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LMS Routes

The London Midland Scottish Railway in Warwickshire

Introduction and Background to the LMS The London & North Western Railway
The Midland Railway The Stratford & Midland Junction Railway

The Stratford & Midland Junction Railway

The Stratford Upon Avon & Midland Junction Railway (SMJR) was one of Britain's more impoverished and least efficient little railways, although on one or two occasions it came near to achieving greatness. Its line ran across a largely empty, untouched portion of England visiting the counties of Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and a little of Buckinghamshire. It only existed as the SMJR from 1909 to 1923. Its origins lie in the amalgamation of four railway companies in 1909-10:

the Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway (NBJR), authorised by an Act of Parliament on 9th July 1847, was originally intended to run from Northampton to Cardiff. In the event only the section between Blisworth (on the L&NWR main line, where it connected with the L&NWR's Northampton Branch) and Cockley Brake Junction, some five miles east of Banbury on the L&NWR's Buckingham Branch, was built opening on 1st June 1872, a length of fifteen and quarter miles. Intended to tap the ironstone deposits near Blisworth, it ran from Blisworth to Cockley Brake Junction where a connection was made for Banbury.

the East & West Junction Railway (E&WJR), authorised by an Act of Parliament on 23rd June 1864, to open a line from a junction with the Northampton & Banbury Railway near Towcester to a junction with the GWR's Honeybourne to Stratford-on-Avon line at Old Stratford. The line opened in stages: from Fenny Compton to Kineton on 1st June 1871; and from Kineton to Stratford-upon-Avon on 1st July 1873. On the same day as the Kineton to Stratford-upon-Avon opened the line was also extended eastwards to join the NBJR near Towcester. Its earliest passenger coaches were bought secondhand from the L&NWR, and ran for several years in L&NWR livery before the company was able to find the money to repaint them. To this route was added the Evesham, Redditch & Stratford-on-Avon Junction Railway which was authorised on 5th August 1873. However due financial difficulties it only opened from Stratford-upon-Avon to Broom Junction, a length of seven and half miles, opening on 2nd June 1879. The Easton Neston Mineral & Roade and Olney Junction Railway, which ran from Easton Neston near Towcester to the Midland Railway main line at Ravenstone Wood Junction near Olney, also connected with the L&NWR main line at Roade.

The company ran services between Broom Junction, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Banbury through Towcester to Blisworth and Olney and fashioned itself as 'The Shakespeare route'. The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway came into being on 1st January 1909 and consolidated these lines into a 67 mile long system stretching from Olney via Towcester and Stratford to Broome and from Blisworth (for Northampton) to Cockley Brake Junction (for Banbury Merton Street). The Chairman was Harry Willmott and his son Russell Willmott was appointed both General Manager and Engineer.

About the most exciting thing that ever happened to the company was when in the early 1900s the Great Central Railway ran four expresses a week for the benefit of Shakespeare enthusiasts during the tourist season, from the junction with its main line at Woodford Hinton to Stratford-upon-Avon. For much of the last quarter of the nineteenth century Sir Edward Watkin's eye would occasionally turned toward the SMJ as a possible way for the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway to obtain its own line to Birmingham. The idea was that the Great Central Railway would use the SMJ from Moreton Pinckney to Stratford and then the North Warwickshire Railway from Stratford to Birmingham. This plan however came to nothing when the Great Western gained control of the North Warwickshire Railway in 1900.

On 1st January 1923 the SMJR was, with other railway companies, grouped to form the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR). The line was to become an important asset to the LMSR since it provided a direct route, avoiding Birmingham, between the western line owned by the former Midland Railway and the main line south of Bedford. Excursion traffic used the route extensively between the First and Second World Wars.

The route

Once all the portions of the line came together on 1st January 1909 (minus the Northampton & Banbury junction Railway which was taken over the following year, the SMJR consisted of a main line from Blisworth to Broom, with two branches: one from Towcester to Ravenstone Wood Junction, Olney and the other from Cockley Brake Junction. The SMJ had its main use as a connecting link for east-west traffic between the railway companies it intersected:

the Midland Railway — as already described
the London and North Western Railway at Blisworth
the Great Central Railway (GCR) at Woodford Halse.¹
the Great Western Railway at Fenny Compton and again at Stratford upon Avon

¹. Soon after the Great Central Railway's London Extension was built in 1899 through passenger coaches were provided between London Marylebone and Stratford-upon-Avon; later a slip coach was used on the service.

The line was single track throughout apart from passing loops: the countryside was undulating, and there were frequent changes of gradient and sharp curves, making it difficult to work for train crews. The track itself, until taken over by the LMSR, was mostly secondhand; because of this, the line was dubbed the Slow Mouldy and Jolty Railway by travellers. The railway owned 13 locomotives which themselves were old, and since they proved incompatible with the LMSR's modernisation scheme they had all been scrapped by 1931. The Edge Hill Light Railway, which began working to ferry ironstone in 1922, and closed in 1946, ran from Burton Dassett sidings, west of Fenny Compton.


The line's original raison d’etre (that of conveying ironstone to the ironworks of South Wales) was ended when cheap Spanish ironstone ore displaced that from the Northamptonshire quarries. As can be expected in these circumstances, this brought about financial problems, and for a time in the 1870s the E&WJR was in the hands of the receiver. By 1911, however, the line was starting to show a reasonable profit. Lias limestone was conveyed from the Ettington Lime Works; but from the early 20th century it became important as a through route for freight of all kinds between the West of England and London. One such freight working, which the line became synonymous with, was the express banana train between Avonmouth Dock and St Pancras.

Passenger services on the SMJR were generally sparse, with often just three or four trains operating each day. As part of the LMSR's experimentation in reducing the cost of running branch line services, experiments were carried out on the SMJR over several months during 1932 with a Ro-Railer, a bus converted to run on rails. This experiment proved to be a failure and the service was withdrawn in June 1932.


Broom to Stratford-upon-Avon - 16th June 1947 closed to passenger traffic
Blisworth to Towcester - 2nd July 1951 closed to passenger traffic
Blisworth to Cockley Brake Junction - October 1951 closed to all traffic
Stratford to Ravenstone Wood Junction - 7th April 1952 closed to passenger traffic