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
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
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004