A brief history

[Source:Darren Kitson}

This history follows on from that of the Stratford and Moreton Railway referred to loosely as ‘the tramway’, but a little overlap is necessary. As we saw, following takeover of the tramway by the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway (OW&WR) and then the subsequent vesting into the Great Western Railway (GWR), the latter continued to operate the tramway using horse traction for a number of years.

By the 1880s the northern section of the tramway, i.e. between Darlingscott Junction and Stratford-upon-Avon, was falling into disuse and a state of neglect; it was clear the tramway was approaching the end of its useful life. It is believed to have been last used in about 1904. Meanwhile, in the 1880s, the people and traders of Shipston-on-Stour were calling for an improved transport link which at that time meant only one thing - a proper railway. The main flow of people and goods to and from Shipston-on-Stour was to and from Stratford-upon-Avon, not Moreton-in-Marsh which, then as now, was hardly a major centre of commerce. However, it did offer good rail links to Oxford and beyond to London as well as to Worcester and of course to Stratford-upon-Avon via Honeybourne. For passengers, the latter route was rather circuitous but it was perfectly alright for goods traffic. Of course Stratford-upon-Avon was served by other railways which provided potential for longer journeys to, say, Birmingham and Leamington Spa. The tramway, on the other hand, deposited people and goods at its own wharf which was separate from Stratford-upon-Avon's two railway stations; the second being Stratford Old Town, on the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway.

So it was that the GWR decided to rebuild the tramway between Moreton-in-Marsh and Shipston-on-Stour as a proper railway but there was a problem, being that through running was not possible without a reversal at Darlingscott Junction to the north of Stretton-on-Fosse. The GWR toyed with two possibilities, the building of a totally new route or the installing of a new chord to avoid the need for the reversal. The latter option won the argument. There was though, a problem which harked back to the original Act of 1833 which stated that if locomotives were to be used [on the tramway] all roads had to be bridged. The result was revocation of the 1833 Act and the coming into force of the Great Western Railway (No.1) Act of the 7th August 1884. There was a No. 2 Act, of the 28th July 1884, but this had no bearing on the Shipston-on-Stour branch. If the dates of these two 1884 Acts appear transposed it is because, in simple terms, the dates are when the Acts were passed into law and not when they were initially drawn up, meaning No.1 Act was drawn-up first but was passed later than No.2 Act.

With the passing of No.1 Act, the way was now clear for the GWR to construct what became its Shipston-on-Stour branch along with the new chord, some 600 yards long, avoiding Darlingscott Junction. We know some repair and upgrade work was done by the OW&WR and the GWR after the former merged with the latter still in horse tramway days, but we do not know the extent and where precisely work was undertaken. During the 1880s however, the extent of the work the GWR undertook to convert the Moreton-in-Marsh to Shipston-on-Stour section into a proper railway is known (‘proper’ is perhaps not quite the right word but it serves to distinguish from the horse tramway and especially when considering the tramway was officially a railway). The GWR removed the entire previous track and in effect started with the clean sheet that was the bare trackbed. Campden Road Tunnel was opened out into a cutting and a bridge provided following some delay for legal reasons. Track was re-laid with bullhead rail on transverse wooden sleepers, gated level crossings provided, crossing keepers' cottages provided and of course the new chord mentioned above provided.

Extract from the OS 6 inch revised map published in 1903. The map is out of the timeline for this stage of the story but is included to show the new chord constructed by the GWR with clarity. Stretton-on-Fosse is off the bottom of the map, Darlingscott junction is off the top and Shipston-on-Stour off to the right. As can be seen the ‘Old Tramway’ was simply disconnected at the point where the new chord began to curve away. Longdon Road was a stopping point on the tramway but the station shown on the map was provided when the GWR rebuilt the line, though it is not clear if a platform was provided at the time the line opened in 1889 (Stretton-on-Fosse had to wait until 1892). The GWR made arrangements at Longdon Road to cater for what by then remained of traffic on the tramway and there is some suggestion that standard railway wagons were able to run onto the tramway which in turn suggests part of the tramway, perhaps as far as Newbold, had been re-laid. Photographs of this section of the tramway refute this, however. Midway along the chord the track appears to straighten out slightly to avoid the farm buildings. This would have resulted in the curves at each end of the chord being sharper than they otherwise would have been. The farm is still there today (January 2024) but no trace remains of the chord, it having long since been ploughed back into the fields

In converting the Moreton-in-Marsh to Shipston-on-Stour section of the former tramway into something more recognisable as a railway, the GWR expended a lot of work and money. Unfortunately it was burdened with some of the tramway's drawbacks, namely sharp curves and steep gradients the latter of which, with a maximum grade of 1:53 easing to 1:68 falling in the Down direction for almost three miles from just north of Todenham Road, Moreton-in-Marsh, to Todenham Lane, near Knee Brook to the south of Stretton-on-Fosse. The bridge over Knee Brook was the only level section, albeit only for a mere few yards, on the entire branch. There was a 1:54 gradient on the approach to Longdon Road, again falling in the Down direction, while the terminus at Shipston-on-Stour was approached on another falling gradient of 1:70 easing to 1:119 within the station confines. Just before the aforementioned 1:70 falling gradient was one of 1:124 rising so the approach to Shipston terminus must have tested the skills of train crews. Descent of the two steepest gradients (just outside Moreton-in-Marsh to Knee Brook and on the approach to Longdon Road) required trains to stop and wagon brakes to be pinned down. For this purpose Stop boards were located at 92 miles 29½ chains and 98 miles 6½ chains, these mileages being from Paddington. In addition GWR Service Timetables stipulated a 5MPH maximum speed limit through certain sets of points. These restrictions remained in place the entire life of the Shipston-on-Stour branch. 'Service Timetable' was the GWR term for what is now universally known as a 'Working Timetable', non public timetables for the use of railway staff.

Because of the tramway legacy, the then Board of Trade (see below) imposed restrictions on the GWR for its Shipston branch which included a maximum speed limit of 20MPH but 4MPH at level crossings, of which there were nine. Several of the level crossings were skewed. The branch was largely un-signalled apart from at Moreton-in-Marsh, a Fixed Distant signal on the approach to Moreton-in-Marsh and a Home signal situated some 200 yards from Shipston-on-Stour. The latter signal was operated by a lever on the platform at Shipston and apparently with no form of locking, meant anybody could tamper with it. Given that the branch was operated under the 'one engine in steam' principle there is some suggestion that this signal tended to be ignored. In effect the branch was a light railway, predating the creation of The Light Railways Act 1896. Staff were not entirely cut off from the outside world however, as there were telephones in small wooden huts at intervals alongside the line. These telephones connected to the stations on the branch but not to the level crossing keepers, therefore the closing of gates to road traffic depended very much on reliance of the timetable. This was the reason for the 4MPH speed limit at level crossings.

The Board of Trade had its origin way back in 1621 and was the Government body overseeing most if not all aspects on trade and commerce in Great Britain. It was the Board of Trade that railway inspectors (HM Railway Inspectorate as it came to be known) acted on behalf of. The inspectors were at one time invariably retired commissioned officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers and what these men did not know about railways was not worth knowing. As of 2024 the Railway Inspectorate is, following several changes, a division of the Office of Road and Rail but the days of the retired military men have long gone. The Board of Trade was abolished in 1970 in deference to what was to become the European Union but not widely known is that it was reformed in October 2017, after Britain voted to leave the European Union, although it no longer has railway involvement and is primarily concerned with trade policy.

Timetable from Internet Archive

Above is the public timetable from March 1891. This was almost two years after the opening of the Shipston-on-Stour branch in railway form but is the earliest clearly readable timetable that has been found. It was common at the time to quote fares in timetables, partly because inflation was either static or negligible and partly because fares tended to be revised, if necessary, in subsequent timetables. Today the fare structure has become simply too complex to include in printed timetables, assuming any such to be available as the internet increasingly controls our lives. The abbreviation ‘gov’ means ‘Government’ and is better known as ‘Parliamentary’, often shortened to ‘Parly’. These were trains for which railway companies were obliged to offer reduced fares for workmen - and yes, it invariably was men in those days. As can be seen, a First Class return ticket from Shipston to Paddington cost 32/- or £1 12s 0d. There were no Third Class or 'gov' returns, it will be noted. For working class people in 1891 none of the fares could be considered cheap and even the 'gov' fares could equate to a considerable chunk of the wages of the time. The references '41,40 and 33' in the Up column and '28' in the Down (left) column were the timetable numbers for connections to and from Moreton-in-Marsh. In horse tramway days Ilmington had its own wharf but upon conversion of the Shipston branch to a proper railway the GWR chose to publicise Longdon Road as the station for Ilmington. By road Ilmington was almost two miles from Longdon Road station but in the days before road motor transport this would not have been too much of a problem. The absence of Stretton-on-Fosse is explained by it not having a station until 1892, although some sources state it was a request stop with passengers being picked up and set down at the level crossing. If so, then quite how this worked is open to the imagination. Perhaps passengers had to simply clamber up and down from and to ground level or perhaps portable steps were provided. The same question may be asked of Mr Bull's passenger service during horse tramway days. However, the above timetable making no mention of a request stop plus the matter of who issued tickets might suggest the request stop story is nothing more than a myth. On the other hand, the provision of a proper station, which opened on 1 October 1892, suggests there was a demand so perhaps there is some truth in the request stop story after all (Quick, 2023 Page 437).

Great Western Railway Service (Working) Timetables referred to the line as a "Locomotive Tramway" even though "Tramway" was never part of the official name of the Stratford and Moreton Railway Company. As is told in our short history of the horse 'tramway', the rails, or much of them, were lifted during the 1917 - 1918 period but the, by then, disused section between Longdon Road and Stratford-upon-Avon was not officially abandoned by Act until 4th of August 1926. This of course excluded what had become the Shipston-on-Stour branch as that section was rebuilt as a railway by separate Act. The year 1904 is believed to have been when the, by then, remaining section of the horse tramway was last used but in that year something a little strange happened. Officers of the GWR visited the tramway to investigate the possibility of rebuilding it as a proper railway. How they travelled between Longdon Road and Stratford-upon-Avon, assuming the entire remaining section of tramway was inspected, is not recorded. The idea was to operate a steam railmotor service between Shipston and Stratford; at this time what was to become a sizeable fleet of GWR steam railmotors was starting to enter service. Had this happened it is likely a connection would have been provided with the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway to allow railmotors to run into Stratford Old Town Station, mentioned earlier. The 1904 plan seems to have been a revival of a plan first proposed in August 1894 but not proceeded with. Perhaps the advent of steam railmotors, with their economies of operation, prompted the GWR to re-examine the matter.

Nevertheless the plan of course came to nothing and therefore one has to wonder why the railmotor proposal was drawn up in the first place. The natural flow to\ from Shipston was to\ from Stratford and not Moreton-in-Marsh. At around the same time as the GWR inspection a steam omnibus service began operating between Shipston and Stratford by the somewhat pompously named ‘Brailes, Shipston-on-Stour and Stratford-upon-Avon Steam Omnibus Co. Ltd’. This outfit operated two Straker steam omnibuses registered AB 53 and AB 199 which had a maximum speed of 8MPH and reputedly took two hours to complete the journey. Steam road vehicles needed to stop to take on water with monotonous regularity and this could be from a pond, stream, river or any other convenient source. Therefore two hours journey time, if correct, would be quite good going. Some records of the Brailes outfit have survived in the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Brailes operation seems to have lasted only until 1906 (sources vary on dates between 1903 - 1905 and 1904 - 1906, whichever is correct still indicates a two year operational period) but it was possibly this which prompted the GWR to investigate the possibility of the aforementioned steam railmotor service. ‘Brailes’ was not the name of the operator, hence no apostrophe, but the name of a village comprising Lower Brailes and Upper Brailes, located about four miles east of Shipston-on-Stour. Presumably this was where the operation was based. The registration letters 'AB' were issued by Worcestershire. Straker began life in Bristol as Brazil, Straker & co. with Sidney Straker being its London based agent. Further down the proverbial road the company joined forces with one Lionel Robert Littler Squire and thereafter was born the trading name ‘Straker Squire’ which will be familiar to enthusiasts of road vehicles. The company became well known for its road motor vehicles and also had a brief flirtation with trolleybuses. The company relocated to Edmonton, London in 1919 and production continued until 1926. Sidney Straker died in tragic circumstances in 1928.

By or commencing in 1914 a motor omnibus service was in operation between Shipston-on-Stour and Stratford-upon-Avon. No further details are known except that this appears not to have been a GWR service.

The GWR referred to its Shipston-on-Stour branch as a ‘Locomotive Tramway’ though what distinguishes a railway such as the Shipston-on-Stour branch from a [non street] tramway and vice versa is a matter of opinion. The GWR Service (Working) Timetable for January 1907 was headed ‘Shipston-on-Stour and Moreton-in-Marsh Locomotive Tramway’ and this title probably persisted for many years. The timetable informs us there were four Up (to Moreton) and four Down (to Shipston) trains on weekdays only. Up trains ex Shipston were 6.35AM Passenger, 11.5AM Mixed, 3.25PM Mixed, 6.25PM Passenger. Down trains ex Moreton were 9.20AM Mixed, 1.15PM Passenger, 5.5PM Mixed, 8.15PM Passenger. As the timetable suggests, the branch locomotive was ‘shedded’ overnight at Shipston and this remained the case until the shed closed in November 1916. The shed reopened in November 1918 but closed again, this time for good, in October 1923. Thereafter the locomotive worked from\ to Worcester and in British Railways days was out stationed at Kingham.

By 1922 the service was down to two trains per weekday, both mixed. These departed from Moreton-in-Marsh at 10.5AM and 5.5PM and from Shipston-on-Stour at 11.40AM and 6.15PM. During the same year, however, the early morning train, passenger only, departing Moreton at 7.27 AM and Shipston at 8.15 AM was restored. At this time the locomotive came off shed at Worcester at 4.45AM, not returning until 12.25AM the following morning. Apart from the Shipston branch, its duties included goods along the main line, short goods workings to [Chipping] Campden from Moreton-in-Marsh and also shunting. Locomotives used were various 0-6-0 Saddle Tank types, typically members of the 850 Class, the 0-6-0 tender 2301 Class better known as the ‘Dean Goods’. In British Railways days the 1600 Class 0-6-0 Pannier Tanks made occasional appearances, but the branch, in its last few years, is perhaps best known for the BR Standard 2MT 2-6-0 of which No.78009 was often photographed on the branch. These then-new BR Standards must have made an incongruous sight crawling along this basic and by then somewhat dilapidated 8 miles 74 chains rural branch line.

On 24 May 1952, the Birmingham Locomotive Club organised a visit to the Shipston-on-Stour branch. It ran from Birmingham Snow Hill via Stratford-upon-Avon and returned to Snow Hill via Chipping Norton and Banbury requiring a reversal at Kingham. The tour was provided by ex GWR diesel railcar No. W14W which in its carmine and cream livery would have given a splash of colour compared to the more usual green or black motive power seen on the branch. This is the only known occasion when diesel traction appeared on the branch when still in use (track lifting involved the use of a contractor's diesel or petrol shunting locomotive).

The original horse tramway had its share of accidents, some fatal to both men and horses but only two of any seriousness are known to have occurred on the Shipston-on-Stour branch during its time as a railway. At some point circa 1930 the inattentive crew of a Dean Goods departing Shipston-on-Stour failed to notice the points were incorrectly set, resulting in the locomotive smashing through the buffer stop at the end of the head shunt and finishing up in somebody's allotment garden. The locomotive took the Worcester breakdown crew about a week to recover. The second serious incident occurred on 3 February 1930. At this time the line had three gangers (permanent way men), George and Charles Boorman and William Padbury. These men were overseen by foreman ganger Thomas Ellis Webb. On the day concerned, Mr Webb was travelling along the line near Longdon Road heading for Shipston on his velocipede. These were usually three-wheeled contraptions (see image below) propelled by pulling and pushing a handled lever which linked to a wheel via cranks. The principle was similar to the manually powered invalid carriages which were once a common sight. On that day the branch goods train was running some fifteen minutes early and caught up with Mr Webb's velocipede. The train driver, a Mr Gubbins, applied the brake and sounded the whistle but Mr Webb did not respond. This conjures up a rather comical image reminiscent of silent films but the outcome was anything but comical as the train rammed into the velocipede, throwing Mr Webb beneath the wheels of the locomotive where he died. The ensuing Accident Report prepared by John P. S. Main was a little vague in that rather unusually it made no mention of the locomotive involved. The only mention was that the locomotive was running bunker first which implies a tank locomotive. Main was a long serving inspector but does not appear to have been an ex Army Officer as he always signed his reports either "John P. S. Main" or "J. P. S. Main" whereas ex Army Officers invariably preceded their signatures with their rank. It should be mentioned that goods trains running early was and still is quite normal; providing all is ready and the line clear the practice in no way breaks any rule or regulation. Mr Webb would have known this although it is possible he was too reliant upon the timetable. We will never know.

A rail velocipede of the type used by Mr Webb although the one known photograph of Mr Webb's velocipede shows it had a form of proper seat fitted. The example shown here was manufactured by Buda of Chicago as indeed were a many of them. It is preserved by the National Railway Museum at Shildon at the time of writing.
Photo: Science Museum Group and reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

Passenger services on the branch were withdrawn on and from Monday the 8th of July 1929 and at the same time the level crossing keepers were also dispensed with, leaving train crews to operate the gates until final closure in 1960. Stretton-on-Fosse had closed on 1 January 1917 as a wartime economy but reopened on 1 January 1919. Along with Longdon Road, closure to all traffic occurred in 1941 leaving Shipston-on-Stour the only operable station on the branch albeit, of course, only for goods and parcels traffic. Like many major railway companies the GWR had its own road motor transport section, Great Western Railway Road Motor Services* which embraced both goods and passenger services. The passenger train service to Shipston-on-Stour was replaced by a GWR motor omnibus which provided two round trips per weekday to Moreton-in-Marsh plus some 'shorts' between Shipston and Ilmington. There was also a Shipston-on-Stour to Chipping Norton service of which only one journey in each direction per day covered the entire route. The GWR had a small fleet of six 14 seat Morris Commercial ‘R’ Type omnibuses, two of which were allocated to the Shipston service. The service was short lived, lasting just a few months despite this service being considerably quicker, by up to fifteen minutes, than the trains had been. The short life of the omnibus service and the GWR obviously considering 14-seat vehicles adequate, is rather telling of the viability of both it and the former railway passenger service. As mentioned elsewhere, the main traffic flow was between Shipston-on-Stour and Stratford-upon-Avon which would account, in part anyway, for the failure of the service. Indeed, following the demise of the Straker steam omnibus there was a motor omnibus service plying the route by 1914 but not operated by the GWR.

When applicable, the Road Motor timetables, which were published separately from railway timetables, gave railway connection times. One in particular is of interest, this being the 4.45PM train from Paddington which included slip coaches for Oxford and Moreton-in-Marsh. The slip coach for Moreton-in-Marsh drifted into the station at 6.34PM and passengers for Shipston-on-Stour then transferred to Road Motor which departed at 6.55PM, due to awaiting another connecting train for Worcester Shrub Hill, eventually arriving at Shipston-on-Stour at 7.25PM.

The two Morris Commercial vehicles known to have been used at Shipston were registered UU 5009 and UU 5011 although the latter was transferred to another area at the end of 1929 and seemingly not replaced. Those interested in the London General Omnibus Company and its successor the London Passenger Transport Board (London Transport) will find the 'UU' registration number series familiar from, mainly, the early batch of the AEC ‘T’ Class single-deck fleet. As it happened, the GWR sold UU 5009 to the London General Country Services in December 1931 where its registration number would have helped hide its second-hand origin. The vehicle, which was used in the Watford area, survived to be taken over by London Transport in 1933 but was withdrawn in 1935, sold the following year and believed still wearing "General" country area livery. Vehicle UU 5011 was sold in 1931 to the Thames Valley Traction Co. The six Morris Commercials were registered UU 5009 to UU 5014 and carried GWR car (fleet) numbers 1662 to 1667 consecutively.

In 1933 the GWR disposed of what by then remained of its road passenger operations, services being incorporated into those of other operators. Services in the Stratford-upon-Avon area, including Shipston-on-Stour, were thereafter operated by the Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company which was perhaps better known by its trading name "Midland Red".

In 1947 the GWR issued an instruction which stated only 2301 Class locomotives, the famous 'Dean Goods', were to operate over the Shipston branch. No doubt at the behest of the Civil Engineer, the reason was weight restrictions due to the condition of the track. The engine portion of these locomotives weighed just shy of a mere 37 tons which was only about three tons heavier than the tenders. The 2301 Class had an interesting history as many were requisitioned by the War Department (WD) during WWI and served abroad. During WWII consternation befell the GWR as the WD again requisitioned some of these locomotives, 100 to be precise. The problem was many had by then been withdrawn and the GWR had to hurriedly reinstate several to make up the required total. Not all of the WWII requisitions went abroad but of those that did some were the same ones sent during WWI. Inevitably some were lost, others simply 'disappeared' and assumed scrapped in Europe while some remained abroad after the war. One such was GWR No. 2489 which had become WD No. 142. This locomotive became Deutsche Reichsbahn No. 53 7607 and remained in service until 1955, just two years before British Railways withdrew its final example, No. 2538, in May 1957. However, reputedly the GWR held back two examples from the WD specially to work the Shipston-on-Stour branch, instead reinstating two previously withdrawn examples in their place. This would have been done to ensure continuity of the branch goods service rather than as any form of deceit. Thus it would appear the Shipston-on-Stour branch had become the preserve of the 2301 Class well before the 1947 instruction was issued and if so this would seem a little strange. The GWR used colour codes to indicate Route Availability and the 2301 Class was one of several which were 'uncoloured', meaning their axle weight permitted them to operate anywhere on the system. However, Tractive Effort and Brake Force were also considerations and this may be why other 'uncoloureds' such as the 4800/1400 Class 0-4-2Ts were, insofar as is known, never seen on the branch.

In the 1950s three members of the 2301 Class remained at Worcester shed and therefore would have been seen at Shipston-on-Stour. These were nos. 2339, 2458 and 2551 for which withdrawal dates were 17 March 1952, 11 May 1954 and 22 September 1953 respectively, their duties being taken over by the BR Standard Class 2 2-6-0 locomotives which began entering traffic from December 1952. Worcester shed had several Standard Class 2 locomotives on its books but not all at the same time and with some staying only briefly. Two relatively long term residents were nos. 78008/9 of which both were Shipston branch regulars. One locomotive was by this time out stationed at Kingham and its duties included the Chipping Norton goods, goods along the main line to Chipping Campden, shunting at Moreton-in-Marsh and of course the Shipston-on-Stour branch. 'Toad' brake van No. W56361 was allocated to Moreton-in-Marsh and for many years was the van used on the Shipston-on-Stour goods trains.

Shipston-on-Stour station and therefore the branch closed to rail traffic on Monday 2 May 1960 with the final revenue train running on Thursday 28 April, crewed by Driver Ted Hardiman, Fireman Ken Hughes and Guard Fred Curtis. This was not quite the end however, for on Tuesday the 3rd of May a locomotive ran to Shipston to collect remaining empty wagons and vans. Shipston station remained in use for parcels and sundries until this facility was withdrawn in February 1963. Parcels were of course transported by British Railways road vehicles. Perhaps surprisingly Shipston-on-Stour retained a stationmaster until 1960. This was Mr Cyril Smith who was offered a post, albeit temporary, at Stratford-upon-Avon. Goods checker Mr Harry Bradley on the other hand remained at Shipston-on-Stour to deal with the aforementioned parcels and sundries

Timetable from Michael Clemens Railways

The final Working Timetable, above, for the Shipston-on-Stour branch. Some explanation might prove useful for those not familiar with Working Timetables. 'TThO' was Tuesdays and Thursdays Only. 'K' meant 'Class K', a branch or local freight working. '9A62' and '9A54' were train headcodes or Reporting Numbers but these were not generally displayed on steam locomotives unless some sort of special working. The '9' indicated class of train, in this case a loose coupled goods train. The 'A' meant Worcester area. The numbers '62' and '54' were train numbers which could, as in this case, vary according to Up or Down directions. In the Down direction will be noted ‘Stop Board Top of Incline’ appearing twice. At these points goods trains were required to stop and the guard pin down the wagon brakes before trains could proceed down the steep gradients beyond the Stop boards. This of course was not required in the Up direction. Trains would stop again at the bottom of the gradients for unpinning of the brakes but where exactly was left to the train crew, probably at Todenham Lane and Longdon Road where trains had in any case to stop for the level crossing gates. ‘Pinning down’ refers to the handbrakes on unfitted (not fitted with the vacuum brake) wagons, the brake lever being pushed down hard and held in place by a steel pin.

British Railways were in no hurry to lift the track and neither, for that matter, was the contractor who started work in the summer of 1961. Stretton-on-Fosse was used as the base to where recovered material was taken for removal by road. This would have been the most convenient method as Stretton-on-Fosse is on a main road, but it appears to have meant the contractor had to divide the branch into two sections. Operationally the branch was considered to begin on the north side of Todenham Road level crossing, Moreton-in-Marsh and south of the crossing was considered to be the goods yard. Once a Down train had crossed the road the gates were locked, meaning the train was locked into the branch. On the return journey a demanding blast of the locomotive whistle would alert staff to unlock the level crossing. The line south of this level crossing being part of the goods yard probably meant the demolition contractor could not start or end work at Morton-in-Marsh. The contractor is known to have used a small diesel or petrol shunting locomotive with wagons and a crawler crane, plus another crane was stationed at Stretton-on-Fosse to facilitate the loading of road vehicles. The identity of the contractor was unknown at the time of writing but it might have been Pittrail Limited of Aldridge as this outfit was quite busy with BR contracts at around this time. The work was reputedly not completed until the summer of 1963, a long time for what was a fairly short single track branch.

* It is worth providing a little information about the Great Western Railway Road Motor Services. The operation used chassis from a range of manufacturers and some of the bodies were built at Swindon (the Morris Commercials mentioned were Buckingham bodied), with drawings coming from a design department the GWR had set up at Slough. There was a large fleet of lorries and vans plus passenger bodies in single and double-deck form as well as some charabancs. Many vehicles were designed to have interchangeable bodies, meaning what was a lorry at one point in time could be an omnibus at another and vice versa. Most passenger services operated as railway feeders but a small number operated as rail replacement services, that at Shipston-on-Stour being a then-relatively-rare example. Included in ‘rail replacement’ was arguably the service between Helston railway station and The Lizard, in Cornwall. A light railway had been proposed which of course was never built and a Road Motor service provided instead. In time this service became route 26 of The Western National Omnibus Company Ltd. The passenger services of the GWR Road Motor operation were run as though they were a railway insofar as terminology was concerned. What we would today refer to as a ‘bus stop’ was in GWR parlance a ‘motor halt’ and omnibuses were referred to as ‘cars’ including in public timetables, this latter term being common to many omnibus companies and in some cases persists to this day. A ‘motor halt’ could take the form of nothing more than information boards affixed to a convenient wall or fence but in other instances a waiting shelter would be provided. These shelters were quite elaborate wooden structures, often with geometric window apertures or with more conventional glazed windows. The shelters were surmounted by a large board, akin to a railway station running-in board, which announced for example "G.W.R [Place Name] Road Motor Halt" or variations thereof but always containing the term "Motor Halt". There is some suggestion that at Shipston-on-Stour standard railway tickets continued to be issued to omnibus passengers, perhaps to use up stocks, but firm evidence of this has proved elusive. The GWR did dabble with One Man Operated (now known as One Person Operated) omnibuses but the vast majority carried a conductor. As a curious aside, the GWR had a habit of spelling its railway (railmotor) halts as "Halte" but the added 'e' spelling was never used at the Road Motor Halts. Was there a connection? For example "Halte" being used to distinguish a railway halt from a road halt? Readers must be left to ponder that question themselves.

Not many photographs of Road Motor Halts are known to exist so this one must suffice to pictorially convey the idea. Coverack is a Cornish coastal village on the Lizard Peninsular, some ten miles south-east of Helston and a similar distance south of Falmouth. The Motor Halt depicted has conventional glazed windows and is rather less ornate than many others. The photograph is from the Great Western Railway Magazine, March 1928 edition and depicts what was described as the 'opening day'. Note the Union Flag, a degree of patriotism which is sadly often in short supply nowadays.

On 12 September 1952 the Birmingham Weekly Post published this article about the Shipston-on-Stour branch. While such media articles today provide interesting peeps into the past they are, then as now, aimed at a general readership and not specifically at the railway enthusiast or historian. Click for a large version.
Cutting courtesy Anthony Hicks

Proof reading Alan Lawrence

Sources and further reading:



See also Shipston-on-Stour, Longdon Road, Stretton-on-Fosse and Moreton-in-Marsh

Last updated: Wednesday, 17-Apr-2024 23:24:27 CEST
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