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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ben Brooksbank's Recollections of the Malvern-Ashchurch Branch

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know that certain contributors crop up again and again in my updates. Among those donors who have contributed more than their fair share of material is Ben Brooksbank, who has kindly provided me with an unpublished article he wrote some years ago about the Bristol-Birmingham LMS railway during World War Two. Indeed, it was one of Ben's photos of Malvern Hanley Road station that initially spurred my interest in this project early last year:

Malvern Hanley Road station in 1951. Used courtesy of Ben Brooksbank via Creative Commons.
Ben's article is too long to post here in its entirety, but I have nonetheless selected some quotes about the Malvern-Ashchurch railway that people might find interesting. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have. For those of you who are keen to see more, Ben's entire photo collection is available and free to use (via a Creative Commons licence - please respect these terms when using pictures!) on Geograph.co.uk, where a facility to contact him can also be found, should you feel the need.

"...especially after being given a bicycle – albeit one with no gears, Ashchurch was easily accessible to me, being only four miles from my father’s farm at Shuthonger. For the greater part of my School Holidays, or about 10 weeks of the year, I was able to witness the traffic on the Birmingham - Bristol line, but of course in practice I saw it only for a few hours on a few days and then mainly only in 1942-45 – an infinitessimal fraction of the total on a busy main line operating 24/7 (almost)! My father allowed me to go there, for stints of several hours, provided I was not needed for farm-work or something. I would take sandwiches and enjoy the comings and goings, and read a good book in the intervals. The intervals were short, as the main line was usually busy and there were movements on the branches, including the occasional, seemingly incongruous, passing of a light engine or empty Evesham line train over the flat crossing at the north end. I preferred the seats on the Up Main platform, where incidentally there was a Pub, celebrated for being a rarity in those days, being leased to a private owner and not run by the Railway.

By comparison, the traffic on the branch line from Ashchurch via Tewkesbury to Great Malvern, which ran along a few hundred yards below the house, remained very sparse and predictable. This branch was most unusual in that, although double-track, between Tewkesbury and Upton-on-Severn only the Down line was used for traffic, operated by train-staff and ticket and no signals: the Up line was dedicated to storage of wagons, also occasionally some carriages, while in 1943-44 there were new US Army wagons awaiting transfer to the Continent. There were just four passenger trains each way per weekday, plus one extra on Thursdays and Saturdays, and three others just between Tewkesbury and Ashchurch – none on Sundays; there were two goods trains to Malvern from Ashchurch and one train back. It was busier between Ashchurch and Tewkesbury, in particular because there was an engine shed at Tewkesbury, to which various locomotives - up to the size of Stanier Black Fives - came for servicing after bringing trains to Ashchurch. Before 1944 I was unaware of any other traffic on the Malvern line, apart that is from the fairly frequent occurrence of a 3F or 4F 0-6-0 early on Sundays, which would wake me up as it struggled to yank as many empty wagons as it could – many having seized-up grease axle-boxes, from the miles-long collection of spare wagons stored on the former Down line. After D-Day in 1944, however, US Army Hospital trains came up from Ashchurch to Malvern with wounded soldiers going to the Military Hospitals, of which five were built near Malvern Wells (LMS) , the empty stock being returned via Worcester up the main line. These trains would be double-headed, often with two 4F 0-6-0s and also by the specially dedicated LNER Westinghouse-fitted B12/3 4-6-0s."
"...in the afternoon of 26 April (Wednesday) I spent 5½ hours at Ashchurch and saw 40 workings. Eleven were main-line passenger workings - including on the Up not only the Inspection Saloon with 2P No. 501 of Walsall (3C) that seemed to come along almost daily, but of another with No. 526 (17A). There were 20 main-line freights, which included five on the Evesham line, three of them to/from the Depot, two being GWR (with 2-6-0 No. 8388 and 0-6-2T No. 5662). The Down OP due at 14.18 was 48 minutes late (with 3P No. 745) and the 10.20 ‘EP’ York – Bristol passed almost as late with Patriot No. 5540 ‘Sir Robert Turnbull’ from 5A; the Down OP due 17.00 was a half-hour late. Later, two LNW 0-8-0s (No. 9329 of Huddersfield (25B) and No. 9219 of Springs Branch (10A)) passed each other in the station on freights; also Western Division 8F No. 8174 (1A) was on the usual Up ‘vegetables’ train. It was a hectic day, and one Down freight was held in the loop for two hours. The following day, while working on our farm I saw a Hospital Train (W546 ) come down from Malvern with 2P No. 512 + 4F No. 3876 – so the American Military Hospitals near Malvern were already in operation. On Friday 28 April, I spent 4½ hours at Ashchurch in the morning and noted 42 workings. Only 10 of these were main-line passenger, but 14 were freights on the main line, two being GW-hauled, with 2-8-0 No. 3844 and 4-6-0 No. 5997 ‘Sparkford Hall’. Freights or LE in/out of the Depot numbered at least six: one with GW 2-8-0 No. 3818, the others with ordinary LMS 0-6-0s. A Grimesthorpe (19A) Jubilee (No. 5652 ‘Hawke’) was on a Down Troops (D11) and 5A Patriot No. 5540 ‘Sir Robert Turbull’ passed again, on Up Special e.c.s. A 4F (No. 4040 from Belle Vue,19E) brought a train of empties from Tewkesbury, went round it then took it up the main line. Nottingham (16A) 8F No. 8282 was on an Up freight and Walsall (3C) 4F No. 4068 was on Up empties. At least two engines turned by using the triangle over the flat crossing. All this activity did not seriously impede the normal – if exiguous – passenger traffic, except the 08.35 OP from Birmingham via Evesham turned up nearly an hour late (with Bushbury (3B) 2-6-4T No. 2489). Once again, a Down freight was held in the loop for over two hours. It was hard for me to drag myself away for lunch."
"...on Sunday August 6th, I and my friend bicycled to Worcester and spent nearly four hours up on the Railway Cliff. We saw what we could of the engines at the Shed without actually going inside, and I noted:- 4-6-0 Nos. 4903 ‘Astley Hall’, 4953 ‘Pitchford Hall’, 5914 ‘Ripon Hall’, 5929 ‘Hanham Hall’, 5958 ‘Knolton Hall’, 6922 (‘Burton Hall’ in 12/46); 2-8-0 Nos. 3026/43/9, 3811/26, USATC 1609, 2294, 2422/35; 2-6-0 Nos. 2635, 5313/32, 6312/43/96, 7308; 0-6-0 Nos. 2263/78, LNE J25 2051/72, 2136; 2-8-2T No. 7237; 2-6-2T Nos. 5114/22/73; 0-6-2T No. 5626; 0-6-0T Nos. 1796, 2007, 2101, 2774, 4641, 7750, and WD 1426; Diesel railcar No. 5. (There were a number of other locomotives I did not identify). Being a Sunday – the traffic was very light, even at this stage in the War. However, we saw 12 workings and most were interesting. Firstly, one of the perambulating LNER B12/3 4-6-0s (No. 8549) used on US Army Hospital Trains came LE from the Hereford direction, presumably from Malvern Wells: then, without our seeing, it must have turned on the triangle and perhaps refuelled, for later it returned again from the Malvern direction with its Hospital Train piloted by MR 4F 0-6-0 No. 3912 (21A). There were no freight trains, but USA S160 No. 2443 passed LE and there were two Specials: one with GW No. 5041 ‘Tiverton Castle’, the other with Black Five No. 4804 (22A)."
"...my next session at Ashchurch was on January 2nd (Tuesday), when I spent 2½ hours in the afternoon and noted 21 workings (eight freight), the only noteworthy train being a Hospital Train to Malvern with 2P No. 630 (22B) piloting 4F No. 4532 of Kentish Town (14B). Next, an identical spell on Friday January 5th produced only 16 workings (five freight) – rather ‘boring’ except for two Up Specials, one with 2P No. 634 (22A), the other with nearly new Black Five No. 4842 (21A). When I returned via Birmingham to Euston on January 8th there was plenty of freight to be seen before Birmingham: two 8Fs and nothing ‘exotic’ - only 3A Black Five No. 5499 and Belle Vue (19E) 4F No. 4261 being of note. It snowed hard and my train up to Euston was overcrowded as ever. I was unable to see out and heavy snow caused the train to be two hours late into London – not excessive by the standards of the WCML at that time."
"...a Saturday afternoon (14.35–18.20) session at Ashchurch on 14 April differed only from the previous year in the absence of traffic to the Depot, for there were only 27 workings (12 freight). Notable were an Up Hospital(?) Special to the Malvern line with 4F No. 4466 (22A), which returned LE later from Worcester; one Up Special (with Black Five No. 4804 (22A)), one Down freight had a (rare) Stanier 2-6-0 (No. 2961 from Crewe South (5B)), one had GW 2-8-0 No. 2801 and another had a 2F 0-6-0 (No. 2989); the Down OP due 14.18 was only 20 minutes late(!)."

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