Friday, 13 June 2008

Horsley Fields Junction

A friend who'd read my post on Sedgeley Junction asked about one of the adjacent boxes, Horsley Fields Junction. This was situated on the South Stafford line, which extended from Walsall (London & North Western) to Dudley (Great Western).

Horsley Fields Junction box was a standard London & North Western Railway design of the early pattern with a hipped roof, brick base and Webb lever frame. Sedgeley Junction was adjacent to the south-west, Great Bridge to the north-east. Trains faced a steep climb from Great Bridge to Dudley and banking of freight trains was commonplace. At Horseley Fields Junction, a diverging route headed east, through ex-Great Western station Great Bridge East to Swan Village on the Wolverhampton (Low Level) to Birmingham (Snow Hill) line. There was still a signal box at Great Bridge East in the early '60s, but invariably it was 'switched-out', so the block section extended from Horseley Fields Junction to Swan Village West box, which was just before the junction with the Great Western main line.

At Horseley Fields Junction, the railway ran in a cutting with road bridges across the line on either side of the junction so the area seemed rather isolated. The signal box was set high-up on the Down side and a series of steps set into the embankment led from the track to the box. Behind the box lay the Horseley Bridge and Thomas Piggott works - the large black shed with the company name displayed was visible for some distance.

I worked the box informally on a couple of occasions when one of my relief signalman friends was rostered. The job was not too demanding - two points, one with a facing point lock, a home signal with distant on both the Up Main and Up Branch and two home signals protecting the facing junction on the down. I think the down distant was 'fixed' - it was certainly a tall L.M.S. lattice post on the Sedgeley Junction side of Dudley Port Low Level station. The lever frame with block shelf above were on the track side of the box. The three block instruments were Fletcher combined Double Needle and bell, one of which (I can't remember which) was the earlier pattern mounted on two cast brackets rather than the later four columns with wooden base.

Passenger trains to and from the Swan Village branch were signalled using the '1-3' bell code ("Is line clear for branch passenger train?") to distinguish them from the Walsall - Dudley locals which came as a '3-1'. By the early '60s, passenger trains were usually Diesel Multiple Units, although one local to Snow Hill in the morning with a corresponding return to Dudley in the afternoon was still steam-hauled. At the time of my visits, the box was only open during the day, when there were scheduled trains on and off the branch. At night and at other times, the box was 'switched-out' and the block section was from Sedgeley Junction to Great Bridge.

I used the 'Multimap' aerial view and Bird's Eye Views to have a look at the area today. Most of the features I remember are long gone but the rails of the South Stafford Line remain, very overgrown. The route has been proposed as a future Midland Metro route from Walsall to Dudley, but government funding has not been forthcoming. Click for map.

Gone are the works of Horseley Bridge - modern houses now occupy the site. Some records remain in the National Archives. Horseley Bridge originated as Dixon, Amphlett and Bedford, in 1792, building the Galton Canal Bridge at Smethwick for Telford in 1829, locomotives under Isaac Dodds and, later, steel buildings of various types. Thomas Piggott and Company was founded in 1822 to build iron canal barges, later diversifying into gas plant, lifeboats, piping and pressed steel tanks. The two firms amalgamated in 1933. In 1951, the company was responsible for the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain.