Memories of a 1960s train journey never to be repeated

It's all aboard the 5.30 to Bridgnorth as we join Les Price and his dad Tom for a trip back in time to enjoy a memorable but unrepeatable Shropshire train journey.

The train crew pose for Les at Shrewsbury station before starting the run to Bridgnorth in August 1963 – from left, fireman Norman Forrester, driver Charles Coughy, and Les's dad Tom, the guard
The train crew pose for Les at Shrewsbury station before starting the run to Bridgnorth in August 1963 – from left, fireman Norman Forrester, driver Charles Coughy, and Les's dad Tom, the guard

Tom was a guard based at Shrewsbury and it just so happened that during the first week of August in 1963 he was rostered to work the 5.30pm Severn Valley service to Bridgnorth and back – a line which was to close forever just a few weeks later.

Armed with his camera, teenage Les joined his dad, along with fireman Norman Forrester, and driver Charles Coughy, on the trip to make an invaluable record of a soon-to-disappear service. And his account of that journey and the pictures taken that evening form part of his new book, The Railways of Salop.

The train (with a 2-6-4T steam loco, number 80102) was lightly loaded, and one of the consignments was of day-old chicks which were chirruping away. Its journey took in Berrington, Cressage, Buildwas, Ironbridge & Broseley – where those chicks were unloaded and some passengers got on – fruitless calls at Jackfield, Coalport and Linley, before arrival at Bridgnorth at 6.33pm where the handful of passengers alighted.

The Railways of Salop by Leslie Price.

With time to kill, the four thirsty souls headed for Elias Thorpe's privately owned Refreshment Room.

"These were the days before health and safety concerns and it was quite common for rail staff, during down time, to refresh themselves with a pint," says Les.

Although they waited fully until 7.30pm before departure, which was scheduled for 7.27pm, no latecomers appeared and a walk along the train revealed just three passengers huddled in one compartment who, together with two bags of mail in the guard's van, were to prove the only revenue the return train would earn. They got off at Jackfield but there were no pick-ups at any of the stations.

"As routine as it was of its time, nevertheless it was an unforgettable journey, a similar story which could have been recounted along numerous branch lines up and down the country," says Les.

Approaching the tunnel under Bridgnorth on the Severn Valley service to Shrewsbury.

"The same routine had been carried on for a past age, but was soon to disappear forever. Dr Beeching saw to that."

Les's book principally looks at the railways in Shropshire during his young days, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which were of course still the days of steam, and takes a journey around the various stations from those days.

His home at Harlescott, where he was born in September 1945, backed on to the railway.

"My mother used to park my pram at the top of the garden to watch the trains. I spent much of my teenage years cycling the lanes of Shropshire down the Severn Valley to Cressage and to the Wellington to Crewe line. Hadnall and Hencote and Whitchurch also featured in my explorations."

A loco approaches Ketley level crossing over the A5 and the station just beyond in the early 1960s.
Today the Ketley level crossing and station building have long gone.

His father Tom had joined the LMS Railway as a junior porter soon after he left school on his 15th birthday in 1924 at Whitchurch. Tom served on the railway for 50 years, largely in Shropshire, retiring on his 65th birthday in June 1974.

Les left home in September 1962 to join the Metropolitan Police as a cadet.

"After 12 years' service as a Constable in the Met the call of the railways became too great and I transferred to the British Transport Police for the next 28 years, serving at Crewe, Bournemouth, in London, and finally at Reading," he says.

Approaching the original 1930s Ironbridge Power Station.
This picture taken by Les shows a steam locomotive taking on water at Market Drayton in the summer of 1963.

Les and his wife have lived in the village of Inkpen, West Berkshire, since 2008.

Of the images in his book, 35 were taken by himself.

"Alas many of the photographs in my youth were taken on either Box Brownie or Ilford Sportsman cameras and are not of sufficient quality to be included in a book," he says.

Even some small communities had their own halt – this is Farley Halt, near Much Wenlock.

Of course, although the Severn Valley line between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth on which he took that journey nearly 60 years ago is no more, with the last passenger train running on September 7, 1963. However, today the Severn Valley Railway lives on gloriously as a steam heritage line and tourist attraction running between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster.

The Railways of Salop, by Leslie Price, is published by Totem Publishing and costs £12.50 plus £1 postage and packing, available through totempublishing.co.uk

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