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All aboard for the final days of Wenlock railway station

By Toby Neal | Much Wenlock | Nostalgia | Published:

Crowds turned out to mark the end of steam trains in Much Wenlock. But it was not actually the end.

Stationmaster Francis Cole shakes hands with the driver, Jack Darrall, of Wellington, and fireman Terry Thorpe, of Dawley, as the last passenger train prepares to leave Much Wenlock.

For over year after the town said a sad farewell to its last passenger trains, freight trains continued to run on the line, going from Wellington to Wenlock and then on to Longville.

Those goods services were finally withdrawn on December 2, 1963.

But it seems that wasn't the end either, as the section remained open for engineers' use – according to one railways historian there were still goods trains between Buildwas and Wenlock – until the line was officially closed on January 19, 1964.

In any event, there must now be a dwindling number of Wenlock folk left to be able to recall, first hand, trains running to the town's station.

The final days were recorded in the diary of Francis William Cole, who was Much Wenlock's stationmaster.

A poor quality photo showing Much Wenlock station in 1868. Among the figures on the platform are Mr Joseph Waller, Mr Ruscoe (first stationmaster), Mr John Yapp (signalman) and Mr Brookfield (booking clerk).

The station, he wrote, finally closed on December 2, 1963.

Mr Cole had been put in charge of closing all the stations on the Severn Valley Line, including Bridgnorth.

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He had started his career on the Great Western Railway as a lad porter at Codsall in March 1924, then worked around Shropshire and North Wales. He became the stationmaster at Much Wenlock on April 6, 1959.

His grandson Alan Dodd of Shrewsbury recalled a few years ago: "I remember many happy holidays as a child staying at Much Wenlock Station House, filling oil lamps for the signals, picking water cress from the small streams alongside the line in the summer, collecting conkers near the signal box in the autumn, sitting by a roaring fire in the signal box during the winter and trips on the footplate of a pannier tank steam engine down to the goods yard near the site of the original station."

Other information points to Mr Cole being originally from Bala.

According to one railway history book, written by Martin Smith, Much Wenlock's station was opened in 1864, replacing an earlier station, which remained in use for a time as a goods station, which was closed to passenger traffic on August 1, 1884.

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If that is correct, then for 20 years Much Wenlock had the distinction of having two railway stations, and must have been one of the smallest towns in Britain to have enjoyed such a privilege.

So far as we know, no picture has come to light of the last freight train of all to go to Much Wenlock, but the demise of the passenger service was a big event, as you can see from our picture.

Much Wenlock's railway station fell derelict but happily was restored.

Among those to ride on that last train, the 7.05pm from Much Wenlock to Wellington on Saturday, July 21, 1962, was the late Shrewsbury steam enthusiast Russell Mulford.

At the same time, the section via Ketley was closed so that subsequent traffic had to travel from Wellington to Madeley junction, and then reverse the rest of the way to Much Wenlock.

“The Wellington shed staff made sure the event was properly marked, the loco carried a headboard proclaiming ‘The Beeching Special’ and a wreath was dangling from the buffer beam," Russell recalled.

There was a skull and crossbones on the board and written underneath, rather incongruously, was "beer, beer, more beer."

With the departure of the trains, so began the disappearance of the railways infrastructure. The railway bridge over Shrewsbury Road in Much Wenlock was demolished in February 1966.

The railway station itself fell into dereliction, but here there was a happier outcome as it was destined to be restored.

So this mid-Victorian property still stands proudly as a reminder of Wenlock's railway past and is called, rather naturally, Station House.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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