Kidderminster Loop Line
To Tenbury & Bridgnorth
The loop line connecting Bewdley and Kidderminster was built to serve both the Severn Valley Railway from Shrewsbury and the Tenbury Branch from Woofferton (formed by the Tenbury Railway and the Tenbury and Bewdley Railway). It would provide a connection to Birmingham and the West Midlands without the need for a reversal at Hartlebury.
Planning for the Loop began in 1860, before any of these railways opened. However it would be 18 years before the Loop was completed. A feature of the Loop was that although the GWRGreat Western Railway (and earlier companies absorbed by it) would be responsible for construction, its rival the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway would probably gain more benefit from it through its running powers over the Tenbury Branch, via which it would generate traffic between South Wales and the West Midlands. This may explain the GWRGreat Western Railway’s apparent ambivalence towards completing the Loop.
This article gives a history of the Loop’s construction and subsequent changes on the route. For context, milestone dates during this period for the railways concerned were as follows:
Severn Valley Railway:
- February 1862: Opened between Shrewsbury and Hartlebury, operated by the West Midland Railway (WMR).
- August 1863: WMR absorbed into the GWRGreat Western Railway.
- August 1861: Opened between Woofferton and Tenbury, operated by the S&HRShrewsbury and Hereford Railway.
- July 1862: S&HRShrewsbury and Hereford Railway jointly leased by the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway, the GWRGreat Western Railway and the WMR). Working of traffic on the Tenbury Railway taken over by the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway.
- 1866: Tenbury Railway became joint GWRGreat Western Railway and LNWRLondon & North Western Railway.
Tenbury and Bewdley Railway:
- August 1864: Tenbury and Bewdley Railway opened between the two named towns, operated from opening by the GWRGreat Western Railway.
The construction of the Loop and alternative proposals
The first plans for the Loop were prepared by Edward Wilson, Engineer of the OW&WOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. The route was broadly similar to that eventually built, but with a shorter tunnel of only 400 yards.
The West Midland and Severn Valley Companies Act incorporating Wilson's plan was approved on 1 August 1861. The Loop was to form part of the Severn Valley Railway, and was to be completed within 4 years, after which the powers would end. The Severn Valley Railway was also granted powers to raise an additional £60,000 capital for the estimated cost, and £20,000 of additional borrowing facilities. A deposit of £4,800 (8% of the cost) was lodged with the Court of Chancery.
A wide-ranging agreement was reached between the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway and the GWRGreat Western Railway/WMR on 17 March 1863. For the GWRGreat Western Railway, this ensured that the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway would not oppose their forthcoming absorption of the WMR, as well as gaining access to Manchester. Among the benefits to the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway were obtaining running powers over the Tenbury and Bewdley Railway, the WMR line from Bewdley to Stourbridge (via Hartlebury) and thence via the Stourbridge Railway to Smethwick. The agreement also referred to the GWRGreat Western Railway/WMR constructing "...the authorized curve at Bewdley on or before 1st July 1865.", presumably referring to the Loop.
Responsibility for the 1861 Act passed from the WMR to the GWRGreat Western Railway, who discussed it at a Board meeting on 1 October 1863. Edward Wilson was instructed to prepare a plan and section and submit an estimate, although he had already done this for the 1861 Act. On 9 September Wilson wrote to the Board informing them that the cost of the single line branch would be £57,000 and that he was preparing (another?) plan and section.
The GWRGreat Western Railway Board adopted a recommendation to proceed with the loop on 21 January. On 28 April they were advised that the powers for purchasing the land would shortly expire and the £4,800 deposit would be forfeit if the railway was not built. On 24 November Wilson wrote to the Board with a revised estimate of £55,133, and on 8 December the Board authorised the Chairman to proceed.
During the mid to late 1860s, the GWRGreat Western Railway was in a period of financial constraint and did not consider the loop a priority. Despite the Board's authorisation the year before, work had not begun when the powers of construction expired in 1865.
In 1867 a new plan for the loop was prepared by Michael Lane, Chief Civil Engineer of the GWRGreat Western Railway for submission to Parliament in 1868. The preamble to the Bill sought '...to extend the time and revive the powers' of the 1861 Act.
Powers for construction of the Loop were granted under the GWRGreat Western Railway Act of 31 July 1868. The same Act also authorised construction of the Stourbridge Town branch. The £4,800 deposit was to be used in the construction of the Loop. These powers would end after 5 years.
The GWRGreat Western Railway had showed no appetite for beginning construction, but had applied the year before for a 3 year extension in the powers which was granted by the GWRGreat Western Railway Act of 18 July 1872.
At around the same time, pressure from local industries led to the GWRGreat Western Railway proposing the construction of a railway between Bewdley and Stourbridge instead of the Loop to Kidderminster. The new plans were prepared by GWRGreat Western Railway Engineers W.G. Owen and Edward Wilson; the route would take the new railway from the Stourbridge Town branch via Kinver, Cookley and Wolverley to join the SVRSevern Valley Railway at Sandbourne Viaduct. The cost of this line was estimated at £211,000, more than 3 times the cost of the Loop.
The Bill for the GWRGreat Western Railway's alternative railway was examined by Parliament. It was opposed by the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway, and also by Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal which saw the railway as a threat to its own traffic. The Bill was eventually thrown out, and the GWRGreat Western Railway ordered to complete the Loop as originally authorised.
The GWRGreat Western Railway’s attitude to the decision can be gauged from a speech to shareholders later that year by Daniel Gooch, the GWRGreat Western Railway Chairman. He regretted the decision and described the loop as a ‘useless curve’ which they did not want and were now compelled to build.
A Bill was brought to Parliament for a new railway, the West Staffordshire Railway, linking Wolverhampton to the Tenbury and Bewdley Railway. The plans, prepared by Engineer William Henry Thomas, showed a line leaving the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway route south of Wolverhampton High Level and proceeding via Kingswinford, west of Stourbridge, Wolverley and west of Kidderminster to join the Tenbury and Bewdley Railway at Dowles Bridge via a tunnel under the Severn Valley Railway. A branch would also have connected onto the Severn Valley Railway north of Wribbenhall Viaduct. This project had the backing of the LNWRLondon & North Western Railway, and was supported by local businesses and by Bewdley Council who were openly critical of the GWRGreat Western Railway’s delay in constructing the loop.
The GWRGreat Western Railway had belatedly begun to take steps to make progress with the Loop, probably in response to the appearance of this proposal from their rival. They had also applied for a further extension in completing the Loop. During the Parliamentary Review, the GWRGreat Western Railway joined with the canal companies in opposing the West Staffordshire Railway, and despite strong support from local businesses the Bill was eventually thrown out.
The GWRGreat Western Railway issued a specification of the work to be carried out in September. On 7 October they accepted a tender of £39,800 from Charles Dickinson. The contract for completion of the Loop, dated 28 November, was sealed on 3 December. It was referred to as the Bewdley and Kidderminster Branch.
Construction of the Loop began in the Spring of 1875. A report in the Kidderminster Times noted that the Loop would be a single line, and optimistically gave a 12 month completion date.
On 31 May Dickinson wrote to the GWRGreat Western Railway explaining his difficulty in obtaining stone for the piers of Falling Sands Viaduct and requesting the difference in price for it to be built entirely of brick, to which the GWRGreat Western Railway agreed.
The GWRGreat Western Railway Act of 19 July 1875 duly granted a further 2 year extension in accordance with the GWRGreat Western Railway’s earlier request, with a revised deadline for completion of 18 July 1877.
By March 1877 the GWRGreat Western Railway was able to report that the tunnel, viaducts and bridges were almost complete, although adverse weather had caused delays with the cutting east of the tunnel. However they made no further application for an extension to the July deadline for completion.
A report in the Kidderminster Shuttle in October 1877 stated that the line was almost complete apart from signals. The report also noted that Bessemer steel rails had been used, a relatively new development which had only recently begun to replace cast iron rails.
Construction of the Loop was completed in March 1878. Following an inspection on 22 March, the Board of Trade expressed general satisfaction with the work but required two changes to be made. These involved installing regular points rather than crossing points on the approach to Bewdley, and installing a footbridge at Bewdley to give passenger access to platforms 2 and 3.
A further Board of Trade inspection on 29 May authorised the opening of The Loop, and the first public services began on 1 June.An interesting consequence of the opening of the Loop Line was that the UpIn reference to the direction of travel means towards the major terminus (i.e. towards Kidderminster on the present day SVR) and DownIn reference to the direction of travel means away from the major terminus (i.e. towards Bridgnorth on the present day SVR) directions on the Tenbury Branch were reversed; Bewdley to Tenbury becoming UpIn reference to the direction of travel means towards the major terminus (i.e. towards Kidderminster on the present day SVR).
On opening, there were no intermediate stations or sidings between the junctions at Kidderminster and Bewdley. The route has not significantly changed and is still in use as part of the preserved SVRSevern Valley Railway. Major features on the route include Falling Sands Viaduct, crossing the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the River Stour; the 480 yard long Bewdley Tunnel; and Sandbourne Viaduct, on the approach to Bewdley. Two intermediate halts were opened on the route in the early part of the 20th century:
- Foley Park Halt opened on 2 January 1905, and remained in use until the end of passenger services in January 1970.
- Rifle Range Halt first appeared in Bradshaw in October 1907, coinciding with the introduction of a steam rail-motor service. It closed on 4 October 1920.
Foley Park sidings were opened in 1925, serving the British Sugar Corporation and Smethwick Drop Forgings.
Following the cessation of passenger services beyond Bewdley to Tenbury in 1962 and to Shrewsbury in 1963, passenger services continued to run on the loop line as part of the Kidderminster-Bewdley-Hartlebury triangle. Passenger services on this route ended on 5 January 1970, with only a short section between Kidderminster Junction and Foley Park Sidings remaining in use for goods services, the remainder of the line beyond Foley Park being purchased by the preservation movement. Foley Park Sidings finally closed on 25 October 1982, with the line re-opening throughout on 30 July 1984, serving the new Kidderminster Town Station.
The Bewdley-Kidderminster Loop Line”, article by John Marshall in SVRSevern Valley Railway News 69