Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Railways around Shrewsbury

A trip by train to Chirk on 26th February 2014 (where I wrote a little about Shrewsbury station) described here) encouraged me to start this article. I was back at Shrewsbury on 8th March 2014 (I wrote a little more about the station here). I passed through Shrewsbury a few more times in 2014 (but without feeling the need to wax lyrical about the station).

Wikipedia has some information on the line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury here and on the line beyond Shrewsbury to Chester here.

I've been familiar with the G.W.R. route from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury and beyond since childhood. Back then, manual signal boxes with Absolute Block working controlled the route from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury but over the years, one by one, they've been eliminated. I've continued to use the line to Shrewsbury and beyond intermittently for various trips.

Wolverhampton area

When I was young, of course, Wolverhampton (Low Level) Station was in full use, the haunt of 'Castles' and 'Kings'. From Wolverhampton, there were two competing main lines to London, G.W.R. and L.M.S. and I've written briefly about my recollections of Wolverhampton's stations in the post West Midland Railways. In the 1960s, the G.W.R. route to London was chosen for closure, once the former L.M.S. line had been electrified. When the Low Level station was taken out of use for trains north of Wolverhampton, the line from Shrewsbury was adapted so as to make a connection with the L.M.S. route, just north of Wolverhampton (High Level) Station. A rather sad passenger service survived from Wolverhampton to Birmingham (Snow Hill) which ended up being operated by a single unit diesel multiple unit ('bubble car'). In the last days of this passenger service I actually got to work Handsworth Jn. and Hockley signal boxes (unofficially). This service was finally withdrawn in 1972 but the site was retained as a parcels depot until complete closure in 1981.

At Wolverhampton (Low Level), the trains are long gone, but the station mouldered on for years, as a listed structure. There were optimistic plans to renovate the station and turn it into a railway museum and some artefacts were actually brought in. But it was not to be. Various plans for a major conference centre came and went. The Bluebrick Project finally redeveloped the site with newbuild Premier Inn and Bars and Bistros, retaining the principal structures. The platform awnings were dismantled, prior to renovation and incorporation in the new development.

As recently as 2006, the site was being cleared. The Up platform is on the left, the Down platform on the right.

In 2012, work to renovate the original down side station buildings was commenced by 'Grand Station - Conference and Event Venue, Wolverhampton'.

Grand Station - Conference and Event Venue, Wolverhampton.

As I mention above, the line to Shrewbury now diverges from the Stour Valley Line to Bushbury and the north at a double junction just north of Wolverhampton station.

View from a Down train diverging from the Stour Valley onto the Shrewsbury Line just North of Wolverhampton station. The Stour Valley Line curves to the right towards Bushbury. The tall chimney on the right is part of Wolverhampton's Waste Incineration Plant.

The Shrewsbury line has been electrified as far as Oxley, where there's a large Alstom Maintenance Depot which looks after the 'Pendolinos' operating the service to London (Euston).

Sidings at the Alstom Traincare Depot, Oxley in 2011.

Wolverhampton is described in sections of book reference [3] and in [4]. The post West Midland Railways has a list of further books on railways around Wolverhampton.

Madeley Junction

This signal box controlled the junction with the branch to Ironbridge. This branch remained in use for some time to convey coal to Ironbridge Power Station. There were two Ironbridge power stations, 'A' and 'B' (confusingly, also called 'Buildwas A and B'). There's a Wikipedia article here. The 'A' station closed in 1981, the 'B' station, now operated by E-On, has been converted to run on biomass until 2015, as described here.

As signalling between Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury was modernised (with colour light signals throughout) Madeley Junction was first provided with a signalling panel to control most of the line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury (including Wellington). But Madeley Junction is now abolished and control is now from the West Midlands Signalling Centre (I think).

Madeley Junction Signal Box in 2008.


Wellington, on the way to Shrewsbury, has become a fairly regular destination over the last few years. The signal boxes and upper-quadrant semaphore signals have gone but the station buildings and platform canopies are remarkably intact.

2.45 p.m. Wellington-Crewe (via Market Drayton) leaving Wellington, Sat 21-Jul-1962 (D. Wynne Jones Collection).

Wellington Down platform, looking towards Shrewsbury showing departing down train, 24-May-2008.

1.15 p.m. Stafford-Shrewsbury arriving at Wellington with 'Jubilee' 45699 'Galatea', Sat 21-Jul-1962 (D. Wynne Jones Collection).

View towards Wolverhampton from Wellington Down Platform (Platform 2). Bay (Platform 3) on right, 24-May-2008.

Wellington is described in sections of book references [1] and [2].

Development of railways around Shrewsbury

Click here for larger image
Railway Clearing House map of lines around Shrewsbury (c. 1914).

Signalling around Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury station still retains three manual signal boxes and a mass of both upper-quadrant and lower-quadrant semaphore signals (although Health and Safety Concerns have led to rebuilding of access ladders and platforms so that the resulting structures are scarcely recognisable as British signals). There are also a few colour light signals dotted around.

Abbey Foregate Signal Box

Approaching Shrewsbury from Wolverhampton, Abbey Foregate Signal Box is a modernised Great Western brick-built box. The Down Home is now a colour light signal with a dual theatre-type route indicator but other signals are semaphore and points are manually operated by rodding.

The signalman ( 'signaller') leans from one of the modern windows of Abbey Foregate Signal Box. Note the 'Great Western' pattern cast signal box nameplate.

Severn Bridge Junction

This famous 'box' is a large, tall L&NWR composite box which continues to control traffic in and out of the simplified south end of Shrewsbury station, albeit with fewer working levers than before.

The fortress-like appearance of Severn Bridge Junction signal box.

Crewe Junction

The north end of Shrewsbury is controlled by another proud survivor, also a L&NWR composite design, also retaining its manual operation.

Shrewsbury: Crewe Junction signal box.

Book reference [5] gives a detailed history of railways around Shrewsbury.

For a detailed map of what remains in 2014, refer to 'Railway Track Diagrams: Book 4 Midlands & North West', published by TRACKmaps (ISBN 978-0-9549866-7-4).

Book References

Wellington appears in the following books:-
[1] 'GWR Junction Stations' by Adrian Vaughan, published by Ian Allen Ltd. (ISBN 0 7110 1790 5).
[2] 'By Great Western to Crewe' by Bob Yate, published by Oakwood Press (0 85361 639 6).
Wolverhampton appears in the following books:-
[3] 'Rail Centres: Wolverhampton' by Paul Collins (originally published in 1990 by Ian Allen, reprinted by Booklaw Publications in 2008) ISBN 1-901945-23-5. [4] 'Oxford Worcester & Wolverhampton Portrait of a Famous Route Part 2: Worcester to Wolverhampton' by Bob Pixton, published by Runpast Publishing (ISBN 1 870754 60 3).
Shrewsbury is described in the following book:-
[5] 'Rail Centres: Shrewsbury' by Richard K. Morriss, published by Booklaw Publications (ISBN 1-901945-20-0).
[6] 'Shrewsbury Railway Station – A brief history' by John Horsley Denton published by John Horsley Denton and Tim Smith (20pp).

My Pictures

Wolverhampton Low Level Station
Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury line
Wellington, ex-Great Western Railway
Shrewsbury area railways

[Book 6 added 15-Sep-2015]

A Trip to South Wales (Part 3)

On Saturday, 26th July 2014, I travelled to Shrewsbury, took the slow train on what's now marketed as the 'Heart of Wales Line' to Swansea then headed to Cardiff and Newport before returning to Wolverhampton via Hereford and Shrewsbury.

The post A Trip to South Wales (Part 1) describes my journey as far as Swansea and the post A Trip to South Wales (Part 2), describes the remainder of my journey.

Historical Background

The Shrewsbury and Hereford railway was developed between 1850 and 1853, linking the named towns. It was in an area of interest to both the Great Western Railway and the London and North Western Railway so the railway became a joint line. There's more information here.

Hereford was joined to Newport in South Wales by the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway, as described here.

Additional lines were constructed by the Pontypool, Caerleon and Newport Railway, as described here.

After various closures and alterations, today these three lines form the modern Welsh Marches Line, mainly operated by Arriva Trains Wales services, as described here.

The Central Wales Line (noe the 'Heart of Wales Line') was the creation of the LNWR in its efforts to reach Swansea. The process proved complicated and involved a number of railway companies and several financial disasters. At the southern end it was the Llanelly Railway, one of the earliest in Britain (founded in 1829) which opened a line as far as Pontardulais in 1839. By 1857 the railway had reached Llandilo. A separate company, the Vale of Towy Railway, completed its line between Llandilo and Llandovery in 1857 and this line was leased to the Llanelly Railway.

Meanwhile at the northern end of the line, the Knighton Railway was formed in 1858 to build a line from Craven Arms, on the north/south Shrewsbury to Hereford line, as far as Knighton. A year later the Central Wales Railway was formed to take the railway on to Llandrindod, and in 1860 a further company, the Central Wales Extension Railway was formed to make the link with the Llanelly at Llandovery. Behind the scenes of all these developments was the LNWR.

It took until 1868 to complete the line with a branch from Pontardulais to Swansea. In the same year the LNWR took over the Knighton, Central Wales, and Central Wales Extension Railways and took a half share in the Vale of Towy Railway. Part of the reason for the time taken was the difficulty of construction of the Sugar Loaf tunnel and the Cynghordy Viaduct just to the north of Llandovery on the Extension line. The Cynghordy viaduct had eighteen arches built in sandstone and lined with brick and is 259 m (850 ft) long on a gentle curve and 31 m (102 ft) above the valley at its highest point. From that date the LNWR had access to Swansea.

Preserved LNWR composite signal box at Llandrindod Wells.

For more information, refer to 'A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 12 South Wales' [reference 4].

Layouts and Illustrations of Selected Stations

Oxford Publishing Co. published a series of three volumes of drawings and photographs of selected Great Western stations R. H. Clark. These books (details are given in 'Book References' below and they are still available second-hand, if not new) have historical details of a number of stations (or former stations) I passed through on my trip to South Wales and I've listed these below. Note that the numbers refer to the Key Map in each volume, not page numbers: the actual drawings are in alphabetic order by station name.

Volume 1 [reference 1]:
67 Hereford
89 Moreton-on-Lugg
102 Pontrilas
107 St. Devereux
119 Tram Inn
Volume 2 [reference 2]:
101 Leominster
116 Ludlow
128 Neath General
Volume 3 [reference 3]:
6 Abergavenny Junction
66 Craven Arms
81 Gowerton
116 Llandilo (Llandeilo)
'GWR Junction Stations' reference [5] has sections describing Leominster and Wellington stations.

Shrewsbury is described in book reference [6].

Book References

[1] 'An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Stations - Layouts and Illustrations' by R.H. Clark, published by Oxford Publishing Co. (SBN 0 902888 29 3).
[2] 'An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Stations - Layouts and Illustrations - Volume 2' by R.H. Clark, published by Oxford Publishing Co. (ISBN 0 86093 015 7).
[3] 'An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Stations - Layouts and Illustrations - Volume 3' by R.H. Clark, reprinted 1987 by Book Club Associates.
[4] 'A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 12 South Wales' by D. S. M. Barrie, published by David & Charles (ISBN 0-7153-7970-4).
[5] 'GWR Junction Stations' by Adrian Vaughan, published by Ian Allen Ltd. (ISBN 0 7110 1790 5).
[6] 'Rail Centres: Shrewsbury' by Richard K. Morriss, published by Booklaw Publications (ISBN 1-901945-20-0).

Related articles on other sites

Shrewsbury and Hereford railway (Wikipedia).
Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway (Wikipedia).
Pontypool, Caerleon and Newport Railway (Wikipedia).
Welsh Marches Line (Wikipedia).
Heart of Wales Line (Wikipedia).

Related articles on this site

A Trip to South Wales (Part 1).
A Trip to South Wales (Part 2).

My pictures

Newport, Gwent.

Railway pictures:
Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury Line.
Shrewsbury area railways.
Heart of Wales Line.
Swansea area railways.
Cardiff's railways.
Newport Station, Gwent.
Shrewsbury-Hereford line.

Llandudno Railway Station

The three pictures below show the stages that Llandudno station buildings have been through since I started travelling by rail.

The first illustration shows the appearance from the road in the 1950s when the station had to carry large numbers of passengers in the holiday season.

Llandudno Staion in the 1950s (from 'An Historical Survey of Chester to Holyhead Railway Track Layouts and Illustrations').

By the time of my visit in 2011 (described in the post A Trip to the Seaside (Part 2)), the former platforms 4 and 5 had been downgraded to sidings and all the station buildings to the right of the vehicle entrance had been demolished, although vehicles could still use the carriage drive which extended along the broad island platform serving platform 3 and the disused platform 4.

Llandudno Station, 2011.

When I returned to Llandudno in 2014 (by road with Ann and Dean described here), I found that further work had been carried out. The vehicle entrance is no more and the large aperture has been glazed and provided with a set of automatic doors for foot passengers. The sidings (formerly serving platforms 4 and 5) have been removed, allowing the creation of a substantial car park. Traditional cast gateposts with metal gates and fencing are provided to close off the carpark when necessary (they may be re-furbished items relocated from the old vehicle entrance). Curiously, the internet entry on the National Rail Enquiries Site here states that there's no car park at the station.

Llandudno Station, August 2014.

As elements of the old station have been retained, the overall effect is, I admit, not bad. A sign outside the station shows the various bodies involved in the Improvement Project.

Sign showing bodies involved in the Improvement Project.

Related posts in this blog

Trip to Holyhead (Part 1: Crewe to Llandudno).
The Holyhead to Crewe Railway Line.

My pictures

All my pictures of Llandudno Station are in the album:-
North Wales Line (Crewe - Llandudno).

Kipling's Burma

The well-known 1912 photograph of Kipling by
E. O. Hoppé, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was a poet and writer with exceptional writing skills but, as the political climate changes, he is sometimes regarded as a controversial figure. Although Kipling was born in India, his schooling was in England. His parents were unable to pay for him to go to university so, as a young man, he returned to India in 1882 and worked in the newspaper industry.

Burmese expansionism into Manipur and Assam led to the First Burma War (1824 - 1826) after which British India also acquired what is now Rakhine State in the north and what is now Mon State in the south, with Mawlamyine as the first capital of British Burma. Following the Second Burma War of 1852, Lower Burma was placed under direct administration from India, after which Rangoon (now Yangon) became capital of British Burma. Kipling's first contact with Burma, as an assistant editor in India, was in dealing with cable reports from Burma. Growing British concerns about French intentions in Upper Burma precipitated the Third Burma War in 1885 and resulted in the dreadful King Theebaw being exiled to India and the remainder of Burma being annexed by Britain. Elements of the former Burmese Army became brigands and harried the British for some time. Kipling's prolific writing included a very well-known poem called 'The Road to Mandalay' first published in 1892 in 'Barrack Room Ballads':-

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say,
"Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay;
Can't you 'ear their paddles clunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-Yaw-Lat jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud-- Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd--
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!

On the road to Mandalay ...

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-la-lo!"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek again my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephants a-piling teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!

On the road to Mandalay ...

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago and fur away,
An' there ain't no 'buses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;

On the road to Mandalay ...

I am sick 'o wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and--
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

On the road to Mandalay ...

Ship me somewheres East of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', and it's there that I would be--
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!

O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

In 1908, the American composer Oley Speaks (1874-1948) set the words to music and this is the form in which I and many people knew it - I was unaware until planning my first visit to Burma in 2008 that the words were by Kipling. Apparently, Frank Sinatra used the first and last verses on one of his recordings but Kipling's family disapproved of this interpretation. 'Moulmein', referred to in the poem, is now called Mawlamyine.

In March 1889, following disagreement with his employer and increasing success in the publication of poems and articles, Kipling decided to return to England and become a full-time writer. He took an eastwards route, via Burma, Japan and the United States. During the journey, he supplied a number of letters for publication to his former employer in India, the 'Pioneer'. In one of these letters, Kipling wrote an evocative line which still resonates with visitors to modern Burma:-

"This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about".

The letters were subsequently published by Macmillan and Company in London in 1900 as a 2-volume publication 'From Sea to Sea and other Sketches - Letters of Travel'. The publication went into innumerable reprints over the years. A 'Pocket Edition' appeared in 1908 (with a smaller page size and printed on thinner paper but similarly in two volumes) and this version was also frequently reprinted.

The line appears in Volume I, the section 'From Sea to Sea', Chapter II where Kipling describes the arrival of the steamer at Rangoon, as the Shwedagon appears:-

"Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon - a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of warehouses, sheds and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now? ... It explained in the first place why we took Rangoon, and in the second why we pushed on to see what more of rich or rare the land held. Up till that sight my uninstructed eyes could not see that the land differed much in appearance from the Sunderbuns, but the golden dome said: 'This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.'"

Kipling goes on to describe his brief time in Rangoon. On his way to Japan, the steamer called at Mawlamyine which Kipling also describes. All told, Kipling was only in Burma about 3 days, yet he's one of the best known writers about Burma and, for me and many other visitors, correctly expresses the sense of wonder the country induces.

The Wikipedia article contains much more information about Kipling. There is also an active Kipling Society. Their website includes the text of an address by George Webb to the Royal Society of Asian Affairs in 1983 titled 'Kipling's Burma' here.

Book References

There are a number of books about Burma written by Englishmen where I have re-prints obtained in Yangon and these may be available elsewhere or as e-books or 'Print on Demand' books. I always try AbeBooks for hard-to-find or second-hand books (where you have the pleasure of dealing, albeit by internet, with real booksellers and real book enthusiasts all over the world).Alternately, try Google Books. The Internet Archive is also a source for digitised books.

[ 1] 'The Land of the White Elephant: Sights and Scenes in South-Eastern Asia' by Frank Vincent Junior, published 1873 by Samson Low, Marston, Low & Searle, London.
[ 2] 'British Burma and its People: being sketches of native manners, customs and religion' by Capt. C. J. F. S. Forbes, F.R.G.S., published 1878 by John Murray, London.
[ 3] 'The Burman: His Life and Notions' by Shway Yoe (Sir James George Scott), first published 1882, re-published by W. W. Norton & Co, Inc. in 1963.
[ 4] 'History of Burma From the Earliest Time to the End of the First War with British India' by lieut.-General Sir Arthur P. Phayre G.C.M.G., K.C.S.I., and C.B., first edition 1883, second edition 1967 by Susil Gupta, London & Santiago de Compostela.
[ 5] 'A Short History of Burma' by S. W. Cocks, M.A., first edition 1912, reprinted 1918, second editions 1919, 1923 by Macmillan & Co., Limited, London.
[ 6] 'The Burman Empire: A Compilation of twelve lectures delivered by W. L. Barretto, O.B.E., B.A., of the Middle Temple, Bar-at-Law', published 1935 by Hein Co & Press, Pyapon.
[ 7] 'Britsh Rule in Burma 1824-1942' by G. E. Harvey Late Indian Civil Service' published 1946 by Faber and Faber Limited, London.
[ 8] 'Political Incidents of the First Burmese War' by Thomas Campbell Robertson, Late of the Bengal Civil Service, published 1853 by Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street.
[ 9] 'Burma, After the Conquest, viewed in its political, social and commercial aspects' by Grattan Geary, published 1886 by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Revington.
[10] 'A Civil Servant in Burma' by Sir Herbert Thirkell White K.C.I.E., published 1913 by Edward Arnold, London.
[11] 'The Pagoda War, Lord Dufferin and the fall of the Kingdom of Ava 1885-1886' by A.T.Q. Stewart, published 1972 by Faber and Faber (ISBN 0 571 08722 1).
[12] 'Red Moon Rising' by George Rodger, published 1943 by The Cresset Press, London (describing events during World War II).

[Additional book references added: 13-May-2016]