Willenhall History Society

Railways of Willenhall

 

A brief history of the railways of Willenhall written by Horace Davis.

Grand Junction Line

The railways came to Willenhall on July 4 th 1837 when the Grand Junction Railway opened its line from Warrington to Birmingham. Its main aim was to link the towns of Liverpool and Manchester with Birmingham and London. Stations were built at Portobello (Bull Pleck) and Willenhall but the line by passed Walsall, after passing James Bridge station the line then ran on to Bescot Bridge station where passengers for Walsall had to alight to be conveyed by horse drawn bus to Walsall.

The line was promoted by an act of Parliament dated 1833 and was an easy line to build, passing as it did through mainly open country until it reached the first town of any size which was Stafford. It was at Stafford that the first interest was shown in the new railway and the local band turned out to mark the occasion.

The first train consisted of 7 first class carriages and was drawn by an engine named Wildfire. The line that took 4 years to build cost £1,470,000. Freight facilities were not provided for another year due to the cost.

The station at Portobello, which was situated near the Noose Lane crossing, was the first to close when passenger services between Bushbury, Wednesfield Heath and Willenhall were withdrawn.

Bescot Bridge station, which was later, renamed Wood Green was of largely wooden construction and was destroyed by fire in 1941. It was never rebuilt.

On November 1 st 1872 Willenhall L.N.W. station was renamed Willenhall Bridge.

Railway travel in those early days consisted of two classes, covered and open, and there was no heating. If you travelled open class you sat on wooden seats exposed to the elements not to mention the smoke and sparks from the engine.

The Grand Junction was soon taken over by the London and North Western Railway and remained in its control until the grouping of 1923 when it became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway until nationalisation when it became part of British Railways.

There were still several trains each day to Wolverhampton and Burton on Trent via Walsall and Lichfield in 1962.

The Beeching Axe fell on January 18 th 1965 when the line and Willenhall station closed for passenger traffic. This was followed later in the year on November 1 st 1965 by the withdrawal of freight facilities. The line remained open for freight traffic and was electrified in the 1960’s.

Midland Railway

In 1865 an act was promoted through parliament for the construction of a line from Wolverhampton to Walsall with stations at Wednesfield, Willenhall Market place (Later known as Stafford Street), Short Heath, Clarkes Lane, Bentley and North Walsall. Work commenced soon afterwards. It took seven years to build and compared to the Grand Junction line it ran into many difficulties, not the least of which was the large mining area that the line had to pass through.

The line was constructed by the Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway Company. It was opened to traffic on November 1 st 1872. This meant that for a short time Willenhall could boast no fewer than four railway stations within its boundaries, three of which also handled freight. On 17 th February 1873 an extension was completed which allowed trains to run direct into the Great Western Railway’s station at Wolverhampton Low Level.

The Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway Co had no rolling stock of its own and from the start the line was operate by the London and North Western Railway in whom it was eventually vested on July 1 st 1875, but within a year it was sold to the Midland Railway Company who continued to operate a service until the groupings of 1923 when it became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway until it closed on January 5 th 1931.

The line was opened briefly for passenger services in July-August 1942 when the line through Bilston Street was damaged in a bombing raid.One of the main customers in those early days was the Willenhall Furnaces Ltd. Owned by Messrs Fletcher, Solly and Urwick Ltd that stood alongside the Bentley Canal at Sandbeds with the works being dissected by a large basin that had been constructed from the canal. The firm owned collieries in the Little London and Sneyd area and the coal and ironstone that they produced was conveyed by tramway to the works at Sandbeds, first with trucks pulled by horses and later by two engines that the firm had specially made for the purpose.

When the railway opened the firm constructed a siding from the station down to the works at Sandbeds and this enabled them to bring in raw materials and also to despatch the finished product. The siding stretched for about 600 yards. This continued until the works closed on April 9 th 1881, thus depriving the railway company of a large part of their revenue.

Short Heath station stood in Clarkes Lane and stood where the present fire station now stands. In its heyday it also had a busy goods yard with sidings to a number of firms nearby including the Willenhall Gas Co. when it opened.

The line closed to passenger traffic on January 5 th 1931 and to freight traffic on November 1 st 1965. With Bilston Street already closed this meant that from having four stations in the town, Willenhall was deprived of all rail facilities.

The closing of the Midland line was precipated in part by the planning of the M.6. Motorway, the line for which lay directly across the track near to where the present ambulance station stands. To keep the line open would have meant constructing the motorway on stilts over the railway, adding enormously to the cost of an already expensive section. This together with falling traffic levels made inevitable that the line had to close. There are plans however to use the route for the Midland Metro tram link when it is built.