Friday, 22 March 2013

Bordesley cattle station, Birmingham

Bordesley station, on the former Great Western Railway (GWR) Oxford to Birmingham line, opened in 1855. Located near Birmingham's cattle markets (their location in Deritend and Digbeth changed over the years but they remained less than a kilometre away), the station included facilities to handle cattle trains. The cattle dock was on the northern side of the station, with access onto Upper Trinity Street. It made use of the space created when the Duddeston Viaduct was built and the shunting line extended onto the viaduct itself. It is on the parapet of this viaduct, one of the country's railway follies, that today's ghost sign can be found.

Looking at Duddeston Viaduct from the north. Bordesley Viaduct is in the background.
The latter carries the line of the former GWR across the Rea Valley, between Bordesley and Moor Street / the eastern portal of the Snow Hill tunnel.

Duddeston Viaduct in Birmingham is a folly indeed. It is the city's "Viaduct to Nowhere", a piece of Victorian engineering the Great Western Railway (GWR) never wanted to build and the London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) never really intended to use. Here is why.

The London & Birmingham Railway reached the city in 1838 and in cooperation with the Grand Junction Railway built a terminus in Curzon Street. However this station was inconveniently located on the northeastern edge of the city and over the following years the different companies serving the city lobbied local authorities and Parliament for the authorisation to build a more central station.

In 1846, the year the London & Birmingham Railway, the Grand Junction Railway, and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway merged to form the L&NWR, Parliament passed the Act authorising a new company, the Birmingham and Oxford Junction Railway, to lay its tracks between the two cities. For several years the L&NWR had managed to delay the approval of such a project. As it controlled most of the traffic between Birmingham and the south, the L&NWR did not want a new line that would connect with the tracks of the GWR at Oxford to be built as it would offer an alternative route to London (although to be fair, the route via Oxford to London Paddington was much longer than the direct L&NWR route into London Euston). The L&NWR did not lose out completely as the Act granted it running rights over the new line as far south as Banbury. Yet the L&NWR had to accept, reluctantly, to provide access to its Curzon Street station to the B&OJR. Thus in order to connect the tracks of the two companies, a viaduct was to be built by both companies between Bordesley and a point in the vicinity of Curzon Street station.

At the same time it voted the bill creating the B&OJR, Parliament authorized the construction of not one but two new stations closer to Birmingham city centre: New Street and Snow Hill. While New Street would be built by the L&NWR and the Midland Railway, Snow Hill was to be operated jointly by the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley Railway coming from the north and the B&OJR coming from the south. As they were to use the same facilities in Birmingham the latter two companies decided to merge during their first general meeting. Actually these were nothing but speculative railways, whose promoters, having been granted the right to build a line, sought to sell or lease them to one of the established railway companies for a large profit. In that case the directors approached the GWR, which agreed to pay £30 5s 0d for each £20 share! However the L&NWR countered the move by buying as much shares as it could to control the company, replace the board of directors, and get new ones to repudiate the deal with the GWR. The bitter battle between the L&NWR the GWR that ensued eventually ended in the House of Lords and in 1848 the Lord Chancellor ruled in favour of the original agreement with the GWR. Brunel's company had its access to Birmingham! Since the company it had acquired had been granted the right to build its own station, Snow Hill, and since its runnning rights on L&NWR's tracks did not extend beyond Curzon Street station into New Street, the GWR lost any interest in the link with the L&NWR. As for the L&NWR, it had no intention of using its running rights to Banbury. Yet in spite of this lack of interest on both sides, the L&NWR still insisted the GWR complied with the Act of Parliament and build the Duddeston viaduct.

Construction started c. 1848 and in February 1853 Brunel reported that his company had reached the limits of the L&NWR's property. However the rest of the viaduct was never built and the junction with the L&NWR at Curzon Street never made. To this day Duddeston viaduct ends abrupty after 325 metres and its brick arches stand as a memorial to the battle the two biggest railway companies in the country fought during the Railway Mania of the 1840s.

Cattle Station. G.W.R.

Note the manicule immediately to the left of 'Cattle' pointing towards the entrance of the cattle station in Upper Trinity Street.

Given its position on the north side of the viaduct, and since there is no equivalent on the south side, it can be assumed this ghost sign was painted after 1897. Indeed before that date the main livestock market was at Smithfield and this sign would not have been visible from the route taken by farmers and their cattle. In 1892 Birmingham Corporation decided to relocate the pig market from Smithfield to a site in Montague Street, further west from the centre (incidentally, this is the street where Duddeston Viaduct ends). Opposition from the pig trade delayed the move but it was eventually completed in 1897. One year later cows and sheep also left Smithfield for Montague Street. Heading from from Montague Street towards Bordesley Cattle Station, farmers would have gone southward and emerged into Adderley Street, where they would have been able to catch sight of this sign.

Bordesley goods station closed in 1964. The cattle station would have closed at the same time if not earlier.

The Warwickshire Railway website has a picture of some cattle wagons at Bordesley cattle station and information about the cattle trains.

Location: Adderley Street / Pictures taken in May 2012

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