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Birmingham and Gloucester Railway

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The Birmingham and Gloucester Railway is a railway route linking Birmingham to Gloucester.

It is one of the world's oldest mainline railways and includes the famous Lickey Incline, a two mile dead straight stretch of track running up the Lickey Ridge at a gradient of 1/37. The line was built to link the factories of Birmingham to Bristol and its docks, as well as to operate passenger services.

The idea for a line had been mooted during the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. There was already a horse drawn coal railway between Bristol and Gloucestershire, however a line running the whole distance to Birmingham was suggested. At that time, the canal journey from Birmingham to Bristol took almost a week, and the road journey, which due to expense and road quality was only really suitable for passengers, took the best part of four days.

Several surveys were completed in the ten years after 1824. Brunel in 1832 surveyed a line well to the east of its present track, but due to lack of finance the scheme was suspended and he withdrew. The line, as it is, was surveyed by Captain W. S. Moorsom who had previously been associated with the Cromford and High Peak Railway. All observers recognised the challenge that the Lickey Ridge posed to the construction of the railway. Other lines, such as the C&HPR had previously been built up steeper inclines, however the Birmingham and Gloucester was a mechanised commercial railway, and was intended to be worked by steam locomotives. Both Stephenson and Brunel said that a general purpose steam locomotive could not work such a gradient.

Due to the Lickey problem, many investors remained sceptical and withheld funds; certain landowners asked excessive prices for land needed to construct the railway. Also, the people of Bromsgrove protested the proximity of the 'iron beast' to the town. Eventually it was decided that the incline could be worked by a system of 'banking engines'. Deals were struck with recalcitrant landlords and Bromsgrove station was built almost two miles outside the town, in Aston Fields.

The line was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1836, just eleven years after the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Stephenson and Brunel favoured the Lickey section being worked by an inclined plane, but Edward Bury said it could be worked by locomotives - and so it was. Sometime before the opening, Moorsom ordered a number of locomotives that he had seen in America for the Lickey climb. These were made by Norris of Philadelphia with wheels of just three feet diameter and proved able to complete the climb. Edward Bury and Co supplied a locomotive with five feet diameter wheels but this engine with Moorsom and Charles Sturge on board failed the test. The reproach that engines had to be obtained from America to work the Lickey incline was removed by J. E. Connell, the locomotive superintendent, who built a tank engine for the work.[1]

1840 June 24th. The line from Cheltenham to Bromsgrove was opened. The line ran from Bromsgrove (with a coach link from Birmingham) with stations at Droitwich, Spetchley, Worcester, Defford, Eckington, Bredon, Ashchurch and Tewkesbury to arrive at Cheltenham. The journey took around three and a quarter hours with one-way fares from 11s 6d to 5s.

The line was opened thus: - [2]

  • Cheltenham-Bromsgrove and the Tewkesbury branch - June 24th 1840.
  • Bromsgrove-Cofton - September 17th 1840.
  • Cofton-Camp Hill - December 17th 1840.
  • Camp-Hill to the London and Birmingham - August 17th 1841.

Railway tickets invented by Edmundson of Manchester were first used on this line.

In 1841 it had reached as far as Camp Hill where it joined the London and Birmingham Railway at the Curzon Street terminus in Birmingham.

The Act of Parliament gave the Birmingham and Gloucester the right to use any future London and Birmingham terminus in Birmingham, which meant that the later Midland Railway had the right to share Birmingham New Street Station when it was built by the LNWR.

Notwithstanding Bromsgrove people's reservations, the railway's maintenance shops were built there around 1841 providing a welcome change of employment for the town's nail makers.

1843 Moorsom is Chairman of the company. Trade is poor and expenses are large

1845 The Birmingham and Gloucester Railway merged with the Bristol and Gloucester Railway to form the short-lived Birmingham and Bristol Railway

1846 Became part of the Midland Railway

The line remains part of one of the UK's 'mainline' railway routes despite a series of changes in ownership. The Midland Railway, later became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in the rationalisation of 1923.

1948 The LMS, along with the rest of the UK's mainline railways, became part of British Railways when it was nationalised in 1948 by the Labour government.

In 1995, the line was sold to Railtrack as part of the privatisation of the Major government, and then partially returned to public ownership under Network Rail in 2003.

Today it is part of Virgin's cross country route from Aberdeen to Penzance.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1924/10/17
  2. The Engineer 1924/10/17
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • Bradshaw’s Railway Companion 1840
  • The Midland Railway: Its Rise and progress by Frederick S. Williams. Published 1875.