Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Stafford Station in the 'Fifties

My very incomplete diagram from 1955.

In 1955, I made the occasional journey by rail from Wolverhampton to Stafford. The station was very different then. Approaching from the South, the Stour Valley and Trent Valley Lines merged at Stafford No. 1, a long L&NWR signal box with a brick base. Continuing North under the road bridge carrying the Wolverhampton-Stafford road, there were then extensive sidings on both the Down and Up sides. On the Up side, there was a smaller L&NWR box dealing with the Up yard, Stafford No. 2. There was extensive shunting and trip work and a 3F 'Standard Shunt' could usually be seen fussing about.

The Up and Down sidings made various connections with the four main running lines which were paired by use just South of the road bridge carrying the Stafford-Newport road. Stafford No. 4, another L&NWR signal box, was situated South of this road bridge, in between the two pairs of two running lines. Subsequently, this signalbox was replaced by a B.R. Standard design on the Up side which remains in use.

The station itself had typical L&NWR architecture with a large overall roof in the main part of the station and canopies carried over the tracks on the main platforms. Buildings were imposing, blue-brick affairs with fairly simple but elegant detailing. All of this was swept away during the Manchester and Euston A.C. Electrification but the arrangements which still remain at Crewe are similar to the old Stafford.

My contemporary diagram above is very incomplete, but clarifies the arrangement of platforms. Then, as now, there were two through roads for the non-stop trains with loops serving up and down platforms. Both platforms had bays at the North and South ends. The Down platform was an island, with an additional loop line to the West serving platform 6. In the middle of this loop, there were connections with the pair of by-pass lines to the West which allowed two trains to stand at platform 6. The by-pass lines were principally used by freight trains. The by-pass lines, the connections to platform 6 and the connections to the cramped Stafford Motive Power Depot were all controlled by another L&NWR signal box, Stafford No. 6. The connections at the North end of the station were controlled by Stafford No. 5, a modern brick-built affair with a L.M.S. or B.R. frame on the side away from the running lines. The M.P.D. building is still in use, heavily adapted as industrial premises. Stafford No. 5 remains a signal box.

There were four main lines going North to Crewe - the Down and Up Slow to the West, Down and Up Fast to the East. Two branches diverged at Stafford No. 5. The one to the West went to Wellington which, at the time, still enjoyed a passenger service, usually compartment stock in the hands of Fowler 2-6-4 tanks. The branch to the East survived as far as Stafford Common. It originally extended to Uttoxeter but, by the mid '50s, I think it had been truncated and only served the large R.A.F. depot just outside the town. I remember watching 'Standard Shunts' on trip workings over this branch.

A barrow crossing was provided at the South end of the station to allow station staff to move parcels between the up and down platforms. The sounding of an electric bell heralded the approach of a through train as a warning to staff using the crossing. The passage of a non-stop on the through lines was impressive - the noise was deafening and the whole area shook with vibration.

A visit to Stafford afforded the opportunity to see a host of 'Named Trains' which had come down the Trent Valley. Today, it seems rather quaint (if delightful) to give important services a name. The locomotive carried a headboard displaying the name of the service and the destination boards on the coaches (long wooden boards carried in brackets above the windows on each coach) usually carried the name. The last coach of any express was fitted with a gangway board to close-off the unused corridor connection (preventing the interior from getting dirty) but the rear of the 'Royal Scot' enjoyed a special gangway board with a tartan background and the name of the service displayed!

Many of the 'crack' trains were hauled by 'Princess' and 'Princess Coronation' locomotives, very rarely seen on the Stour Valley Line or in the West Midlands at the time. Later, as steam was withdrawn and locomotives were 'cascaded' to less-important routes, Stanier Pacifics became a common sight on the 'Stour'.

My interest was in signalling and general railway operation - I had never collected engine numbers, but I occasionally wrote down a few numbers as a guide to what was rostered on various trains. My diagram above has a short list from one visit.

44962: This 'Black 5' was noted facing South in Platform 2 (the Up side bay at the South end). It was fairly common to find a locomotive here: I wonder if it was policy to keep a spare engine here to assist an Up train in difficulty?
45041: Another 'Black 5'. No details, but these engines could be found doing anything, anywhere.
45555: A '5X', 'Quebec', probably on express passenger duty.
41213: Ivatt's Class 2 'Moguls' were popular, economical engines, often used for parcels traffic.
46201: One of Stanier's first batch of 'Pacifics', 'Princess Elizabeth' was almost certainly on one of the non-stop expresses.
42886: Hughes big 'Moguls' were odd-looking engines, with their high, angled cylinders (which may be the source of their nickname 'Crabs'), but they did the job, on passenger or freight. This one was on an Up Stour Valley passenger

There's a note about the passing 'Emerald Isle Express', but it appears that the engine name has been mis-read. I think the locomotive was probably 'Patriot' class 45541, 'Duke of Sutherland'.

My diagram above only shows one signal - an elderly L&NWR lower quadrant wooden-post survivor I particularly admired which controlled trains leaving the Up side bays at the South end of the station. Each road has a full-size arm (reading to the Up Main) and two miniature arms (reading to the two up goods loops). There's a bit of a mystery because photographs exist (see 'Books' below) showing distant arms below the full-size arm so maybe my original sketch is in error.

An earlier official plan of Stafford station. Click on image to enlarge.

Much later, I discovered an earlier official plan (shown above) which shows Stafford No. 5 box as the original L. & N. W. R. structure on the Up side.

By 1962, electrification was in progress and there's a post about this period in 'Sunday Stroll to Stafford'.


For more detailed layouts of Stafford in this period, refer to the excellent series of publications from the Signalling Record Society 'British Railways Layout Plans of the 1950's'. Stafford is included in 'Volume 1: ex-LNWR main line, Euston to Crewe' (ISBN: 1 873228 00 7).

For details of the layout of Stafford in 2005, refer to 'Railway Track Diagrams Book 4: Midlands & North West', Second Edition, published by Trackmaps (ISBN: 0-9549866-0-1). The First Edition of this book was published by Quail in 1988.

The thoroughly useful book 'A Pictorial Record of L.N.W.R. Signalling', Oxford Publishing (SBN: 86093 147 1) includes, as Plate 7.15, a picture of the elderly signal mentioned above.

'Scenes from the Past: 22 - Railways in and around Stafford', Foxline (ISBN: 1 870119 27 4) is a splendid record of Stafford over the years.

'Steam around Stafford', Sutton Publishing (ISBN: 0-7509-2368-7) is another excellent record of railways in the area, including (page 103) a picture of the elderly signal mentioned above.

[Additional material added December 2011]