The Trent Valley Railway

The speakers at our May meeting were Dave Barratt and Robin Mathams who have been researching the history of the Trent Valley Railway, sourcing information from the Staffordshire Record Office, William Salt Library and the National Archives.

Dave Barratt opened their joint presentation with a map dating from the early 1800s showing the London & Birmingham Railway joining the Grand Junction Railway in Birmingham. However, traffic to Ireland, via Holyhead, was also important and a direct route from London to the North West was needed. Robert Peel, the MP for Tamworth, was a railway supporter and was well aware of the benefits that a railway would bring to the town.

Plans had been prepared for a line from Wolverhampton to Manchester via Uttoxeter and for line from Rugby to Stafford with a branch to Stone. At a meeting in Manchester on 11th April 1884, chaired by Alderman Wallace, the Trent Valley Railway Company was formed with an initial capital of 900,000. The initial plans included a branch to Alrewas but this was omitted when the Act was passed on 21st July 1845.

There were three 'Consulting Engineers' for the new railway; Robert Stevenson, Thomas Gooch and George Parker Bidder. A 47 page contract was signed on 1st February 1847 with Mackenzie, Stevenson and Brassey to build the line for 611,619 (In the event, Brassey's costs overran by 70,000).

The first sod was cut by Robert Peel at Tamworth on 13th November, 1845 and work started on the new 49 mile railway at Baswich. One of the major works was the tunnel at Shugborough. This was to be 779 yards long, constructed on a curve, and would be built from the bottom of seven access shafts by blasting the local hard marl with gunpowder. Lord Lichfield received 30,000 in compensation for the intrusion. Chairs, Rails and Spikes for the new railway were manufactured in Wolverhampton and Birkenhead. There was one aqueduct and 154 bridges on the new line; but although the overline bridges were built in local stone some underline bridges were build in cast iron. In contrast to the ornate stone carriage-way bridge at Shugborough, with its heraldic decorations, the bridge at Watery Lane was built with single-plate cast iron girders. The aqueduct is still there today but was raised 3ft for electrification in the 1960s.

Following the collapse of Stevenson's cast iron bridge over the River Dee there was a public perception that construction in cast iron was unsafe. So the bridges over the River Tame and at Watery Lane were strengthened.

The Trent Valley Railway Act stipulated 28 level crossings for local access and turnpike roads. When built, nineteen were originally manned but nine were later substituted by a bridge or abandoned. There would be 'First Class' stations at Rugeley, Lichfield, Tamworth, Atherstone and Nuneaton with 'Second Class' stations at Colwich, Polesworth and Bulkington.

In 1845 the Manchester & Birmingham Railway and the London & Birmingham Railway amalgamated and agreed to lease the Trent Valley Railway. The line was then purchased for 1.75 million in August 1846, giving the original promoters a considerable profit before it had even been built.

The new line was inspected on 24th June 1847 and authorised for opening on 1st July. There was a grand opening ceremony at Tamworth, organised by Robert Peel, for 200 guests who were entertained by the band of the Royal Dragoons - and many speeches. At Rugeley, 2,000 people turned out to meet the first train; and six days later Queen Victoria travelled over the line.

The initial passenger service was just two trains per day each way until the line was fully opened on 1st December 1847 and the first published timetable shows that the journey from Stafford to Rugby took 2.5 hrs. The final cost of the railway was 1,777,744 16s. 4.5d.

At this point Robin Mathams picked up the story saying that the surviving plans showed the names of all the landowners along the line and even the dates as construction progressed. He said that the cutting near Lichfield from Watery Lane to Curborough was the second longest, after Nettle Hill, on the line. Construction had taken just 18 months - they did not hang about in the 19th century! The line was widened in the early 20th century and as a result few of the original structures remain; but the unused west arch of Burton Road bridge in Lichfield is still in its original condition.

There is a curious note in the Company Minutes for July 1845 which refers to "The Lichfield Station Question". It appears that a final decision on the location of our station was delayed by a dispute with the South Staffordshire Railway. The Birmingham, Lichfield & Manchester Railway Act of 1846 included powers to build a separate line from a point near Aston to join the Trent Valley Railway at Lichfield, with running powers to Rugeley; this would have joined the Trent Valley line near Vulcan Road - so the station would have been behind the Enots factory. However, the formation of the South Staffordshire Railway may have resolved the situation as the LNWR plans had also included a branch to Alrewas.

Thomas Gooch submitted designs for the station at Lichfield on 9th July 1846 but these were put on hold until January 1847 when the LNWR gave up its rights to the competing line. The new station was authorised at a cost of 3,000 on 8th July 1847. The plans including four stables and four staff cottages. The passenger station, which included accommodation for the Station Master and possibly some of the senior staff, was finished in early 1848 but it was closed just twenty-three years later in 1871 when a new station was built at the present site to provide an interchange with the South Staffordshire Railway - which had opened from Walsall to Lichfield and Wychnor Junction in 1849.

John Livock's original Tudor-Gothic style station at Lichfield was similar to his other buildings on the line. Two of these, Atherstone Station and the cottage at Mancetter Crossing still survive today. The new LNWR station was designed by James Deacon of Lichfield and opened in July 1871 with substantial buildings on both platforms and access to the South Staffs' platforms on the upper line. The main buildings included a Gentleman's waiting room and both First Class and Second Class Ladies waiting rooms. John Livock's original station building, which was on the opposite side of Burton Road, continued in use as the Station Master's House.

The line through Lichfield was widened to four tracks in 1910/11 and new buildings were provided on the Up platform. However, James Deacon's main building on the Down platform survived until the late 1960s; photographs taken at that time show handsome cast iron columns supporting the platform awnings.

The level crossing on nearby Ryknild Street was closed when the line was widened in 1910/11 and the road, now called Burton Old Road, was raised by 15ft to bridge over the railway. This bridge was demolished on Christmas Day 2014 and the footings of the old crossing keeper's cottage were found by the contractors as they cleared the site for the new bridge.

The Trent Valley Line today is very busy with 220 trains recorded as passing Lichfield on March 17th, 2015 - seven of which used the chord from the South Staffs Line.

Lorna Bushell
May 2015