Notes: The line from Honeybourne to Cheltenham Malvern Road was authorised in 1899, part of a larger scheme by the GWR to build a rival and largely parallel line to the Midland Railway’s main line a few miles further west from Birmingham to Cheltenham Lansdown Road, via the Lickey incline. The new GWR line also used the existing branch from Honeybourne to Stratford, as well as a new line north of Stratford to Tyseley built in 1908. In this way a parallel route was achieved which, although slightly longer, avoided the Lickey incline and the payment of tolls to the MR.
The line from Honeybourne to Cheltenham Malvern Road was built in sections between 1904 and 1906, the first section to Broadway opening on 1 August 1904. This was one of the last major lines built in England, with easy curves and modest gradients, and its long cuttings were excavated using steam shovels which very modern at the time. Many of the stations were built to a standard GWR design, where the station roof and platform canopy formed a single structure. A good example of this can be seen at Toddington; Broadway, too, had such a roof. The station was built of red brick, a surprising choice as Gotherington and Bishops Cleeve, further along the line, were built of Cotswold stone. Broadway village, about half a mile from the station, is a typical Cotswold village, which is popular with tourists. Although the village is built of honey-coloured Cotswold stone, the station did not emulate this. Another curiosity of the design was that the building did not have a front door; passengers entered by a side gate and reached the building via the platform to buy their tickets. This can be clearly seen in the 1904 picture, where a queue stretches all the way down the station approach road waiting to buy tickets via the side gate by the footbridge.
On platform 2 there was a second waiting room with gents’ toilet, again with the combination roof including the canopy. This was attached to the footbridge to give a dry passage all the way to the entrance gate. The footbridge was of a later design than those north of Stratford, with a straight deck and fewer embellishments than the earlier designs. These, for example at Stratford itself and at Wilmcote, had a stepped deck, cast iron supports and the date of manufacture embossed on the side. Broadway footbridge was plainer and, no doubt, cheaper to build.
The site of Broadway station was cut in two by the A44 Broadway-Evesham Road (now replaced by a bypass on the other side of the village). To the north was the passenger station, a small siding with a horse dock, the stationmaster’s house, and four employees’ cottages, later supplemented by two additional houses in semi-detached form. To the south of the bridge over the A44 was the goods shed and cattle dock, flanked by the double main running line and two parallel sidings on one side, and the goods yard with three sidings, a 6T crane and a 15T weighbridge on the other. The whole was controlled by a signal box with 37 levers, situated immediately to the south of the road bridge, in the centre of the complex. The box was of wooden construction as it was built on made-up ground at the start of a long embankment which stretched southwards almost to Laverton. To the north was a cutting, and the passenger station fitted into the short level area between the two earthworks.
The new GWR route was principally intended for through traffic and, certainly on the Honeybourne line, the stations were not close to the villages whose name they carried. Early passenger traffic was handled by economical rail-motors, which later evolved to push-pull services handled by GWR 14xx tanks affectionately known as the ‘Coffepot’. These continued in use until the end of passenger services. There were seven station staff members, a number which increased initially to ten after Broadway took over responsibility for its neighbouring halts of Willersey and Laverton, and from 1932 also the station of Weston-sub-Edge to the north, which ceased to be staffed in September 1950. Subsequently the numbers reduced again, falling to only six by 1959.
On the north side of the station was a horse dock which seems to have seen regular use, certainly in the early days. It was used for transhipping horses collected for the First World War. Broadway Tower nearby has a copy of a 1907 GWR invoice annotated by the goods clerk to the effect that it is now usual to pay in advance for a horse sent from Broadway to Gloucester, and would the customer please get the money from the buyer, and pay the 7s 6d due to the railway! Another user of the horse dock would have been the C.T. Scott, son of the railway’s contractor Walter Scott. The Scott family liked the area so much that they took up residence in Buckland Manor just south of Broadway, and C.T. Scott became master of the Broadway hunt. There were also point-to-point races nearby, with special trains laid on for the event. The horse siding was taken out in 1957, while in 1959 the lower two sidings in the goods yard were taken out, together with the crossovers on the main line.
Freight traffic consisted principally of coal inwards - which was then distributed throughout the village by a coal merchant based in the goods yard - and agricultural produce outwards. The Vale of Evesham was intensively farmed for fruit and vegetables which would have been shipped via the railway. Cattle were sent to market, as well as milk which was dispatched in a Syphon van to Honeybourne in milk churns which were trolleyed on to platform 2 via the barrow crossing at the southern end of platform 1. The goods yard was on a slope, which caused wagons to run away on at least two occasions.
A big employer in Broadway was the furniture maker Gordon Russell. Several of the employees caught the train to go to work, and when the company secured a contract to manufacture radio cabinets for a company in Welwyn Garden City, the volume of production was such that one wagon of these goods was dispatched per day from the goods yard in the 1930s.
Through traffic saw famous trains such as ‘The Cornishman’ from Wolverhampton to Penzance (twice a day), mixed freight trains, coal trains and, towards the end, heavy iron ore trains from the Midlands to Wales hauled by 9Fs. The noise must have been considerable, and some of the former residents of the station cottages report that the vibration caused the gas mantles to crumble, and in two instances, the laths from the ceiling came down. Accommodation in the cottages was very basic: there was neither electricity nor a bath, lighting was by gas, and washing took place in a tin tub in front of the fire. The only telephone was in the station itself, and messages had to be conveyed to the occupants on foot. It was in this way that one occupant learned of the death of her grandmother.
The employees that lived in the seven station houses formed quite a close-knit community. The children played ‘kick the can’ and football on the forecourt, undisturbed by cars. On one occasion, the local bobby joined in but kicked the ball against a station window and cracked it, after which he hurriedly made off. Roller-skating along the platform, down the ramp, across the rails and up the other side to platform 2 was also a favourite activity, regardless of the passing trains. With its single coach ‘Coffepot’ the only stopping train, Broadway was not a busy station. Passengers used it to come to work, to go to Cheltenham for shopping, or travel to school. Via Honeybourne, Oxford and London were in easy reach. However, from the 1950s, private cars began to lure the passenger traffic away, abetted by bus routes which better served some of the destinations such as Stratford.
Once the railway network was nationalised in 1948, British Railways found itself with two main lines running down the Vale of Evesham. As railways were declining in importance the temptation to close one of them was great. Although the GWR line was flatter and more modern, it was slightly longer and the former MR line through Ashchurch was preferred. Gradually traffic was transferred to the MR line, in particular after 1960, when the stopping passenger service ceased. The goods traffic managed to struggle on until June 1964. Its survival was not helped when the signal box was decommissioned in 1960, and the only access to the yard was via a ground frame on the southbound line, released from the box at Toddington – even for northbound traffic!
Thus Broadway station closed, even before Dr Beeching produced his infamous report. Once the buildings were taken out of use they became a liability for BR. The line was preferred for out-of-gauge loads, so in November 1963 the buildings were demolished and the platforms razed to track level. The main station building was dismantled, and some components ended up with nearby residents. Two sides of the signal box were used to create a lean-to in one of the station houses, the ceiling planks were sold by one of the gangers, and some of the platform paving slabs ended up in a nearby driveway. The footbridge went for scrap, while the waiting room on platform 2 was treated rather more brutally: it was demolished with a wrecking ball in the shape of a cartwheel, and then bulldozed into the cutting sides. Within two years the site of the station was a mere grass-covered shallow depression, with the tracks in the middle still in regular use by regular through traffic hauled by steam and, at the end, even by class 47s.
While BR hesitated over the future of the line, fate intervened. On 25 August 1976 a southbound freight train derailed on the infamous Chicken Curve just to the north of Winchcombe station. While the diesel loco stayed on the rails, the train itself derailed and wagons were scattered all over the ripped-up trackbed; it was never reinstated. Faced with considerable costs for a little-used line, BR threw in the towel and closed the line officially on 1 November 1976. The track was lifted in 1979.
In 1981 the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway plc was incorporated. In 1984 it was able to purchase the land and buildings (such as remained, all stations but Toddington having been demolished) between Cheltenham Pitville and Broadway Springfield Lane. Over the next 30 years the track was slowly reinstated, first southwards to Cheltenham Race Course, then northwards. The current railhead at the time of writing is Laverton Halt.
The site of the former Broadway station continued to slumber, as the company could not address its efforts to all the stations at once. However, in 2009 a newly formed Broadway Area Group began to take an interest in the site, with the intention of rebuilding the station in anticipation of the railhead arriving at the site in the medium term future. The goods yard had already been sold to the Caravan Club, and in 2012 the goods shed itself was also sold to raise funds for the repair of the Chicken Curve slip. All activity is now focused on the former passenger side north of the A44 road bridge.
The intention is to rebuild Broadway station as a replica of its former self. A small number of changes will have to be accepted in order to meet modern requirements. The platforms will be longer, to accept 8-coach trains, and the main station building will be stretched to provide additional toilet facilities. The ticket hall will have doors on both sides so that passengers can enter the building from the station approach, instead of walking through the gates at the side and then down the platform. A footbridge, identical to the model that once stood at Broadway, has been sourced from Henley-in-Arden, further up the line. The platforms have been built from engineering blue bricks recovered from a demolished sewerage works at Wisley, a GWR wall at Taunton shed and the former MR turntable pit at Avonmouth, about 70,000 bricks in all. The main buildings will be constructed in new, imperial sized bricks of weathered reds, with the same architectural features as before. As the southern (goods) half of the site has been sold except for the main line, the new signal box will now be situated on platform two. The design will be similar to that at Shirley and will hold the former 45-lever frame from Aller Junction.
The total cost of returning trains to Broadway is estimated at £1.5m. This breaks down into three approximately equal parts: the cost of repairing the five underbridges along the two-mile missing stretch, the cost of the track replacement, and the cost of rebuilding the station and signal box. A share issue under an EIS has been launched for repairing the bridges, and further details can be found at http://www.gwsr.com/BridgestoBroadway.pdf. The work in progress for the station itself can be followed on the station blog here: http://broadwaygwsr.blogspot.co.uk/
Route map drawn by Alan Young, Tickets from Michael Stewart (except 1625 and 0889 Robert and Jennifer Rose). Bradshaw from Nick Catford.