Here we present a short history of the railway through Church Stretton. This has been distilled from our recently reprinted and updated booklet The Railway through The Strettons – The first 150 years. Packed with much historic detail, pictures and anecdotal input from railway workers, it represents excellent value at only £5. It’s a must for anyone at all interested in our local railway! You will find it on sale at Burway Books in Beaumont Road (off Sandford Avenue), Church Stretton.
It was the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century that introduced gradual but fundamental change into the lives of the people of Church Stretton. Rail replaced road travel by horse, cart or coach, as it was very much faster, easier to move large quantities of goods (including heavy and bulky materials) and (eventually) provided a more comfortable journey for passengers. This had a considerable effect on the development of Church Stretton some years later.
The Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway Company was formed in August 1846 to build a line from our County Town to connect with the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway at Hereford, so providing a link to the industrial and mining areas of South Wales.
In 1848, four companies – the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway, the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway, the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway and the Shropshire Union of Railways and Canals – co-operated to build a joint station in Shrewsbury on a site in Castle Foregate. Each contributed £25,000 towards the cost. The station opened on 1st June 1849.
However, the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway ran into financial difficulties in the aftermath of the ‘Railway Mania of 1846.
The company was saved by its engineer, Henry Robertson, who reduced the scheme in scale to cut construction costs and William Ormsby-Gore, a local M.P., who persuaded many of the major investors to take much of the value of their land in shares in the railway. In addition, Thomas Brassey, the railway constructor, was persuaded to build the line as cheaply as possible.
Brassey quoted £345,822 to build a single-track line between Shrewsbury and Hereford, but with bridges and other structures wide enough to allow the later doubling of the line. He also agreed to work it at his own risk once completed and to pay shareholders a dividend of 3.5%. Work began at the end of December 1850.
The 27.5 mile long Shrewsbury to Ludlow portion of the Shrewsbury to Hereford Railway was opened with an official train on 20th April 1852, and to passengers the following day.
It was a single track line at first. There were stations at Condover, Dorrington, Leebotwood, Church Stretton, Marshbrook, Craven Arms, Onibury and Ludlow.
The Ludlow to Hereford section was opened to goods on 30th July 1853 and to passengers on 6th December.
The entire line was 50.5 miles long. It cost about £9,500 per mile, including the purchase of land and legal expenses.
However, with Brassey’s lease due to end in the early 1860s, the directors offered to lease the line to the LNWR, which was accepted, as this would give it running powers over the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford line into the South Wales industrial areas.
In May 1861 the LNWR offered the GWR a share in the lease and on 1st July 1862 the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway became a joint LNWR and GWR line, remaining so until nationalisation.
The line was doubled in 1862 (except for the Dinmore Tunnel, which was not doubled until 1893) to cope with increasing levels of traffic.
The doubling reached Church Stretton by February 1862.
After the completion of the LNWR line from Shrewsbury to Crewe in 1858, the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway became part of an important route linking South Wales with the North of England.
The first official train, of 27 carriages and drawn by two engines belonging to the Shrewsbury to Chester Railway, ran from Shrewsbury to Ludlow and back on Thursday 20th April 1852.
As part of the celebrations, the town declared a public holiday and hundreds (led by Dorrington’s brass band) flocked to the station to see the inaugural train pass through. Then followed an afternoon of sports and games, tea for everybody and an official dinner in the Town Hall for a selected few. Even the inhabitants of the workhouse were remembered, with a special meal of roast beef and plum pudding, with a due proportion of ale.
The first railway station in Church Stretton, built by Thomas Brassey, to the north of Sandford Avenue. The Station Master (on the right) is a Mr Dawson. On the left is Charles Hyslop, who made deliveries from the station by horse and cart.
The first station, goods shed, sidings, etc. in the 1930s. Note the crane, the water tank and the signal box.
The original station buildings were opened on 21st January 1852. Some still survive north of the Sandford Avenue bridge. The station was designed by Thomas Brassey and built of stone from Soudley.
The following description appeared in a Shrewsbury newspaper of the time:
The station, built in the modern English, or Villa, style, affords an extensive booking office, waiting rooms for both ladies and gentlemen and excellent accommodation for the Station Master, platforms of 170 feet in length, a cattle landing measuring 200 feet, goods warehouses, a coal wharf, weighing machines and a most perfect set of turntables and sidings.
Traces of these features can still be seen though some of the ground has since been used for light industry. The station master was provided with a house adjacent to the original station. The first station master was a Mr Hugh Morgan.
Church Stretton Signal Box
The signal box was built by the London & North Western Railway in 1872 of brick and stone construction. Window frames and doors were wood and the roof had slate tiles. The building was dismantled by Network Rail at the end of March 2009 and all materials and the lever frame were passed to the Cambrian Railway Trust at Oswestry for storage pending re-assembly on the preserved railway.
The second station, looking south
The footbridge before the removal of the roof
Eventually increased passenger traffic needed longer trains, hence longer platforms. It was not possible to extend the platform in the original station, because to the north the entrance to the goods yard, and to the south the Sandford Avenue bridge, were in the way.
Accordingly, a second station was built to the south of the Sandford Avenue bridge. This was officially opened on 23rd May 1914. The platforms were 551ft long, with the main buildings on the ‘up’ (west) side, waiting rooms on both platforms and a covered footbridge over the line to link them. The lighting was by gas.
Water columns stood at the end of each platform as well as one on the Shrewsbury side of the signal box.
Though passenger traffic continued, the station became an unstaffed halt on 3rd July 1967.
The station buildings were demolished in February 1970 to be replaced by a ‘bus shelter’ on each platform.
Most of the smaller stations were closed to passenger traffic on 9th June 1958. Between Shrewsbury and Ludlow there remain stations at Church Stretton and Craven Arms only. Goods traffic to Church Stretton ceased on 19th September 1966.