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Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway

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Articles on Aspects of His Railways - Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway

'The editors intend that this section will have regular articles on individual Colonel Stephens Railways, how they came about and how they were run. The Museum is in being to promote interest and research into his railways. Should you wish to contribute original, suitable and well researched material we will be happy to consider it, just E-mail us.'

The list of Topics Articles is below.

30th October 2009


Brian Janes explores the lengthy saga of Melverley Viaduct and is key importance to Shropshire and Montgomeryshire and subsequently the local community.

23rd June 2008

A Narrow Escape On The Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway

As has been described elsewhere, the new 0-6-2Ts built for the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire were sold off in somewhat obscure circumstances to the Government during World War I. The author of that Topic speculated that their sale might have been precipitated by an accident, which took place on 22nd July 1915 which, but for fortune, might have been disastrous for the new railway.

11th December 2007

The S&MR In World War II - Parts 1 & 2

With the outbreak of war the S&MR was seen, unlike for instance the WC&P, as a railway that was important to the nation and was accordingly taken into government control.
A new article by Brian Janes. Part 2 slightly amended in the Light of Further Research, March 2008

13th December 2005


A look at the inter–railway politics that led the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire to be starved of traffic at its Western end. An article by Brian Janes, that first appeared in the Tenterden Terrier but has now been amended to take account of further research.

22nd October 2002


The late Bill Willans, cousin of Tom Rolt and son of the originator of the use of Sentinel engines as locomotive, was an apprentice fitter on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire in the late 1920s. He recounted his experiences for The Colonel the journal of the Colonel Stephens Society, which by kind permission we reproduce here.

12th January 2002


This article by Stephen Garrett first appeared in The Tenterden Terrier.

Click on the images to see the larger pictures

Melverley Bridge was always the Achilles heel of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire and its predecessor companies. The Potteries Shrewsbury and North Wales’ deeply eccentric creator Richard France had crossed the Severn twice, his tortuous approaches to his quarries; and would have built another at Shrewsbury if he hadn’t run out of cash. He built a robust iron structure at Shrawardine but the branch to the Criggion quarry (in the Breidden hills) was far more cheaply built, the river being crossed by a far less substantial structure near Melverley, after which it came to be named.

Like most railway bridges built in this part of the world at the time, the bridge was economically built of timber with 7 long 38ft spans, making it technically a viaduct. The spans were timber trusses sitting directly on timber piles, a common enough railway structure at the time and very similar in general form to some of Brunel’s near contemporary viaducts (described by his assistant Peter Margery as ‘Type C‘). The viaduct, like Brunel’s, looked spindly but such viaducts lasted in use for fifty years and more. However, perhaps crucially, type C viaducts were used for crossing tidal creeks only, whereas France intended the Melverley Bridge to resist the Severn’s fearsome winter flow.

The Breidden branch to Criggion quarries had been opened with, or even before, the main line in 1865/66 for mineral traffic and a limited traffic operated over its single line. By May 1870 the company felt it was ready to be opened for passengers but there was long correspondence and at least two inspections before Colonel Rich reluctantly agreed to this in his report of 17 June 1871.

France's Melverley Bridge shortly before collapseAlthough the bridge was reported by Rich as of ‘sufficient strength’ it is characteristic of all timber bridges that they need much care and maintenance. It was usual to replace main timbers about every eight years and timber bridges were usually replaced by iron in the 1880s after a life of 20-30 years. Unfortunately maintenance was notable by its absence on the bankrupt Potts so although still virtually new by railway standards the bridge was in dire trouble by 1880. Following a complaint by a Worcester doctor taking water samples from the river below on 24 April, the BoT notified the Potts Board but Albert Judd, their GM, reported the bridge satisfactory. On the basis of this they responded to the BoT on 26 May, who were very sceptical following some earlier incidents on the Potts, and ordered an inspection of the whole railway by Colonel Rich. He inspected and reported on 9 June and, no doubt properly horrified by what he saw, recommended that it was unsafe to carry traffic. He described the bridge (which he named as Crewe Green bridge) thus

‘…constructed entirely of wood, which is so much decayed that two of the tripod booms have given way. These have been supported in a temporary manner but every boom is more or less rotten and the decking and the longitudinals, which carry the rails, are quite rotten. This bridge is about 1 foot out of level and about 1 foot out of line. The Company work traffic on the Briedden Branch with a small contractors engine that weighs about 16 tons [probably the Worsdell 0-4-2 T Tanat -Ed], but I do not consider this Bridge safe for traffic.’

That was it. The Railway shut the Branch to passengers from Wednesday 16 June, but goods which were still scheduled continued to operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays. However In the light of further criticisms contained in the Rich’s report and the costs involved the directors closed the whole railway to all traffic on 22 June 1880. The bridge no doubt saw a certain amount of pedestrian traffic in the next few years but further deterioration set in and latterly only the most adventurous must have attempted this. France’s bridge finally seems to have been swept away by the Severn at the turn of the 20th century.

Another Bridge

Stephens Melverley Bridge under construction

When, in Edwardian times, Stephens led the revival of the Potts as the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire, the re-opening of the branch was initially postponed due the absence of a bridge and the cost of replacement but the prospect of substantial mineral traffic and Stephens low cost proposals enabled the project to go ahead. Stephens proceeded with his usual rapidity and in characteristic fashion a new bridge was cheaply created using new timber piers driven in with a hand pile driver and reused wrought iron girders. These were from Shrawardine Bridge, where the deck for the second track had been superfluous since the singling of the mainline in the earliest days of the Potts.

The work seems to have been started in June 1911 and was done by S&MLR staff. It was under the day to day supervision of John Brenchley , a much trusted Stephen’s man, who was employed on the KESR , EKR and Edge Hill over this decade. Work seems to have been done by very few people and the five ton crane obtained in May 1911 was used for removing the Shrawardine girders. The new crossing was again a simple structure and now consisted of 8 openings, with 2 centre spans of about 37’0” over the river, 2 land spans one on each side of 37’0” and 27’ 0” respectively, and 4 flood openings, 2 on each side each of about 20’0" span. The 2 land spans and 2 river spans consisted of plate main girders and cross girders, the flood openings being of 2, 12” x 12” timbers on top of one another. Opening for mineral traffic with the branch on 21st February 1912 it may have looked spindly but it proved cheap and serviceable. Something in excess of 1 ¼ million tons of roadstone passed over it uneventfully in the next 25 years or so.

By 1939 however the S&MLR was in a terminal state with no passenger services, little general goods and only one serviceable locomotive. If the enterprise was to have any future it could only be rescued by an upturn in the Criggion roadstone traffic. And the quarry was turning to lorries for all its local needs. Of the average of 61,000 tons produced, 35,000 was for local consumption of which only 2,700 went by rail ,with 17,000 rail borne to the wider world. This was not enough but it was the only thing keeping the line going and the River Severn was about to strike again.

Extraordinarily cold nights followed by a thaw in January 1940 brought disaster: The beginning of January was mainly dry and very cold with frosty nights.

On the 20th, the early morning temperature was 15.8 ºF (- 9°C) and the temperature during the day only reached 27.68 ºF (- 2.4°C). The next day, a very cold night over most of the country, minima were between Minus 2.2 ºF (- 19°C) and minus 7.6 ºF (-21°C) in many places, including Ambleside (Cumbria), Canterbury (Kent) and Hereford. At Rhayader on the Severn’s sister river, the Wye, the temperature fell below minus 9.4 ºF (-23°C).After a brief milder interlude, persistent rain, much of it freezing, gave nearly 1.1 inches (28mm) on the 27th. This released ice flows into the river Severn in spate and these pressed against the piles of the bridge, which was so damaged on the 27th that all Criggion branch traffic ceased.

Stephens' Melverley BridgeThe severity of the weather, and consequent national transport disruption was such that Austen and Ramsey could not reach the bridge till 6 February. Ramsey, as MD, reported to the Railway Executive Committee (REC), the senior government body running the wartime railways, and they asked the GWR for an opinion. Their engineer reported in late February. The timber pile trestle piers and piles supporting the main girders on the up stream side had been washed away and the girders on that side were now suspended and carried by the 12’ by 12’ capping pieces supported by the cross bracings from the downstream side. It was quite unusable. The Engineer and Austen thought that where the piles driven into the river bed and spliced the piles had been carried away above the splices. To make good the damage would necessitate building a temporary gantry in the river, or utilising a floating barge for the pile driving which would need a contractor as even the GWR did not have the facilities to do the work. The river was still in high flood and it was difficult to estimate the full amount of the damage but from what could be seen it would cost from £1,000 to £1,500 to make good. A considerable quantity of pack ice was still coming down the river, and there was a danger of further damage, and no repairs could be carried out until the river subsided.

The quarry was severely hit and only managed to divert a part of its potential output by road to Four Crosses station. The S&MR was now deprived of all the quarry traffic which was its principal source of income and could no of course afford the repairs. Only central funding could provide this, which required REC approval which was slow in coming. Although of relatively small consequence and therefore of no direct concern to the Railway Executive Committee, who ran the Railways, the Quarry had a Director with influence, Sir Henry Maybury former Director-General of Roads, Ministry of Transport 1919-1928, and a pioneer of the arterial road network. He used his contacts to press the Ministry of Transport to safeguard the bridge and get it repaired. Moreover Maybury no longer trusted the S&MR; they would only assist if under wartime arrangements the GWR took over any resumed workings. Matters dragged on and the financial situation of the S&MLR was so severe that they decided that their resources had to be concentrated on those parts of the line which might be made to pay. The Kinnerley to Moele Brace section was to be closed and arrangements made for the remaining lines to be worked by the GWR. In the light of this decision and Ministry pressure, the REC approved financial arrangements to repair Melverley Bridge and these were confirmed in discussions over the June to September 1940 period .

In peacetime this would have been implemented immediately, but others held the ultimate destiny of the line in their hands for the War Department announced in October that they wanted the mainline of the S&MR for storing munitions. They began to take over the main line, but not the branch, in late 1940 and in a meeting on Christmas Eve 1940 between the Ministry and the War Office it was revealed that the military were about to remove some girders. Indeed they had already removed some but the work was stopped. However these changes and lack of materials and other resources delayed the bridge work further. It was not until 8 May 1941 that reconstruction commenced under the supervision of the GWR. These repairs involved more work than originally envisaged and ultimately cost £5,700, with a further £2,350 of repairs to the track of the branch itself. The bridge was not reopened until 27 October 1941, and crucially, the GWR’s contractors had, through accident or design, only rebuilt it for an axle load of 9 tons. Moreover, it appeared later that they had done a poor job that would not endure. So now the S&MR did not, following the loss of the last Ilfracombe goods Hesperus in 1941, have a light enough locomotive to work the reconnected line. Although they tried to obtain a small locomotive for the work ,they did not succeed.

 However the WD agreed to work the branch line (confirmed in May 1942) and small locomotives that came to be used by the WD, such as a Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST, could have been used on the whole branch. However if through workings ever used the bridge they must have been few as surviving records show that the quarry loco was exchanging traffic with the WD at the bridge from 22nd December 1941. Whether this involved wagons being propelled onto the bridge by the quarry Sentinel and pulled off the other end by a WD locomotive is entirely uncertain and there is at least one photo of the quarry loco crossing the bridge at this period.

 Accounts that the line was worked from this date solely by the quarry’s Sentinel locomotive are not correct. The records show that the WD worked the Branch as far as the Bridge till 7th May 1947 including, we must surmise, normal goods traffic which had increased, particularly with the construction of a BBC transmitting station near the branch.  Workings were not however on a daily basis but appear to be about every other day, unless quarry traffic was heavy.


And Yet Another…

The poor nature of the 1941 repairs was to come back to haunt the railway and the quarry. In August 1944 Austen reported to the Ministry that due to settlement in the repaired Criggion side pier which was leaning downstream and the track was moving out of alignment and had been under observation for some time. Traffic levels were severely depressed in that year but traffic seems to have continued to pass over the bridge although for a time it is possible that no locomotives were allowed to cross .Something must have been have been done for normal traffic arrangements, or at least those that had been normal since 1942, seem to have held up. The WD finally, after a period when its service was intermittent, gave up their share of the haulage probably as the and the Coal Engines had fallen by the wayside by late1946 and even the Dean goods, which may well have anyway been too heavy for the branch, were being phased out during 1947 in favour of the much heavier Austerity Tanks. For operational convenience if nothing else the Quarry Sentinel provided all the motive power on branch services from 7th May 1947 until final closure in 1959

 Whatever the motive power the bridge was too far gone and replacement became a priority.After Austen’s’ report the fate of the bridge fades out of the record for a while but its continuing use is shown in quarry traffic figures which rose from the 1944s low of 14,000 tons (virtual all of which went to the WD for consumption on local sites) to around 22,000 tons in each of the years 1945, 46 and 47. Maybury had died in 1943 but his influence was clearly still felt as the Ministry of Transport was clearly involved in discussions of the fate of the bridge over the next year or two. The S&MR could not finance the work but by July 1947 Austen had persuaded the Ministry of Transport not only to accord the replacement of the bridge high priority at a time of material shortages but to loan the company the cash to do it! By this time, of course, he did so in the certain knowledge that the newly nationalised railways would have to pay the bill.

The 1948 Melverley Bridge after conversion to a road bridgeReconstruction of the Bridge was originally costed at £16,342/10/- although some of this cost was in respect of the rebuilding of another bridge on the branch near Kinnerley. Costs later rose and the final bill was £23,300/10/- with contributions of £6,000 from the river board and £1,000 from the quarry. The new bridge was constructed in the spring and summer of 1948. The bridge was totally new and slightly upstream of Stephens’ bridge which was not removed until the new was ready. The work was carried out by the Westbury firm of A G Farr under the direction of the new Western Region of British Railways using wartime Bailey bridge components. True to tradition the bridge does not seem to have been constructed to full mainline standards, for the WD never seem to have sent one of their locos over it, using only the lightest of railcars for inspection etc and leaving the heavy traffic to the Quarry’s hardworking Sentinel, presumably under some sort of working arrangement with British Railways who were wholly responsible for the branch.

Later, the great white chief in charge of all nationalised transport, Sir Cyril Hurcomb, expressed retrospective dislike of the decision of the Ministry, and the bridge cannot have paid for itself from the quarry traffic which was destined to cease in December 1959, a few days before the WD closed the S&MR mainline for good. Perhaps the official who advised the Minister on the decision knew better than Hurcomb, for the bridge still serves to this day as an invaluable road bridge for the local community having been handed over and re-opened for that purpose in 1962. It remains busy and unchanged today.

I wonder how many British railway bridges have been completely rebuilt three times and still serve a useful purpose today.



National Archives (PRO): S&MR Minutes at RAIL 621; RAIL 1057/363; AN2/49-51 PRO AN13/1373, 1376 and 1377; A 157 360-2; WO32/ 19181.

Click on the images to see the larger pictures

S&MLR Sharwardine Viaduct Accident - head on view

As has been described elsewhere in Topics the new 0-6-2Ts built new for the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire were sold off in somewhat obscure circumstances to the Government during World War I. The author of that Topic speculated that their sale might have been precipitated by an accident, which took place on 22nd July 1915 which, but for fortune, might have been disastrous for the new railway. Here is a slightly shortened contemporary account from “The Shrewsbury Commercial and Literary Circular” for week ending 31 July 1915. The frankly poor grammar and contemporary prose has been retained for atmosphere. The photos are from the Colonel Stephens Archive.

The ‘Potteries’ Accident

All the elements of a serious accident were present in a mishap which occurred on Thursday last on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway, better known locally as “The Potteries”, and no-one who has visited the scene and gathered the facts concerning the occurrence from eye witnesses of it can fail to realise that the total absence of either loss of life or of injuries from the consequences is due entirely to some indefinable “good fortune” rather than “good management”.

The facts, as ascertained by us from various travellers on the train, may be relied upon to be as follows: -

The train, due out of Abbey Foregate at 2.30, left that terminus fairly punctually, and proceeded on its journey devoid of incident until it reached the Bridge which spans the Severn at Shrawardine. This bridge is a wrought iron structure, consisting of two spans, each of some 50’ in length, crossing the river which at this point wends its way through a deep valley some 50’ below the railway. On either side of the bed of the river there is meadowland necessitating another four spans, two at each end of the two referred to crossing the river, there are thus in all six spans each of some 50’ in length, the two centre ones being distinguished by the fact that they are of a more solid appearance and the sides rise, arch-like, to a greater height than their fellows at each end as is easily seen from the accompanying photos.

The first intimation the passengers had that something was wrong occurred when the train had travelled some 10’ of the bridge, when an unusual grating noise was heard, followed by a tremendous bumping and jolting, which made it perfectly clear to the occupants that something unusual had happened. Before any effort to discover the cause could be attempted, the passengers were thrown in a promiscuous heap on the floor. The particular compartment wherein were our informants contained seven passengers, two gentlemen with their wives, two gentlemen and one young lady.

S&MLR Sharwardine Viaduct Accident - right hand side view As may be easily imagined consternation at once reigned. The two married gents were able to subdue the rising panic in their respective partners fairly well, but so horror-stricken was the young lady that, before anyone could interfere to prevent her, she had clambered through the open window on to the arched side of the bridge so near to which was the carriage that it was afterwards found to be impossible to open the door. The girder upon which the young lady crouched clutching like grim death with her hands, was in the centre of the bridge, from which there could be no way of escaping save by crawling the whole length of the girder with any moment a fall into the water, 50’ below, possible.

One of the gentlemen in the carriage, Mr E P Lewis, solicitor, fortunately had the presence of mind to reach out and catch hold of the lady, a few moments later also climbing out on the girder for her further protection. There the two had to remain for over an hour, it being impossible to open the door on the other side of the compartment owing to its being jammed. The remainder of the seven passengers in the compartment with a lively sense that anything further might at any moment happen had perforce to remain caged up until ultimately some workmen contrived to break open the door.

Now a new difficulty arose, one which can easily appreciated by a glance at the photograph.

It was at once seen that it would be quite impossible for even the men, much less the women, to step from girder to girder as was necessary in order to get away from that part of the bridge where they alighted, and so the few workmen, assisted by some farm labourers who had rushed to the scene, had to tear up the foot planking which can be seen running along the centre of the track from that portion lying underneath the train, and replacing them by the side as seen in the photo, along which the, by this time thankful, passengers had to walk until they emerged from the length of the train when they continued the sufficiently perilous journey along the centre planking, one old man doing the journey on hands and knees.

Having at last, after about an hour-and-a-quarter, succeeded in reaching terra-firma, the little crowd of some 20, walked along the line to Shrawardine Station, where after some delay they were able to get into telephonic communication with Shrewsbury, as a result of which the Station Master of Abbey Foregate cycled over.

 accident left hand side On this official’s arrival he proceeded to make such arrangements as he could, by which a train was sent from Llanymynynach to Shrawardine which took the stranded passengers to that village. Here, the Station Master provided a substantial tea for those who had travelled, a few of the passengers having walked back to Shrewsbury from Shrawardine.

After some considerable trouble, arrangements were made with the Cambrian Railway, by which a special train conveyed them together with members of the Claremont Street Sunday School, who had preceded the ill-fated train to Criggion, and of course been unable to return, to Buttington Station from whence the whole party was brought by the L&NWR, Co. arriving at the General Railway Station about 10.20 p.m.

A glance at the photos will enable the reader to see that whilst unaccompanied by loss of life or serious injury to limb, the accident was one the seriousness of which ought not to be in any way minimised.

It will be observed how the rail under the van marked GC, has been torn away, timber bed and all, the baulk being broken off and the rail lying on its side far away from its original position.

The end of one vehicle can be seen to be in contact with the side of the bridge, and it is clear that had it not been for the superior character of the structure itself, the train and its human occupants would almost inevitably have been hurled to the depths below.

On Sunday morning the writer visited the scene and found the train still in the same position. The engine – “The Thisbe” – lay leaning heavily on its left on the first of the two spans which cross the meadow on the other side of the river from Shrewsbury. The first coach lies over on the left also, while the second carriage tilts to the right. Next to this coach is a Milk Van with its end telescoped into the carriage in front, and next comes the Guard’s Van leaning heavily on its right. Practically the whole of the train lies on the two centre arches which span the water, and we understand, some considerable difficulty is being experienced by the breakdown gang in getting at the engine to raise it, owing to the danger of taking the heavy crane-train on the two spans which intervene between terra-firma and the train.


With the outbreak of war the S&MR was seen, unlike for instance the WC&P, as a railway that was important to the nation and was accordingly taken into government control, although formal terms were not agreed till April/May 1940. Delays arose not only through bureaucracy but concerns about the Railways finances and the Directors misgivings about the indirect control relationship arising from a decision to deal with smaller companies through the majors; in the S&MR case the old enemy, the GWR. This was causing continuing tension on major issues, but in the short term, as with all railways,  it continued to be managed and run as before.

However, all was not well. With the Depression and consequent crash in mineral traffic after the East Lancs road contract had been completed, income had dried up. Passenger traffic had long become uneconomic and even the bank holiday specials had been abandoned in 1936. Agricultural traffic was thin and the line survived on residual quarry traffic and substantial local traffic in Shrewsbury to the Anglo-American Oil Company’s depot established at Abbey station in June 1934. Government control allowed the line to continue at a guaranteed return of £1 profit but there were continuing concerns about paying for the maintenance backlog which this arrangement did nothing to alter. This factor raised doubts in the Ministry of War Transport about the continuance off government control and decontrol was actively discussed in February 1940. Nothing could cover up the terminal nature of the enterprise, which could only be rescued by a massive upturn in the Criggion roadstone traffic. The latter months of 1939, like everywhere in these early months of the war, were fairly normal and the only intrusion of the war was the use of the waiting room at Abbey Station for ARP meetings for 1 hour every evening.

January 1940 had, however, brought disaster: Ice flows in the river Severn attacked that Achilles heel of the line, Melverley Bridge, which was so damaged on the 27th that all Criggion branch traffic ceased. The quarry was severely hit and only managed to divert a part of its potential output by road to Four Crosses station. The S&MR could not afford the required repairs. Although of relatively small consequence and therefore of little consequence to the nation the Quarry had a Director with influence, Sir Henry Maybury former Director-General of Roads, Ministry of Transport 1919-1928, and a pioneer of the arterial road network. He used his contacts to press the Ministry of Transport to safeguard the bridge and get it repaired and also to get the GWR to operate the Llanymynech-Criggion section.

Income on the S&MR now plummeted and in the first six months of 1940, with the bridge out, the line lost £2028.. Under pressure from Sir James Milne, GWR Chairman and Chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, and following the agreement on financial arrangements for government control, some action was necessary. At its meeting on 29 May therefore the Board decided that their resources had to be concentrated on those parts of the line which might be made to pay and that the Kinnerley to Moele Brace section must be closed and arrangements made for the remaining lines to be worked by mainline companies or otherwise. This arrangement was endorsed by the REC and the Ministry. As a result financial arrangements would be made to repair Melverley Bridge and these were confirmed in June, although the Quarrying Company continued to negotiate on a perceived requirement to sent minimum quantity of traffic by rail. This caused further delay as Millne negotiated with the quarry. It was obvious to him that unless the Quarry dispatched at least 30.000 tons a year the S&MR, even in its truncated form, could not be remunerative Milne threatened closure and Sir Henry Maybury backed off offering two thirds of quarry output to the railway provided basic freight rates applied but still requiring operation by the GWR, which by October they agreed to undertake for £2,000 a year. The Minister and the REC had previously agreed these arrangements in September.

But whilst this was all grinding on other factors came into play.

The War Department takes Over

.The war had gone ‘hot’ and after Dunkirk in May Britain was alone. It was a wake up call for the Military and the scale of the war machine had to be stepped up. Importantly for the S&MR this meant more munitions stores and a need for stone to build runways.

Intimations that there were military plans to hold 50,000 tons of munitions in stores adjacent to the S&MR mainline seem to have been mooted as early as July and firm proposals were made in about September 1940; the Board had kept very quite about this but finally broke the news to Sir James Milne on 12 November after the military had sent out a ‘Reconnaissance Party’ to inspect the line on 4 and 5 November. Thereafter plans firmed up rapidly and on 15 November the railway agreed to let the military have access to the railway immediately to start essential works, and the Minister of War Transport formally agreed to the takeover in December. The meeting at the War Office at which this was agreed was chaired by Colonel Stephens’ oldest and closest friend Sir Gilbert Szlumper in his capacity as the Ministry of Transport Director General of Transportation and Movements. He had been appointed with the rank of Major General to organise the transportation of supplies to the BEF in France, having previously been GM of the Southern. In attendance were some notable names; Keith Grand of the GWR, later to be GM of the Western Region of BR and leader of that regions last stand; and two military men: Colonel H L Woodhouse and Major D McMullan, later to be in the Railway Inspectorate where they proved of great assistance to the embryonic Heritage Railway movement.

Although at first the plan seems to have been for the War Department to requisition the line, the complications of existing civilian traffic and the military’s aversion to taking on the Criggion branch led to the suggestion of a voluntary agreement based on the Military’s takeover of the Chellaston Branch of the LMS (later known as the Melbourne Military Railway) earlier in 1940. The Secretary of State for War wrote to the S&MR on 10 December 1940 to this effect. At a meeting on 28 January 1941 at the War Office the S&MR agreed terms and Heads of Arrangement under which the WO would;

• recondition and maintain all permanent way between Shrewsbury Abbey and Llanymynech, including Kinnerley yard and build any yards etc it might need;

• operate all traffic including daily Abbey- Llanymynech goods for civilian traffic, picking up Criggion branch traffic as necessary at Kinnerley;

• not pay rent as this was abated by the refurbishment work. However the S&MR would retain income from civilian traffic and continue employ its existing staff, wages being reimbursed by the WO;

• take over property on land which they proposed to use for new exchange sidings at Hookagate but that otherwise all rents for properties would continue to be paid to the S&MR (or more properly the Shropshire Railways);

• be reimbursed for improvements to be made at termination of the agreement.

These terms were formalised on the 1 June when the running of the railway passed to the military.

An interesting aside at one of these meetings was a discussion of suitable locomotives. W H Austen suggested the use of ‘LMS Saddle Tanks’ that he had used and found satisfactory. He presumably meant Ramsbottom Special Tanks, that would have been easily available from Shrewsbury shed for most of the line’s existence, but regrettably no firm photographic or other evidence is available of these interesting loans. Regrettably too for the Army, and probably unknown to Austen, the last of these locomotives was just being withdrawn from capital stock on the LMS; other types would have to be found.

Meanwhile the Criggion branch and Melverley Bridge which were still the S&MR’s responsibility were eating into management time. At a meeting on Christmas Eve 1940 between the Ministry and the War Office it was revealed that the military were, with the apparent consent of the railway, about to remove some girders. Indeed they indeed have already removed some but they stopped the work and the Ministry agreed to try to get repairs done by the GWR. These repairs were reportedly commenced in May but the bridge and branch were not reopened until 27 October 1941.

Unfortunately for traffic efficacy the GWR had, through accident or design, only rebuilt it for an axle load of 9 tons. With the loss of the last Ilfracombe goods Hesperus, the S&MR did not have a light enough locomotive either, and although they were to try to obtain a small locomotive they did not succeed. In May at the meeting with all parties the WD had agreed to work the branch line and small locomotives that came to be used by the WD, such as a Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST, might however have been used and unspecified accounts were certainly presented by the WD for traffic working on the branch including, we must surmise, normal goods traffic which had increased, particularly with the construction of a BBC transmitting station near the branch and the dispatch of 2-300 tons of stone to the WD worksites on the line. Also as this was a Stephens’ line it is just as possible that, given the climate of the times, the Coal engines with their 11 ton axle load might have been used. Accounts that the line was worked from this date solely by the quarry’s Sentinel locomotive seem unproved. Latter, after further troubles occurred with the bridge in May 1945 it is thought that for a very limited period the quarry locomotive was used to push wagons to the Kinnerley side of the bridge without itself venturing onto it . After that damage had been patched up, and the bridge subsequently replaced, the locomotive certainly hauled traffic all the way to the Kinnerley loop until the branch’s closure in 1959.

The Criggion branch also required attention to its track if the rebuilt bridge was to be of real use and quite a bit of sleeper and track took place whilst the bridge work was underway. This work also involved replacement of half a mile of rail and 24ft lengths of 75lb rail came from the Kent and East Sussex Railway which in turn had been replaced by rail from the Southern Railway. Such swaps were needed at a time of acute material shortages.

The Railway’s Reconstruction

With the Military lease the character of the railway began to change and much of the line was fairly comprehensively reconstructed. By 1944 the WO were recording track mileage, presumably excluding the Criggion branch, as 84 ¾ a truly massive increase on the old line.

The mainline between the new exchange sidings and Kinnerley was completely re-laid with standard army 75lb flat bottom rail on existing and new, though untreated, wooden sleepers replacing the original rail and chairs that were largely those laid by the original ‘Potts’ in 1864-66. The army reconstruction gangs also rebuilt many of the small culverts and underbridges to take the heavier traffic, although the Shrawardine viaduct and two other bridges were subject to a 5 mph speed restriction for the heavier locomotives brought onto the line and, on the viaduct at least, this restriction continued throughout the war. Reconstruction continued after the war and in 1946/47 the war department repaired or renewed nine bridges on the main line, including that over the Severn at Shrawardine to take heavier locomotives. The river bridge was replaced in 1947 by a new structure located between the piers of the original, although parts of the old bridge lasted a little longer.

From the earliest planning stage there was concern whether the single line would have adequate capacity and starting in 1942 the line assumed a form of double track for virtually the whole way from Shrawardine to Kinnerley, a relatively simple task as the railway was originally constructed as a double line. The line was however never operated as a conventional double track, for one of the lines was used as the running line and the other for siding access. Of the old stations, Hookagate had to be demolished to make way for the new exchange yard and those at Shoot Hill & Shrawardine relocated. New halt platforms were built at Pentre and Nesscliff (these two were new and distinct from the old station with that purported to serve both villages), Ford yard, and Kinnerley Halt, slightly to the east of Kinnerley Junction. Further halts were built on the loop lines to serve individual depots and finally a four platform terminus was built on a spur line at Nesscliffe camp, which was commonly referred to as Lonsdale. All this work seems to have proceeded at a somewhat more leisurely pace than that envisaged in 940 and extended throughout 1941, perhaps the blackest year of the war, when the supply of materials etc was at its lowest ebb.


Marshalling and interchange traffic were key early considerations. The existing interchange at Moele Brace was considered suitable for expansion but in the event another site at Redhill was considered better as construction was simpler. Llanymynech was not selected as it was less convenient for interchange with the wider railway system but three sidings were developed there so that it could be used in an emergency if the line was blocked or Shrawardine viaduct damaged.

On 13 December 1940 plans were made for opening new exchange sidings with the Joint Railways at Redhill, to be called Hookagate, where the S&MR first came alongside the Welshpool line from the West and where the line’s promoter, Samuel France, had first planned his junction back in the early 1860s before his ambitions to reach the Potteries got the better of him. The Army plans and the traffic arrangements for them were finally firmed up at a meeting the following February, including upgrading the Joint Railways’ mainline from the limited GWR ‘Blue‘ classification to the full mainline ‘Red’. The Hookagate exchange sidings were brought into use by 29 January 1942. Already a considerable amount of traffic had been received for both railway and depot construction at Moele Brace and that yard, certainly initially, remained the exchange point for civilian and construction traffic, whilst Hookagate was exclusively for military traffic, and was to remain until it finally closed on 23 September 1946. As originally envisaged Hookagate sidings were used almost exclusively for interchange and a set of sorting sidings was developed at Ford to disperse and assemble the wagons coming and going to the 206 storage sheds that came to be scattered over the flat Severn plain.

The Depots

The munitions storage sheds were concentrated in groups served by large loop lines from the mainline. The first depot at Nesscliff was followed by others at Kinnerley, Argoed, Maesbrook, Shrawardine, in two parts, and Ford. Depot construction was proceeding in late 1941/42 despite shortages, and the most advanced receiving munitions by February 1942. Shrawardine seems to have been finished sometime that summer, Ford by August, Nesscliffe by the end of the year and Kinnerley in 1943. Nearly 600 Italian POWs were used in addition to Sir William McAlpine and Co and the Pioneer Corps staff. Ultimately there were 206 storage sheds served by spur lines branching off huge loops of railway cutting through the rural countryside.


After examination the WD condemned nearly all the S&MR signalling equipment as worn out our obsolete. In practice however it seems that some equipment survived. Understandably the army adopted its standard operating procedures although, certainly in the early days, these were breached, leading to several accidents.

The lines with lowest use, namely Kinnerley- Llanymynech and Hookagate - Shrewsbury and the Criggion branch, were worked as one-engine-in-steam. Nesscliff to Kinnerley, the busy centre section was worked by electric token and the remainder of the line by telephone and ticket with Annett’s keys for the siding loops. Army block posts, rather than signal boxes, were established at Hookagate (2) Ford & Crossgates, Quarry, Nesscliff and Kinnerley.

The S&MR, in common with all Stephens’ lines, had ungated road crossings. However, with increased traffic, by early 1943 there had been 3 accidents and one death and safety concerns came to the fore. Pole gates and attendants huts were therefore established on the two busiest roads, those at Nesscliff and Shoot Hill, in the spring of 1944.

Other Reconstruction

Kinnerley locomotive shed was initially assessed as being in good condition with adequate inspection pits and coaling and water supply arrangements. However improvements to accommodate additional locomotives were soon required but whilst the work was underway a heavy snowstorm in January 1942 partially demolished the shed. It was therefore completely rebuilt on the same site.


Wartime Locomotives

Of the remaining S&MR mainline locomotives the last Ilfracombe Goods, Hesperus, had fallen by the wayside about 1938 and was reported as having grass growing up between the frames when the Army arrived. Engine power was desperately needed and reportedly fitters spent the whole of one weekend tinkering about with her, but on the Sunday they tried to raise steam she would not move so they gave up. She was later sold for scrap, being cut up in the Corporation Sidings at Shrewsbury Abbey in November 1941.

The trio of Coal engines were refurbished by rotation in 1941. In February 1941 8182 had been prepared for transport to Crewe for overhaul, her condition was 'very bad'. 8236 was reported as 'generally bad' and No 2 (8108) was 'serviceable' but with a 'condemned' boiler. No wonder one fitter reminiscing in the Railway World in 1960 remembered the latter as 'about as run down as could be, and was hardly fit to bake chestnuts'. The worst two were promptly dispatched to Crewe and received heavy overhauls: 8236 and 8182 in March; No 2 (8108) in June. To cover the absences two Coal engines were loaned from the LMS, 28204 and 28308, the first of which became almost an S&MLR engine and seems to have been on the railway continuously till at least September 1943.


In late 1944 and early 1945 all the S&MR Coal engines received further light overhauls at Crewe to keep them going, but by 1946 the weight of wartime work was showing. 8236 was sent to Crewe for overhaul again in August 1946 but on 16 September the boiler was reported uneconomic to repair, 8182 was stopped with a leaking firebox foundation ring in the same month and 8108 was stopped with a cracked firebox in November after it failed in traffic on 15 November. With the end of the war the WD had plenty of their Dean goods available and more had been drafted in, so the trio, which had been worked to death and beyond more than once, were left in the sidings at Hookagate for disposal.

The WD’s requisitioned ex GWR Dean Goods with 12 ton axle loads were authorised for use in early December 1941 but were subject to very severe 5 mph speed restrictions for an unspecified period over the Shrawardine Bridge, the bridge over the Welshpool line and another bridge (no 41).The first (WD No 200 ex GWR 2552) arrived from Longmoor on 12 December 1941 with the second (WD 97 ex 2442) from Long Marston three days later . WD 96 (ex 2425 ) from Long Marston and WD 177 ( ex 2430) from Cairnryan  in February 1942.  By June 1942 they were joined by WD 176 (ex 2558) from Ipswich and WD 98 (ex 2425 ) from Poulton.Although  175 , 177 and 200 departed to Elham, Kineton and Goldenwood ( near Ashford)  in Kent in February and March 1943 . From then onwards there were usually 4 or 5 of them on the line . The type became, with the 3 refurbished S&MR coal engines, LMS 28204 and two ex LNER J15's that had arrived fron London Film Productions ,Denham in September 1942, the standard ‘mainline' locomotives.

Other locomotives were needed to construct and shunt the ammunition sheds. They were a fairly eclectic bunch that never really seems to have been fully satisfactorily. Indeed the main management concern throughout 1942 was shortage of suitable motive power for this work. At the beginning of February the WD had 6 mainline engines, three steam shunters and 3 small diesels available but four of them were out under repair and two more locomotives, just arrived, were considered useless without heavy repair. Sir Alfred McAlpine, whose firm were building the depots, was constantly badgering the War Department to provide more locomotives. They in turn produced a variety of locomotives some useful and some unsuitable, the latter quickly laid aside. In truth McAlpine would seem to have preferred road transport but there were neither roads nor lorries to meet the need.

A memo dated 2 February 1942 gives details of 13 locomotives and a slightly later memo dated 1 April gives, without many details, 12 locomotives on the railway, one of which was hired. Putting the two together it is possible to get a picture of the loco situation at the time. The three Coal engines and the first two Deans were operational although a Coal engine was hired in during February to cover a repair to one of the S&MR ones.

 Two steam shunters were available;LNER Y7 982 which arrived on hire by 29 December 1941 from Tyne Dock  ( having left Sunderland  on 12 December travelling via Knottingley , Chester and Wrexham) ;and a brand new outside cylinder shunter WD No 73 (Bagnall 0-6-0PT 2643/1941) diverted from a Turkish order. This later locomotive however proved foul to gauge in many places so had restricted availability and its lubrication was by grease boxes so it was constantly running hot. Both of these locomotives departed in 1943 , 982 to a US depot at Wrea Green in the Fylde (after a month in  York ) by the end of January and the Bagnall to Sinfin depot Derby.  Three new 150 hp 0-4-0 Drewry designed Andrew Barclay diesels, Nos 40, 44 and 45 were also available and two more, 47 and 48 were due in the first week of April; they were however continually under repair and ahd all departed by mid July . Two further shunters had recently arrived; one WD No 68 Yeovil (0-6-0ST HC 1529/1924) had only just come from a John Mowlem contract building an aerodrome at Llanberis and had been tried but it had sharp flanges and some other problems so it was said in April that it 'will have to go away'. Repaired at wolverhampton works an returning, in August however it left for Longton ,near Carlisle The other locomotive, WD 234 Victory (0-4-0ST Neilson 420/1859), had arrived in January 1942 in bad repair and was probably the one described in the April memo as 'going away to Stafford for repairs'. In fact it seems to have been repaired at Pecketts in Bristol and was reported returned to Shropshire in September but laeving for Northfleet Deep Water Wharf, Kent on 11 November 1942.

An intriguing reference in the April memo said ‘a GWR steam loco would be available to be sent to Long Marston when ‘the new Hunslet’ was run in’. This mystery locomotive was most likely one of 0-6-0ST WD 65-67 (HE 2412/4/6 of 1941), very similar to the later standard Austerities. They were part of a batch of eight locomotives for a Ministry of Supply ironstone mine project at Islip. This scheme did not start so three of the locomotives were delivered to the WD in 1942 and ended up at Long Marston Military Depot. Presumably the intention to swap locomotives did not materialise as the locomotives were far too heavy for the S&MR mainline and this fact would have been quickly realised.


 It was probably as a result of this experience that the authorities standardised on the Deans and in addition to those above the following are thought to have served  during the war:93 (ex 2433, 1943-48), 99 (ex 2528, 1944 -48), 169 ( ex 2479 1944-48) ,170 (ex 2536, 1944-45).After the wars end in 1946 94(ex2399), 95 (ex2470), 180(ex2514), 196(2576), and 197(2540) arrived; all went for scrap in 1948  All WD numbers had 70000 added to their numbers after late summer 1944.

The 1 April memo records that the Ministry of Works and Buildings had offered two small Contractors' locomotives which the WD said they would accept. These were probably MW 0-6-0ST 654/1877 WD 92 (originally WD 654) and WD 202 Tartar 0-4-0ST AE 1407/1899 which had originated from the Oxted Greystone Lime Company and Midland Tar Distillers Limited respectively. The first seems to have settled in for the duration but, probably after the construction phased ceased, Tartar departed as did the brand new Andrew Barclay diesels 0-4-0s which, probably due to unfamiliarity, were often criticised for unreliability.

These memos do however raise nearly as many questions as they answer, particularly in respect of the smaller locomotives that are known to have been considered or were on the railway at some stage around this time. On 27 May 1941 WD 201 Dillichip (0-4-0ST HE 304/83) was inspected at CoD Bonhill but it is not known whether it came to the railway. Also in 1941 an 0-4-0 diesel WD 32 (Drewry 2159/41) identical to the later Barclays is thought to have been present and worked into 1942, later becoming one of the first four allied locomotives to land in France after D-Day. WD No 1872 Ashford (0-6-0ST AE 1872/1920) is known to have from George Cohen and Sons in 1942. Also known to have been on the railway were the two very odd ex LNWR Webb 0-4-0WTs Nos 3014 and 3015 that arrived from Crewe works  in July 1942. Their brakes proved unable to hold the three wagons required to be placed in each depot and after several smashed shed doors they were laid aside; recorded as at Kinnerley in March 1943 they departed for scrap the following July. Two other locomotives 'Staines' (0-6-0St HC 1513) and 'Thika' (Bagnall 2197) also flitted through briefly in 1942

Clearly the situation with small shunters was very fluid in 1942/3 as the railway struggled to cope. Eventually matters appear to have settled down but by 1944 the heavy D-Day traffic was upon them and more shunters were drafted in. Three USATC 0-6-0T (WD Nos 1395, 1399, and 1427) came to the railway the latter two in September 1943 and 1395 in January 1944 but these were far too heavy to use over the bridges. They must have been used purely as depot shunters for the heavy traffic pre- and post D-Day and they disappeared in late 1944 for dispatch to the Continent; one (1427) becoming SNCF No 030TU1 and another (1399) ending up on the Greek state railway as Da class No 52. Even the marginally lighter standard Austerity 0-6-0STs could not be used till the bridges were reinforced two years after the war had ended. This is probably why two ex LNER J69s WD 84 No (ex7388) and WD 91(ex 7088) arrived in 1945 and 1944 respectively.

Derailments of one sort or another were reportedly a fairly common occurrence and no doubt added to the railway’s maintenance burden. Moreover collisions also occurred and took their toll on the locomotive stock. The first serious one was just before Christmas 1941 when a brand new diesel ,WD  44, collided with the rear end of WD 97  and was so badly damaged that there was difficulties in getting it to run on therails at all for nearly a week and it was returned to its maker for repairs, never to return to the S&MR ; the Dean lost it tender and a replacement had to be provided.One head-on collision took place, on 26 July 1943, on the single line between Shrawardine and Ford when both of the locomotives (Dean No 176 and J15 No 212) were written off and two , possibly three,of the ex LT&S coaches were badly telescoped and damaged beyond repair. The Dean was scrapped in January 1944 but the J15 hung on longer. Locomotives had to be very extensively damaged to justify withdrawal in wartime but the J15 was eventually scrapped at Stratford in late 1944. Strangely its sister No 221 was also dispatched for scrap on 31 October 1944 but there is no evidence that she was in a collision although reprted in need of ,probably routine ,repair since the previous May. Probably with an influx of Deans available from coastal defence duties following the successful invasion of France she was finally surplus.

A new role for Gazelle

Gazelle had found a new role in the opening phase of the WD years as an inspection locomotive. On 1 December 1941 there were some incidents where points were tampered with in an apparent effort to wreck or delay trains. The police were called in to investigate and the trouble was attributed to extremists among non-combatant troops in the neighbourhood. It was therefore deemed prudent to make regular inspections and Gazelle was roped in to help. She still had her rebuilt passenger trailer, which combined the old tramcar chassis with the Wolseley-Siddeley railmotor body, and the railmotor goods trailer that had at some time been fitted with small buffers to run with her. However these were not used on inspection duties and indeed the rear passenger shelter was soon removed as it impeded visibility when running bunker first. Nevertheless this unique structure survived for some time and was photographed, roughly placed on the loco, in February 1946. Eventually the non combatant troops were moved out of the district and the incidents ceased. By this time, though, there were big concentrations of troops in the district and it was difficult to get anywhere near the only pub, the ''Cross Keys ", at Kinnerley. Gazelle of course had to be taken out on the line to be sure she was running well so the staff regularly ran test trips that, just by coincidence, terminated at Llanymynech or Criggion where there was a better chance of getting served at the local.Last officially steamed on 7 April 1942 ,and by March 1943 reported as laid aside , with the arrival of some Wickham railcars, it is unlikely that she was ever used again.

Gazelle's old trailer had been used for occasional officers' inspection specials but at some stage, probably in late1942, its old tramcar chassis had broken its back and its body was put to use as an office near Kinnerley where it remained for many years after the railway's ultimate demise. Thereafter when the army had to run any sort of VIP inspection special they used the old royal saloon (No 1A) with one of the new small diesels. Quite a combination.

The use of Gazelle and the royal saloon seems to have endeared them to the Army and these two veterans were thereafter both cared for, eventually passing to Longmoor, although regrettably the saloon eventually fell to be scrapped by those of lesser vision.

Petrol Trolleys

With the extensive rail network emerging and few roads the need to transport permanent way and other staff and materials over a large area made the single inspection vehicle, Gazelle, clearly inadequate. The S&MR had possessed one unused motorised PW trolley assessed as ‘presumably serviceable after overhaul’ but it was probably too far gone and disappeared at an early date. Eventually a delivery of new Wickham type 17 trolleys appeared. Wickham records show a total of 4 ( with two trailers) supplied to the Ministry of Supply at Shrawardine (Works Nos 3041-4) on the 2 March 1942. Five were recorded in May 1945 and 4 were recorded on the railway in January 1946 so probably included the first delivery.


As soon as the army arrived the need to transport construction and other work teams arose and in January 1941 the army asked the mainline companies for 4 six wheeled thirds and 2 six wheeled brake thirds by April, although it seems unlikely that these were ever supplied. The first troop arrivals included a team of repairers who arrived on 20 March 1941 and patched up some of the remaining S&MR coaches, certainly at least 3 of the Midland bogie coaches and one of the LSWR coaches (No 12) and the North Staffordshire ones were reported in use in September 1941. The Army improvised in those early days and the S&MR's old Fordson tractor at the back of Kinnerley shed that had been rigged up to a circular saw was fettled up, a few trees were felled locally and the wood used for repair of coaches and wagons. An NCO was posted to the railway on 24 March 1941 especially for this work.These coaches seem to have lasted till the turn of the years but most were dumped at Ford byJaunuary 1942 and probably broken up in the forst part of the year . Coach No12 had a short stay of execution being labelled as a breakdown van in 1941 at lasted longer but was replaced by by 25 the September 1943 and was then reduced to a flat wagon and scrapped in 1945.  Coach Nos 7 (ex LSWR) and 17(ex GER & K&ESR) and 18 (ex NLR) had been stripped and used as grain stores at Abbey; they survived in this role till broken up at Hookagate in 1952. Ex Midland Passenger Brake Van 1 seems to have continued in use as the Civilian Goods brake van at least for a while.

Something more was needed and following an appeal to the main line companies by the military for hire coaches to be used at Bicester, Cairnryan and the S&MR. On 11 February 1942 the Military expressed a need for 25 coaches stressing that they should be 'vehicles with old upholstery are suggested as they will doubtless have fairly rough usage' , lighting and toilets were also to be removed. Clearly the War office had a good grasp of soldiers' likely conduct. The S&MR took delivery of four GWR bogie coaches (listed as Nos 2929, 2266, 3190 (3rds) &2323 (brake 3rd)) a Moele Brace on 1 April 1942. The delay in delivering the coaches arose from an inspection at Swindon on 23 February when it was shown that they needed repainting and the roofs made watertight. A further four (Nos 333, 720 (ex Cambrian Rly), 2230 (3rds) & 945 (Brake 3rd)) were authorised on 21 October and arrived from Swindon the next day behind GWR Bulldog Class No 3377 ( formerly named Penzance) ,though one report says they were  delayed going into service till about February 1942. There were some changes in this loaned coaching stock for repairs and certainly all 3rd coaches Nos 2790 and 1223 replaced 945 and 333 in June 1944.These coaches seem to have returned off loan as the need for them lessened; but the only remaining records seems to be of 2323 returned off loan on 4 September 1946 after having been sent to Oswestry works for repair on 17 January, and the return of 720 to the GWR from WD Kineton on 15 September 1946.

A request for more coaches on 1 July 1943, was fulfilled with the arrival at Hookagate on 21 August 1943 of two ex LNWR coaches from store at Airdrie to replace two written-off coaches (see below).They were Nos 19406 a 42ft composite built in 1893 and 19463 a 45ft brake composite of 1896 They were later joined in February 1944 by an ex Caledonian coach previously used at Longmoor (LMR No 120), probably a Non-Corridor 65ft 8-compt Brake 3rd Third either ex LMS 24311 or 24316.By the late 1950s an exMidland 9 compartment coach with its interior stripped to become a saloon was in use.

To accommodate the construction crews and operating troops the Railwaysystem was scoured for camping coaches which were much in demand by both military and civil authories. The first coaches sent from the main line railways came from the LMS of which 242 existed at the outbreak of war most of which were fully equipped camping coaches of LNWR origin. These accumulated until an observer counted 32 examplesmost of which appear to have been LNWR Diagram 268 50 ft 3rd class corridorcarriges dating from 1898-1903 ,or their WCJS D52,which had been gutted internally for camping use over the 1934-39 period. Their LMS numbers in the departmental series were 46001/2,015,022,025,027,032,036,043,046,051,053,058,065,071,084-5,091,125,133,140,153,170-1,190-1,198,206,219,221-2,231 but it has not proved possible to match these with their original running numbers. The personnel occupied these for several months before a permanent camp with Nissen huts was ready and were then moved to WD Kineton and ,it is thought, subsequently to Scotland for use by the WD. Sixteen (possibly different individual coaches)returned to the S&MR on 24 November 1943 but were simply stored at Ford until they were returned to their parent company on 20 January 1944.

In many ways the stock that came to epitomise the latter period of the S&MR, and which indeed was destined to last to the end, were the LT&SR coaches. These coaches designed by R H Whitelegg and were distinctively different form anything else on the line being saloons with longitudinal sets, centre corridors, toilets and sliding doors built for use on an Ealing Broadway to Southend service operated jointly with the District Railway. The 16 coaches built became Midland Railway property in the same year and as 'Ealing stock' led an uneventful life until that service was withdrawn on 30 September 1939. Eight of these coaches known as No 66 Excursion set  comprised 2 corridor brakes(Nos 6399 & 6400), 5 thirds(Nos 3067-70 & 3073) and 1 composite (No 4784) were stored at Burton-on-Trent. a further set No67 ( comprising 3066,3071/2/4/5,4785 & 6398) stored on the Middlestown branch were also offered but these do not appear ,ultimately, to have been  hired. From the military's viewpoint these coaches  were ideal, being Westinghouse brake fitted for use with their locomotives which were so fitted for use on the Continent. They were hired from 4 January 1940 for use on the Melbourne Military Railway but four (Nos 3067-9,6399) were transferred to the S&MR arriving on 27 July 1941,with the remainder serving until that line lost its role in training individual troops in late 1941,arriving on the S&MR on 10th January 1942. The S&MR thus ultimately received all the Melbourne eight ;six frmed into two car sets (4784+3072,3068+3069 and 3070+6400 (some of which had a handbrake added)) . This system broke down at some stage and three (3067,3070 & 6399) , were destroyed in a collision, on 26 July 1943, along with the train engine ,Dean Goods 176, and J15 221.The remaining 5 were ultimated purchased by the military at the time of nationalisation and several survived till the end and were then transfered to other military lines.

Other Rolling Stock

At takeover 15 S&MR goods vans were in use at Abbey as grain stores by a local miller, and another as a general store van. The overall condition of the goods wagon fleet was described in an inventory as 13 very bad, 21 bad and seven (including two crane runners) just useable. The army made early use of the railways travelling crane together with its runners and the horse box (probably as a packing van) for engineering purposes.

The Military mind abhors untidiness so that much of the old rolling stock found so endearing by the enthusiast was cleared away in late 1941 or early 1942, much for immediate scrap. The movable stock at Kinnerley was moved to the sidings at Ford by January 1942 to get them out of the way and seem to have succummed succumbed over the next few months when labour was available. In any event all S&MR stock except the grain store wagons and coaches, the crane, the royal saloon and Gazelle's (ex railmotor) goods trailer disappeared during the war. The grain store wagons were finally broken up at Hookagate between April and July 1952 following a big clear up. The bodies of the 9 box wagons continued in use as PW stores throughout the system and are commonly seen in latter day photographs but the 6 cattle wagons were broken up. The crane was moved to Swindon on 20 July 1953 but it is doubtful if it saw further use.

Probably hundreds, certainly dozens, of wagons were drafted in by the military but their identity is unknown. Specimens from the LMS, LNER, L&Y, LSWR and newly built brake vans of the standard army (similar to SR) type Nos 11024-29 were delivered new from Ashford works on 26th March 1942 , have been identified.


A shroud of obscurity, and probably indifference due to routine, descends on the official record as the construction phase ebbed and the Royal Engineer companies moved in by rotation to operate the line. Nor do any traffic details appear to be available so we are unable to ascertain whether the forecast of wagon traffic (250 wagons in and out per day) was correct. The first ammunition had been received, 346 wagons, and 73 wagons dispatched, during the first three weeks of February 1942. A latter sample week's figure is available for the month of October 1944 when there were 2,974 wagon movements and 9,002 passenger journeys. Whatever traffic figures might actually have been it was certainly very heavy with 11 tender locomotives available for main line service from 1942 to 1945 of which probably at least 7-8 were in steam daily. One estimate is that more than 1 million tons of ordinance were dealt with between the opening of the depots in 1942 and the end of the war.

Later Events

With the end of the war, in October 1945, the War Department asked the company if it could consider taking over the operation and maintenance of the railway and the war department sidings on behalf of the department. Austen and his Chairman were strongly attracted to taking up the option which involved employing 120 plus staff against the twenty or so pre-war employees (although the railway had employed around 70 in its heyday), but the imminence of nationalisation seems to have caused a fatal pause. The line was therefore nationalised with all the other controlled railways although the Army retained operational control. Public traffic had been withdrawn from the Criggion branch on 1 May 1949 although quarry traffic continued until 31 December 1959 and all traffic on the main part of the S&MR, except Abbey station, ceased on 29 February 1960.

However, the Stephens' legacy of service to the community still endured. Melverley Bridge, over the river Severn, on the still civilian and relatively busy Criggion branch carrying roadstone, was so severely damaged during the 1940s as to require replacement. Austen persuaded the Ministry of Transport in July 1947 not only to accord the replacement of the bridge high priority at a time of material shortages but to loan the company the cash (it finally cost around £23,000) to do it! This of course he did in the certain knowledge that the newly nationalised railways would have to pay the bill. Later, the great white chief in charge of all nationalised transport, Sir Cyril Hurcomb, expressed retrospective dislike of the decision of the Ministry (even though at the time of the decision he had actually been its head civil servant) but could do nothing. Perhaps the more junior official who took the decision knew better than he, for the bridge still serves to this day as an invaluable road bridge for the local community.



The Chairman James Ramsey, a retired Caledonian railway officer, who had been on the Board since 1930 died on 5 February 1943, having served as Chairman and Managing Director since Stephens died. John Pike, another long term director who had been Goods Commercial Manager of the LMS, then became Chairman and Austen was appointed managing director. Ramsey's place on the Board was taken by Cornelius James Selway, another senior railwayman who had been Passenger Manager (Southern Area) of the LNER until 1940, and who subsequently became Chairman after John Pike died on 2 March 1946 at the age of 78. Thomas Ward Green, after nearly 50 years of association with the railway, tendered his resignation at that meeting and another senior railway John Pattinson Thomas who had been General Manager (Railways), London Passenger Transport Board till 1938, was appointed in his stead. Probably through the agency of mutual acquaintance in the Retired Railway Officers' Society the S&MR certainly had no lack of talented direction in its dying years and as directors had not drawn fees since the financial crisis of 1932 their service was even more notable.


When the Military took over, S&MR staff were retained and worked alongside their military colleagues nominally for civilian work only but one suspects that boundaries were flexible. There were about 20 of them and most were of long standing having been employed since before, or shortly after, the First World War. As an example the only remaining driver, Frank King, worked throughout the war having had been employed on the railway since September 1912 before which he had probably come from the Kent & East Sussex, previously having been a cleaner at Nine Elms with the L&SWR.

For perhaps the first time these long term stalwarts became part of a wider world of railwaymen and their pay came under central scrutiny. Behind the scenes Austen was conducting a ferocious battle against Union ,and indeed REC, 'interference' in the affairs of independent railways , for not only was he, like his mentor Stephens, against Unions in principle but also acted in the knowledge that his railways could not support national railwaymen's wage rates. The fight seems to have been a draw but war controls imposed heavy new wage costs on railways, although academic in the case of the S&MR which never regained its independence.

The railway seems however to have remained a close knit, if old fashioned and impoverished family. The Kinnerley station agent, H.G. Funnell (Senior), effectively Tonbridge's main contact and man on the ground for many years became ill, probably from heart trouble to which he had long been prone, on 28 November 1945, after the war's end. He was thought to be unlikely to recover sufficiently to resume his duties but was obviously well regarded for he was kept on the payroll until 8 May 1946 when the board resolved to give him one month's notice to retire and to make him a 'compassionate gift' of £25. Perhaps poor compensation for a man who had seen it all and worked through a great and tumultuous time but all that could be afforded by the company. How different things might have been if the million tons of munitions the system handled had been paid for at commercial rates.

Sources & Acknowledgements

National Archives (PRO): S&MR Minutes at RAIL 621; WO32/ 19181; AN2/50; AN2/167;AN2/396;AN2/377-9

NRM Search Engine ;PSH series papers
Colonel Stephens Railway Archive
Bob Darwell, Industrial Railway Society
S&MR by Eric Tonks, IRS, 1949 &1972
S&MR under Military Control, Mike Christensen, WW2 Railway Study Group, 1997
War Department Locomotives, Tourret, Tourret Publications, 1976
Railway World, article A Railway Goes to War by W J Thorne (ghost written by R C Riley) October 1960
Locomotives at War, P M Kalla-Bishop, Bradford Barton
The Wickham Works List , K Gunner & M Kennard , Dennis Duck Pubs ,2004
SLS Journal , January 1946

Great Eastern Journals No 77 & 93

The Colonel, Various issues

A look at the inter–railway politics that led the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire to be starved of traffic at its Western end.

Click on the images to see the larger pictures

When it ceased operations in 1880 the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway (the ’Potts’)* left a mess. Over the next thirty years its prolonged death throes left a scattering of, mostly derelict, railways, unused formations, unused construction powers and an inheritance of uncertain user rights over a large swath of border country stretching from Shrewsbury to the Berwyn Mountains. As a latecomer in this saga Holman F Stephens was able for a time to produce a useful, and for 20 years profitable, railway from much of the old track by the creation of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway (SMR). Nevertheless the major traffic sources at the western end were to be denied him by the machinations of the much larger, if usually impecunious, Cambrian Railways.

Starting from Shrewsbury, the SMR followed the old Potts formation designed for express connection to Wales. This led through deeply rural countryside and when the new line opened in September 1911 it ended at the apparently inconspicuous and remote country junction of Llanymynech on the Cambrian Railways’ Oswestry to Welshpool line. This station and the village from which it was named was in fact a prosperous place of 1000 souls and was only six miles from the larger market and engineering town of Oswestry. West of Llanymynech station and the Cambrian line was an area rich in stone, lime and minerals that had been a principal destination of the Ellesmere (later Shropshire Union) Canal promoted in the late 18th century.

So how was it that Stephens never managed to tap this traffic source and the SMR had to make do with the pittance that a junction with the Cambrian Railways offered? Well it was not for want of trying, but the depths of the mess left by the old Potts and the combative attitude of the Cambrian Railways simply defeated the smaller and weaker railway.

Map of the Llanymynech areaWhen built, the Potts had an interchange station at Llanymynech and then crossed the main Oswestry to Welshpool line of the Cambrian  by a double junction with , for reasons unknown, an additional single connection also in the south-westerly direction. The old main line then proceeded towards the Tanat Valley and the mountains, throwing off a branch to large quarries at Nantmawr owned by the Lilleshall Coal and Iron Co. This short (three mile) extension probably generated more traffic than the whole of the rest of the railway, and in fact was to remain open after all other railways in the area were closed.

Surrounded by hostile lines and deprived of its through-line status the Potts had struggled from its opening in 1866 and by 1870 ended its services from Shrewsbury at Llanyblodwell on the Nantmawr branch, with a through service to Oswestry on Market days. By 1880 it had got into a very decrepit state and it was closed on safety grounds by the Board of Trade. Fatally for the prosperity of companies that attempted to reopen it the Potts asked the Cambrian to take over the Nantmawr quarry traffic for two years. It is not clear how long this arrangement initially persisted, if at all, for Richard France seems to have gone bankrupt at some time in 1881. The branch certainly closed for a period. The lease of the quarry was taken up by John Parson Smith, and he was forced by the Cambrian to advance £800 to repair the track on the line (offset by a rate rebate until it was repaid) and did so by an agreement dated 24th July 1885. On the same day the Cambrian signed a running powers agreement with the Potts to maintain and use the branch till the end of 1892, and this drifted on beyond that as an informal arrangement until formallised in 1894. Parson Smith surrendered his lease in September 1899 and his principle customer, the Lilleshall Co, took it up. They also signed a special rates agreement with the Cambrian. No doubt triggered by this and the fact that since 1894 they had been also using part of the branch for their Llanfyllin traffic, the Cambrian seem to have finally pushed for a long term formal agreement. This was finally signed on 1 May 1900. It was to be fatal to the prosperity of the yet to be born Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway.

Reopening Attempts by the Shropshire Railways

Uniquely amongst British railways the Potts main line then lay derelict awaiting its re-awakening by Stephens. In 1888 another company, the Shropshire Railways, had obtained take-over powers. These included reciprocal running powers with the Cambrian to balance the powers that company had to run to Shrewsbury and enabled the smaller company to reach Oswestry. This attempt to resurrect the line failed as they ran out of money before they could do anything useful.

The Cambrian had meanwhile exploited the weakness of the Shropshire to consolidate its hold on the area. Anxious to improve its access from Llanymynech Station to its Llanfyllyn Branch (which had to be reached by a back shunt east of Llanymynech to pass over the Ellesmere Canal) and to secure the Nantmawr Quarry traffic it made some astute moves. In 1894 it negotiated full running rights on the Nantmawr Branch to a new junction, authorised by the Shropshire Railways Act 1891, with its Llanfyllyn Branch. It then signalled and interlocked the Nantmawr part of Llanymynech’s double junction for its own use. Further in 1895/6 despite opposition in writing from Ullmer, the Shropshire’s secretary, Aslett, the Cambrian manager, citing Board of Trade requirements, severed the original Potts junction line and rebuilt Llanymynech station platforms over it. To add insult to injury the Cambrian also built their junction signal box on Shropshire Railways land.

In the mid to late 1890s the Tanat Valley Light Railway (independent but soon to be worked and later absorbed by the Cambrian) had been formed to supplant the old Potts’ and Shropshire Railways 1891 lapsed powers to build a line up the Tanat Valley. But, with the active participation of its solicitor Joseph Parry-Jones (who was quite co-incidentally Oswestry's town clerk and a little later the Cambrian’s Solicitor) and a substantial bribe of free running powers over the Cambrian into Oswestry, it had decided by 1898 not to use the line to Llanymynech. Instead it was to thrust east to join an older Cambrian mineral line (at Porthywaen) giving a direct railway to Oswestry.

This caused an unholy and prolonged row with Shropshire Railways. Viscount Newport (later to be Lord Bradford, a Shropshire Railways director and later one of Stephens founding co-directors on the SMR) had, as a local landowner, tried to block the Tanat’s Porthywaen connection in favour of the earlier line. In this he was assisted by that company’s solicitor, F C Matthews, later to be a long time associate of Stephens and indeed co-contractor in the SMR rebuilding. These men realised that mineral traffic was essential to Shropshire Railways revival for, as Matthews told the Cambrian, it would ‘take out the eye’ of the concern. In protracted and disputatious negotiations they caused the Tanat to join the Nantmawr line. It did this for a short distance at Llanyblodwell (renamed Blodwell Junction) station with an east facing junction, using it for only a few yards then leaving to join the Porthywaen line. Their pressure also ensured that a direct west-facing junction (known contemporaneously as Lord Bradford’s loop) was authorised.

The Coming of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire

Into this devil’s cauldron of conflicting rights stepped Stephens with the SMR. In its Light Railway Order this railway was authorised to reconstruct and operate Shropshire Railways and thus acquired most of the rights, including running powers, of that company although this continued to own the track bed etc and had a legal existence and financial structure. After an initial and unsuccessful attempt to interest the essentially hostile LNWR and GWR in jointly running the authorised line, Stephens was forced to adopt his customary independence. With characteristic energy he rebuilt the SMR with new sleepers (brought in via Aberdovey Harbour and the Cambrian) and stock, and re-opened to Llanymynech in March 1911. Although already in dispute over running trains further west he cheerfully refurbished the double junction installed during the railways dark ages. An open and clubbable character Stephens was, in Matthew’s stated judgement, someone who did not excel as a negotiator, and in late 1911 he belatedly wrote to the Cambrian in an almost naive fashion to discuss in particular running powers:

1 over the Tanat Valley Light Railway;

2 to Nantmawr;

3 to Oswestry via Blodwell Junction;

4 for goods to Ellesmere and interchange with the Great Central Railway. (Stephens had earlier written to the Cambrian in connection with the Light Railway Order ‘In view of the fact that you have running powers over 18 miles of our line and in return …we have only 6 [over yours] we are of the opinion that we [should have more]’).

Well the Cambrian didn’t mind the occasional market or even regular passenger trains to Oswestry but they were not going to allow anyone else access to the lucrative Nantmawr Quarries or the Tanat Valley, let alone let Stephens’ trains run further.

Blodwell Junction, train at Llanymynech c 1905The Cambrian losing out in the negotiations over Lord Bradford’s loop had then ensured that it was not built. Furious though this made the good Lord he had only been able to secure in its place, as a temporary two year measure, a through coach connection from Llanymynech to the Tanat Valley- Oswestry trains at Blodwell Junction. Provided by the Cambrian one coach trundled, thrice, later twice, daily, on the back of the local goods. Year-on-year they stalled so as not to build the loop to enable a direct connection into the Tanat. Consequently the service carried very little traffic and it was eventually to peter out in wartime conditions in January 1917. In all this the Cambrian had proved thoroughly obstructive to the Shropshire interest and now proceeded to do all in its power to bottle up the infant SMR. They used in particular their formal and informal agreements with the Shropshire to suggest that as they had running rights on the Nantmawr branch no one else (the SMR) could have as well.

After characteristically pithy Stephens’ correspondence with the Chairman and General Managers of the Cambrian, there were over the next few years prolonged discussion and disputes. These culminated in legal cases that finally went to the High Court. Desperate to protect the £2000 (£125K in 2004 values) they were pulling in each year for the short haul involved the Cambrian, was, by this time deliberately stalling to disadvantage the weaker company. It changed its stance by arguing that running powers could only be exercised over the original junction that they had unilaterally removed! To bring matters to a head Stephens, on behalf of the Shropshire companies gave notice on 19th June 1913 that he wished to work 1 goods and 2 passenger trains over the Nantmawr line and on 7th July served formal legal notice that such services would be implemented.

Sixty years earlier railway politics conducted like this had several times ended with trains trying to force the junction only to be blocked by locomotives chained to the rails. Unfortunately for our entertainment but continuingly fortunate for lawyers pockets matters had progressed to less physical methods. Not surprisingly, given the specific provisions of the LRO and the Cambrian’s high-handed unilateral decision in 1895 to remove the original junction, the SMR finally won in court, on appeal, on 27 October 1913.

Had David finally slain Goliath? Regrettably not. As we know the SMR never terminated its passenger services in Oswestry nor got its happy ending tapping the lucrative mineral traffic opened up by its progenitors. The Cambrian's Counsel after its High Court defeat had written to W Kendrick Minshall (the Company’s Solicitor) ‘…keep them [the SMR] busy over something else’. This Machiavellian approach seems to have worked. At one stage they even stooped to informing the Earl of Powis, a powerful force in the Welsh Borders, one of their directors and a debenture holder in the SMR, of likely irregularities in SMR reporting of Debenture interest. An honourable man, he seems to have taken no action.


Earlier in 1913 in an attempt to end the dispute to forestall more legal costs the SMR had appointed, with Cambrian acquiescence, a special negotiator. This was Sir Charles Owens, the recently retired General Manager of the LSWR, a director of that company and a debenture holder in the SMR. Stephens was obviously by now disgusted at the whole thing and told the Cambrian directly in early 1916 that he was leaving it to Owens. The court case had concentrated minds but the Cambrian still dragged it out and War came. Eventually on 19th December 1916 a formal agreement was drawn up by Sir Charles and agreed. This provided, amongst other things

1 The Cambrian, regardless of whether Nantmawr quarry traffic went via Porthywaen or Llanymynech, would pay tolls to the Shropshire.

2 Lord Bradford’s Loop need not be built but access would be provided to the Tanat

3 If traffic from the Lilleshall company to its works at Hollinswood (near Wellington) was consigned via the SMR then the Cambrian would receive a sum equal to the rate it would have received [for Nantmawr-Oswestry] out of the through rate paid. [This effectively reduced the SMR's take, probably to unremunerative levels, and the Cambrian knew that the GWR would also be obstructive, as they too would be losers]

4 The Cambrian could keep its signal box and other structures on Shropshire land at Llanymynech and would remove the fence and move the shelter obstructing SMR passengers’ access to its station platforms [This was carried out and completed on 20th April 1917]

5 The Cambrian would render correct accounts and pay dues promptly (a bone of contention for at least 30 years)

As can be seen this agreement was of little or no direct benefit to the SMR/Shropshire interests. However given Cambrian attitudes, Sir Charles Owens was unable to negotiate more. At least it bought some peace and reduced legal fees.

With the railways under wartime controls none of this counted anyway.

Hostilities Resumed

The Cambrian continued in general to be unremittingly hostile. The SMR did not help when in 1919 it attempted to gain an outlet to Potteries markets and the friendly North Staffordshire Railway with its resurrected Market Drayton extension, a move that directly threatened Cambrian traffics.

At this point Stephens renewed his attempts to open the Llanymynech bottleneck and more pithy correspondence and meetings ensued. He sought access to the quarries, a resumption of the mixed service to Llanyblodwell, and a through coach from Oswestry to Shrewsbury (later modified to Ford!). The Cambrian dragged matters out and Stephens, infuriated, threatened to try again the 1913 tactic of presenting a train from the quarry for passage over the SMR , serving notice to that effect on 27 November 1920. Forestalled, he wrote a fierce letter to Williamson, the Cambrian General Manager, on 21st December which ended;

“Hope you have a merry Christmas, and that your conscience will be clear, and that the ghost of the starving Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Company will not haunt your, troubled, Christmas sleep”

The whole of 1921 was devoted to arguing about the S&MRs rights to receive Nantmawr traffic including, again serving notice on of their intention to run on the branch in 6months from 17th May 1921 . In private, the LNWR, one of the partners in the traffic, showed signs of agreeing with Stephens, but the Great Western and Cambrian had no qualms and suppressed this split. Meanwhile the Cambrian threw in every delaying tactic from quoting spurious rates to submitting unduly high costs for reinstatement of facilities for through traffic-despite the fact that they were all in place and in use- to simply refusing to meet or reply to letters. This tactic worked, the Cambrian amalgamated with the Great Western on 25 March1922 and S&MRs case became hopeless as virtually the whole route of Lilleshall's traffic was now in that company’s hands. And anyway the GWR, unlike the Southern that was run by many of Stephens’ friends, was by inclination hostile to any surviving small company in its territory.

Llanymynech became literally and metaphorically the end of the line. With precious little to gain financially, thanks to the 1916 agreement, the SMR gave up on quarry traffic and after a few more years passenger traffic gave up on them. The Llanymynech –Blodwell Junction line was finally closed as a through route in 1925.

Nantmawr quarry traffic, one of the principal movers in the Potts, Shropshire and SMR promotions continued to enrich others until traffic finall ceased in 1971. The line was mothballed untill finally  closed in 1992, the last of the railway lines in the area.

*First promoted as the West Midlands, Shrewsbury and Coast of Wales heading for the chimera of an Irish packet port on the Lleyn Peninsular. This failed but the more modest West Shropshire Mineral railway was then promoted as a line to connect the Nantmawr and Criggion area quarries to the Welshpool - Shrewsbury line. This in turn rapidly evolved through amendment and amalgamation into the modest potential main line the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales, a line from Market Drayton via Shrewsbury and the Berwyns. It nearly became a creature of the Great Northern Railway, no less, during that railway’s great competitive expansionist period. At this early stage the Potts was very friendly with the Cambrian and its predecessors. This changed when the Cambrian got its hands on the Quarry traffic.

Cambrian Records at the Public Record Office, in particular RAIL 1057/1922.1924-27, 1928 and 741.
The Tanat Valley, W J Wren, D&C, 1968
Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain Volume11 North & Mid-Wales, P E Baughan, D&C, 1980

The late Bill Willans, cousin of Tom Rolt and son of the originator of the use of Sentinel engines as locomotive, was an apprentice fitter on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire in the late 1920s. He recounted his experiences for The Colonel the journal of the Colonel Stephens Society, which by kind permission we reproduce here.

The Colonel Stephens Society website is at www.colonelstephenssociety.co.uk

Part 1

On the sixteenth of January 1928, I made my way to Kinnerley shed! Not a soul in sight! There were no lights of any sort and a general air of abandonment. I found my way into the shop where a vertical boiler was sizzling gently to itself! Someone must have been about. On a wall adjacent to the shed was a blackboard upon which was written in chalk the following:

  • LOCO No 8 - 7 - 0

It was quite some time before I interpreted this to mean that Loco No 8 was required at 7.00 am, and “light up” did not refer to illumination. If “boiler” had been on the same line as “light up shop”, I might have understood.

Shortly afterwards, Arthur Fardoe - known as “Tootie”, don’t ask me why - arrived. He warned me that the boiler was inclined to roar at times. If it did, “open the fire door a crack”, he said. The next arrival was the early morning train from Criggion hauled by Loco No 8 crewed by driver Frank King and fireman Teddy “Burbie” Jones. I think that Bill Cole was guard on this occasion.

Then came my boss, Charlie Owen. If he was in any way pleased or interested in my presence he very successfully concealed the fact. Handing me a wad of waste, he told me to clean the machine tools.

Kinnerley in June 1932Things were gradually coming to life. George Beeston, the senior apprentice, arrived next. He viewed me with a mixture of disbelief and suspicion. When I look back on those days, I am not surprised. George and I however, got on very well and I soon took over such tasks as heaving coal for the shop boiler, maintaining steam and - to my disgust - drying and sieving sand. I should mention that I had received firm parental instruction to do whatever I was told without question. If word ever reached my father that I had jibbed at any job, my life would not have been worth living.

The layout at Kinnerley is well known to many, but for general interest, such details as I remember will follow. The shed was adjacent to the Criggion branch, on the right hand when walking from the station. Two roads entered the shed: at the side of the right road was a coal dock, at the end of -which was a high-level water tank for filling locomotive tanks.

At the back of the coal dock was a siding which in my time was generally occupied by Gazelle. To the right of the shed was a wind pump, an oil store and the “usual office”. I am unable to recall the pump ever lifting any water.

In the roof of the shed were the usual vents to get rid of smoke when lighting up. However, considerable skill seemed to be used to ensure that an engine was never positioned under one of these, so that when an engine was raising steam, the atmosphere closely resembled that of the infernal regions. In the far right hand corner was the general stores where, if one sought diligently one could generally find anything that was required!

In the shop were several ancient machine tools: a centre lathe, a stiff spindle drilling machine, a very ancient planing machine, the usual grinding wheels and a forge. At the extreme end was a small steam hammer.

All the machines were belt driven from a line shaft which extended the full length of the shop. From the same shaft were driven the forge blower and a small dynamo for lighting the shop and shed. During the summer of 1928, everywhere was rewired and tested. This was the only occasion upon which the dynamo was used while I was there.

kinnerley_fitters_shopThe shaft was driven by an ancient, single-cylinder horizontal steam engine, supplied with steam by a vertical, centre-flue boiler built by Cochranes of Annan. I hasten to point out that it was not one of the well-known “Cochrane Patent” boilers.

Steam was also supplied to two Worthington duplex pumps. These drew water from a somewhat muddy stream and delivered it to the high-level tank. Water from this tank flowed by gravity to the tank at the end of the station platform and was controlled by a ball valve.

On the bank of the stream above the suction point was a creamery, which periodically discharged a repulsive waste product into the watercourse. At such times, the authorities sent a messenger to us and pumping was suspended for about thirty minutes.

It soon became my regular job to spread the fire in the boiler, raise steam and start one of the pumps. It also fell to me to get in enough coal to last for the day. Early in 1929 there was a very severe spell of cold weather and when I arrived one morning I found the line almost at a standstill. Shortage of water had prevented any locomotive from being moved. I say almost because the Rattlers (the petrol railcars) were not affected. Much time was spent siting “devils” and thawing out frozen ball valves.

Just beyond the shed were stored Loco No. 2 “Severn” and the Royal Coach. I never got into the latter and while I have no exact memory of it I think it must have been locked. Had it been open I’m sure I would have got in.

In charge of the shed was Charlie Owen, a blacksmith by training and a most versatile character. His general knowledge of steam locomotives was immense, and this extended to driving when necessary. If Gazelle and tramcar deputised for the Rattlers, Charlie invariably was the driver.

I say invariably, but on one occasion when he was ill, the job was done by Bill Austen with George Beeston as fireman! Similarly if the service was run by a Terrier and one coach, Charlie was the driver.

Next came George Beeston, apprentice. I do not know when he joined the railway, but he was there at the time of the General Strike of 1926. At that time, the staff must have been somewhat greater than in 1928-29 because George spoke of a boilermaker of all trades remaining at work. He and George had proceeded with general retubing and so on.

Kinnerley Engine ShedA floating character was Arthur Fardoe; as well as lighting up he fired and, upon rare occasions, drove locomotives. He invariably pronounced “steam” as “stem”. On one memorable occasion he was driving one of the Terriers (probably No 7 Hecate) on shunting duties without a fireman. He entered the shed in a state of great agitation and approached Charlie with the outburst:

“I can’t do anything with ‘er. ‘ER won’t stem. I’ve got no stem nor wayter. I’ve got no bloody wayter in the boiler nor in the bloody tank!”

As is well known, the Terriers had no injectors, only crosshead-driven feed pumps and this was at times highly inconvenient. On this occasion, Charlie, having ensured that there was water in the tank examined the fire. He rounded on “Tootie” and said:

“You have not got enough fire to boil a kettle, let alone melt a lead plug!”

He took No. 7 out and, in the manner of Jehu, drove her furiously to and fro until the situation was restored.

The footplate staff consisted of one driver, Frank King, and one fireman, Teddy “Burbie” Jones. To these must be added Sid Nevitt, the railcar driver. Frank King must have at one time worked on the Kent & East Sussex, as he often remarked “when I was on the Kent”. Prior to this, however, he was a driver or fireman on the L&SWR and talked of his days as a cleaner at Nine Elms (I think). Later he went to India as driver on the Bengal Nagpur Railway.

Of Teddy Jones I know very little, other than that he was a most genial man. In the period that the Sentinels were on trial, there were two locomotive crews and Teddy was a driver. The firemen then were Jimmy Congram, son of the local coal merchant Joe Congram, and Dick Ainsworth. Jimmy seemed to revert to the coal trade, but Dick, having been unemployed for a while, was helped by Colonel Stephens to go to India and become a driver on the Madras and South Marhatta railway.

Sid Nevitt was a most jovial character, and at times I was detailed to assist him. At first I considered this somewhat infra dig, especially if the railcars came to the shed for repairs. But Sid was such a congenial fellow with whom to work that I came to enjoy it.

I particularly enjoyed this work when the Rattlers broke down away from Kinnerley. A platelayers’ trolley was acquired, and Sid and myself pumped our way to the scene of the disaster. This seemed to often take place when they were doing a run to Criggion, and failure usually took place in the vicinity of the Tontine Hotel! Amongst other things he taught me that classic “It was Christmas Day in the Workhouse”

Part 2

The late Bill Willans continues his description of S & M Characters

When I joined the railway in January 1928, Ilfracombe Goods loco No.3 Hesperus was situated on a siding to the east of the Criggion Branch and she was still there when I left in 1929. Her boiler had been jacked up clear of the frames and my first major job was to assist in sliding the boiler along two lengths of railway metal from the frames to a flat wagon. The boiler went to Ruston Hornsby for a new firebox and smokebox, as well as sundry other repairs.

Shortly after I started, Charlie Owen (shed foreman) went sick and Mr Austen, who was supervising the boiler job, transferred me from machine cleaning to join the gang, which consisted of Arthur Pardoe and the entire permanent way department! I am sorry to say that the names have faded except Mr Wye, the Ganger’.

During the summer, the boiler returned and the above process was carried out in reverse. During most of my time, the boiler remained on the frames, and was lowered in position early in 1929.

S & M Passenger TrainOne of my first jobs on Hesperus was to disconnect the eccentric rods and valve gear ,followed by the lagging plate frombelow the cylinders. The latter necessitated removing the operating rods of the cylinder drain cocks and the cocks themselves. In doing so, one of the cocks broke off! I fully expected some adverse comments but Charlie took it in a very matter-of-fact manner: “We shall have to drill it out.’”

On the left-hand side some of the bolts securing the cylinders to the frames had worked loose. These were countersunk head bolts with no means of holding them if they turned during attempts to remove the nuts. Consequently the nuts had to be split with a hammer and chisel. This was a long and painful operation: every few strokes I missed the head of the chisel and hit my thumb. I received very little sympathy: “Chalk an eye on the hammer so it can see where to go” was the usual sort of comment.

With the offending bolts at last removed, the holes had to be reamed out. This was attempted but the only reamer was long past its first youth. Charlie forged a beautiful looking drill - at least it looked so to my inexperienced eye - but it succeeded in opening out the first hole to a shape that certainly was not circular.

The problem was finally solved by driving a hardwood plug into each hole, which enabled a twist drill to be used without it biting deeply into the metal and probably breaking off. As Charlie Owen put it: “These twist drills are so bloody greedy”. I must mention that this was all done with a hand ratchet. There were no electric or pneumatic drills at Kinnerley in those days.

Work continued intermittently on No.3 throughout my time. An ex-LNWR fitter, Albert Dodd, joined us towards the end of 1928 and took the job over. I managed to attach myself to him and we cut away the front plate of the smokebox to fit over the cylinder cover bolts. To use a naval expression, this was all done “handraulic” hacksaw, ratchet drill and hammer and chisel. The job was periodically interrupted by other pressing matters, such as the shed running out of dried sand .By the time I left, the boiler was back in the frames.

Two major breakdowns linger in my memory. In each case one of the llfracombes was the engine affected and, if my memory serves me well, it was No.6 Thisbe. Thisbe was the hardest worked engine at that time. On one occasion one of the big-end straps fractured and released the connecting rod. The piston rode punched a beautifully clean hole in the cylinder cover.

I cannot remember how we acquired a new cover, but probably the old one was sent to Boston Lodge where a new one was cast and machined. I have no recollection of one being machined in our shop. Also, I cannot remember if the piston sustained any damage, but I do recall the piston rod being set up in the lathe to check if it had become distorted. During this job, Tom Gatford was transferred from Snailbeach to assist. He was furious, and let it be known to all and sundry.

The second disaster occurred between Criggion and Kinnerley. On the left-hand side of the driving axle, the side rod crankpin broke off abruptly. The engine got back to the shed under its own steam and remained there for some time. The removal of the stump remaining in the wheel presented something of a problem and was tackled in the usual Kinnerley manner; with inevitable ratchet brace we set out to drill a row of holes across the crankpin stump approximately five inches deep. Work on Hesperus came to a halt and Albert Dodd and I took turns on the ratchet. The stump was ultimately driven out and a new pin was turned up on the lathe by Charlie Owen.

We did not even possess a blowlamp, let alone oxyacetylene equipment so with much ingenuity a grate was improvised in way of the hole for the pin. A fire was built up and for what seemed to be many hours I blew it with hand bellows! The first effort was disastrous. The pin, having been driven in for about three inches, stuck. It took several days and much heating to finally get it home. The flow of language must have assisted in raising the temperature.

Tubes, burst and leaking, seemed to require constant attention. At one time, for the retubing of one of the Terriers, a tuber named Ned Higginson was borrowed from Shrewsbury shed. Apparently Colonel Stephens had a standing arrangement with the LMS about this. Ned worked very swiftly and sometimes I assisted him at the smokebox end. On one occasion a tube was tight and I was instructed to file it down. I did this three times and finally the tube went home.

Ned’s comments were as follows: “You’ve made a bloody fine job of this tube: you’ve put a bloody sight more on than you’ve taken off!”

Upon reflection, I realised that I had filed the smokebox end and not the firebox end! However, the tube was in and I decided it would be wiser not to enlighten anyone. When the job was finished I seemed to have acquired several LMS sponge cloths, and Kinnerley had acquired some very superior tube expanders...

I only saw Colonel Stephens on one occasion. As was often the case, I went down to the railway on Sundays, particularly if my cousin Tom Rolt was staying with us. We were just walking out of the station when a taxi drove up and a tall, martial figure alighted, stared at us, and moved off in silence towards the bungalow of Mr H G Funnel.

My father saw him on several occasions and sometimes repeated what he had said, for example: “Bill Austen keeps asking me for new engines. I tell him “repair what you have got”.” I once saw a letter referring to myself: “Everyone speaks very well of him, but Kinnerley is no place for him to be for long. I suggest that he spend some time at Boston Lodge.”

At the time I was not very thrilled with the idea and from what I saw when I was with the Kerr Stuart diesel on the Ffestiniog I was very glad that I did not go there. The Kerr Stuart must have remained at Portmadoc for some time, because when Colonel Stephens was told that she was to be collected, his reply was: “I thought you had given her to us.”

Quite often- when Mr Austen was at Kinnerley, I was detailed to “wait” on him: hold a light and so on. I am unable to recall, with one exception, any particular comments of his, but I always enjoyed them. He was a most cheerful and entertaining character.

The one exception was when one of the Terriers had burst a tube: a common enough event, but this time Charlie Owen and George Beeston were both off sick. I discussed the situation with Mr Funnel, who said: “Well, you are in charge.” I next tackled Teddy Jones and asked where the tube was. He replied “ in the bottom”, which was not much help.

As Jones the Carpenter was absent, I conscripted his apprentice and between us we pumped water into the boiler until the defective tube revealed itself. I then set about removing it. During this process, Mr Austen turned up. “Hello, Billy,” he said. “Got a strong job on?”

By this time, the tube was well on the way out, and to my disappointment Charlie turned up. With an expression of disbelief he said: “Did you get it out that far Billy? Good lad.” He then took the job over and with my assistance it was soon completed. Later, Mr Austen expressed his appreciation to my father, for which I was most grateful.

Another interesting character was a bearded individual called Mr Bullock. He was the signals expert, and it would appear he had to cut his way through the undergrowth to reach the operating rods, wires and so on! I say this because he often arrived at the shed and asked for steam on the lineshaft to use the wet grindstone. His stock of sickles and similar tools required constant sharpening.

Sometimes a blacksmith was hired (do not ask me from where) to forge the point rodding and suchlike. It invariably fell to me to he his striker. Charlie once remarked: “He is a rough old smith.” The aforesaid Mr Bullock had a beautiful private set of stocks and dies which were greatly admired by Charlie, and Mr Bullock promised that he should have them. When I visited Kinnerley in 1939, 1 was told that he had kept his promise. The tools were left to Charlie in Mr Bullock’s will.

The aforesaid gentleman, referred to by Sid Nevitt as “the male calf”, also dealt with telephones and telegraphs. On one occasion, however, much to his indignation he was told to inspect the water tank at Llanymynech, and I was detailed to accompany him to fill the tank. My sole experience of filling S&M tanks had been, with the aid of duplex steam pumps, so I expected to have to raise steam and start up a similar pump.

Such hopes were swiftly dashed I was introduced to a semi- rotary hard pump and, having primed it with the aid of Mr Bullock, was left to get on with it much to the amusement of sundry GWR types. To my great relief, my companion probing and tapping various rust spots, succeeded in penetrating the side of the tank and a delightful stream of water was emitted. The tank was pronounced unsound - and I was released from bondage.

Shrewsbury Abbey StationThe staff at Shrewsbury (Abbey) considered themselves to be the Lords of Creation. Whenever I had occasion to go there usually to obtain a voucher for a privilege ticket, I was treated with somewhat lofty amusement. I am unable to remember any names. One very senior person had a dingy private office in which was a picture of an LNWR Coal Engine at the head of a train at Abbey Station. In the general office was a senior and uncommunicative type a second in command who persisted in addressing me as “Horace”, and an office boy. There was also one porter and general factotum.

Proceeding along towards Llanymynech one came to Meole Brace, which was presided over by one Gibbs: christian name unknown to me. He was an officious type who once questioned my right to a privilege ticket to Kinnerley without a voucher. I was travelling in the Rattlers and I protested strongly, calling upon Sid Nevitt, the railcar driver, to confirm that I was genuine. This he did. Gibbs knew perfectly well who I was and he ultimately capitulated.

I do not remember any of the permanent staff between Meole Brace and Ford and Crossgates. Ford had a passing loop and the section between there and Kinnerley was controlled by electric tablet. In charge at Ford was Bert Funnel, son of the redoubtable stationmaster at Kinnerley. Bert was a fine cricketer and footballer. He was ably assisted by his wife: on railway matters, not sport!

At Kinnerley, as already mentioned, was Mr H.G.Funnel, stationmaster and general factotum. I think that he came from the Kent & East Sussex Railway: he often talked about the county of Kent with great affection. Like his son, he was a great cricketer, but because of his girth and a heart complaint, he had to have a runner when batting. This did not, however, interfere with him coupling and uncoupling trucks on occasions.

He lived in one of the wooden bungalows around the station. I imagine that these were provided to accommodate staff transferred from another railway, but this is just a thought of mine. In another such bungalow, situated in the fork of lines made by the junction of the line to Llanymynech and the branch to Criggion, lived Bill Cole, porter and second-in-command. I remember very little about him other than that he was a cheerful character with a large family. Albert Dodd, the ex-LMS fitter, lodged with him.

Frank King and Arthur Pardoe each had bungalows, as did Arthur’s brother Jimmy, guard and general shunter. Teddy Jones was, I think, a local man: he lived elsewhere. The running shed staff have already been mentioned.

Proceeding towards Llanymynech, at Maesbrook there was the station mistress, Mrs Watkins, referred to in the Railway Magazine of December 1926. When I started at Kinnerley, her husband worked on the railway and occupied a small hut alongside the Criggion branch beyond the shed. His job seemed to consist of organizing the destination of loaded Granomac trucks, and I imagine it was connected with the Railway Clearing House.

Mr Watkins used to collect a shovel full of fire from the shop boiler for the grate in his hut. During the early summer of 1928 he left, and for a time the job was done by one of the Shrewsbury types - and I had to provide the fire for him! He was succeeded by a most amiable middle-aged gentleman and I regularly lit up his fire. Charlie Owen, for some reason, referred to him as “Father O’Flynn”, though he did not sound Irish to me. At Llanymynech there was one permanent porter (and everything else): I do not remember his name.

Unless the Rattlers had broken down, there was one engine in steam and the routine was as follows:

  • tishyTo Criggion with empties and back with loaded trucks. Driver and fireman have a break.
  • Charlie Owen takes over and drives the early mixed train to Llanymynech and back to Kinnerley. Driver and fireman take over.
  • Charlie to shed.
  • Mixed train to Shrewsbury, with general shunting en route. Anyone wishing to travel to anywhere between Kinnerley and Shrewsbury avoided this train like the plague!
  • Mixed train back to Kinnerley, followed by general shunting. This usually finished around 5.OOpm unless there was a cattle special. This meant overtime, and was not unwelcome.

During 1928, the Rattler stock was augmented by a Wolseley railcar and a Ford lorry mounted on railway wheels. If one end of the Rattlers failed, the lorry - nicknamed “Tishy”- filled the gap: a most peculiar sight. It was quite a regular practice to light up No. 1 Gazelle every day in case of a disaster. However, I cannot remember a breakdown of the cars taking place when Gazelle was ready to take over.