After writing recent articles about the northern section of the branch, I was contacted by David Bradshaw, co-author with Stanley C. Jenkins of ‘Rails around Oakengates’, an article in Steam Days magazine in March 2013. L, offering permission to use material from that article in this series of posts about the Coalport Branch. 
Along with discussion of all the railways in and around Oakengates (including the Lilleshall Co. private railways), David Bradshaw and Stanley C. Jenkins looked at the Wellington to Coalport Branch.
David suggested that I should use material from the article to supplement material included in my recent articles. My feeling is that the section of the ‘Rails around Oakengates’ article which covers the Coalport Branch should be reproduced in full. This addendum focusses solely on the relevant parts of the Steam Days article. [1: p168-170, 175, 176-177] ……..
The Wellington to Coalport Branch
The Great Western Railway had taken over the S&BR in 1854, and this may have prompted the LNWR to consider a scheme for converting the Shropshire Canal into a railway. This busy waterway was experiencing severe problems in terms of subsidence and water supply, and there was a major flooding incident in July 1855 when Snedshill tunnel collapsed. It was thought that the cost of repairs would probably exceed £30,000 and, faced with this heavy expenditure, the London & North Western Railway decided that the money would be better spent on the construction of a replacement railway from Hadley, near Wellington, to Coalport, which would utilise, as much as possible, parts of the troublesome canal.
It was then estimated that the proposed Coalport branch line would cost about £80,000, including £62,500 for the purchase of the waterway. Accordingly, in November 1856, notice was given that an application would be made to Parliament in the ensuing session for leave to bring in a Bill for the purchase and sale of the Shropshire Canal and the ‘Conversion of Portions thereof to Railway Purposes, and Construction of a Railway in connection therewith’.
The proposed line was described as a railway, with all proper stations, works, and conveniences connected therewith, commencing by a junction with the Shrewsbury and Stafford Railway of the Shropshire Union Company in the township of Hadley and parish of Wellington, in the county of Salop. at a point about two hundred yards westward of the mile post on the said railway denoting twelve miles from Shrewsbury’, and it terminated in the parish of Sutton Maddock, in the county of Salop, at a point ten chains or thereabouts to the east of the terminus of the Shropshire Canal at Coalport’.
The railway would pass through various specified parishes, townships, or other places, including Wellington, Hadley, Donnington Wood, Wrockwardine, Wombridge, Oakengates, Stirchley, Malins Lee, Dawley, Snedshill, Madeley, and Coalport, ‘occupying in the course thereof portions of the site of the Shropshire Canal’. Having passed through all stages of the complex Parliamentary process, the actual ‘Act for Authorising the Conversion of parts of the Shropshire Canal to Purposes of a Railway’ received the Royal Assent on 27 July 1857.
The canal was closed between Wrockwardine Wood and the bottom of the Windmill Hill inclined plane on 1 June 1858, although isolated sections of the waterway remained in use for many years thereafter. The work of conversion was soon underway, and on Thursday, 30th May 1861 The Birmingham Daily Post announced that the Coalport and Hadley line of railway would be opened on ‘Monday next’, implying that the first trains would run on 3rd May. In the event, this prediction was slightly optimistic, and on 12th June the same newspaper reported that, ‘in accordance with the arrangements arrested’. previously announced’, the Coalport branch had been opened for passenger traffic on Monday, 10tj June 1861.
As usual in those days, Opening Day was treated as a public holiday, and a large number of spectators had assembled at Coalport station to witness this historic event. ‘At the appointed time, the first engine, and train of first, second and third class carriages, moved off from the station, having a respectable number of passengers’.
The newly opened railway commenced at Hadley Junction, on the Stafford to Wellington line, and it climbed south-eastwards on a ruling gradient of 1 in 50 towards Oakengates (3.25 miles from Wellington), which thereby acquired its second station. Beyond, the route continued southwards, with intermediate stations at Dawley (6 miles) and Madeley Market (7½ miles), to its terminus at Coalport, some 9½ miles from Wellington. The final two miles of line included a continuous 1 in 40 descent towards the River Severn. An additional station was opened to serve Malins Lee, between Oakengates and Dawley, on 7th July 1862.
The steep gradients on this new line contributed to three alarming incidents that took place within the space of a few weeks, the first of which occurred shortly before the opening to passenger traffic, when a train of wagons ‘laden with bricks, stone and sand for the works now in progress at the Coalport terminus, under the care of a brakesman, suffered a brake failure and, ‘thus liberated, the train acquired excessive speed, dashed past the court, through Madeley, until it neared the entrance to the tunnel in Madeley Lane. Here, its further progress was arrested by a large plank being skilfully placed across the rails, and the insertion of some spragges in the wheels. Fortunately, no injury was done beyond destruction to the plank’
On 30 August 1860, The Birmingham Daily Post reported a similar incident, when a train of ballast wagons was traversing the line from Madeley’ and ‘a coupling chain gave way, causing the wagons to ‘dash down the gradient at a fearful velocity’. Fortunately, the ‘timekeeper’ at Coalport Works, aware that the runaways were approaching, threw a bar of iron across the line of rail, whereby its further progress was arrested’.
Incredibly, a third near-disaster occurred on the following day, ‘as the engine was returning from the Coalport terminus with a numerous train of empty carriages’. For reasons that were not entirely clear, the train derailed near Mr Eagle’s Chain Manufactory, which was on the highest embankment on the line and, having fallen part way down the 60ft embankment, the engine became deeply embedded in the earth, earth, a ‘great number of men and appliances’ being required to extricate it from its precarious resting place. It was subsequently revealed that the embankment had been subject to almost daily subsidence, which may have contributed to the accident.
The Coalport branch line was, from its inception, geared towards freight traffic rather than passengers, and there were numerous private sidings linked to nearby factories within the Oakengates Urban District. One of these sidings, known as Wombridge Goods, served Wombridge Iron Works, which had a connection with a surviving section of the Shropshire Canal. There was also Wombridge ballast siding and Wombridge Old Quarry siding, while other sidings served the iron foundry of John Maddocks & Son, and also the Lilleshall Company’s steel works at Snedshill.
Successive editions of The Railway Clearing House Handbook of Stations reveal further private sidings on the Coalport branch, including, in 1938, the Exley & Son siding and the Nuway Manufacturing Co siding at Coalport, and at Madeley Market there was the Messrs Legge & Sons’ siding and the Madeley Wood Cold Blast Slag Co siding.
The original train service consisted of three passenger trains in each direction between Wellington and Coalport, with a similar number of goods workings. This modest service persisted for many years, although an additional Thursdays-only train was subsequently provided in response to the increased demand on Wellington market days. In 1888 the branch was served by four passenger trains each way, together with five Up and three Down goods workings. By the summer of 1922 there were five Up and five Down passenger trains, with an additional short-distance service from Wellington to Oakengates and return on Saturdays-only.
In the final years of passenger operation, the timetable comprised five trains each way. In July 1947, for example, there were Up services from Coalport at 6.22am, 8.50am, 11.57am, 4.40pm and 7.40pm, with corresponding Down workings from Wellington at 8.04am, 10.02am, 1.40pm, 6.30pm and 9.15pm; a slightly different service pertained on Thursdays and Saturdays. The final branch passenger service in 1952. consisted of four Up and four Down trains, increasing to five each way on Thursdays and six on Saturdays.
Oakengates (Market Street)
The Coalport line diverged from the Wellington to Stafford route at Hadley Junction, and ran south-eastwards via Wombridge goods station, at which point various private sidings branched out to serve Hadley Lodge Brickworks and other industrial concerns.
Oakengates, the largest station on the Coalport branch, was a short distance further on. The former LNWR and LMS station was renamed Oakengates (Market Street) on 18tj June 1951, to prevent confusion with the nearby GWR station, which was thereafter known as Oakengates (West). The town’s Coalport line station was orientated on an approximate north-to-south alignment, and its layout included Up and Down platforms for passenger traffic, with a level crossing immediately to the north of the platform ramps. The main station building was on the Up (northbound) platform, while the diminutive signal box was situated on the Down platform, in convenient proximity to the level crossing. The cabin was a standard L&NWR gable-roofed box, albeit of the smallest size.
The main station building, which was similar to that at Coalport, was a typical LNWR design, incorporating a one-and-a- half-storey Stationmaster’s house at the rear, and an attached single-storey building, which contained the booking office and waiting room facilities. The single-storey portion faced on to the platform, and it featured two rectangular bays and a central loggia, which was fully enclosed by a wood and glass screen to form a covered waiting area. The residential block sported a steeply pitched slate-covered roof, whereas the booking office portion had a flat roof. The building was of local brick construction, with tall chimneys and slightly arched window apertures. This distinctive structure was erected, as were all the others on the line, by local builder Christopher Bugaley of Madeley. There was a detached gentlemens’ convenience on the Up platform, while facilities for waiting travellers on the Down platform comprised a small waiting room.
Two dead-end goods sidings at Oakengates were provided on the Down side, while the Up side sported a sizeable goods yard and a substantial goods shed. There was also a timber yard siding and an additional goods shed that was used by Millington’s, a local company. The 1927 Ordnance Survey map suggests that the timber siding ran to within a few yards of the local (Oakengates & District) Co-operative Society Depot, and it was hardly a stone’s throw from a connection from the GWR station. For a time I attended the Sunday School at the Methodist Chapel halfway up Station Hill and I was a regular at the classic Grosvenor Cinema, which was close to Market Street station. Halfway up Station Hill, the old canal and Lilleshall Company lines ran under and across the road respectively.
Motive Power on the Coalport Branch
The Coalport branch was typically worked by Webb ‘Coal Tank’ 0-6-2Ts, together with Webb 2-4-2Ts and ‘Cauliflower’ 0-6-0s. In earlier years the route had also been worked by L&NWR 0-6-0 saddle tanks such as No 3093, which was recorded on the line in 1895. The London & North Western Railway ‘Coal Tanks’, which included the still-extant No 58926 (seen on the Coalport line as late as 21 October 1950), enjoyed a long association with the route, but at the end of the LMS era these veteran locomotives were replaced by Shrewsbury-allocated Fowler class ‘3MT 2-6-2Ts, such as Nos 40005, 40008, 40048 and 40058. The goods trains, meanwhile, were worked by a range of ex-LMS locomotive types, including Fowler Class ‘3F’ 0-6-0s, ‘4F’ 0-6-0s, and also the occasional ex-L&NWR ‘Super D’ 0-8-0.
The passenger services, known locally as the ‘Coalport Dodger’ were poorly supported – except on market days in Oakengates and Wellington, and for the locally renowned Oakengates Wakes (Pat Collins Fair) – hence their early demise, particularly as the rival ex-GWR route to Wellington was more convenient. World War II staved-off closure for a few years, but in the early months of 1952 it was announced that passenger services would be withdrawn with effect from 2 June 1952, and as this was a Monday the last trains ran on Saturday, 31 May. Fowler Class ‘3MT’ 2-6-2T No 40058 worked the final trains, its smokebox adorned with black flags, a wreath and the chalked letters ‘RIP’.
Motive power on the line after the cessation of passenger services was often provided by Hawksworth ’94XX’ class 0-6-0PTs, such as Nos 9470 and 9472 (complete with broken front numberplate), or less frequently, by ’57XX’ class 0-6-0PTs. There was an incident when a ’57XX’ was derailed on the catch points just outside Oakengates station, although details are elusive. Wellington shed’s sole ‘1600’ class 0-6-0PT, No 1663, shunted the GKN Sankey sidings near the junction of the Stafford and Coalport lines and it is believed to have ventured up the branch on occasion.
A goods working which appeared at Oakengates after mid-day invariably featured an LMS Burton-based Class ‘3F’ or ‘4F’ 0-6-0, although on one unforgettable occasion, on 14th August 1957, Bath (Green Park)-allocated Stanier ‘Black Five’ class 4-6-0 No 44917, in ex-Works condition, turned up on this humble working. This train had apparently started life as a light-engine working that had left Shrewsbury (Coleham) at 5.10am and, on then reaching Shrewsbury (Abbey Foregate) at 5.35am, it picked up a goods working and eventually arrived at Priors Lee sidings, just outside Oakengates, at 2.20pm.
In the period from July to the end of October 1957, the following locomotives appeared on what local trainspotters called ‘the mid-day goods’ (although it actually arrived in the early afternoon) – Class ‘3F’ 0-6-0s Nos 43709 and 43809, Class ‘4F’ 0-6-0s Nos 43948, 43976, 43986, 44124 and 44434, and of course ‘Black Five’ No 44917 (71G).
It is interesting to note that excursion trains continued to run from Coalport after the withdrawal of the regular passenger services. On one occasion, around 1956, there were two excursions to the North Wales Coast on the same day, both of which were hauled by Class ‘5MT’ 4-6-0s. Only one of these workings stopped to pick-up at Oakengates, as the other ran straight through Oakengates station – it must have been one of the few examples of a ‘non-stop’ passenger working in the life of the line?
On 23rd April 1955 the Locomotive Club of Great Britain joined forces with the Manchester Locomotive Society to run a ‘Shropshire Rail Tour’, which left Shrewsbury at 2.30pm behind ‘Dean Goods’ 0-6-0 No 2516 on a tour of local branch lines, which included the Minsterley and Coalport routes, the fare for this interesting excursion being 15s 6d.
A year or two later, on 2nd September 1959, the Stephenson Locomotive Society arranged a further tour of West Midland branch lines, including the Womborne, Minsterley and Coalport routes, a Swindon three-car Cross Country diesel-multiple-unit being provided instead of a steam-hauled train, ostensibly to ‘improve timings’.
Another abiding memory is of an excursion, believed to have been arranged by the late Cyril Poole, a teacher from Madeley Modern School, which departed behind a Hughes/ Fowler ‘Crab’ class 2-6-0 and returned in a tropical storm behind a ‘Super D’ 0-8-0, running tender-first. The train was made up to ten coaches and it took at least twenty minutes to surmount the 1 in 50 bank into Oakengates. Steaming was not an issue, but there were adhesion difficulties as the engine slithered and slipped up the bank – the noise level was something never to be forgotten!
- D. Bradshaw and S.C. Jenkins; Rails around Oakengates; in Steam Days No. 283, March 2013, p165-179.