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RAILWAYS IN GLOUCESTER AND CHURCHDOWN

THE YEARS AFTER 1845

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From its start pandemonium reigned at Gloucester, now at the centre of a railway route stretching from Tyneside to the Exe. If the Twentieth Century’s jet age brought the expression "Breakfast in London, Dinner in New York, Luggage in Bermuda" then "Lost at Gloucester" became synonymous with the problems of travel in Victorian minds.

As a contemporary issue of the "Illustrated London News" was to describe:

"Gentle Reader, if you wish to know what a break of gauge is, a journey between Birmingham and Bristol will make you very sensibly conscious of it. The Gauge being thus broken your journey is brought to a dead halt. With all your luggage and rattle traps, whatever they be in size and number, you are obliged to shift from one carriage to another. You will hear the Railway Policeman bawling in the deaf passenger’s ear that he must dismount. You will see the anxious Mama hastening her family in its transit from carriage to carriage, dreading the penalty of being too late;

your dog will chance to have its foot crushed between wheelbarrows and porters baskets – howling more terrifically than the engine itself..

and..if your carriage horses accompany you they, too, must shift by dint of whip and cajolery. You resolve that no consideration will ever tempt you to bring your horses again by Railway where there is a "break of gauge".

This experience was shared up to a point by many junction stations on the fledgling British railway network but it was the impact of the Break of Gauge on freight traffic which most dismayed its users. The "Illustrated London News" went on to say:

".. the removal of goods owing to the Break of Gauge is even more irksome than that of passengers. Where it does not absolutely prohibit the traffic the transhipment involves loss, pilferage, detention, besides a money tax of 1/6 to 2/6 per ton, as we have learned from the statements of Messrs Pickford and Horne the greatest carriers in the World. An old carrier thus graphically speaks of the contents of a goods train and the shifting of them:

"..it is found at Gloucester that to tranship the contents of one waggon full of miscellaneous merchandise to another, takes about an hour with all the force of porters you can put to work upon it. In the hurry the bricks are miscounted, the slates chipped at the edges, the cheeses cracked, the ripe fruit and vegetables crushed and spoilt; the chairs, furniture, oil cakes, cast iron pots, grates and ovens all more or less broken; the coal turned into slack, the salt short of weight, sundry bottles of wine deficient and the fish too late for market."

With four porters needed per wagon and one clerk to supervise every four wagons of an incoming train, transhipment at Gloucester added 2/6 to the cost of every ton of freight that passed through the City – a great expense in those days.

In fact the only benefit brought by the Break of Gauge came in 1849 when Gloucestrians had the chance to see Queen Victoria change trains – and then only because Her Majesty was avoiding London on a journey from Balmoral to Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight due to an outbreak of Cholera in the Capital.

For this event a scarlet cloth was spread across the station platform with a richer carpet laid down for the Royal party itself as it moved from the carriages of the coal cart gauge to those of the Great Western. The columns supporting the platform canopy were also decked with flowers and laurels, although the crowd did get somewahat over excited. An electric telegraph - invented by Gloucester's own Charles Wheatstone - had warned spectators that the train had passed Cheltenham, but when Her Majesty finally appeared on the platform and it was time for the Corporation and Clergy of Gloucester to move forward with their addreses the crowd followed behind them and , as the Gloucester Journal reported,

"in their eagerness forced the Corporation and Clergy upon the Royal carriage, oversetting the flower pots and interrupting the duties of the Royal Servants"

However, the Mayor managed to keep the spectators back and all was well in the end.

Indeed, the Great Western Railway was to link Gloucester – but not yet Cheltenham – to Swindon by May 1845: thereby bringing even more trains to the crowded Gloucester platforms. By July 1845 the Government became so alarmed at the prospect of further railway breaks of gauge that it set up a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. The three Commissioners appointed were Sir Frederic Smith – formerly Inspector General of Railways; Peter Barlow – Professor of Mathematics at Woolwich Academy and Professor George Biddell Airey, the Astronomer Royal. This choice of Parliament was quickly satirised by humourists of the day, one of whom wrote:

"The only paper of a practical nature we have seen from the pen of the Astronomer Royal went to prove that in practice a short connecting rod gave out as much power as a long one, and we fear that such an investigation is not likely to impart much confidence in the practical wisdom of his calculations."

In 1851 Airey established a fourth Greenwich meridian which was, in 1884, internationally recognised for World timekeeping. Indeed, until Greenwich Mean Time was adopted in 1880, railway stations in Gloucester boasted clocks displaying Bristol, Birmingham and London time.

Back in 1845 however, the Parliamentary Gauge Commissioners came to Gloucester and found J.D. Payne, Goods Manager of the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway, keen to promote the argument for a narrow gauge line to Bristol. Craftily, he ordered that two trains already dealt with should be unpacked once more to add to the chaos. As G.P. Neele of the London & North Western wrote in his book "Railway Reminiscences":

"When the members came to the scene, they were appalled by the clamour arising from the well-arranged confusion of shouting out addresses of consignments, the chucking of packages from truck to truck, the enquiries for missing articles, the loading, unloading and reloading, which his clever device had brought"

However, enthusiasts of the Broad Gauge could also use the spectacle of chaos by the Cathedral for their own ends. A poster stuck at Gloucester read:

"Observe! Petition! Petition 50 miles an hour versus 25. Coaches before waggons – the blessing of the broad gauge for the Northern districts. Safety and speed before cramp and delay. Advancement before retreat. The petition will be ready in a day or two. Brunel for ever! Hurrah!"

Another placard explained that the distance of 37 miles between Gloucester and Bristol could be traversed by a Broad Gauge train in 1 hour 45 minutes while the best timing for the 51 mile Gloucester to Birmingham journey was 2 hours 35 minutes. It was also true that at this time as much as 300 tons of freight were being transhipped at Gloucester while less than 50 tons were handled at Bristol in the same way.

The argument for a break of gauge at either Bristol or Birmingham rather than at Gloucester was now proven, but which railway system should be allowed to operate? In an attempt to find out, the Gauge Commissioners evaluated both Broad and narrow gauge trains. They discovered that Great Western locomotives were more powerful and fuel-efficient than their rivals and also offered less rolling resistance per unit of torque because of their larger diameter wheels. However, as the better calibre of lawyers afforded by the wealthier Stephenson camp were quick to point out, by 1845 almost 2 000 miles of 4’ 8 1/2" track had been laid in Britain as opposed to only 275 miles of 7’ 0 ".

Just as VHS was to supplant Betamax in the video world of the 1980s – and then itself be threatened by CD ROMs and DVDs – so- following the submissions of the Royal Commissioners – the 1846 Gauge Act made the Coal Cart spacing of the Stephensons a national British standard.

Even before the Government had decided to investigate though, the railways were taking action to reform. On 14 January 1845 the Chairmen of both the Bristol & Gloucester and Birmingham & Gloucester Railways agreed to merge their respective companies in an effort to minimise confusion. Then, on January 24, the Great Western offered to buy them both. Paddington’s plan was to create a Broad Gauge line all the way to Birmingham and perhaps Liverpool but wide bodied expresses were never to run that far, as the Great Western offered only 60.00 for each Bristol and Birmingham share instead of the 65.00 that the amalgamated company asked for.

Instead a chance meeting on a London bound train between two of the directors of the Birmingham company and John Ellis, Deputy Chairman of the new Derby based Midland Railway, was to change history. Thinking on his feet when he heard of the Great Western plans, Ellis – also a Quaker wool merchant whose business had suffered due to the Break of Gauge, offered his travelling companions the necessary 65.00 a share. Both Bristol and Birmingham boards accepted and the Midland Railway leased the two lines from May 7 1845 prior to gaining full ownership on August 3.

The Midland was financially helped in its takeover bid by the London & North Western Railway – whose engines included "Columbine", seen here. The London & North Western also offered the use of Birmingham New Street station in return for keeping the Great Western off its territory.

However, it was not until 14 August 1848 that the Midland Railway acted to consolidate its gains. Then Parliament approved Midland plans to construct an independent Standard Gauge route from Tramway Crossing to Standish and a mixed gauge line from there to Bristol. Technically known as the Gloucester & Stonehouse Junction Railway, the new line was completed on 22 May 1854 at a cost of 159 042. Boasting four level crossings in the City and running parallel with the Great Western between Tuffley and Standish the "Tuffley Loop" as it was called still shapes the street plan of Gloucester to this day.

Part of the Gloucester & Stonehouse Junction Railway followed the same route as that of the High Orchard Branch to the Docks built by the Midland Railway in 1848. This followed the approximate line of what is currently Trier Way and consolidated the influence of the Midland Railway on the Eastern side of Gloucester Docks. The system of transferring coal from ship to tram wagon to railway wagon adopted in 1841 had proved very wasteful so in 1844 the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway had lain rails outside the tram plates to give Standard gauge access to the Docks. However, this sharply curving route was still worked by horses and so an independent High Orchard Branch was the only real way forward.

In contrast to the Midland strategy of taking coal from the Docks, the Great Western Broad Gauge Docks Branch from Over to Llanthony Road Yard, completed on 20 March 1854, was originally intended to take Forest of Dean coal to the Western side of the Docks for export.

[Up View of Wagon]

To aid this process, a powerful hydraulic lift was installed which could raise up whole wagons and tip their contents into the holds of ships. However, home demand for coal soon grew so strong that little could be spared for foreign markets.

Furthermore the spread of the national railway network so reduced the need for coastal shipping in the 1850s that some people wondered if railways were more of a threat to ports such as Gloucester than an asset.

Meanwhile the Great Western Railway finally reached Cheltenham on 23 October 1847 via a mixed gauge line through Churchdown. It had also discovered that Cheltenham bound trains for London would have to reverse and change engines if they had to call at Gloucester: a problem that persists today. However, in an age of four-wheeled carriages a remarkable solution to this bugbear was feasable.

The tracks of the avoiding line (now crossed by Alington Bridge of Metz Way) were fitted with turntables so that carriages for Gloucester could be uncoupled from Cheltenham trains, rotated through 90 degrees and shunted along a stretch of track - straight over Tramway Junction to the Great Western passenger station in the City centre. The same procedure in reverse also allowed carriages from Gloucester to be attached to Paddington bound trains from Cheltenham. Due to its shape this new line, also opened on 23 October 1847, was known as the T line and the small station just west of the Avoiding Line was known as the T Station.

In 1851 however both the turntables and the T Station next to them were abandoned. The T line was largely lifted in 1872 but a stump of it still runs to the now-derelict depot buildings adjacent to Metz Way’s Windmill Bridge. Incredibly though, the T Station itself survived until September 1971 when it was demolished to build the sidings alongside the Avoiding Line.

The reason for the obsoletion of the T system of the T system was the arrival in Gloucester of the Gloucester & Dean Forest Railway – a Broad Gauge subsidiary of the Great Western. Connectiong with the South Wales Railway at Grange Court and with South Wales itself after the completion of Brunel’s Wye Bridge at Chepstow on 19 July 1852, the G&DFR caused a new through Great Western station to be built in Gloucester as a replacement for the existing terminus.

This formed the basis of the current Gloucester station and effectively put the City on a whole new route as far as Paddington was concerned. Rather than an inconvenience on the way to Cheltenham, it was now a vital link in the continuous flow of coal to London from the Welsh Valleys and remained as such even after the opening of the Severn Railway Bridge and Tunnel in 1879 and 1886 respectively.

West of the new through station the Gloucester & Dean Forest Railway first crossed London Road – on a gradient of 1 in 95 that required heavy freight trains re-started by even the most sure-footed of Twentieth Century Great Western engines to be banked – then Worcester Street…

Where we see a new girder bridge being installed about 1977, and then Hare Lane after which…

.. it ran alongside the piece of King’s School playing field which has now been taken up by Gouda Way. Before it was either a sports ground or a road however, it was an artificial lake - known as Tabby Pitt’s pool - created in 1889 from the pits that provided the clay to make the bricks to build the viaducts on the Gloucester & Dean Forest Railway that we are about to see.

The modern coloured light signal in the picture here is G60, a number once belonging to a semaphore signal on the Tuffley Loop near Farm Street Level Crossing. Also of interest is the triangular attachment at the top. This contains a row of lights indicating the state of a nearby point. Having hauled a train into Gloucester station from either Bristol or Birmingham, a locomotive today would have to travel out this far before crossing tracks and round its train to continue to the South West or North East. Between 1977 and 1982 a relay system of diesels was used to avoid this delay but now that most passenger trains are multiple units of some sort it is only a consideration for parcels workings..

..or the odd steam special. As you can see, 6024 "King Edward I" has just passed to the west of G60 and is rolling over a workshop and St Catherine Street. Gouda Way is the road to the right of the picture..

..but westward again the route of the original Gloucester & Dean Forest Railway was raised above the flood plain of the Severn toward St Catherine’s Viaduct. This led on to the Eastern Parting of the river which was spanned by Black Bridge..

..next to which still stands the old pumping house..

..which used to raise river water and feed it along a pipeline to the station. As you can see, this is a fine Victorian brick building but has sadly suffered neglect over the years..

[Viaduct]

Another stretch of red brick arched viaduct carries the line to..

..the other main line rail bridge to cross the Severn in Gloucester, just downstream from the famous old road bridge built by Thomas Telford. This structure dates from 1950, replacing an original Brunel wrought iron balloon girder bridge of 1850, and is seen here on 4 August 1991 being crossed by DMU set T 305 with 7819 "Hinton Manor" leading and 47 401 bringing up the rear. The start of the Great Western Docks Branch is just visible on the left.

In July 1992 meanwhile, an experiment began on the piers to find a way to reduce the scouring effect of the current. Scouring can undermine the foundations of such bridges but tests on models revealed that piles driven into the river-bed just upstream of a bridge pier can cut scouring damage by up to 70%.

Over Railway Bridge was chosen for full scale tests by the Environmental Sciences Department of the University of East Anglia because it has two piers in the Severn, one of which can be used for the experiment and the other, on the left of the picture, for control.

Despite its coal traffic to both the Capital and South West England the Great Western lost a little of its greatness in the 1870s with the abandonment of the Broad Gauge in Gloucestershire. The first 4’8 " gauge GWR goods train ran over Midland metals between Gloucester and Bristol on 1 August 1871: while 26 May 1872 witnessed the narrowing of the routes to Chepstow and Stroud, the removal of the outer rail through Churchdown to Cheltenham – and on the Midland route past Standish – and the lifting of the GWR Avoiding Line.

Although the latter was reinstated on 25 November 1901 Gloucester’s basic railway layout now settled for the century ahead and without the irksome Break of Gauge both Midland and Great Western companies could consolidate their positions. The first GWR locomotive depot, opened in May 1845 just to the East of the Broad Gauge station, had been replaced by a four road brick shed at Horton Road in 1854. A six road shed was added to this in 1872 while the Midland Railway’s Barnwood Shed began business in 1895.

Indeed, the era of one-gauge calm after 1872 allowed both the Midland and Great Western Railways to listen more closely to the needs of their customers: especially those in Churchdown next to the line that they jointly maintained. The Birmingham & Gloucester had in fact erected a temporary halt at Churchdown between 9 August and 27 September 1842 while another at Badgeworth had only lasted a few weeks in 1843. For the best part of thirty years however, those Churchdonians who had not been able to afford a horse drawn carriage had largely been restricted to life and work in their own village: even if, according to the 1851 Census, 9 of them were employed by the railway companies. The workers who maintained the line – predecessors of Mr Jack Salcombe, seen here with his track gauge – marked a contrast to the wild, itinerant navvies who had built the line but would still receive any mail from a postman simply walking into the village announcing his presence with a horn.

In fact even the traditional footpath to Gloucester had been diverted around the railway between Sugar Loaf and Elmbridge: but an accident on the line just after gauge narrowing gave the Vicar of Churchdown - the Reverend Doctor Frederick Smythe - the opportunity to campaign for better signalling on the joint line through Churchdown. As a result, a signalbox was opened at the Sugarloaf near to Pirton Road Bridge, which would accept trains passing East through the section eventually controlled by this signal cabin at Elmbridge, just to the East of the modern Barnwood Link Road.

Flushed with success, the Reverend Doctor then petitioned for a station, which was duly opened on 2 February 1874 just to the East of Parton Road railway bridge. This comprised of two platforms, one beside each track, and we can date this particular view of Churchdown Station to the Edwardian era. The self-supporting lattice footbridge, the steps of which can be seen just to the right of the locomotive’s smokebox, was not installed until the suggestion of the Parish Council in 1902: yet the shelter that the Midland Railway Johnson 2-4-0 is about to reach has not yet been fitted with a chimney, which it seems to have acquired about 1910. What can be seen however is another awning reaching out to it from across the tracks. This belonged to a more substantial building - which boasted three chimneys and a booking office – while at the Cheltenham end of the platform was a Great Western style signal box.

Indeed, following the tradition of specialised signalmen evolving from railway policemen, Churchdown’s first stationmaster was a Constable Adams: followed from 1884 to 1918 by Daniel Gilkes. Mr Gilkes had three station staff under him, as befitted Churchdown’s new status as both a commuter town and a reinvigorated tourist attraction. Few new houses had been built in the decades up to 1874 and the village population remained largely static. By 1887 however more than 50 new houses had been built, the population had increased and the rateable value of Churchdown had leapt from 6 234 to 9 780. This was however in spite of there being no sidings at Churchdown for the delivery of bricks, slate, coal and other commodities - which neither railway company ever justified.

Lack of sidings notwithstanding however, the impact of the railway soon rippled out into the wider community. 1874 also saw the opening of the Village School in station road, largely because better educational facilities were needed to produce a new generation of railway workers. Similarly Churchdown had its own Post Office in that year, its first public telephone in 1897 and a letter box at the station in 1902.

Indeed, not only could Churchdonians now reach Gloucester, Cheltenham and many other stations with ease, but day trippers could also easily visit Churchdown Hill. The views over the county from here became so popular that two tea rooms were eventually established - near St Bartholemew’s Church and on The Green – one at least being supplied with provisions brought up on the panniers of a donkey.

However, just as Gloucester and Churchdown had been transformed by the arrival of the railways in the Nineteenth Century, so the events of the Twentieth Century would change them once again.

On 12 April 1896 the Midland Railway opened Eastgate Station.

This was built on the curving Tuffley Loop as a replacement for the ex Birmingham & Gloucester terminus which was then demolished….

[Goods Depot]

… and ultimately replaced by a goods depot with cream coloured highlights in its red brickwork. One window even seems to have been taped up from the War when this photograph was taken on 29 January 1976, but to its right..

..was this fascinating advertisement for poultry feed, giving some idea of the kind of freight that was handled there.

The new Midland Railway station was linked to the GWR by a 190 yard wooden footbridge..

..lit at night by 9 gas lamps..

The longest of its kind in Britain, this magnificent structure ultimately made a walk possible to what we now know as Platform 4 of Gloucester station – added to the Great Western site in 1899.

The original Gloucester & Dean Forest Railway station had been built with two platforms linked by a footbridge but the platform for London trains had been demolished to make way for sidings, all trains using one platform face and some bays. Then, as passenger traffic also grew, the London platform was re-instated.

Edge railways in the Docks also reached their zenith at the end of the Nineteenth Century when the Hempstead Branch of the Midland Railway opened on 5 September 1898. This left the Tuffley Loop near the bridge carrying Stroud Road over it and served the Gloucester gas light company works near Bristol Road, Monk Meadow Dock and wharves on the Western side of the ship canal before linking up with the existing Midland dock network across Llanthony swing bridge.

[ 41535 with bike]

Apparently the moveable structure which carried the line across the canal at Hempstead floated on the water rather than bridging it, and on one occasion at least some wagons separated from their normal motive power while it was swung open for ships - and the train they formed took a dunking! However, the Hempstead Branch west of the canal closed on 24 May 1938 after a useful life of less than 40 years.

[Bus/ Lorry]

Indeed, this first branch line closure was to herald many more as internal combustion road vehicles bit into the long standing transport monopoly of trains. The development of small, flexible buses, vans and lorries had been hastened by the advent of mass production and the needs of the First World War. The first bus services to Churchdown began in 1925 and in the same year shareholders of the Stroud Brewery Company were told:

"Operations of the Brewery now extend into five counties…A few years ago that sort of business would have not been possible from Stroud, but it has now been made possible by the advent of motor lorries"

[LMS on tender]

Following the Great War too, 1923 saw the Grouping of Britain’s railways: in which hundreds of smaller companies were amalgamated into just four large ones: namely the London & North Eastern Railway, Southern Railway, London Midland & Scottish Railway and Great Western Railway. The former Midland lines around Gloucester became part of the London Midland & Scottish while the Great Western was unique in keeping both its identity and locomotive numbering system.

[Map of Lower Parting]

Then, in 1935, Gloucester once again witnessed a break of gauge: although this time as a result of co-operation rather than competition. The Lower Severn Improvement Scheme for tidal defences set up by the River Severn Catchment Board required huge quantities of estuarine silt to be moved so that the threat of flooding could be reduced. As estuarine silt is notoriously difficult to handle when wet, and because the five foot wide crest of a flood embankment was often the only route available to move it over long distances, the River Severn Catchment Board employed a network of 2 foot gauge railways.

One system served three dragline excavators, the ever advancing 20 pound per yard rails being supported on locally produced sleepers. These were the four foot by three inch by ten inch offcuts from the sawmills of Gloucester and usually still had bark on them. Despite this and the employment of up to 250 men on such schemes though, the narrow gauge lines damaged their environment far less than the dumper trucks that eventually replaced them.

[Patent wagon]

However, dumping wet silt from even steep sided hopper wagons was not easy. Despite being mixed with drier spoil, it still stuck to the wagons so firmly that whole trains could sometimes be derailed down embankments – one wagon following another – if the underframes in question were not held down. Fortunately, though, necessity is the mother of invention and the new design of skip seen here was devised and patented by the late Mr Fred Rowbotham, then the Boards District Engineer and later famous as an authority on the Severn Bore. By means of a false bottom the silt is thrown clear of the wagon in one easy movement when unloading.

[GWR wagon]

In 1939 however more rails of the riverbank were by the Lower Parting of the Severn to create what is known as a training wall. This was built from stone brought by the Great Western railway along its Docks Branch and then loaded by hand into narrow gauge trains.

[NG train]

These were often composed of side tipping wagons with an end tipper in front, which could build the new wall as they went along. Railways also helped shape the opposite bank of the river, while later projects required a timber viaduct across a flood relief channel and two level crossings over the main A417 road near Maisemore – each protected by a flagman during working hours.

[Loco and wagon]

The internal combustion engines used on these lines had either minimalist cabs or none at all as a safety feature in case they derailed into soft mud, and one of them is still in Gloucestershire. The Dowty Railway Preservation Society bought Lister engined 20 horsepower Number 5 for 35.00 in 1972 and it has since operated on the North Gloucestershire Narrow Gauge Railway at Toddington.

[WD 3642 ]

With the coming of the Second World War in September 1939, many of the narrow gauge rails were driven vertically into the ground of Alney Island to stop enemy aircraft landing: while on a broader front Britain’s railways were taken over by the Government just as they had been in 1914. As in the Great War, they were also called upon to carry vast numbers of men, munitions and other equipment although – as during the Break of Gauge – hardship was sometimes leavened by a Royal visit.

[HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth]

On 10 February 1940 Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – now the Queen Mother - arrived at Churchdown station and were met – among others - by Colonel W.F. Henn of Parton Grange, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire. Soon though, they were driven away up Station Road to the objective of their visit – the Gloster Aircraft Factory at Hucclecote.

[Me 109]

While dogfights between flimsy biplanes had been something of an heroic sideshow in the first global conflict of the Twentieth Century however, air power was to be the deciding factor of the second: and Churchdown was truly in its midst. As well as Glosters, Rotol Airscrews, the training airfield of RAF Staverton and the camp at RAF Innsworth surrounded the village. Churchdown’s platforms would later throng with light blue uniforms, and after their escape from the Messerschmitt strafed beaches of Dunkirk, one trainload of filthy, hungry, exhausted Polish servicemen found a bread van near the station and ate its contents, dry.

[Hawker Hurricane]

On the afternoon of 26 March 1941 meanwhile a deadly aerial assault was made on the City of Gloucester itself. Pursued at low altitude by a Hawker Hurricane – perhaps one of the 2 750 built by the Gloster Aircraft Company – the crew of a twin-engined Junkers 88 jettisoned four high explosive bombs. These flattened 18 houses and a church, killed six civilians, injured 27 more and blew a piece of track from Eastgate Station to Denmark Road – over a quarter of a mile away. Similarly, on 17 June 1941, the line between Gloucester and Cheltenham was temporarily put out of action by the Luftwaffe : although more violent upheavals were to be inflicted on the joint line from November that year by McAlpines.

[GWR 4-6-0]

By 24 August 1942 two brand new tracks were in commission between Gloucester and Cheltenham in addition to the pair that had existed from 1840. This super highway of total war required cuttings and underbridges to be widened, bridges over the line to be rebuilt with extra arches, signalling to be upgraded and Churchdown station to be almost totally renewed.

[Parton Road Bridge]

The wide, solid brick structure of Parton Road Bridge, for instance, was initially reduced to one arched span over the original tracks. Inconvenient temporary access to either side was by timber beams fitted with corrugated sheet iron parapets, as the contractor’s own railway line brought up fresh material and took away spoil. The final result, as viewed from the Gloucester side, comprised the original arch in the centre flanked by two new arches and retaining walls made from a darker blue engineer’s brick. For the benefit of engine men in the blackout, the two new arches also had white edges to match the white platform edges that had been introduced.

[Post War station from bridge]

Viewed from Parton Road Bridge, radical changes to Churchdown Station were evident. Both platforms were now islands and the shelter on the Cheltenham bound platform had had its awning greatly reduced. Opposite, new utility buildings replaced the booking office: which was now housed in a shed-like structure by the Southern approach to the bridge.

[Churchdown Station from tree]

Indeed, passenger access to the platforms was now by steps from a new solid sided footbridge grafted on to Parton Road Bridge itself, replacing the narrower, free-standing lattice footbridge. The new structure also had gates so that the station could be locked when not in use, although the general public were still able to cross the line segregated from vehicular traffic.

[Signal box interior]

As you may have already noticed, Churchdown also gained a new flat-roofed signal box during the War, complete with lengthened lever frame and metal cupboard style internal air raid shelter. Another innovation was the employment of a lady porter, one Beatrice Scotford..

[Parcels]

.. while in Gloucester another significant social development of total war was the appointment of Vera Proctor by the LMS as Britain’s first woman railway carter. She became a familiar sight around Gloucester collecting and delivering parcels, although another addition to the City in 1943 posed altogether different transport challenges.

[Fireless]

Coal for the new camouflaged Castle Meads power station was brought in either by barges on the river or along the Docks Branch of the Great Western Railway.

In either case, coal wagons were moved toward the furnaces by a fireless locomotive – one of only 162 ever built in Britain. As the name suggests, it differed from a regular locomotive by taking in steam from a static boiler – in this case at the power station – and then storing it in a barrel shaped reservoir before letting it out to work the pistons in their cylinders. Because their was neither firebox nor chimney to influence the layout, fireless engines often had their cylinders and exhaust pipes grouped conveniently around the cab, but a unique feature of this engine was the rectangular water replenishing tank, seen here just to the left of the reservoir. Outshopped in January 1942, withdrawn in 1969 and now on display at the National Waterways Museum in Gloucester, it was built by Andrew Barclays of Kilmarnock and carries their works number 2126.

[Fairey Firefly]

Then, on 6 June1944, Allied aircraft identified by black and white stripes supported British, American and Canadian soldiers as they landed on the five Normandy invasion beaches. Prior to this however, the four lines through Churchdown rang with the sound of British and American locomotives – sometimes coupled five or six together and bound for the Channel ports. Following D Day too, ambulance trains would pass through the village: empty southbound and full of wounded soldiers heading North. Rumour even has it that General Eisenhower himself was held up at Churchdown for temporary track repairs.

[Churchdown station sign with 45504 "Royal Signals"]

Following wartime Government control, the Big Four railways were subsequently Nationalised in 1948. As part of this, all the railways around Gloucester became part of either British Railways Western or London Midland Region, both of which began using a new standardised style of san serif lettering on station signs.

[KGV]

Horton Road based locomotives which had previously been identified with the letters GLO painted just behind their buffer beams now sported 85B on an oval plate on their smokeboxes while the former LMS engines at Barnwood were given the shed code 22B. This code was replaced by 85F with the transfer of former London Midland lines to Western Region control in 1957 and then by 85C in 1961. In fact 85C had been the former Western Region shed code for Hereford prior to 1958, which explains its presence on that most Great Western of engines "King George V" – which spent much of its active preservation at HP Bulmers Hereford depot.

[Failed Peak]

One reason of course that Hereford no longer needed a depot of its own was that a smaller number of main line diesel locomotives were supplanting steam, while supplementing their shunting and railcar brethren. The latter mainly used mechanical transmission, although it is recorded that the first diesel electric service ran through Churchdown in 1957 " and its hooter was heard all over the village." As the first pilot scheme diesels were only introduced at the end of 1957 and the earlier prototypes not associated with the line it is not clear what this diesel electric locomotive looked like. However, "Peaks" – like the one seen here having failed at Horton Road – were outshopped from Derby from 1960 onwards – just in time to haul the last workings of the "Pines Express" to use the Somerset & Dorset line through Churchdown.

[Diesel freight]

1961 meanwhile saw Western Region complete its fleet of diesel hydraulics with the introduction of Type 4 "Westerns" and Type 3 "Hymeks"– seen here hauling just some of the 150 000 tons of freight which the railways carried every week from Birmingham to Bristol and South Wales via the Severn Tunnel.

[Horton Road with Class 47]

Just eleven years years earlier Barnwood Shed had boasted a roster of 42 steam locomotives while the equivalent tally for Horton Road was 99 – including a stud of Castle class 4-6-0s used to haul the "Cheltenham Spa Express".

[7034 "Ince Castle"]

Then on 3 November 1962 the last official working of a Gloucester based Castle class locomotive on a passenger train to London saw 7034 "Ince Castle" haul the 12.17 departure from Gloucester Central to Paddington.

[7029 "Clun Castle"]

On 6 May 1964 Barnwood Locomotive Depot closed and in November that year new track work installed at Standish Junction allowed trains from Paddington to run over the Tuffley Loop into Eastgate Station, thus avoiding the need to reverse. Then, on 27 November 1965, Western Region’s "Farewell to Steam" railtour passed through Gloucester behind 7029 "Clun Castle" and on 3 January 1966 Horton Road Depot officially closed to steam locomotives.

"Clun Castle" itself had spent the last three years of its working life at Horton Road and so it was appropriate that the City should play a part in the rebirth of these engines too.

[Hymek 8X54]

On St Valentines Day 1970 special working 8X54 was captured on film as it headed South over Naas Crossing at Quedgeley. Its mission was to convey 5051 "Drysyllwyn Castle" from Barry Scrapyard to Didcot for restoration, such Barry hulks being banned from using the Severn Tunnel. After a decade of engines literally going West, movements like 8X54 became more frequent as the railway preservation movement grew in strength. Ironically, Western Region Hymek diesels, like D7052 at the head of this train, were all to be withdrawn by March 1975 as well, and only four have been saved from scrapping against the Castle’s score of eight.

[PWM 654]

In May 1973 meanwhile, the six strong capital fleet of diesel shunters allocated to Horton Road Depot began carrying stickers marked GL rather than 85B shed plates as the Depot itself gained location code 68101 under the new Total Operations Processing System of computerised asset control. In the same way that its shunter allocation had dropped from ten machines in June 1964, Horton Road had lost its turntable and most of the rail covering buildings by 1968. However by 1987 – when PWM 654 here finally left along with with another class 97 and three 08s – it was still officially at Maintenance Level Two.

[Horton Road from Platform 2]

With its one remaining shed – dating from 1872 and among the last Great Western brick structures left in central Gloucester – remained a store room and inspection pit, allowing skilled staff to carry out simple A and B examinations on locomotives as well as replenishing fuel, oil and water. This 1988 shot was taken from the end of platform 2 of the station…

[47 316]

..but the depot can be viewed equally well from Horton Road itself. Sadly though, not only has it been without locomotives of its own for over a decade but even engines from other depots, such as 47 316 of Railfreight Distribution, pictured here, no longer visit. Indeed, now that most of the freight elements of the old British Rail are now owned by Wisconsin Central this site remains just a weed strewn lodging for track machines – if it is lucky.

[9453 & D1050]

Change did not end with steam in terms of track mileage too, as 1967 saw the main line from Gloucester to Cheltenham reduced from quadruple down to just double track following the closure of Churchdown station on 2 November 1964. Despite seeing 250 train movements every 24 hours in 1957, just five Gloucester to Birmingham trains were calling at Churchdown by 1961 and a lack of car parking at the station made it vulnerable to competition from buses. This was not least because the population of the village had increased sevenfold in the two post War decades and many new Churchdonians lived nearer to today’s B 4063 than to the railway. Back on 29 February 1964 though, D 1050 "Western Ruler" waited at an adverse semaphore signal with a Scunthorpe to South Wales steel train while 9453 steams past with the 11.45 am Paddington – Gloucester – Cheltenham working. This express would have travelled behind a Western Region "Warship" as far as Gloucester before completing its journey in the charge of a humble pannier tank carrying two lamps at opposite ends of the buffer beam.

[46118 "Royal Welch Fusilier]

For me one of the saddest aspects of Churchdown losing its station was that it also lost its signalbox and semaphores. In fact my interest in railways really began right here where 46118 "Royal Welch Fusilier" is about to leave for Birmingham on 16 June 1961. As a small boy my father would, on summer evenings, take me down to the gate where signal UM89A now stands. We would listen to the bell codes ringing from the signal box, see the semaphores being pulled off, watch the trains and even talk to the guards of freight workings if their vans stopped within earshot. Just a few years later though, not only was the box demolished but its brickwork was scattered down the embankment where the undergrowth does not entirely cover it today. In fact the most positive thing that can be said about the old station site today is that road/rail maintenance vehicles can still gain access to the track there.

[Horton Road signalbox]

On 26 May 1968 the track layout of Eastgate Station was simplified too and the current Horton Road power signalbox commissioned. This is nowadays staffed by three signalmen, a train announcer and a supervisor and its four aspect colour light signals controls 98 route miles of track between Birmingham and Charfield.

[Horton Road Interior ]

In fact we can see some of the necessary equipment in this picture taken on a rare open day. While the lower mosaic panel holds the interlocking point and signal switches to set up routes, the upper panel is a train describer. A lot of action seems to be happening in the middle of the board, but up at the top right a lone train waits at Standish Junction for the green light to leave what was the Down line of the Great Western and join the former Midland Up line – zero mileage then being at Derby rather than Paddington.

[G 272]

And to show you what that looks like on the ground, here is a steam special - just having been accepted by Horton Road box - moving away from Paddington toward Derby.

[Vertical separation]

The former Midland line to Bristol is below the metal fence and Standish Junction itself was heavily refurbished in February 1997 at a cost of 2 000 000.

[View to Standish Junction]

As a result the average 122 trains which use Standish Junction each day can now pass by at up to 100 mph rather than 20 mph as before.

[Docks Branch Tour – facing canal]

Horton Road power box eventually replaced eight manual signalboxes in the City including the famous gantry-mounted Barton Street Junction opposite the Leisure Centre – more of which later!

Meanwhile, across the City, Castle Meads power station closed in 1969 and was blown up for charity by Gloucester Round Table in 1978, although cement traffic continued along the former Great Western Docks Branch until about 1985, when much of Llanthony goods yard was rebuilt as the 125 Business Park. Today the line from Over is moribund – and a 100 meter stretch of it looks set to be sacrificed when the Gloucester Ring Road is completed. But on 6 October 1971 it was visited by the first ever Dean Forest Railway special train, seen here with the Pillar & Lucy Warehouse visible in the background.

[Facing Llanthony Road]

And again here with the footbridge and level crossing gates across Llanthony Road in the other direction.

[Llanthony Level Crossing 1995]

In contrast, this is the scene from a similar viewpoint as far back as 1995 – and even the bridge over the Eastern Parting of the Severn no longer swings as it once did.

While the ex Great Western line died a lingering death however, a quicker fate was to befall the two former Midland branches in Gloucester. The Hempsted Branch closed on 14 January 1971, and the High Orchard on 1 October the same year. However, the latter was also given the last rites by the same Dean Forest railtour – made appropriately enough aboard a Gloucester built Class 119 diesel multiple unit.

[High Orchard Canal End]

In fact here is that unit at the end of the High Orchard Branch, very near to the Wagon Works where it had been constructed in 1958.

[High Orchard Park End]

And this is the view toward The Park that day – the level crossing roughly occupying the point where Trier Way and St Annes Way now meet. It is worth pausing here to reflect on the thousands of Gloucester Railway carriage and Wagon Company products that would have passed this way in the century between 1860 and 1960. Thankfully some of these vehicles have now been preserved, but of the works that made them there is very little left.

[LMS 0-4-0T with wagons]

The closure of the two Midland branches was an undoubted setback for railway enthusiasts but the travelling public as a whole lost out after the abandonment of Eastgate Station and the rest of the Tuffley Loop on 1 December 1975.

[Eastgate Closed]

One of the arguments for closing this route was that trains passing over it forced the level crossings to shut and so caused unacceptable road congestion. Nowadays this is called traffic calming: but in the years that were characterised by Punk Rock rather than speed bumps and mini roundabouts, Gloucester was returned to its condition of 1847 with trains from South West to North East either bypassing the City or stopping for longer while either locomotives or driving positions were changed.

[Eastgate looking South]

Had you been standing on Eastgate Station in that last week of November 1975, this would have been your view to the South. The old Leisure Centre is to your right with All Saints Church to your left. This is one of only three remaining structures in Britain designed by the Victorian architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – one of the others being the Albert Memorial in London. All Saints is now a centre for Tao Confucianism but for many Gloucestrians it will always be known as the Railwayman’s Church. What has gone forever though is both the signalbox over the tracks and the Swindon built Class 120 diesel unit about to pass beneath.

[Eastgate looking North with 4498]

Had you turned to face North at this point though you would have found the tracks either missing or out of action. For its last week Eastgate operated as a terminus on a branch line from Tuffley, non multiple unit trains being worked out as far as Quedgeley with a locomotive at each end. Here it is though on the happier occasion of a visit by preserved A4 Pacific "Sir Nigel Gresley" on 2 December 1974. This was quite apt as smaller LNER locomotives had once reached Gloucester on a number of goods and holiday workings.

[Passenger Station box]

And just for completeness, if we travel back a few yards in distance and ten years or so in time, here is Gloucester Passenger Station box at the Eastern end of Eastgate Station. This stood between Tramway Crossing and Barton Street Junction boxes and in the background we can see both Britannia Class Standard Pacifics and Class 47 diesels.

[Barton Gates]

Moving outside the station for a moment, here are the legendary Barton Gates protecting an all blue DMU of the mid seventies as it passes over Barton Street Junction. Although such level crossings were sometimes a nuisance to drivers, pedestrians could always use an underpass – the entrance to which was just out of camera shot to the left.

[Barton Gates 2]

The elevated signalbox itself was a beautiful example of Midland Railway house style and this was the view from it looking North.

[View North from Barton St. Junction]

Gloucester Royal Hospital, then quite a new building, stands in the background while the baulk of grass on its right is all that remains of a once busy freight yard.

Even for early 1975 though, this was quite a remarkable picture. Despite the historic procession of four wheeled vans bearing chocolate and tobacco to and from Bristol, Freightliner trains rarely ran through Eastgate and moreover this one had the wrong headcode – rolling away from Eastern Region rather than toward it. What is facing North though is a Travelling Post Office, the last of which passed through Gloucester in May 1994. Mail now goes by road to Cheltenham before boarding a train.

[Barton Junction Box interior]

Turning directly around from the last shot, here is a view of the inside of the box, with such features as the train register desk and stool…

[Lever Frame]

..and the block instruments and lever frame. Out of twelve levers originally installed, only three seem to be operational at this late stage – the rest out of action and painted white.

[View South from Barton Street Junction]

Looking South meanwhile, the Cardiff based unit nearst the camera is the 2030 departure from Eastgate; crossing over to the Midland Down line toward Bristol. Right of that is a Swindon departure bound for Cheltenham, waiting to cross the points that once led to the High Orchard Branch and due into Eastgate at 2035.

[1V83]

A few hundred yards down the track and a few years earlier, an air braked Class 47 locomotive was caught heading the steam heated 12.12 departure from Eastgate to Penzance.

[1V76]

While this shot not only shows the point work at the Southern end of Eastgate Station but someone who didn’t quite understand it! On a Saturday in June 1975 the driver of this Peak class diesel passed a danger signal when trying to replace another engine, which had failed on a train. The Derby-built 16 wheeler was then derailed by catch points before it could hit anything, tipping over to the amusement of the crowd on the left.

[Cranes]

Luckily it was not long before a recovery train was on the scene to right the locomotive, but this shot is also interesting for the allotments by the side of the line – something you do not see so much of nowadays.

[Cranes 2]

..and here is a final look at what was probably the last ever derailment on the Tuffley Loop.

[6201 tour]

When the current station – based on the old Central as the former GWR site had been known since in 1951 – opened on 8 March 1977 though, it continued to keep Gloucester in the record books. The old footbridge might have been demolished but the platform was now the longest in Britain at 1977’ 4" excluding ramps.

[Footbridge]

Indeed, just like the GWR station of 100 years before, this single platform was used by all trains until the opening of a new footbridge in 1984. This brought Platform 4 back into passenger use after its isolation and dedication to parcels traffic in 1966.

[Platform 4 with Mural]

Indeed, if you look at Platform 4 today you will see a 24’ long mural originally displayed at Severn Tunnel Junction until that station was closed on 12 October 1987. It was then moved to Gloucester and unveiled exactly two years afterward in the presence of Mr R. A. Walker, great grandson of Thomas Walker, who was not only the civil engineer behind the Severn Tunnel, Manchester Ship Canal and part of the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway but invented the first cricket bat with a spliced cane handle.

[NCL]

Sadly though, life is not all progress and on the night of 23 September 1978 fire was to rob Gloucester of another of its brick built Great Western gems. The old Goods Shed, then a depot for National Carriers Limited, required eight appliances and scores of firemen from all over the county to bring it under control.

[Painting]

By the time that the roof collapsed nine lorries parked inside had been lost to exploding fuel tanks, and one brigade officer likened it to a scene from a James Bond film. A modern metal shed was later built on the site as a replacement and in 2001 has a new neighbour in the shape of the Bright Horizons children’s nursery.

[Clun Castle]

The summer of 1985 meanwhile marked the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway and brought steam locomotives such as "Clun Castle" and "King George V" back to Gloucester to haul special trains to Swindon.

[KGV @ Swindon Works]

Ironically, the Great Western King Class, developed from the Castles, had never been allowed to run from Swindon and Stroud to Gloucester in the days of steam as they were too long and wide. However, due to platform narrowing for the introduction of HSTs in 1983 the route was now clear for these locomotives.

[HST]

Indeed, the future of railways in Gloucester was to be a mixture of rationalisation and improvement: additional infrastructure only coming to the City when other sites closed or when such a move as deemed profitable.

[Network Yard]

The formed Barnwood Depot site was redeveloped for Civil Engineer’s wagons in 1987 while on 12 October that year the closure of marshalling yards at Severn Tunnel Junction increased the importance of Gloucester in terms of wagon handling. Much of this traffic has since declined nationally but a look today at what was once referred to as Network Yard will still yield a view of some vehicles being stored.

[Class 153]

By the late 1980s, too, newer diesel multiple unit trains were being introduced in the wake of organisational change. As early as 4 January 1982 Western Region itself disappeared in favour of business led sectors.

[Alphaline]

Gloucester station was allocated to Regional Railways before the creation of Railtrack and afterwards became part of South West and Wales Railway Ltd. From 17 September 1996 this in turn became part of Prism Rail, apparently for the next seven and a half years. However, in 2001 the former Wales & West franchise was split into Wales & Borders and Wessex Trains, the latter company claiming Gloucester as its own.

[GWT]

At Privatisation the Great Western Train Operating Company, who also serve Gloucester, were shortlisted to bid for Cross Country trains – a former part of British Rail Inter City that finally went to Virgin.

[Central Class 158]

Despite this – and some incursions from Midland based Central Trains – the Privatisation process has still essentially been a way of taking business sectors of a nationalised monolith and reinventing them as competing companies with shareholders:– albeit after spending millions of pounds on public relations rather than infrastructure, electrification, signalling or even safety.

[Class 37]

While passenger operations remain fragmented however, the old BR Railfreight that was initially split into companies called Mainline, Loadhaul and Transrail, seen here..

[EWS]

..was re-unified by American company Wisconsin Central under the branding English, Welsh and Scottish Railways.

[Vehicle cleaning sidings]

At least 1993 saw a certain amount of track replacement in the station area, with two sidings by Platform 4 being refurbished for vehicle cleaning.

[Elsie’s plaque]

But as far as passengers were concerned though, a more obvious improvement was the opening of the refurbished travel shop at the station on 21 September 1993.

[Interior travel shop]

Further facelifts have since improved an already smart station, although in 2002 it still lacks the brass plaque unveiled on the site in 1985. This depicted the Break of Gauge alongside a map of the area in the 1850s and was taken down during refurbishment – apparently to be returned to a prominent yet vandal proof position later on…

[Gloucester 1990]

1989 meanwhile marked the first Gloucester Rail Day at Horton Road which was followed by similar events in 1990 and 1991. However, by the end of 1990 the land around Gloucester’s railway triangle had been transformed by the addition of Metz Way, the cessation of rail traffic to UK Fertilisers depot and the closure of the wagon repair business at Marcroft Engineering. For many years this yard full of wheels and wagons had been a landmark for travellers to and from London and Bristol. Now though, there is a new point of interest.

[Windmill Bridge Abutment]

On 12 January 1990 a time capsule in the shape of a 20 cubic inch stainless steel box was placed 15 feet above ground in one of the abutments of Windmill Bridge, just next to the Great Western public house.

[Time Capsule plaque]

This was part of Gloucestershire County Council’s Centenary celebrations and contained items as diverse as a programme from the Three Choirs Festival and the nozzle of a fireman’s hose.

[Arches]

A more obvious addition to the railway scene in Gloucester though came in 1994 with two pieces of public art. The larger of the two is this viaduct sculpture in metal…

[Eye]

..but a tribute to Gloucester’s riverside heritage – complete with points at the Red Star end and undulating in the manner of so many narrow gauge lines – is also hard to miss. Most important of all in my opinion is the symbolic buffer stop nearest the camera. The Railways of Gloucester have their eye on you, but if they are to flourish in the Twenty First Century we should all keep our eyes on them.

 
 

  Railways in Gloucester and Churchdown before 1845