224 miniature levers while the North Signal Box had 80. The work took seven years to complete and the new Snow Hill station was finally completed in 1912.

Although the northern approaches had been widened by December 1909, the southern approaches to Snow Hill were constrained by the tunnel, so a new suburban terminus was planned adjacent to the southern portal, at Moor Street. After obtaining parliamentary powers in June 1908, construction progressed rapidly and a temporary station was opened on 1st July 1909. Initially this was a simple island platform with wooden buildings, but by 7th July 1914, when the new Moor Street station was officially opened, it had been transformed with extensive passenger facilities being provided in new buildings adjacent to a covered concourse and two long island platforms protected by canopies (see 'gwrms253'). The limited space at Moor Street Station required a novel way of releasing engines from the new bay platforms and electric transverser tables were employed.

To handle the huge quantity of city centre goods traffic, extensive goods facilities were also provided on the south side of the station. Although the site was compact, Moor Street had been constructed on a widened viaduct, which meant that the space under the station could be utilised as a second level (see 'gwrms1106'), in addition to the 420 foot long, 80 foot wide goods warehouse above (see 'gwrms1108'). Three electric wagon hoists allowed trucks to be moved between the levels and in the sheds below electric wagon transverser tables reduced the need for pointwork in the confined space. Electric cranes were also provided on the upper level, while stables for 67 horses together with provender stores and a shoeing forge was provided on the lower level.

The main line between Tyseley and Olton had been quadrupled by 27th January 1907 and this was extended beyond Tyseley Junction when the North Warwickshire Line opened the following year (see 'gwrt1055'). In 1913, quadrupling was extended up to Bordesley Goods Yard. The Bordesley Viaduct between Moor Street Station and Bordesley was doubled in width at the same time to allow this section to be quadrupled and the new relief lines brought into use on 16th November 1913, together with a new 114 lever frame signal box at Moor Street. The gap between Bordesley and Bordesley Goods Yard was delayed by the need to reconstruct the Midlands Railway overbridge.

To compete with bus and tram services the Great Western railway recognised the need to introduce intermediate stopping places serviced by low capacity trains at more frequent intervals, the result was the stream railcar and unmanned halte. The first of these new services were successfully trialled between Charlford and Gloucester in 1903. With modifications they soon could be seen through out the system. In Warwickshire steam railcars were used on local services from Moor Street. The Halts on the North Warwickshire Line were all built with brick faced platforms (rather than the cheaply constructed wooden platform arrangements normally associated with Halts), but the typical prefabricated corrugated steel waiting rooms provided the only passenger facilities (see Grimes Hill 'gwrgh87' and Spring Road 'gwrsr1112').

Although steam railcars performed well they had a number of inherent deficiencies, which meant that by 1905 they were gradually replaced with auto-trains. These trains consisted of a small tank engine (typically a 0-4-2T ‘517’ class locomotive) connected to a modified trailer carriage. The trailer carriage had a driver’s compartment at one end and mechanical linkages between the engine and the trailer allowed the auto-train to be driven from either the engine or this compartment (see gwryw668a). The increased motive power meant that up to four trailers could be incorporated into an auto-train (limitations of the mechanical linkage prevented more than two trailers being connected together, but a pair could be arranged on either side of the engine). Mixed passenger and good trains could also be formulated (in such trains the goods wagons were always pulled and a brake van added see 'gwrb772').

The Warwickshire suburban service from Moor Street was extensive and complex with auto-trains terminating at several of the intermediate stations along the route. In addition trailers were sometimes detached from one train and collected by another. Along the North Warwickshire Line shuttle services ran from Moor Street to Hall Green; to Shirley; to Earlswood; to Danzey; to Henley in Arden; to Bearley; to Claverdon and to Stratford upon Avon and also along the Main Line from Moor Street to Stratford upon Avon via both the Henley in Arden and Claverdon branches. Other auto-train shuttle services operated from: Lapworth to Henley in Arden; from Hatton to Stratford upon Avon; from Claverdon to Henley in Arden and from Bearley to Alcester.

Following the appointment of G J Churchward as Chief mechanical Engineer in 1902, the Great Western Railway’s locomotives were also transformed by standardisation and superb engineering. The London to Birmingham non-stop two hour express trains were now mainly pulled by the powerful 4-6-0 two cylinder Saint Class engines (see 'gwrls827'), but Birmingham to Bristol expresses were forced to retain 4-4-0 motive power due to weight restrictions on the Midland Railway Line at Stonehouse Viaduct in Gloucestershire. Here therefore the 4-4-0 County Class displaced the older outside frame engines (see 'gwrls181'). Semi fast express trains also ran from Birmingham to Oxford, to the South Coast Posts and to Bournemouth via Reading on the LSWR.

In addition to the auto-trains and fast services, the standard suburban services were also overhauled. Four and six wheel suburban coach stock was gradually replaced with electrically light 57’ toplight carriages operating in four coach sets. These started operating on the main line between Moor Street and Solihull in 1911. New Churchward designed 2-4-2T and prairie 2-6-2T locomotives (see 'gwrls187' and 'gwrbsh69b') replaced the 2-4-0 engines on these trains and would become a standard feature of Birmingham suburban services for years to come.

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The First World War and After

At the start of hostilities in 1914 the Government took over all the British Railways, but despite the huge number of ‘specials’ required for mobilisation, initially ordinary services remained unchanged and only excursions were suspended. Gradually demands for more troop trains, ambulance trains, military supplies and in particular coal for the navy (now based in Scotland) started to effect services. Maintenance schedules were also affected as locomotive works were required to manufacture military equipment and staff shortages occurred as men joined up to fight.

By 1917 conditions had deteriorated, express services were decelerated and the frequency of other services reduced to save coal. Passenger fares were raised by 50% is discourage travel. Many small stations were closed or unstaffed and whole branch lines were closed to optimise the use of the available resources. In Warwickshire both the Rowington to Henley in Arden branch (see 'gwrha260') and the Alcester branch (see gwrac464) were closed on 1st January 1917 and the rails from these lines were removed to help the war effort. The rails were also removed from the disused section of the Stratford to Moreton tramway. After the war only the Alcester branch would be relaid in 1922.

The demand for steel and a lack of imported iron ore forced the ministry of munitions to identify alternative home sources and this lead to the start of open strip quarrying by the Oxfordshire Ironstone Company (OIC) at Wroxham, northwest of Banbury. This site is just across the county border from Warwickshire's Edge Hill Quarries which were also developed at the same time (see 'ehlr7a'). Steel producers Baldwins Ltd and Brymbo Steel Co Ltd were granted leases on 1st January 1917 and on 29th June 1917 formed the jointly owned OIC. In August a rail connection was made with the Great Western Railway at a point north of Banbury and a private standard gauge railway constructed to the quarries with the help of German POWs. Iron ore production commenced two months after the war ended in January 1919, but demand had disappeared.

By 1923 the market had recovered and the quarry dispatched 60,000 tons, production peaked at nearly 600,000 tons in 1929 before the depression. In August 1924 Alfred Hickman Ltd (a subsidiary of Stewart and Lloyds) purchased 50% of the OIC shares and during 1931 and 1932 Hickman was the only customer. For many years regular trains of 20 ton iron ore hoppers travelled on Great Western Railway metals through Warwickshire from the OIC to the Hickman Steelworks at Bilston, near Wolverhampton, while other trains were routed up to Hatton Junction across to Stratford upon Avon and then via Honeybourne to the Baldwins Steelworks in South Wales. These heavy freight trains were often pulled by 2-8-0 locomotives, either the 28xx class or the ROD engines purchased from government stocks after the war (see 'gwrbj776') and 2-6-0 locomotives of the 43xx and Aberdare class could be seen hauling trains of empty ore hoppers back to Banbury (see 'gwrls902' and gwrsrh276).

At the end of the war the Government decided to retain control of the railways until 1921 and this allowed the unrestricted free movement of government traffic to be extended to include a lengthy demobilisation period. 1919 was an election year and following negotiations in February and strikes in September, the Government agreed to Union demands for a maximum eight hour working day and staff wage increases that more than tripled the pre-war salary bill. In June 1921 compensation for usage of the railways was eventually agreed, but payment was delayed until December 1922. It was estimated that the value of the railway companies had fallen by 30% in this period of government control and with many railway companies in financial crisis, the stage was set for the Grouping.

Daily ‘Jellicoe Specials’ Coal Trains passing through Warwickshire.

From G.W.R. Service Time Table - 1918

Gloucester (Old Yard) Dep 1.33am 3.00am 7.05am 7.55pm 10.10pm
Cheltenham (Malvern Rd) Dep 1.57am 3.23am 7.25am 8.18pm 10.30pm
Toddington Arr 2.30am 3.58am 7.57am 8.55pm 11.35pm
  Dep 2.50am 4.30am 8.15am 9.25pm 11.23pm
Honeybourne Pass 3.17am 4.42am 8.36am 9.47pm 11.45pm
Stratford on Avon Arr 3.40am 5.07am 9.03am 10.12pm 12.10am
  Dep 4.05am 5.17am 9.20am 10.27pm 12.20am
Leamington Spa Arr 4.58am 6.25am 10.15am 11.27pm 1.18am
  Dep 5.10am 8.25am 10.30am * 1.30am
Banbury Arr 6.30am 9.25am 11.40am * 2.30am

* For L&NWR line. To be extended to Banbury when carrying coal for GC line.

While the majority of the trains carrying Welsh smokeless ‘Dry Steam’ Coal for the Navy originated in Pontypool Road and were destined for Grangemouth in Scotland via Hereford, Shrewsbury and Chester. This was not the only destinations of the Jellicoe Specials and the five trains listed left South Wales each night for Banbury, where they transferred to the Great Central Railway to continue to Immingham and other East Coast Ports.

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1920’s - The Grouping

On 1st January 1923, following seven years of State Control (both during and immediately after the First World War), the Government grouped all the UK's Railways into four major Companies. The Western Group which retained the name Great Western Railway now included six previously independent Welsh Railways and their associated Dock Works plus a number of other subsidiary companies. In Warwickshire however, there was no substantial change to the Great Western Railway.

Despite a background of post war economic difficulties, confidence was high in the new group and in response to Government requests for construction work to relieve unemployment the Great Western Railway proposed several major asset replacement schemes. In Warwickshire the track was already being relaid on the Alcester Branch with a new halt constructed at Aston Cantlow (see gwrac792). This line reopened partially on 18th December 1922 and fully on 1st August 1923, but the other Warwickshire war casualty, the Henley Branch remained closed.

In 1924 the austerity timetables of the war were eventually abandoned and the opportunity taken to introduce standardised departure times from principle stations (including Birmingham Snow Hill) and to simplify rolling stock routing. The two hour non-stop Paddington to Birmingham Expresses where reintroduced and advertised as the shortest route and with them the Slip Coach services returned (but never to the pre-war numbers of the Golden Age). In 1927 there were 2 Slips daily at Leamington, both of which went forward to Stratford-upon-Avon, but improved locomotive power meant that an additional stop could be made without a great increase in the overall journey time, so by 1932 there was only 1 daily Leamington Slip.

When the Chief Mechanical Engineer Mr Churchward retired in 1922, he was replaced by his assistant Mr Collett, who continued the policies of his predecessor. The advantages of standardisation and quality engineering enabled a fast a fuel efficient locomotive stock to be developed. New designs were introduced starting with the Castle Class, which the Great Western Railway described as a ‘super locomotive’ and ‘the most powerful passenger train engine in the Kingdom’. The publicity associated with the Royal Visit to Swindon and the world’s fastest train (The Cheltenham Flyer) elevated this locomotive almost to divine status. In April 1925, a locomotive exchange was organised with the LNER and the results further enhanced the locomotives’ reputation as ‘Pendennis Castle’ No 4079 maintained scheduled times from Kings Cross with better fuel efficiency than the competing Gresley Pacific. As more Castle class locomotives were built they displaced the older Stars and Saints and could regularly be found at the head of crack Paddington to Birmingham expresses (see gwrls183).

The acquisition of the busy Welsh Railways and Docks had initially been seen as an advantage, but coal usage was in decline as industry shifted to oil and the deep pits in South Wales slowly became less profitable. Despite the quality of the coal, a series of miner strikes further decreased demand as customers found more reliable suppliers. This culminated in the ten day General Strike which started on 3rd May 1926, when the railway workers walked out in support of the miners. Efforts were made to revitalise the coal traffic by improving dock handling facilities and introducing 20 ton wagons (with a special lower tariff which reflected the siding space and tare weight savings).

Road competition was also increasing with over 20,000 surplus military vehicles being sold cheaply after the First World War. Many went to demobilised army trained drivers, who set themselves up as small haulage contractors. In 1920, the ‘Roads Act’ had introduced a tax on mechanical vehicles, which was paid into a Central Fund to pay for improvements to roads and highways and in 1925, the ‘Road Improvement Act’ introduced powers to remove obstructions from roads and to widen streets. The road administration was also centralised and roads were classified into four divisions depending upon their importance. Grants from the Central Fund were then allocated to improve roads and bridges depending upon their classification. In addition by 1926, 25% of scheduled road maintenance was also being paid for by the Central Fund. With the improved roads came the Motor Omnibus which started to provide reliable rural bus services in direct completion to the railway passenger services.

The general reduction in traffic caused concern in the Great Western Railway board room and in 1925 they initiated a comprehensive survey of 53 branch lines to identify possible economies. Two Warwickshire branches featured in the report:

Branch Number and Name 5. Bearley to Alcester 40. Shipston-on Stour
Opened 1876 1889
Mileage 6m 71c 8m 75c
Gradient 1 in 66 1 in 54
Locomotive Department Expenses £3,064 £2,676
Engineering Expenses £2,650 £2,570
Staff Costs £1,148 £1,484
Total Expenditure 1925 £6,862 £6,730
Passenger Receipts £1,554 £636
Parcels Receipts £197 £873
Goods Receipts £7,101 £11,278
Total Receipts 1925 £8,852 £12,787
Profit 1925 £1,990 £6,057
Difference in Receipts (1925 – 1924) +£1,011 -£361
Expenditure as Percentage of Receipts 77.6% 52.7%
Estimated Possible Savings Nil £212

The report recommended that six uneconomic branches should close completely, four others should have their passenger service withdrawn, while a further five should have services confined to 8 hours a day, so that they could be operated by one shift of men. At this time both the two Warwickshire branches were still considered viable, but by 1929 the low passenger receipts of the Shipston Branch had further decreased and a decision was made to replace the rail passenger services with a bus service and operate the line as a freight only branch. Another change was the introduction of the 48xx class 0-4-2T locomotives for branch auto-trains, these were a more efficient version of the similar 517 class locomotives that they displaced (see gwrb780).

Despite the economic situation there was an appetite for speed and in 1927, the Great Western Railway introduced the Super Castle ‘King Class’ passenger locomotives. The design had originally been proposed in 1919, but the 20.5ton axle weight exceeded the permanent way capabilities, however by 1927, bridges on the major routes had either been reinforced or replaced (see gwrwm430) or reassessed following the findings of the Bridge Stress Committee. This committee finally reported in 1928, but the Great Western Railway civil engineers had been intimately involved in much of the testing allowing them to more accurately calculate bridge capabilities. In particular, it was found that the reduced hammer-blow from a balanced four cylinder locomotive meant that a locomotive with 2.5ton more static axle load could be accommodated. The catalyst for the Kings was the introduction of the Lord Nelson class by the Southern Railway, which had a marginally higher tractive effort than the Castle Class. The first engine of the new class ‘King George V’ No 6000 was another publicity triumph, when it represented Britain on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Centenary Exhibition. Back in the UK the King Class started to haul the crack London to Birmingham two hour passenger expresses (see gwrls193).

The Bridge Stress Committee report also affected other Railways. For many years the Midland Railway had refused to allow engines larger than 4-4-0 to cross the Stonebridge Viaduct in Gloucestershire and this limited the locomotives that could be used on the Great Western Railway's Birmingham to Bristol expresses as they used running rights over the Midland's line. In 1927 the viaduct was replaced with an embankment and reassessed to carry 4-6-0 locomotives at a maximum speed of 15mph. This resulted in 4-6-0 Star and Hall class locomotives displacing the 4-4-0 locomotives on this route.

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1930’s - Depression and Resurgence

As the new decade started Britain was in the midst of a World Economic Depression. Trade and Industry slumped, companies failed and unemployment rose. Without goods to move, the railways also suffered, resulting in services being slowed to conserve fuel and engines scrapped or mothballed. In 1929 the Government introduced the Development (Loan Guarantees and Grants) Act to restimulate the economy and create employment. This was targeted at national infrastructure regeneration and the Great Western Railway identified a programme of works costing £8M over five years. This included several major schemes in Warwickshire:

  • Banbury Hump Yard with accommodation for 1,600 wagons, opened on 27th July 1931 at this major interchange point with the LNER. The four reception sidings and nineteen sidings in the yard allowed 38 trains to be dealt with each day, a single train of 60 wagons could be disposed of, over the hump in 12 minutes.
  • Quadrupling 9.5 miles of Main Line between Olton and Lapworth Stations including five station rebuilds, was completed 28th May 1933. This extended the quadrupled section of track from Birmingham Moor Street through to Lapworth Station and allowed a more intensive suburban service (see gwrwm430). As part of the work a skewed open lattice girder bridge with a 152 foot span was required over the Warwick Road at Olton.
  • Semi automatic signalling installed between Acocks Green and Solihull using two aspect motor-driven semaphore signals, together with trickle charged d.c. resistance-fed track circuits.
  • Extension of Automatic Train Control from 372 miles by the addition of a further 1758 miles at a cost of £208k was authorised in 1930 and completed in 1938. This included installing ATC ramps on both the High Wycombe to Wolverhampton via Bicester Line and Birmingham to Gloucester via Stratford-upon-Avon Line in addition to equipping 3,000 locomotives (see gwrhj100a).
  • Construction of 5,000 20ton steel coal wagons for hire by colliery companies at a reduced cost, includes 1,000 constructed by the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. Ltd.

New Goods Traffic Facilities at:

  • Bordesley – New substantial four stored warehouse built of reinforce concrete frame and brick panelling was opened in 1931. The upper floors of this building were 190 foot long and varied in width between 67 feet and 85 feet. It had two electric lifts and four one ton hoists to all floors.
  • Soho and Winson Green – New goods yard with accommodation for 290 wagons, plus a four stored reinforced concrete and brick panelled warehouse (300 foot long by 75 foot wide) with 65,000 sq ft of storage space and four three ton electric lifts was constructed in 1933
  • Hockley – An extension to existing warehouse with steel framed, brick panelled structure (92 foot long by 117 foot wide) was completed in 1933. Again with an electric lift and one ton hoist.
  • Knowle – New Goods yard with steel framed corrugated steel covered shed (120 foot long by 40 foot wide), incorporating a one ton travelling crane. In addition a loading platform for 14 horse-boxes was constructed on the up main platform for the Knowle Racecourse traffic.
  • Solihull – New goods yard with steel framed corrugated steel covered shed similar to that at Knowle (see gwrs1017a).
  • Permanent Way Improvements including rerailing main running lines with 60 foot lengths of 95lb/yard bull-head rail resting in 46lb cast iron chairs on creosoted Oregon pine sleepers. Improved drainage was provide both in cuttings and by way of six inch stoneware pipes laid in the six foot through the stations. Lineside fencing was replaced with Concrete posts and steel wire fencing.
  • Replacement of oil lighting at many stations with Electric Lamps where electricity was available, or alternatively with Paraffin vapour ‘Tilley’ Lamps. ·
  • Reconstruction of Leamington Spa Station. Complete reconstruction of this principle station, details of which can be found at gwr/leamington-station.

The introduction of ‘Tote’ (Totalisator) betting in 1929, lead to resurgence in racecourse popularity despite the recession and in that year, Stratford Racecourse authorised a new grandstand at their steeple chase course. As this was adjacent to the Great Western Railway a new halt was proposed to facilitate excursion trains and the austere, but functional Stratford Racecourse Halt opened on 6th May 1933 (see gwr_src1455). New railway stock for horses, grooms, owners and spectators were introduced and special trains containing this stock could often be seen on Warwickshire’s railways heading for ‘Race Meets’. In 1930 the Great Western Railway carried 20,657 horses. All types of excursion trains had become an increasingly important source of railway revenue at this time with excursions from major cities laid on to special events, including; the Stratford Mop Fair, Football Match Specials and in May 1937, the coronation of George VI.

Throughout each Summer, Saturday Seaside Holiday Excursions were run to locations in the West Country and South Wales. These were especially popular with Birmingham and Black Country folks who thronged the platforms of Snow Hill to get away from the smoke and grime of industry. Although the Holidays with Pay Act (1938) ensured that every worker was entitled to a week’s paid holiday from this date, the summer holiday trend had started long before; with around one million of the nation’s employees having a week’s paid leave in 1920, four million in 1937 and after the act, eleven million in 1939. Such was the increase in excursion trains, sometimes running in several parts (relief trains), that the Great Western Railway introduced a new system of train identification in 1934 in order to assist Signalmen and Station Staff to recognise trains at a distance. This involved the use of large three figure plates on the front of the locomotive’s smokebox door. The first number indicated the train’s origin; for the first two years Wolverhampton and Birmingham trains used ‘3’, but this was change to ‘7’ in 1936. For the ordinary timetabled express passenger train the last number would be either a 0 or 5, but if one (or more) relief trains were required this number would be incremented.

As well as seaside holidays the depression had increased the popularity of cheaper holiday pursuits such as camping and hiking, especially with the younger generation, and the Great Western Railway introduced schemes to attract this market (see gwr/shakespeare_ramble). For ordinary passenger traffic the Great Western Railway experimented with stream lined Diesel Railcars. These provided a twice daily Birmingham to Cardiff express service via Stratford upon Avon from 9th July 1934 with catering and lavatory facilities for the passengers (see gwrsa1491). These railcars proved a success and were also used for semi-express traffic on the North Warwickshire Line between Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon (see gwrsr1115). On the North Warwickshire line the prospect of new suburban housing resulted in two new halts being built; The Lakes Halt on 3rd June 1935 and Whitlocks End Halt on 6th July 1936. While the following year, on 6th Sept 1937, a third halt was constructed south of Long Marston at Pebworth, near the site of the Broad Marston Halt which had closed as a wartime economy in 1916.

As train numbers increased on the Honeybourne line the single track section of line between Bearley and Hatton became a bottle neck to this traffic and the doubling of this line was completed in July 1939 with the intermediate station at Claverdon rebuilt at the same time (see gwrc909). Further major modernisation work was carried out at Hockley Goods yard with the old Outwards and Transfer sheds being replaced with the huge combined ‘Top Shed’, although this was not completed until 1943 during World War Two (see gwrhd711). New offices and an amenity block were also built at this time. Finally with the recession over, the later period of the decade saw the introduction of larger replacement locomotives for suburban passenger traffic and new types of specialist rolling stock designed to further improve efficiency and customer service:

  • 2-6-2T 5101class Prairie Tank engines (see gwrls204)
  • New suburban coach sets
  • Dining car coaches on most express services
  • Large windowed excursion coaches with corridors
  • Conflat wagons for carrying containers which eliminated transhipment requirements
  • 3,000 gallon milk tankers removed the need to man handle churns (see gwrbsh47)
  • Parto Vans and Shock Absorbing wagons to provide better protection of goods

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Extract from Great Western Magazine Vol. 51. No.3, March 1939

Communities We Serve – Birmingham

Birmingham, the second largest city in Great Britain, is geographically and in importance the centre of Industrial England. It has a population of more than a million, and within an outer radius of twelve miles nearly five millions. Some idea of the expansion of the City may be gleaned from the fact that a hundred years ago it was only a fiftieth part of its present area of 5,147 acres. Progress and development of industry have proceeded step by step with the development of transport, particularly of railway services and facilities. Birmingham has for the last quarter of a century been universally known as ‘the city of a thousand trades’.

Goods Services

The Great Western Railway has provided a number of well-equipped depots befitting the importance of the City of Birmingham as a commercial centre. Brief details of the special facilities, apart from the usual equipment, available at the Birmingham goods stations are outlined below :-

Hockley, the principal goods station for general goods traffic, occupies an area approximately three-quarters of a mile long and 200 to 300 yards wide. In order to deal efficiently with an increasing traffic, the Company decided in 1935 to go forward with a scheme to remodel the depot at an estimated cost of a quarter of a million sterling. The work is now in progress, and on completion the goods shed will accommodate upwards of 300 wagons. In addition to the remodelling of the goods shed and yard sidings, the general equipment of the depot is being modernised. Apart from its terminal traffics, Hockley is one of the principal points on the Company’s system for dealing with transfer goods. Such consignments dealt with in 1937 numbered 1,383,224 representing 172,000 tons. General merchandise, including heavy traffic, is dealt with in spacious yards in which siding accommodation is provided for approximately 300 wagons.

A commodious four-storey warehouse, fully equipped with cranes, lifts and hoists, is utilized to the fullest extent. Among the various commodities stored and distributed are flour, grain, glass, paper, canned goods, sugar, bacon, cider, strawboards, etc. A large quantity of printing paper is also warehoused and daily deliveries are effected to comply with the requirements of well-known Birmingham morning and evening newspapers. Extensive Bonded Stores provide safe and cool accommodation for wines and spirits in casks and cases. The normal space available is capable of holding some 1,400 casks and 2,250 cases, equivalent to 125,000 gallons; last year 1,215 casks and 1,400 cases were received into store.

The depot is in direct rail communication with the Birmingham Canal Navigation, and a fleet of barges owned by the Company, conveys merchandise to and from firms having waterside premises. Commodities so delivered and collected includes coils of wire, cases and bags of screws, slab copper, steel strip, iron, electric cable, tea, etc.; the distance involved in some instances amounts to between five and six miles. In 1937 the gross weight of traffic dealt with at Hockley and sub-depots was; general merchandise 803,129 tons, coal and coke, 116,070 tons. The traffic carted by the Company’s equipment amounted to 551,148 tons. Every year upwards of 7,000 wagon-loads of live stock are dealt with at spacious open and covered pens provided at Hockley and Bordesley.

Moor Street is situated within 300 yards of the wholesale fruit and vegetable market. The land upon which it is built falls in the same line as the steep hill of the Bull Ring and is intersected by three streets. The depot consists of three sheds, one at min line and Moor Street level, a second, underground, abutting Park Street, and a third at a lower level abutting Allison Street. Wagons are lowered to the underground sheds by means of electric wagon-hoists and are positioned for unloading to platform or road vehicle by electric traversers and capstans. The underground warehouse accommodation, which exceeds 4,500 square yards, is particularly suitable for storage of fruit and vegetables; large quantities of oranges, apples, lemons, grapes, potatoes, onions and nuts are amongst the commodities warehoused and distributed, while special accommodation is also provided for the storage and ripening of bananas. The total traffic dealt with at the depot in 1937 amounted to 160,628 tons.

Small Heath depot, some three miles south of Hockley, serves a large area in which many works are situated. The facilities afforded include a goods yard equipped with a 20 ton electric gantry crane, and with accommodation for some 300 wagons. The total traffic dealt with at the depot during 1937 was 80,000 tons and this included 40,368 tons of coal, 6,082 tons of electric cable, 11,319 tons of timber and 1,355 motor cars. Truck loads of ‘returned empties’ for Birmingham are concentrated daily at Small Heath and dealt with in a separate shed, where they are sorted ready for delivery by the Company’s cartage equipment.

Bordesley, a depot connected by siding with the Company’s main line south of Birmingham, is equipped with an excellent four-floor warehouse, particularly suitable for the storage of non-ferrous metals, tinplates, blackplates, etc. The building is dry, airy, and well-lighted and served from rail level by the latest type of electric lifts and hoists; electric runways are provided to expedite the transfer of heavy articles between truck platform and road vehicle. Traffic delivered from the depot in 1937 amounted to 53,000 tons.

Soho and Winson Green, on the northern side of Birmingham, has a large and well-appointed warehouse with a total floor space of 8,500 square yards. The building, constructed as recently as 1933 to the most up-to-date specification, provides ideal accommodation for the storage of all descriptions of merchandise, and is extensively used. The depot also has excellent yard accommodation to position 300 wagons for loading and unloading, and mobile petrol cranes are available for handling heavy articles. Traffic dealt with in 1937 amounted to 38,314 tons.

Handsworth and Smethwick goods station, adjacent to the boundary line between Smethwick and Birmingham, is centrally situated for serving two extensive and rapidly expanding districts, with the advantage of being in close proximity to the heavier industries clustered mostly on the Smethwick side. Notable among these is the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Co., with extensive works connected by private sidings, from which rolling-stock of all sizes and descriptions are despatched, sometimes to such far-distant destinations as China, South Africa and Argentina. There are two yards at Handsworth and Smethwick station, each equipped with adequate crane power. A notable feature here is the unloading of iron bars and billets. The tonnage dealt with in 1937 was 189,537, including 66,000 tons of coal and coke.

Tyseley goods station, to the south of Birmingham, is situated in a district rapidly developing as an area for large factories; the districts served include Acock’s green, Olton, Sheldon, Yardley, South Yardley, Hay Mills, Greet and a portion of Hall Green. The depot has an exceptionally well-planned goods yard capable of berthing 300 wagons at one time all ‘in position’. The total tonnage for 1937 was 157,000, comprising coal, mineral and general merchandise; of this the Company’s equipment carted some 45,000 tons.

Hall Green station is situated south of Tyseley, on the Birmingham – Stratford-on-Avon line, and serves a large residential and suburban shopping area, with daily collections and deliveries. The goods yard has accommodation for positioning 120 wagons. The total tonnage dealt with, comprising coal, minerals and general merchandise, amounts to 37,000 tons per annum.

Passenger Services

On the passenger side the Great Western Railway Company’s services to the people of Birmingham in their journeys for purposes of business and pleasure are no less comprehensive and up to date. Two main passenger stations lie close to the city centre linked by frequent services with eleven suburban stations within the confines of the city. Snow Hill station, 110 miles from Paddington on the main route to Birkenhead, provides communication with London and the South, South Wales and the West, and with the numerous towns of the Black Country and the North. Moor Street station is mainly concerned in serving the suburbs in the south-west of Birmingham, and stations on the North Warwickshire line in the direction of Stratford-on-Avon. The approach to Snow Hill station from the South is over the Bordesley Viaduct, leading to a tunnel one-third of a mile long, at the northern end of which is the station which was built on three levels and was remodelled in 1912.

Pedestrian and carriage approach roads at street level bring the intending passenger to the high level circulating area and the booking and inquiry offices, from which flights of steps give access to four up and down main platforms, island in character, and each approximately 1,200 feet in length. In all twelve platforms are available, totalling 6,316 feet, and equally divided to accommodate up and down line traffic. Up and down lines for ‘through’ express and freight traffic extend the whole length of the station, and the movement of traffic is controlled by two electrically-operated signal boxes of 320 levers.

Among the numerous facilities available for dealing with the heavy traffic which passes through the station are a subsidiary booking office at Great Charles Street, nine electric luggage lifts, a private telephone exchange, control office and load speaker system for public announcements.

Moor Street station, at the southern entrance of the tunnel is a terminal station, trains running directly off the Bordesley viaduct to one of three platforms at the street level. Equipped with electrically-operated engine traversers at the terminal end of the platform lines, also with electrical wagon hoists in adjacent sidings to transport wagons under load to unloading berths at the lower street level, this station is able to deal with traffic expeditiously and under modern conditions.

Passenger services into and out of the two main Birmingham stations number 390 on a normal weekday, providing transport for many thousands of passengers on business or pleasure bent. One and a quarter million tickets were purchased last year either at the station booking and inquiry offices or from one of the well informed agents appointed at suitable locations throughout the City and suburban area. Season and workman’s tickets are held by 25,000 persons, who use the business services into and out of the City daily, principally during the peak periods between 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock in the morning and 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock in the evening. Both are ‘closed stations’, and the facility which enables friends of passengers to have access to the platforms at a nominal charge of one penny is a popular one, some 25,000 platform tickets having been purchased last year.

Birmingham is the gateway through which most of the thousands of eager Midlanders pass when seeking holiday relaxation from their various labours, and elaborate relief arrangements are brought into operation at peak periods to provide for those travelling to the many popular resorts served by the Great Western Railway. Space does not permit of reference being made to the part played by the various suburban stations in the Great Western contribution to greater Birmingham passenger transport – this part is none the less a very important one.

Parcels Traffic

The main collection s and deliveries of parcels traffic are made from the parcels depot situated at the lower level at the north end of Snow Hill station, where stabling for the fleet of vans and lorries is at hand in the adjacent arches of the northern viaduct. Horse, motorcar, and other traffics requiring special vehicles are dealt with in the Tunnel Sidings loading docks. One and three quarter million parcels of every conceivable description pass through the Birmingham Parcels Department in twelve months, apart from the large numbers dealt with at certain other suburban stations within the City area.

The City of Birmingham markets, for vegetables, fish, and cattle, respectively, cover an area of over nine acres, and they can be said to serve 2,000,000 persons, as their commodities are distributed not only to the city dwellers but also to residents of adjacent townships. Special express services convey to Birmingham daily, fish from the eastern and western ports, produce from the Channel Isles and the West of England and rabbits from West Wales and flowers from Scilly Isles in season. Before the normal business of the city commences each morning Great Western road transport vehicles have already delivered this passenger-rated traffic to the various markets from Moor Street station. The traffic is very considerable, fish to the total of 11,000 tons and packages of produce numbering 850,000 and weighing 5,000 tons being handled annually.

Robert Ferris


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