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LMS Routes

LMS Route: Birmingham New Street to Harborne

The Harborne Railway Company was authorised by an Act of Parliament on 28 June 1866 to construct a single line railway, 2 miles and 35 chain in length, from Harborne to a junction with the LNWR near Monument Lane. It was however another three years before construction commenced and another five years of construction before the line opened to passenger traffic on 10th August 1874 and goods the following October. Plans to extend the line to the Halesowen and Bromsgrove Branch Railway at Lapal were opposed by the GWR and Birmingham Corporation. Passengers en-route to New Street would have left Harborne station, travelled over the railway bridge at Park Hill Road before continuing to cross the Chad Valley on a high embankment before passing under the Hagley Road to arrive at the first station 'Hagley Road'. A little more than a mile further on was 'Rotton Park Road' station at which point there was a spur constructed to connect with Mitchell and Butler's Brewery. After another mile there was 'Icknield Port Road' station after which the line traversed the Birmingham and Wolverhampton Canal before reaching the junction with the main line some one and a half miles from New Street Station.

The conventional view in many commentaries on the line suggest that the service was too slow. Birmingham City Library's Harborne Railway History web site records 'Although fondly remembered, the service did not have a reputation for speed, and 'Harborne Express' might have an ironic ring to it! Increased competition from rapidly improving bus services brought about such a decrease in demand that passenger services ended in 1934. A goods service continued until the 1950s' (sic). However, this view is disputed by Colin Maggs in his book 'Branch Lines of Warwickshire' which records the growth of the railway from an initial six trains each way per day with three on Sundays to twenty trains per weekday only by August 1887. Most of the Down services from New Street were timetabled to take thirteen minutes and Up trains to New Street were scheduled to take sixteen minutes. The regularity of the service provided a very early illustration of a regular interval service with most Up trains leaving Harborne at forty-five minutes past the hour whilst Down trains left New Street at fifteen minutes past the hour.

Colin Maggs also notes that by the end of the Edwardian era the service had grown to thirty Down services (from New Street) and thirty-one Up services per week with some services missing out Monument Lane station thereby reducing the Down time from sixteen minutes to thirteen. Such was the reliability and speed of the service that office workers based in central Birmingham would return home for lunch. The conventional view of the service was therefore incorrect for all but the last sixteen years of the passenger service as it was the growth of bus competition post-World War One that started to erode the viability of the railway. This competition together with the practice of holding trains at Icknield Port Road station to accommodate late running main line trains was the cause for a rapidly declining service which by July 1922 had fallen to twenty-one Down and twenty Up trains per weekday.

Such was the pre-war success of the line that it was the most successful of all the lines within the Birmingham area. The Harborne Railway Company contracted the LNWR to operate the line on their behalf in return for 50% of the gross receipts. Three times the LNWR offered to buy out the company and three times they were rejected. It was only at grouping in 1923 that both companies merged when the LMS was formed. Colin Maggs comments 'Despite competitive fares of 3d (1.25 new pence) for a day return ticket and a weekly third class season ticket of 2s (two shillings/10 new pence) the decline in numbers compelled the LMS to close the line to passengers on 26th November 1934'. The last passenger train was the 11:08 pm from New Street hauled by ex-LNWR 2F 0-6-2T 'Coal Tank' No 7742. The booking office at Harborne was closed but the station would still see considerable freight activity.

Terry Callaghan of Disused Stations writes, 'The nearby Chad Valley Toy Company used the offices and single platform for the storage of wood for its products. The branch was still remunerative in the 1950s with coal and sand traffic to Harborne, the sand being stored in a wharf where the turntable once stood. The branch enjoyed three freight workings on weekdays with a morning, afternoon and evening trip. On 3rd June 1950 the line saw its first passenger service for over sixteen years with a Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) special being run from New Street at 3:10pm. The working comprised an LNWR 2-4-2 tank with a two-coach push-pull set. Considerable local interest was aroused by this working, with the train being seen off from New Street by the stationmaster complete with top hat and tails. Many local residents lined the route to cheer the train which was packed to capacity with enthusiasts and former regular users of the line; one such user was the guard of the final working in 1934, a Mr Perkins. Since that 1950 working the branch saw several visits from railtours with the last one coming to commemorate the final closure of the line on 3rd November 1963. Hauled by LMS Ivatt 2-6-0 2MT No 46429 it was another SLS excursion loaded with over three hundred enthusiasts who alighted to swarm all over the track at the terminus. The Stephenson Locomotive Society marked the last Harborne train with a special pamphlet detailing the history of train travel through Harborne. The line would be lifted shortly after'.

Birmingham New Street [428]
Monument Lane:
Station [20]
Shed [78]
Harborne Junction [13]
Harborne Railway - Lineside Views [5]
Icknield Port Road [5]
Rotton Park [26]
Hagley Road [10]
Harborne [28]

Railway Roundabout 1959: 'The S.L.S Special To Harborne'
A S.L.S special from Birmingham New Street to Harborne along the now closed Harbourne branch. (5 minutes 15 seconds)

Harborne Railway:- December 1895 Timetable

Departures To Arrivals From
6.45am Birmingham New Street 7.30am Birmingham New Street
7.50am Birmingham New Street 8.10am Birmingham New Street
8.25am Birmingham New Street 9.35am Birmingham New Street
8.55am Birmingham New Street 10.30am Birmingham New Street
9.10am Birmingham New Street 12.30pm Birmingham New Street
9.43am Birmingham New Street 1.10pm Birmingham New Street
10.40am Birmingham New Street 1.30pm SX Birmingham New Street
12.40pm Birmingham New Street 1.35pm SO Birmingham New Street
1.45pm Birmingham New Street 2.30pm Birmingham New Street
2.10pm SX Birmingham New Street 3.30pm Birmingham New Street
2.50pm Birmingham New Street 4.35pm Birmingham New Street
3.45pm Birmingham New Street 5.30pm Birmingham New Street
4.45pm Birmingham New Street 6.15pm SX Birmingham New Street
5.40pm Birmingham New Street 6.40pm Birmingham New Street
6.50pm Birmingham New Street 7.30pm Birmingham New Street
7.50pm Birmingham New Street 8.30pm Birmingham New Street
8.45pm Birmingham New Street 9.30pm Birmingham New Street
9.50pm Birmingham New Street 10.15pm Birmingham New Street
10.22pm Birmingham New Street 11.00pm Birmingham New Street
11.07pm Birmingham New Street 11.45pm Birmingham New Street

Timetable courtesy of Terry Callaghan (courtesy www.disused-stations.org.uk).

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE HARBORNE LINE

by C. J. Williams from the Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal, April 1973.

Seeing a story in the local paper about a bridge on the Harborne line in Birmingham brought me back to childhood days. For 25 years my home was within a stone’s throw of the railway line running along the bank leading to Harborne station. One of my earliest recollections was of a Webb 2-4-2 tank engine painted in the full glory of the crimson lake passenger livery shortly after the amalgamation. So far as I am aware, very few were painted in this fashion. There was always great excitement when the Walsall District Engineer's saloon appeared on the annual inspection. Usually hauled by an ex-LNWR 2-4-0 Jumbo, I remember on one occasion it was powered by a Johnson outside-framed 2-4-0. The last time the inspection saloon travelled the branch (when George Dow was Divisional Manager at Birmingham) it was hauled by an ex-Midland Class 2F from Monument Lane shed. This was on 23rd June 1960.

Often the goods trains were so heavily loaded that a banker was required and usually this was an 0-6-2 ex- LNWR Webb Coal Tank, the same type of engine heading the train. For a time Monument Lane shed had a Webb 0-6-0 saddle tank and this was seen on occasional banking duty. The LNWR version of the 0-6-0 pannier often put in an appearance whilst shedded at Monument Lane. Harborne Yard was a busy place during the late 1920s and early 1930s and I had many happy hours watching the antics of the ex-LNWR tank engines shunting the yard. My father was a driver at Monument Lane and occasionally worked the branch; those times were red-letter days for me: I was popular at school among railway-minded lads who hoped to sneak a ride on the footplate! Only four types of tender engines used the branch - because of restricted bridge clearances - the Cauliflowers, Webb Coal tender engines, Jumbos and the odd Midland Class 2F locomotives, some with short cabs. I recall clearly seeing the Webb Jumbo named Snowdon on many occasions - usually on the 1.50pm to New Street. The ‘modern’ engines permitted up the Harborne line were the 2-6-2 tanks - parallel and taper boiler types - and the 2-6-0 Class 2 tender engines.

There was a strong rumour that a new shed foreman at Monument Lane once rostered a George V 4-4-0 tender engine to collect some empty coaches from Harborne. It got as far as the canal bridge A late Edwardian postcard view of Harborne station. A 2-4-2 tank loco with a 4-coach train of coveroof stock approaches. The goods yard and shed are in the left background. Courtesy of Warwickshire Railways 27 between Harborne Junction and Icknield Port Road station before the driver realised the engine would not go through the bridge - at least, so the tale goes! During the school years, I used the train every day between Harborne and Hagley Road - 8.33 in the morning, back on the 1.03pm from Hagley Road, returning to school on the 1.50pm and home again on the 5.02pm from Hagley Road - providing I was not 'kept in': then it was the 5.28pm or 5.47pm. In some sketches and drawings a second platform is shewn on the turntable loop line, but in the course of many talks with the late Inspector Frank Westwood of New Street he could not recollect it. He was a porter at Harborne in the early 1900s so should know!

Now, all the intermediate stations at Hagley Road, Rotton Park (the island platform which formed a passing loop) and Icknield Port Road have vanished without trace. The track has been lifted, the bridge over the canal at Harborne Junction removed, and the Monument Lane shed demolished, the home of the branch line engines for so many years. Only the station buildings at Harborne remain, in possession of the adjacent toy firm. In its heyday this station did a very brisk business in coal and sand traffic; the turntable was removed in latter years and a loading dock for sand substituted. The horse dock was usually occupied by one or two horse boxes awaiting the horses from Miss Bullow’s riding school in Barlows Road - she was the Pat Smythe of her day and competed in horse shows all over the country. The original signal box at Harborne was unusual in design for the LNWR; a fine print in the possession of Mr P. B. Whitehouse gives a good view of it taken about 1908. It was replaced by a standard box which was demolished in 1948 or 1950 - I still have the nameplate.

There were two accidents on the line, both caused by runaway wagons. The first was long ago, on 12th July 1905, when a train of 35 loaded trucks ran away down the branch to Harborne Junction, where they finished up in a siding with debris scattered in all directions. A similar instance occurred in October 1953, when ten wagons and a brake van careered down the line from Rotton Park station into the buffers at the trap points situated opposite Harborne Junction box. One or two wagons then shot through the fence and landed in the canal, and the main line to the north was blocked for several hours. There were no injuries in either accident.

Long before the days of Beeching, the line was axed in November 1934; the last passenger train to run was the 11.08pm from New Street station. This was dealt with at great length in the Birmingham Gazette of 26th November 1934, even to describing the tears in Driver Carlill’s eyes as he left New Street on the last passenger journey! There were a number of special passenger trains run up the branch before the final closure. One, a Stephenson Locomotive Society special, utilised the Dudley Port motor set hauled by an ex-LNWR tank No 46757 on the 3rd June 1950. The same society organised a trip on 2nd November 1963; the train had a Class 2 tender engine at each end; this was just prior to closure on 4th November 1963.

One outstanding highlight of the Harborne line occurred on 30th April 1952, when a Midland Class 2 0-6-0 tender engine No 58185 collected ten coaches from Harborne yard and eventually managed - unassisted - to take them up the Woodbourne Road bank (1 in 66) into Birmingham. Particularly at bank holidays, coaches were often stored in the sidings at Harborne when those at Monument Lane were full, and on this occasion the train was required for a cuptie special. There were originally 20 passenger trains a day, except Sundays - when the occasional engineer's train worked up the branch. Coal traffic was still conveyed until the last train on 2nd November 1963; the final train on 8th November cleared the empty wagons. All these thoughts were sparked off by seeing the photograph of a psychedelic painting under the Woodville Road bridge between Harborne and Hagley Road in the local paper!

FURTHER REMINISCENCES OF THE HARBORNE LINE, BIRMINGHAM

by John T. Clewley from the Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal, November 1974.

Mr CJ William's interesting article in the April 1973 issue of the SLS Journal has prompted me, with some pushing from another source, to try and remember the trains that I used to know on the Branch, nearly fifty years ago and probably just a little before Mr Williams’ time, when I was a commuter from 1922 until 1928. In those days we were called ‘seasons’ and there were many of us in the morning and evening rush hours, also at the midday period - no free luncheon vouchers then and we had to eat at home; it was cheaper than J. Lyons establishments could offer.

In the first few years of the period, attending a school in another part of the City meant the 8 00am from Harborne, worked by an Aston locomotive which had come light engine up the Branch, picked up the usual four-coach LNWR bogie suburban set at the terminus and brought it to the platform. It was often worked by one of the 18in Goods, a Cauliflower or Crested as we knew them, but on occasion a 6ft 6in Jumbo would do the turn; I remember No 193 Rocket, with its enamelled 10 shed plate on the rear edge of the cab roof, taking us to New Street on many mornings. Quite a number of four-coach bogie suburban sets were stabled in the sidings overnight, at week-ends, and at bank holidays. As Mr Williams says, the turntable, which was also the engine release, was only long enough to take these types and the 17in Coal engines which worked the pick-up goods. I believe that in later years, the Fowler 2-6-2 tanks of Class 3P were allowed on it, although when I visited the line after the end of the passenger service, the table had been removed and replaced with a trailing point. After use the table was locked on the platform road, the locking bar being operated from the signal box and released by the signalman on hearing the locoman’s whistle for it. This was also a reminder for intending passengers who, dependent upon their distance from the station, would know whether or not to quicken their steps.

The single line staff to Rotton Park Road was taken at the box, some 50 yards from the platform, and soon after this we had about a mile and a half of Woodbourne Road bank at 1 in 66 to climb before arrival at Hagley Road station, which must have been the summit of the line. A single platform with the usual buildings and entrance from Hagley Road, destined to become a major bus route, comprised the station which had two sidings on the Up side of the line; these were always full of private owner coal wagons, for coal was cheap then and the district had a full complement of very large houses, complete with ‘domestics’ to lay the fires and clean up the dirt. The station had only one signal, Up distant, at the end of the platform but in the Harborne direction there was a fixed distant about a quarter mile from Hagley Road. The line proceeded down gradient from Hagley Road to the next station, Rotton Park Road, but just before reaching the road overbridge in front of the station entrance footpath, the passenger may have had sight of John Barleycorn, a traction engine type industrial locomotive (Aveling & Porter 6369/07) and in later years, Boniface, a standard type of Barclay industrial 4-coupled saddle tank. These engines were always cleaned and polished, dark blue with names painted on, and they sometimes worked in the exchange sidings connecting the private line from Mitchells & Butlers Brewery with the Harborne Branch. I feel sure that I saw one of the LNWR ‘Potato Roasters’, a Ramsbottom 0-4-0 saddle tank, at these sidings, presumably on loan. A Mitchells & Butlers locomotive was scrapped in 1929 and it may well have been that problems arose with it before the purchase of Boniface from Glasgow Corporation. These engines were my first introduction to the then huge fleet of privately owned locomotives in the country, in which I have been interested for many years, but at the time of which I am writing only the ‘Premier Line’ was good enough for me.

Rotton Park Road station was a centre island platform with overbridge access; it had the usual buildings for the line on it, together with a ground frame. A sand drag had been installed on the Down side of the loop to stop the train that stalled and ran back, or the wagons that became uncoupled; it may be that the sand drag was put in after the 1905 wagon runaway mentioned in Mr Williams’ article. Although the line was level at the platform it was certainly down-grade from there to Icknield Port Road station and on to the junction with the Stour Valley line. The Rotton Park Road to Monument Lane staff took us first to Icknield Port Road, a single platform with buildings, no sidings, but a ’starter`’ controlled from Harborne Junction box which was about a quarter of a mile away across a canal, but more importantly the Branch train had to cross the Downmain before joining the Up-main for New Street station. Towards the middle of the period of which I am writing, it was unusual for both main lines to be clear at the appropriate time to allow the 8.04am from Harborne to continue its journey without delay; at times some 20 minutes or more would elapse before the Icknield Port Road ‘starter’ came off and allowed us to join the Stour Valley line for Monument Lane station, the next stop, where the staff was relinquished and tickets examined. This single line working must have been a little out of the ordinary, as control of the Branch was from Harborne Junction box which we had passed some half a mile before giving up the staff.

During the late twenties many passengers left the train at Icknield Port Road as we all had bitter experience of standing there whilst the fireman operated the plunger switch at the ‘starter’ and after an appropriate interval commenced his walk to the Junction box. When the signal did not go ‘off’ within a few minutes of entering the station, there was a general exodus up the embankment, via the station path, to the Birmingham Corporation tramcar which was waiting at he Ladywood terminus (route 33), just above the station and which would take us towards New Street station, without further delay. If we walked a little further we came to Dudley Road, with tramcars from the Black Country, Smethwick and Bearwood all going to the Town Hall area, again without the delays of the branch train. When this trouble occurred, some of the rush hour services behind the one directly concerned were affected, sometimes being unable to leave the terminus on time - bearing in mind the departure times of 8.04, 8.19, 8.32, 8.49 and 9.15am. As this problem continued and developed, the writing on the wall for the ultimate demise of the passenger service became more deeply engraved; the progress of motor bus design and reliability enabled the Birmingham Corporation to provide a most intensive service from the suburbs served by the Branch and it took the LMS some considerable time to introduce cheap day tickets, other than workman's tickets.

Around 1926-27 the single rail fare from Harborne to Birmingham was 4½d, whilst the single bus fare was 3d, so that in general the only people travelling on the Branch at this time were those in possession of workman's or season tickets and very few of the latter were first-class, although every four-coach bogie set had its quota of first-class compartments, mainly empty in those days. Fares were, in the very late twenties and early thirties, made more competitive by the introduction of day returns, evening returns etc, but it was too late. The last regular passenger train departed from New Street station at 11.08pm on Saturday 24th November 1934, behind ex-LNWR Coal Tank No 7742; the passenger service had lasted just over sixty years, except for Icknield Port Road, which closed from 18th May 1931. The 2 miles 35 chains of single track remained open for freight and the brewery traffic until 4th November 1963, when complete closure took place and the venture of the Harborne Railway Company, which had been formed in 1866, saw the opening on 10th August 1874, never owned either locomotives or rolling stock - it was worked by the LNWR from the start - but just could not last until its centenary.

think that the real passenger decline commenced with the 1926 strike, during which a very restricted service was provided by volunteer crews, mainly utilising a Webb 5ft 6in tank which seemed a most unsuitable type for inexperienced men on a steeply graded line; a stop was often required for a ‘blow-up’. During schooldays (1922-26) there were occasions when I was able to return home on the 4.50pm from New Street and the locomotive for the service was usually a Webb 5ft 6in 2-4-2 tank which quite often bore the 14S shed plate; after becoming more knowledgeable on these matters, I realised that it had come from Stoke-on-Trent and on reflection I can only assume that it had come in from Walsall over the Aston line, after having worked a Rugeley to Walsall train. Possibly it had worked via Stafford and the Trent Valley, or via Stone and Colwich. Like some of the commuter services on the Branch, it stabled the four bogie coaches at the Harborne terminus and returned light engine to New Street, possibly via Monument Lane shed for coal and water - there was no water available on the Branch. This small and quite old engine then commenced its return home as pilot to the train engine of the 6.58pm to Wolverhampton; this was often a Prince or Experiment.

The following train on the Branch was the 5.15pm off New Street platform 2, usually rostered for an 18in Radial tank and this too stabled its coaches at Harborne, as did the 5.40pm with the locomotive running back light engine; the 4.50pm and the 5.40pm were Saturdays excepted. The real Harborne Express was, however, the 6.00pm off New Street, again platform 2; I often travelled on this after schooldays were over and business life did not allow me to get the 4.50pm; it ran non-stop to Rotton Park Road Mondays to Fridays but behaved as the others on Saturdays. In my memory, I see this as an 18in Goods from Aston shed, which had to reduce speed at Monument Lane station to pick up the staff from the signalman who had come on to the platform, and after a hard slog up the 1 in 66 from Harborne Junction, passed Icknield Port Road at about 20mph and came on to rest at Rotton Park Road at 6.07pm; well, according to the time table, but generally it was about 6.10pm. The bowler-hatted city types and others detrained here and at Hagley Road where it was due at 6.10pm; Harborne was booked to be reached at 6.14pm. A quick turn and run round and it was away at 6.21pm to arrive in New Street at 6.50pm, after a wait of 6 minutes at Rotton Park Road where the 6.17pm (Saturdays excepted) crossed it.