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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.

To navigate within the history of the Great Western Railway in Warwickshire click the following links.

Broad Gauge Plans and Politics Railway Construction and Gauge Conversion Into the Golden Age
Cut Offs and Direct Lines Improved Stations, Services and Motive Power The First World War and After
1920’s - The Grouping 1930’s - Depression and Resurgence Communities We Serve – Birmingham

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

Broad Gauge Plans and Politics Railway Construction and Gauge Conversion Into the Golden Age
Cut Offs and Direct Lines Improved Stations, Services and Motive Power The First World War and After
1920’s - The Grouping 1930’s - Depression and Resurgence Communities We Serve – Birmingham