MOD Ashchurch and Ashchurch Railway Station

I was reading a book by Neil Parkhouse and looking at a series of photographs of the historic station at Ashchurch which was demolished as part of the fall out from the cuts associated with Dr. Breeching. Apart from feeling a sense of dismay that the original station and its building, together with the branch-lines it served, has been lost for ever, I noticed a reference to a siding serving MOD Ashchurch and decided to investigate. [1] …

DE&S Ashchurch, known locally as “Ashchurch Camp”, was the UK MOD’s primary vehicle storage and distribution site for all types of armoured and soft-skinned vehicles, together with Royal Engineer bridges, boats and construction plant. The Centre was the only vehicle depot in the UK using Controlled Humidity Environments (CHE) for long-term vehicle storage. [2]

In March 2012, the UK MOD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation confirmed its intention to consult publicly on proposals to redevelop ‘MOD Ashchurch’ for creation of a sustainable mixed use development, likely to include new homes, community and local retail facilities, a primary school, employment uses and open space. [2][4]

After this a campaign was fought to save the site and in 2015 the GMB Union reported that the site had been save and would remain in operation at least until 2025. [3]  However, continuing pressures on MOD budgets leave the position of the site uncertain. Atb present proposed developments are adjacent to the site but they indicate that pressure still exists in the locality for new housing. [5]

A rail link remains, as can be seen on the OpenStreetMap excerpt below.

This blog provides some details of the history of the site and its rail link and inevitably covers some of the history of the railway station at Ashchurch.

Ashchurch Railway StationThe 1902, 1:2500 OS Map of the station. The line to Tewkesbury leaves to the West, that which formed the relieving line via Evesham heads off to the East. The goods sidings enter at the top of the map and there is at at-grade crossing which makes a through route between the two branch-lines. MOD Ashchurch is off the map to the right. [6]View looking Northwest of the ex-Midland Birmingham – Bristol main line, the Down freight being on the Down Main, headed by LMS 4F 0-6-0 No. 4272 (not yet renumbered). On the left is the branch to Tewkesbury and Great Malvern, with a train at the branch platform and its engine further left, running round. Out of view to the right is the line to Evesham, Redditch and Birmingham – also the Ashchurch Military Depot. Ashchurch Junction signalbox (rebuilt 10 years later) is in the centre, in the ‘V’ of the Up platform. To get onto the station platform, you had to use the level-crossing from the approach road to the left: the booking office etc. was on the Up platform, where there was also a privately owned Public House. Behind the smoke is the large Provender Store. This picture was taken on Christmas Eve 1948, (c) Ben Brooksbank. [8]No. 73010 is on the main line in August 1952 and is heading towards Gloucester. The line curving off to the right leads to Evesham and the cottages on the far right can be seen in the third picture below, (c) D. J. Norton. [9]A view taken from the south of Ashchurch Station from A438 road bridge, in 1957 with the new signal box under construction. The 08.06 Sheffield – Gloucester express (hauled by a Class 5 4-6-0) is approaching. On right, the line to Evesham etc. (also the MoD Depot), with a GWR 2-8-0 waiting on a southbound freight. On left, the line to Tewkesbury and Malvern, with Ashchurch Junction signalbox in the V of the Up main and branch platforms. The new signal box will not open for another year and will last only until February 1969. (c) Ben Brooksbank. [10]The station in January 1970 after the removal of both branch-lines, (c) Hugh Llewelyn. [7]No. 44362 is approaching the station on the Birmingham & Gloucester Loop on 4th August 1952 on its way from Evesham. The line in front of the cottages leads to the at-level rail crossing on the map above. The line on the right provides access to the sidings for MOD Ashchurch. [9]

Ashchurch Railway Station was opened by the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway on 24 June 1840. Later it became a part of the Midland Railway and later still the LMS. This was once a railway centre of some importance, as it was the spring-off point for two branches, one each side of the main line.

The Evesham line was actually a lengthy loop serving Evesham, Alcester and Redditch, re-joining the main line at Barnt Green, near Bromsgrove. This line closed between Evesham and Redditch on 15 October 1962 due to poor condition of the track, while Ashchurch to Evesham followed on 17 June 1963 (Redditch to Barnt Green remains open on the electrified Birmingham suburban network).

The line to Tewkesbury, Upton-upon-Severn and Malvern, closed beyond Upton on 1 December 1952, Ashchurch to Upton following on 14 August 1961. At this time Ashchurch station was renamed Ashchurch for Tewkesbury, but it too was to close, on 15 November 1971, reopening on 1 June 1997 as a through station.

There used to be a connecting curve linking the two branches, crossing the main line on the level just north of the station, creating a layout which may have been unique in Britain, but this curve closed in December 1957. There was an extensive goods yard to the south and another to the north, and to the north west a large grain store.

The remains of the old line are still apparent, in places, with much of its infrastructure in existence. The old connecting curve and the two branches it served could be clearly be traced on a map as late as 2007. With much of the Ashchurch to Tewkesbury line now being used as a Segregated Cycle Path and Footpath, this section proved valuable during the 2007 floods as it was the only dry route into, and out of, Tewkesbury at the time. [2] Much of the station site has been built over and we are left with a new incarnation of the railway station with no real character.

An access siding to MOD Ashchurch remains, together with exchange sidings alongside the main line. In the image below, the single-track to the right of the mainline leads to the army depot. The exchange sidings are to the south of the road bridge on which the photographer is standing.MOD Ashchurch’s Exchange Sidings to the south of the present A46.

MOD Ashchurch

This satellite image shows the full extent of MOD Ashchurch and the rail access which can be seen curving away from the present Ashchurch Railway Station across the north side of the depot. The old Evesham line continues beyond the extent of the depot as a defined line of vegetation across the fields the two images below are pictures take looking first west, then east from the B4079 which forms the eastern boundary of MOD Ashchurch.Looking West from the B4079 along the north side of MOD Ashchurch.Looking East from the B4079 along what was the railway line to Evesham.

MOD Ashchurch was confirmed as an Army depot in 1939 and is visible under construction on aerial photographs taken in 1940. On aerial photographs taken in 1943 it comprised eleven very large rectilinear vehicle storage and repair buildings that measure between 90m and 122m wide and between 97m and 147m long. A number of long narrow buildings are dispersed between them, plus a number of separate circular possible fuel stores, protected by flat-topped mounds which measure circa 12m in diameter. The buildings were painted with camouflage patterns during World War II. [11]

A large rail terminus was situated to their north-east, around SO 9393 3408, but this was replaced with more large rectangular buildings by 1954. Railway tracks also formed a loop through the buildings and around the rail terminus and are connected to the main line at SO 9296 3375, with additional sidings at SO 9333 3383. A large number of assorted vehicles and other equipment were parked in rows between the railway tracks and the buildings, and in large spaces at SO 9347 3372, SO 9365 3366 and SO 9385 3367. [11]

The site has continued in use as a military vehicle depot and in 2005 was the Ministry of Defence’s primary vehicle storage and distribution site, known as Defence Storage and Distribution Centre (DSDC) Ashchurch. In Summer 2016, relocation of the depot was being considered. Ashchurch and its sister site in Mönchengladbach, Germany were the 2 major “controlled humidity storage” sites preserving vehicles and kit for all three the Services, but government wanted to close both by 2018. [12]

Broadly, the construction of the depot may be divided into two phases, wartime and early 1950s post-war expansion. Construction work began shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War and building work is visible on 1940 aerial photographs. By 1943 building work was complete and the depot comprised eleven large storage and workshop buildings, a large rail loading areas to the north, and barrack accommodation to the west (SO 93 SW 115). A ring of light anti-aircraft guns defended the depot and other defence sites in the vicinity, sites (SO 93 SW 108, 109, 117 and 126, and SO 93 SE 65). [11]

The adjacent Ashchurch railway junction was one of the reasons why the depot was located here and in the event of damage to one of the lines trains could easily be rerouted. When this line was closed in 1964 a section was left in place to serve the depot. Today a siding leads to a loading area where vehicles may be driven directly on to flatbed rail wagons and the transport and loading area. [11]

The depot was originally entered through four gates off the A46, three of these are now closed and it is entered from a single western entrance, Austin Road that leads to the guardroom. Functionally, the depot may be divided into two uneven areas. To the west of Austin Road is an essentially domestic and administrative area with two playing fields, the one to the south has a 1960s sports club on its north side (SO 93 SW 115). To the west of this playing field is a small, post-war service housing estate known as St Barbara’s Barracks. To the north of the guardroom and west of the main approach road is the unit headquarters, a NAAFI, barrack accommodation, and at its northern end a small maintenance area. To the north are also a handful of timber wartime huts, remnants of a once far larger camp. [11]

At the northern end of the main approach road is the triangular transport and loading area. A railway siding enters here from the branch line to the west and is today served by a travelling crane. Along the southern side of this area, Churchill Avenue, are three, single storey, brick buildings, with steel Crittall-style windows and flat concrete roofs with raised clerestory lights. These were originally gas decontamination buildings and in the event of a poison gas attack would have provided changing and washing facilities for the workforce. On the northern side of the loading area are two less substantial wartime buildings constructed from hollow clay blocks: a wartime measure to economise on clay and fuel. [11]

To the north and east of the main approach road are 11 large wartime maintenance and storage sheds and smaller ancillary buildings. Two types of shed were built. To the north are four steel framed sheds with brick walls, which are lit by northlight roofs. The provision for good lighting in these buildings may suggest that they were used for maintenance activities. Along the side walls of these buildings are integral brick air-raid shelters. Most have been stripped, although at some their entrances traces of the sloping support for the anti-gas curtains may be seen. Internally, a few retain wooden bench seats along their walls and emergency bulkhead lights. The remaining eight large sheds are also steel-framed with brick walls, but these have hipped, corrugated asbestos sheet clad roofs illuminated by glass roof lights. These buildings are entered from either end of the aisles through pressed steel folding doors. Between some of the buildings are large open spaces that were used for marshalling vehicles or storage, at the centre the largest of these is known as Liaison Square. [11]

Between the main store sheds are a variety of smaller brick ancillary buildings and as described above, some, such as, the administrative offices are built from wartime hollow bricks. Other smaller workshop and stores buildings are brick-built with hipped roofs.

During the war extensive railway sidings and open storage areas covered the northeast part of the site. By 1954, this area had been covered by a further 14 large storage sheds. These are steel framed structures comprising standard gabled aisles arranged in different number configurations. The external walls appear to be infilled with low breeze block walls to about 1m in height and above by corrugated asbestos cement sheeting, this is also used for the roofs, which are lit by glass roof lights. The buildings are entered from either end through sliding steel-framed doors clad in corrugated metal sheets. Also built at this time was the double-storey structure with a gabled roof set adjacent to the A46. This is also steel-framed with low concrete, or cement rendered, walls at its base and the upper part is clad in corrugated asbestos cement sheets with horizontal glazing bands. [11] The main sidings are shown on this satellite image along the northwest boundary of the depot.One end-loading platform was provided at the depot to allow vehicle to roll on or roll off wagons.

A few images taken withing the site of MOD Ashchurch follow below. The adjacent image shows Andrew Barclay 0-4-0D ARMY 236 in excellent order during the 1980s and based at Ashchurch. The image immediately below shows warflats in the sidings at Ashchurch. [14] MOD Ashchurch’s future is uncertain. Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury Councils have included the site for housing in their Strategic Allocation for redevelopment as housing. [13]

 

 

References

  1. Neil Parkhouse; British Railway History in Colour, Volume 3: Gloucester Midland Lines Part 1: North; Lightmoor Press, Lydney, 2017. (http://lightmoor.co.uk/books/gloucester-midland-lines-part-1-north/L8184).
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashchurch, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  3. http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/mod-ashchurch-saved, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9088261/MoD-considers-moving-6000-tanks-and-military-vehicles-to-Germany.html, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  5. https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/cheltenham-news/8million-windfall-could-lead-more-1167508, written on 5th February 2018, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  6. http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/a/ashchurch, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  7. https://www.flickr.com/photos/camperdown/8446048076, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  8. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ashchurch_13_railway_station_geograph-2188680.jpg, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  9. http://www.photobydjnorton.com/Stations/Ashchurch.html, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  10. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ashchurch_for_Tewkesbury_train_station_1738932_243ca718.jpg, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  11. http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1439231, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  12. http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-last-summary-two-weeks-from-sdsr-day.html, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  13. http://www.gloucester.gov.uk/resident/Documents/Planning%20and%20Building%20Control/EvidenceBase/City_Plan_Evidence_2017/Infrastructure_Delivery_Position_Updates_MOD_Ashchurch_2016.pdf, accessed on 4th August 2018.
  14. https://sites.google.com/site/gloucestershirerailwaymemories/home/ashchurch/ashchurch—a-rural-railway-rendezvous, accessed on 4th August 2018.

 

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