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Friday, 1st Feb 2019
The forgotten county
By Tim Porter
Stones in his pockets
Wednesday 24th April 2019
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Back when Stow had a station and steam was king.
Time was when Gloucestershire had 150 railways stations and almost every village was served by a train line. What happened to them all? Dave Wiblin went to the Society’s Open Meeting on December 4th to hear Tony Conder explain.
The evening began with boos from the 70-strong audience. Not for our speaker, Tony Conder - who was several times given rousing rounds of applause - but for Dr Beeching. The much spurned doctor, axeman of the railways appeared on the first slide of Tony’s gripping account of the lost railways stations and rail lines of Gloucestershire.
There have been up to 150 stations in Gloucestershire over the years but only a fraction of these survive today. In the early 1800s Gloucester was a well-established port and was a big pull for the industrial heartland of the Black Country. In 1840 the Birmingham to Gloucester railway was completed and is one of the world's oldest main line railways.
With Gloucester thriving as a hub other lines centred on this major port. In 1845 the London to Gloucester line was completed and by 1851 trains from South Wales were also arriving at the docks. In 1844 a Brunel built line was added from Bristol although this had a 7’ gauge and caused chaos at Gloucester station as freight and passengers had to change trains to make onward journeys.
This chaos hit the national press in 1846 leading to a standard gauge of four foot eight and a half inches being adopted nationwide.
Tony displayed a number of old photographs from a huge array of stations and gave a fascinating insight into life at the time. With the growth in the use of railways the number of stations ballooned and small branch lines increased across the whole county to transport both freight and passengers.
The station at Stow was part of the Banbury to Cheltenham line and opened in 1862 surviving for 100 years until it was closed by the British Transport Commission under Dr Beeching in 1962. It was situated at the bottom of Stow Hill on the road to Burford although nothing remains of the station today apart from some old postcards of the buildings and platform which can be seen on the Society’s website.
After the war, business in Gloucestershire boomed with holidays in the Forest of Dean and coal being transported from the forest’s quarries.
Adelstrop station (1853 to 1966) did actually get a mention in the evening. Despite the station's demise, it is better-known today than many small stations still open as a result of the short poem by Edward Thomas, written in 1914, which recounts the moment in June that year when the train on which the poet was a passenger stopped at Adlestrop. Thomas' note book show that the stop was made at 12.45 which actually corresponds to a scheduled down stopping service, not an unscheduled stop by an express train as described in the poem.
We also learned that Dr Beeching wasn’t solely to blame for the disappearance of so many of our rail lines. His actions were the result of pressure from MacMillan to cut spending and Earnest Marple, the Transport Minister’s need to speed up mainline travel and cut small stations to the Beeching report published in 1963.
Tony concluded his talk with some lovely photos of circus animals arriving in Cheltenham by train, a crashed plane on the tracks at Brize Norton and the Severn River crossing at Sharpness destroyed by two ships in 1928.
Amongst the great questions at the end of his talk was one about when clocks were synchronised across the network. Tony explained that this was in the mid 1880s when London time was adopted. Apparently there was a 9 minute difference between clocks in Bristol and London making scheduling very difficult. A great evening and wonderful photos even if you weren’t a train buff. Thank you Tony.
Adlestrop station shortly before it closed in 1963.
Speaker, Tony Conder,
first came to Gloucestershire to open
the National Waterways Museum
in Gloucester docks,
and, now retired,
is a civic trust guide
He owned up to
arriving on the 5:28 train
at the White Hart.
Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
- Edward Thomas, 1914
Kemble station in the 1880s