Between 1862 and 1864, the Worcester Journal published a series of articles titled "Excursions by Railway". The April 25 and May 2 issues of 1863 featured the Severn Valley Railway from Hartlebury to Shrewsbury. The following is the text of that article.
SEVERN VALLEY RAILWAY. This line is appropriately named, for the new iron road[note 1]
runs, throughout almost its entire course, in view of the River Severn
. It is one of the prettiest lines in England, presenting at every turn (and they are many, for as we have said, the line following the bends of the river describes the same sinuous course) great variety of scenery. The traveller, even without leaving the train, catches glimpses of wood and river, blossoming orchards, rocks, glades, and hills which few if any other English railway affords. An additional train,[note 2]
to and fro, has recently been put on for the accommodation of the district, so that the tourist or man of business, who professes belief in the old Latin doctrine that "Diluculo surgere saluberimium est
" may rise with the lark, have a long day, and finish with the owl.
We commence our journey on the Severn Valley line at Hartlebury, where it joins the West Midland, and being a single line the trains are so arranged as to meet at certain stations where there are sidings. This arrangement rather tends to punctuality, as the officers know that the delay of one train necessarily occasions similar delay to another moving in an opposite direction. As trains from Wolverhampton and Birmingham on the one side, and Worcester and Hereford on the other, meet Severn Valley trains at Hartlebury, there is generally an introductory performance of an unpleasant kind (to a traveller in a hurry to get to the end of his journey) known by the modern term of "shunting", to be performed by way of introduction to the new district; but, this preliminary ceremony over, the journey commences through a pleasant undulating country to the first station at Stourport, with short cuttings and embankments alternating, and some few bridges to be passed over and under. Stourport is marked in the distance by three tall smoking chimneys, and as you pass through the station the sensitive nose detects the not unpleasant aroma of bark, leather-tanning being the staple trade of the town. Just before reaching the station the line crosses the little river which gives its name to the town, and we arrive within sight of the Severn.
After leaving Stourport the line begins to run parallel with the river, and the woods of Ribbesford rising up from the western bank are seen. It is at this spot where, according to an ancient legend, a gallant archer made an extraordinary shot, having killed a buck, and, the arrow passing through the deer, having transfixed a salmon in the river! We tell the tale as the old chronicles record it, leaving the reader to give it just what credence he thinks fit. The country retains its undulating character as we pass along the eastern side of the river up to Bewdley, Winterdyne, now the residence of Major GresleySir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941, forming a conspicuous object on the opposite bank. Bewdley station is in that part of the borough known as Wribbenhall (a separate parish), and is on the rising ground on the east bank of the Severn. Passing its outskirts on the way to Arley, the little town is looked down upon lying snugly in a hollow between abruptly rising ground on either bank of the Severn, groves of fruit trees now white with blossom, sheltering it and giving it a thorough rus in urbe character.
Leaving Bewdley the line passes about a couple of miles further along the east bank of the river affording glimpses of Bewdley Forest over the water. Dowles church with its red brick tower, and quiet churchyard is seen, and a little further on the Tenbury and Bewdley railway makes itself visible. This line runs into the Severn Valley line just above Bewdley, and crosses the Severn (after running down the valley formed by Dowles brook) by a bridge now in course of construction. The piers of this bridge are ready to receive the iron roadway, and there is a talk of an early opening of the line. This line, when completed, will open up an entirely new country. and, now that coaches are banished from the old Tenbury and Ludlow road, and the journey to those places has to be made by the roundabout route of Hereford, it will be a greet accommodation to the district. After crossing the Severn by the bridge now in course of construction, the line runs into the Severn Valley line by a rather sharp curve entering it, as already mentioned, a short distance north of Bewdley.
Pursuing our journey up the Severn Valley line, we pass close by the side of the river, and now see it in its “unimproved" and natural condition. The effect of the navigation weirs is not felt so high up the river as Bewdley, and between Bewdley and Upper Arley the river is full of shoals and rapids. One of these — the Folly ford — must be a great obstacle to the navigation, as the river falls over a ledge of rock which runs directly across the stream, leaving one narrow passage on the west side through which the boats are steered. A short distance above this ford the line crosses the river, and runs into Arley station; one of the prettiest villages on the whole route, with Arley Castle, the seat of R. Woodward, Esq., picturesquely placed on rising ground on the east bank of the river, and the church close at hand. Arley is in Staffordshire which happens at this place to throw out a tongue of territory between Worcestershire and Shropshire.
Before leaving Arley on the journey up the Severn Valley, we must make a short stay at one of the most pleasant and accessible spots in the whole route Shrewsbury-wards. The little station platform hewn out of the side of the sloping bank stretching down to the water, gives the traveller a bird's-eye view of the village on the opposite side of the river, the water glistening in the hollow green pastures stretching upwards towards the castle and church, which crown the opposite bank, while prominent on the same level is a new school completed about two years ago for the education of the rising generation of the neighbourhood. Of this school, which is under the fostering care of the clergyman of Arley and of the proprietor of Arley Castle (R. Woodward, Esq.), fame speaks highly. The village itself is of the “respectable" class, having substantial houses, chiefly built of the red sandstone of the district, and all wearing an air of comfort and plenty. There is a post office in the village, and another British “Institution" even more ancient—the village stocks, which are fixed almost at the castle gates. Apparently this ancient implement of disgrace is retained more for ornament or terror than for use, for the seat on which the culprit was wont to be accommodated is wanting, and if an inveterate toper were to be consigned to air his errant legs in the neatly cut frame of wood prepared here, it must be with his nether extremity on " the cold ground."
The view from the castle front is most enchanting. The principal front, with the Barbican on the right, faces about S. or E., and looks over thickly wooded undulating ground of great beauty, with the park to the left, a truly sylvan scene. Giant oaks stand singly in their pride of strength in the park; the horse chestnut spreads its fan like foliage—earliest of timber trees to put on its Summer clothing, and to put forth its magnificent pyramids of blossom; hawthorn bushes scattered about the banks scent the air with the aromatic fragrance of their pure white clusters of bloom; the graceful pensile birch groups with other ornamental trees at the foot of the mound on which the castle stands, a deep gully running on the south and east sides, which is thickly wooded, and the eye is carried over the tops of the trees to the undulating stretches of land towards Kidderminster, catching glimpses of Trimpley and the Park Atwood Estate, nearer at hand is Nash End, and to the right the spire of the new school peeps out above the trees, and Bewdley Forest forms the background of the picture, the little station and signal-post obtruding themselves in front. The pink blossom of the apple and the yellow bloom of the ever-flowering gorse dot the green grounds rising southwards in gentle undulations, and help to complete a picture of English rural scenery not to be equalled for beauty in so comparatively small a compass. The woods, just at this season are full of bird-harmony. The cuckoo and nightingale have sung what Thomson calls “the Symphony of Spring," and the full choir have burst out in one universal chorus:—
Deep-tangled, tree irregular, and bush
Bending with moisture o'er the heads
of the coy Quiristers that lodge within,
Are prodigal of harmony.
Altogether the situation of Arley Castle and grounds is most delightful, and the spot is just such an one as the world-weary may resort to for refreshment and rest, and where fresh vigour to renew the battle of life may be acquired. And the worthy proprietor of this fair domain is no niggard of the beauties that surround him, but permits all comers who ask for the liberty to ramble at will over the grounds, and enjoy with him its landscape beauties. Picnics from the surrounding country, both by water and rail, frequently make the grounds of Arley Castle their rendezvous during the summer season.
But, as tides and railway trains stop for no man, we must hasten from this attractive spot, for already the bell at the station is ringing, and the river has to be crossed and a stiff run up hill to be accomplished before the train rushes into the station. A capital regulation has been introduced here, however, which we commend for imitation in other pieces. The bell that has just rung is not, as usual, the signal that the train, is in sight, but announces the fact of its departure from the next station—Bewdley on one side, Highley on the other—so that ample time is given for loiterers to repair to the trysting piece. The bell can be heard in the village across the water; and the Charon of the Arley ferry being always at his post, the river is quickly crossed, and the inhabitants have time to leave their houses, and catch the train after the signal bell has been rung.
The Severn Valley Railway, as originally laid out, was intended, we believe, to proceed along the east bank of Severn for many miles further, and the Ordnance maps have the line so marked out to this day; but having crossed the river at Upper Arley, the line proceeds along the west bank,[note 3] thence to Shrewsbury. From Arley to Bridgnorth the river winds among hills now clothed with wood, now sloping down in green pastures to the river's brink, and presenting continually changing vistas, and the rail running at an elevation from the river of 30 to 50 yards, follows the windings of the stream in an ascending gradient. Under ordinary circumstances, the construction of the line upon this sloping bank would be considered a simple course of engineering, but the nature of the ground—in many places large boulders and rocks being mixed up with treacherous clay and loose soil—made the work one of remarkable difficulty. Time after time, when the level had been obtained, and the rail laid down, the ground beneath slipped towards the river. Slip after slip occurred, and the traces of these mishaps are still plainly visible as the train proceeds slowly up the valley. We believe, however, all is now pronounced safe. From Arley to Highley station (two miles), and from Highley to Hampton (two miles and a half), the evidences of these slips continually present themselves. The population round these two stations appear sparse; at Hampton's Lode there are some ironworks which belong to W. O. Foster, and here a few workmen's tenements are collected. After leaving Hampton station [note 4] the line diverges for a short time from the actual bank of the river, returning to it again at Bridgnorth, the approach to which picturesque town is exceedingly beautiful. Before the introduction of the railway, Bridgnorth was one of those out of-the-way places rarely intruded upon by tourists. Once open a time, when stage coaches were the only means of traffic, Bridgnorth was on the high road between Liverpool and Bristol—one of the most celebrated coach runs in the country, Worcester and Cheltenham being on the route—but these days disappeared: the rail has long turned the roaches off the road, but although it has swept away the old mode of conveyance, it is not until a few months ago that it supplied the rapid and more convenient substitute. It was the market town for the surrounding agricultural district; but trade it had little. Now, by means of the iron road, the inhabitants will soon lose their isolation and form a more intimate acquaintance with the rest of the world.
Bridgnorth elections are said proverbially to be “all on one side; " and they will probably continue to be so as long as the family of the present member (H. Whitmore, Esq.) hold the popular position they do in the country. But the town is famous in history, and the curious will find here many ancient relics connecting the past with the present. Bridgnorth Castle stands on the top of what is called the High Town, an elevated rocky mound, having the Severn on the east side, the railway on the west, and the Low Town at the foot of the hill. It was the scene of battle between the Danes and Normans, and later, was visited by many crowned heads—Henry II, John, Prince Edward, Edward II., Henry IV., and Charles I., who arrived here from Shrewsbury, in 1612. Sandstone rock is very prevalent along the river, and in the neighbourhood of Bridgnorth are observed numerous holes scooped out, which once served for human habitations.
On leaving Bridgnorth station, the line runs under part of the town by a short tunnel, emerging at the north end, in view of some picturesque rocks on the east bank of the river, the course of which we again follow through pleasant meadows commanding constantly changing views of the wooded banks of the Severn, Apley Park, &c., the river running in alternating sparkling fords and deep pools. This part of the Severn is a favourite resort of the angler, not only from the neighbouring town, but also from a distance. The fishermen report that latterly there has been a sensible increase in the supply of fish in the river, which they attribute to its more careful supervision, and the protection afforded to the fish in the season of reproduction. Salmon are now frequently seen sporting in its waters, and the young of this noble fish (known variously as samlets, parr, salmon pink, and smelts), have been noticed unusually numerous this spring, emigrating to the sea, to return as salmon in the course of the summer.
Apley House, the seat of Mr. Whitmore, on the east bank of the Severn facing the river, is a beautifully situated mansion, and gives character to the surrounding scenery. We have only a glimpse of the mansion and park as the train hurries by, but the author of The Severn Valley is enthusiastic in praise of the situation. He says :—"For the finest view of this splendid park, the visitor should ascend its noble terrace, and from Belle Vue look down upon the picture at his feet. The river, like a silver thread, interweaves itself with the splendid carpet in the vale, and the scene which unfolds itself is harmonious and soothing as a hymn. Fat pastures, enclosed by woods, are dotted with cattle, while sprightly deer graze near patches of bright green fern. It is fearful to look down the precipice at your feet, and over the tops of trees, above one of which a hawk is preparing to pounce on its prey. It is sublime to cast the eye over the sylvan slopes and cloud-shadowed sweeps into the distance. It is solemn and impressive to tarry here till evening, till the burning sun has set behind the hill, and the moon is rising to take its place, till the bird voice of the woods beneath is still, and distant cottage fires peep out from the soft and shadowy gloom that steals o'er all." After passing Apley mansion, Linley station is arrived at —four miles from Bridgnorth—and three miles more bring us to Coalport. At Willey, between the two places, lived and died the famous whipper-in, Tom Moody, than whom—
A more able huntsman ne'er followed a hound.
Through a country well known to him fifty miles round.
We now change the character of the scene, prevailing smoke and tall chimneys betokening the presence of manufacturing energy. Coalport is famous for its china, and in the same neighbourhood are the encaustic tile works of Messrs. Mawe and Co., some of the first in the kingdom. At Coalport, is the terminus of a branch of the London and North-Western Railway from Wellington. The terminus is some 60 or 80 yards from the Severn Valley line, but at a much lower level, and it is very clear that in constructing the two lines there was no idea of the possibility of a future junction of the two. The river running between them appears to mark the territory on either bank as not to be encroached upon.
Two miles further on, with the smoke accompanying us all the way, we arrive at Ironbridge, the houses of the town clustering well up the steep bank of the river on the east side, and the rail running along half-way up the opposite bank. The handsome high-arched iron bridge, which gives its name to the town, forms a conspicuous object in the landscape. Madeley and Coalbrookdale are approachable hence. The former is notable as one of the hiding places of King Charles II after the battle of Worcester. On his way to Boscobel, Charles took refuge at a house of a Mr. Wolfe, but the house was too good for the fugitive, who was accommodated like an ordinary vagrant, with some straw in a barn. At the Restoration, the monarch presented Mr. Wolfe with a silver tankard, bearing the following inscription:—" Given by Charles II., at the Restoration, to F. Wolfe, of Madeley, in whose home he was secreted after the defeat at Worcester." Broseley, famous for its bricks, is in the same locality.
From Ironbridge to Buildwas is but one mile, according to the tables. Buildwas Abbey was a great attraction for the archaeologists who visited Shrewsbury a few years ago, and Wenlock Abbey offers like inducements to tourists. Wenlock is reached by a branch line from Buildwas station. Another branch is being made in an opposite direction to Lightmoor (a mile and a half), and the bridge to carry this branch line over the Severn is now in course of completion.
After passing Buildwas, we see for the first time the Wrekin, rising like a cone on the east side of the Severn. Cressage station is next passed, and the traveller observes, in a field on the west side of the railway, a curious oak tree, evidently a very ancient one, all the inside being decayed, leaving nothing but the bark alive; but in the centre of the hollow, and enfolded and sheltered by the parent trunk, rises a vigorous sapling, which projects its branches into those of the parent tree, and the letter being completely decayed on one side, shows the young plant in the interior. We believe it is called the Lady Oak, though whence the derivation of the title, we know not. The valley of the Severn now widens, and the line deviates from the river westward. At a distance further west, are seen two remarkable conical hills, like two giant Egyptian pyramids.
Berrington station, a rural district, with only a few farm houses visible, comes next, and the railway now passes through pleasant meadows and tillage, some four miles further, running into the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway just outside the former town, and again resuming acquaintance with the Severn as Shrewsbury is reached.
Shrewsbury is a great railway centre for North Wales, Liverpool and Manchester, Hereford and South Wales, and the Midland district. There are also many places of interest in the immediate locality, and, first in order must be named the Wroxeter excavations, by which the ancient Roman city of Uriconium has been brought again to daylight. Wroxeter is distant from Shrewsbury about five miles by road. It can also be approached by railway. Take train to Upton Magna (three or four miles), and walk about two miles, a very pleasant road, to the locality. No visitor to Shrewsbury should miss this treat. A collection of antiquities, gathered in the course of the excavations, is to be seen in the museum in the town. The return to Worcester may be made from Shrewsbury by another route, via the Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton line to Wolverhampton, and thence through the Black Country to Dudley, Stourbridge, and Kidderminster. The effect of such a journey is most striking at night, when the flaming fiery furnaces present a scene which, it may be supposed, can only be rivalled in Pandemonium. The return journey by this route would give the traveller the opportunity of saying that he had travelled by rail "All round the Wrekin."