8b Rail Travel 1930s
 
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8b Rail Travel 1930s
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13a - "Owdum" 1944
 

 

 

STOURBRIDGE TO BIRMINGHAM BY RAIL

With particular reference to the days of steam.

By W. J. Green.

The stations between Stourbridge Junction and Birmingham Snow Hill were, in the 1930's :

1. Lye: Well, we know a lot about that don't we! And a good deal of it has been written elsewhere. ( The Green family, prior to the first world war, "Lived in a large house next door to the Manse" and Bob Taylor’s father was later Manager of the Midland Bank at Lye.)

2. Cradley Heath and Cradley.: This was the home of Cradley Football Club which team, when they were playing away, was encouraged vociferously by their travelling fans to "'Ommer Um Craedly!" As a Stourbridge fan I rather resented this vulgar advice. Visiting the Cradley district was not encouraged by fond parents, except to the occasional Chapel where foul language was unlikely to be encountered.

3. Old Hill: Junction for Dudley via Netherton, and also during the war, for Longbridge via Halesowen. The Austin factory at Longbridge made planes during the war and the, until then, little-used “Halesowen line” was put to use conveying employees to Austin. Arrival at Old Hill was announced by an employee of the railway company shouting "Owd'ill". This may have been pronounced in the same way as "Odile", the evil enchantress in the ballet "Swan Lake", but this was coincidental. However, there may well have been several evil enchantresses living in the area.

Then came the tunnel.

4. Rowley Regis and Blackheath: One wondered why "Regis", it having little resemblance to Bognor of that ilk. George V is said to have recuperated at Bognor in 1935, but Rowley was not a place for recuperation. (Neither, it appears, was Bognor - H.M. died the next year!) Perhaps in the time of Edward the Confessor ? Who knows ?

5. Originally Langley Green and Rood End. Name changed later to "Oldbury and Langley Green". The "Green" part of Langley - like me - was something of a relic of past days.

6. Smethwick Junction. whence there was the connecting link to Birmingham New Street. This link has now become part of the main line from Stourbridge to Birmingham New Street. To us oldies, this is as heretical as the Flying Scotsman's terminating at Paddington.

Shortly after Smethwick Junction the line merged with the G.W.R. main line from Wolverhampton and north-west thereof. At this point was a "halt", i.e. not permanently staffed, at "The Hawthorns", to which, on days when West Bromwich Albion were playing at home, excursion trains unloaded "Baggies" fans. Other trains sometimes made special stops.

7. Handsworth and Smethwick. All one can say about this station is that it was somewhere between Handsworth and Smethwick so it seemed a good idea to call it that. In terms of enlightenment or understanding this does not get us very far.

8. Soho and Winson Green. Winson Green never commended itself to the upper echelons of the “Des-Res” market since within its purlieu and in close proximity, lay the Prison, the Mental Hospital (known in those enlightened times as the “Looney Bin”) and the “Fever Hospital” where those suffering from unmentionable plagues were incarcerated. This latter, in the days prior to anti-biotics, was designed and located more to protect the population from contamination than to cure the infected. Contamination of the adjoining criminal and insane was, presumably, an acceptable risk.

The three adjacent institutions meant that anyone “going to Winson Green” must be criminal, mad or contagious. They and their destination must therefore be shunned.

Soho, of course, suffered from association with its London counterpart and the latter’s being a favourite hunting ground for the Vice Sqaud. Whether or not this was justified it never seemed worth while finding out.

9. Hockley. There is a "Hockley Heath" between Solihull and Tanworth-in- Arden on the South-East of Birmingham. This should not be confused with "Hockley" which was the last station before Snow Hill on the line from Stourbridge Junction.. Hockley Heath may be a pleasant enough spot, but Hockley certainly was not. Its station lay at the immediate north-west end of the tunnel and so that in the days of steam, it seemed to be perpetually in the aura of gloom and soot which emerged from the tunnel. "All stations" trains stopped there, but I was never aware of anyone either getting on the train or getting off there. One had vague feelings that people who had business at Hockley were engaged in some unmentionable but nefarious trade, probably associated with white slavery or opium. Should the innocent abroad decide to alight at Hockley, he might well be met by unimaginable horrors in the subways which optimistically indicated the "Way Out", and be never seen again. (about which the less said the better!) There is still a station there, but it is now known as "Jewellery Quarter". This shows a disturbing trend to name stations not by their locality, but by what goes on there. How long will it be, one asks, before on the outskirts of our noble cities are there stations called "Knacker-Yard", "Rubbish Tip", or even "Red Light"?

Immediately after Hockley came the tunnel. The approach walls to this, at the Snow Hill end, were built using Staffordshire blue bricks which, when coated with soot, provided the intrepid traveller with a cheering view of the English countryside as well as an idyllic introduction to Birmingham. These walls were, however, decorated with an assortment of advertisements in the form of enamelled plates. These advertised a curious mixture of "Tangye Pumps", "Stephens' Ink" and "Bovril". It would be interesting to know how many sales of these products, essentials to full enjoyment of life, were initiated by commuters studying the enamel plates through grimy carriage windows. We shall never know.

10. Birmingham Snow Hill. Here, apart from its connection with trains, one could, during the war, buy a spam sandwich and a cup of tea in the refreshment room for sixpence, or if in uniform, get same for nothing from the Church Army canteen.

Before the war, the departure of the 9.a.m. to Paddington was a grand occasion with dining car attendants touting for breakfast customers, milk churns, mail bags and carrier pigeon baskets being loaded, boys with trolleys selling papers, and if you were lucky, a sight of the station master with his gold-braided top hat. A day return to Paddington cost 21/3d. The train was invariably headed by one of the G.W.R. "Kings".

In recent years the names of some stations have been shortened. This is in keeping with the present-age policy of dumbing everything down. Long ago "Rood End" disappeared, much to the regret of us schoolboys who, for some reason, thought it rather funny. A timetable dating from the immediate pre-privatisation years, i.e. the early 1990's, shows that the station names have mostly been reduced to a single word.

This enables shorter name boards to be used and it consumes less paint. This paint can then be used to make locomotives look like escapees from the world of Walt Disney and as unlike a proper engineering job as it is possible to be. One expects to see Goofy leering from the drivers' window.

We are now left with gaudy caricatures of what a real train should be. It is reputed that "Virgin Trains" are so called because the rolling stock is at least sixteen years old and has never been serviced, but that is another matter.

G.W.R. tank locomotives having an acceleration of 0-60 in about half an hour, an "all stations to Birmingham" train managed to struggle from Stourbridge to Birmingham - all twelve miles of it - in about an hour, and if one travelled from Stourbridge Town, this meant a trip lasting at least an hour and a half. During my own time at Edgbaston, I could make the journey more quickly on a push bike when the weather was suitable. The rail and tram fares thus saved could be spent on the war-time equivalent of "cigareets, whisky and wild, wild women" - whatever that was!.

Eric Hulland, a contemporary student, was known to make scathingly sarcastic comments about the station staff at Stourbridge Junction, his wrath being particularly directed at the "Inspector" of whom he fell foul on the odd occasion when attempting to board or alight from a moving train. It is true that the Inspector, whose name I do not recall, had a rather pompous appearance and mien which did not encourage a happy relationship with Eric. The Station Master only appeared in his gold braid on the arrival of the express to and from Cardiff. He was reputed to take full advantage of the fact that his house, at the end of the station drive, was directly opposite the Seven Stars. This, however, may be only a malicious rumour put out by disgruntled commuters.

© The Estate of William John Green, 2004