INTRODUCTION‎ > ‎ASHCHURCH‎ > ‎

Ashchurch - A Country Junction

This section brings together various articles and information about the railway at Ashchurch, which in its day transformed a sleepy country village into a busy junction where lines converged from four directions, with passengers and goods changing trains for onward journeys. Also see 'Ben Brooksbank's Gloucestershire Railway Memories' for lots of observations at Ashchurch during the war years.

The first article below, which I have slightly abridged, was originally published in 'The Railway Magazine' in 1910. It is written in the somewhat flowery language of the age, but does bring alive scenes at the junction in that golden period for rail travel prior to the First World War.



A view of Ashchurch in the early 1900's looking north on the main line, with the Evesham Loop to the right. The Junction signal box is in the foreground,

whilst the Level Crossing box is at the end of the up main line platform.


Ashchurch – A Rural Railway Rendezvous

By J B Morris

Situated on that portion of the western section of the Midland Railway which formerly constituted the old Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, Ashchurch Junction presents a notable instance of a busy and important railway centre in the midst of the most completely rural surroundings it is possible to imagine, whereas those foci of railway activity are usually associated with large towns or thickly populated suburban areas.

Standing on the footbridge at Ashchurch Station at a slack moment, one is surrounded, save for the station buildings (and they are fairly extensive), by a scene of entirely rural peacefulness.

The immediate surroundings of the station comprise the ancient Parish Church, raising its ivy-clad tower a few yards to the east of the railway, its picturesque Rectory nestling just behind it, a couple of farms and a few railwaymen's cottages, and for the rest – fields and orchards. The song of the birds, the lowing of the cattle, and, in season, the distant clatter or throb of reaping or threshing machine, greet the ear, all, however, to the somewhat incongruous accompaniment of the continual clang of shunting trucks.

A prolonged contemplation of this scene is apt to induce a pleasant feeling of somnolence, but ere many minutes have elapsed the sharp ringing of an electric bell in one of the adjacent signal-boxes recalls the realities of life. More ringing of bells and then in quick succession, one, two, three and four strikes of the station bell herald the approach of trains from four directions, viz: (a) Tewkesbury and Malvern; (b) Gloucester and Bristol; (c) Birmingham and the North; (d) Evesham and Redditch, respectively. Upon their arrival, the erstwhile deserted platforms throng with passengers and their impedimenta, perspiring porters struggle with luggage-laden trolleys, guards and ticket-examiners vociferate 'Change for so and so' and 'Tickets please', all combining to present an animated spectacle.

But in a few minutes the last obstinate and distrustful old lady has been carefully and courteously shepherded into her carriage, the last door has been shut, and all that remains to remind one of former bustle are four trails of white steam rapidly disappearing in the distance.

Of the crowds of passengers dealt with, it will have been observed that scarcely any, in all probability, none at all, will have left the station by any other means than that afforded by one of the trains already referred to; practically the whole of the business being of an 'exchange' character.



Ashchurch station sketch plan from the 1910 Railway Magazine article. The signalbox numbered 2 on the plan was resited in 1927 from the up to the down side when the level crossing was reduced from two tracks to one. It also took over the functions of Tewkesbury Junction and Evesham Junction boxes which were closed. The water tower is shown adjacent to the provender store sidings, which is an error, it should be shown in its current day location alongside the main line, more or less where signalbox 2 is sited on this plan. It correctly shows a coal stage on the Evesham side where there was apparently 'a corrugated iron locomotive shed' in earlier years.

The reason for this is doubtless to be found in the fact that Ashchurch is for all practical purposes the main line station for the historically famous town of Tewkesbury, which is situated just under two miles distant.

It must not be inferred that Tewkesbury is without station accommodation of its own; far from it, for there is a commodious and convenient station in the town itself, which is on a branch line now extending to Malvern, but of which Tewkesbury was originally the terminus.

It may perhaps be mentioned that, in spite of the busy station bearing its name, of Ashchurch as a town or village there is practically nothing, its extent being confined to the few buildings in the immediate vicinity of the station, alluded to above. It is, however, an extensive ecclesiastical parish comprising several very scattered hamlets containing an aggregate population of about 750 souls.

Situate, as already mentioned on the western main line, or Bristol and Birmingham, section of the Midland Railway, Ashchurch Junction is some 40 miles from Birmingham,7 from Cheltenham and 14 from Gloucester, and in regard to local topography is on the main road from Tewkesbury to Stow-on-the-Wold, 2 miles from the former place and 18 from the latter. To the westward diverges the branch to Tewkesbury and Great Malvern, where, both the Midland and Great Western Railways using a joint station, it merges in the GWR's line from Worcester to Hereford.

In more primitive times, and when Tewkesbury was the terminus,this branch was, so the writer understands, worked by a horsed tram. Needless to say the horse of nature has long since given place to his rival of the iron breed.

To the eastward another branch, or rather loop line, diverges, passing through the quaint old town of Evesham, 11 miles distant, and Redditch, and subsequently rejoins the main line at Barnt Green in the neighbourhood of Birmingham. This line effects connection at Broom Junction with the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway to Stratford, Towcester and Blisworth, on the London & North Western Railway main line, thus affording convenient access to Shakespeare's Country for the inhabitants of the large towns served by this portion of the Midland Railway system.

As regards the station itself, it has one of the few remaining, but once common, level-crossings on main lines, there being a direct through connection between the Tewkesbury and Evesham branches, the connecting line crossing the main tracks on the level at the north end of the station. The various running lines and sidings have existed in their present order only since 1900. Some inconvenience experienced as traffic increased with the arrangements obtaining prior to that date, suggested certain improvements. These were carried out by the Midland Railway with its customary policy of alertness to promote the safety and comfort of its patrons. The station buildings have existed as they are now, except for necessary renovations and repairs, for about 40 years*, a fact that bears testimony to the prescience of the original designers.

They include on the 'up', or Birmingham side, a large booking hall and general waiting room, ladies' first-class room, gentlemen's first-class room, third-class room, a large refreshment buffet, stationmaster's, parcels and ticket office, porters' room, and the customary lavatory accommodation. A noticeable feature is the size and loftiness of the various rooms, indeed, in this respect, they would bear favourable comparison with many erections serving similar purposes in large towns.


The welcome sight for travellers and trainspotters of the Refreshment Room at Ashchurch. A plan of the proposed station buildings in 1867 does not show it, but there is a separate drawing of it dated 1869. 


On the 'down' or Bristol side, the accommodation is not so extensive, as a duplication of some of the facilities provided on the other side is not, of course, necessary. Here too, however, adequate provision is made for the immediate wants of the waiting traveller. Waiting rooms and separate ladies' and gentlemen's rooms are provided, though on a smaller scale than those referred to above.








A good clear view of the down side around 1959, very little changed from when the article was written. Photo James S Doubleday, copyright 53A Models of Hull collection








For the accommodation of the goods department a marshalling yard and covered depot is provided adjacent to the main line at the south end of the passenger station.

The traffic is controlled from four signal-boxes. The main, or 'Ashchurch Junction' Box, is situated at the south end of the 'up' platform; it contains 52 levers and from it the electric interlocking plant controlling all the points and signals of the station is operated. It is moreover, an '8 hour' box. There are three subsidiary boxes, known respectively as the 'Tewkesbury Junction' , the 'Evesham Junction' and the 'Ashchurch Level Crossing' boxes.





Tewkesbury Junction Signal Box was still extant when this picture was taken, pre-1927. The lines to the left of the box cross the main line and head for Evesham, while those curving right go to the Tewkesbury branch platform.










Ashchurch Level Crossing Box dated from 1927, replacing one on the up side when the crossing was reduced from two tracks to one. The crossing was removed in May 1957 just a month after this picture. It was latterly mostly used for turning engines working the Evesham branch. Roger Wales recalled seeing a special for schoolgirls attending a hockey international at Wembley hauled by two Compound 4-4-0s using it in the mid-1950s. Photo D J Norton
( See the article 'Tales of Two Sub-Sheds' for a photo of a loco on the crossing line.)






In the summer months some 75 ordinary passenger trains are dealt with each weekday, whilst in addition to this respectable total, the accommodation of numerous excursion trains has to be arranged for. A peculiar item of this latter traffic is to be found in the number of 'specials' conveying devotees of the piscatorial art to the fishing contests frequently held on the river banks at Tewkesbury. Some idea of the magnitude of these events will be gathered from the fact that three or more special trains are on occasion required to convey the competitors, numbering in some instances upwards of 2000 to the scene of the contest. The majority of these fishing excursions originate in Birmingham, from whence also excursions to Malvern, Bristol and Sharpness for Weston-super-Mare, and Ilfracombe (by boat) are run.

Bristol holiday-makers availing themselves of the Midland Railway's excursions to Evesham, Stratford-on-Avon, or Malvern, also contribute their quota to the number of those rendering Ashchurch Junction a busy centre in a rural retreat.

It will readily be appreciated that this junction is the scene of a very heavy goods traffic, and more especially is this the case in the fruit season, for in this part of the country fruit traffic is an important item. Indeed the work at Ashchurch in connection with the goods department may be said to be in progress without intermission day and night, and in the midst of these nocturnal labours the 1.3am mail train from Bristol to the north calls here at 2.42am. It will thus be evident that Ashchurch, or at all events the railroad portion of its inhabitants, experiences but little of the slumberous restfulness usually associated with the night in the heart of the country.

That the large amount of work, both manual and clerical, involved in the efficient operation of such a station is not accomplished without the assistance of a large staff, will easily be realised. When it is stated that the total number of men employed in various capacities in and about the junction is considerably over a hundred, this fact alone will clearly indicate the importance of Ashchurch as a railway centre.


                                               Mr Watkins,the Stationmaster, is centre front row; his son J W Watkins is on the left next to his father.

The staff includes, in addition to those employed in the permanent way and locomotive departments, 13 signalmen,3 foremen,7 porters,4 shunters, 3 clerks and 2 telegraph clerks, the whole under the able superintendence of the Midland Railway's courteous representative, Mr Watkins, who has filled the post of Stationmaster since February 1901. Mr Watkins' connection with the Midland Railway has been life-long, extending over the whole of his business career, being embodied in an interview chronicled in the Railway Magazine for February 1898 when he was Stationmaster at the Midland Railway station at Stonehouse.

In writing of the staff, mention should not be omitted of a small but particularly energetic member in the shape of a fine white cat. When last seen by the writer, this probably 'unrecognised' servant was displaying indefatigable zeal in promoting the Company's interests by running to earth a 'predatory rodent' – to wit, a mouse – the 'death' occurring in the very midst of the maze of points and wires constituting the junction of the Evesham branch with the main line.

A notable adjunct to the station is a large grain and fodder store, one of only two establishments of the kind on the Midland Railway, the other being situated at Oakham in Rutland.

From the Ashchurch stores provender is distributed for the use of all the horses employed in the various services of the Western Division. That this in itself constitutes a fairly big business will be gathered from the fact that the stores engage the entire labours of 27 men, a foreman and clerk.

Until recently a 40hp steam engine supplied the power required to drive the cutting and grinding machines in use. This installation has, however, now been superseded by a suction gas plant with an 80hp engine. Electric light, it should be mentioned, is the illuminant at the provender stores and it is proposed to extend it to the station, which is at present lit by gas.

It is but in the nature of things that railway life here, as elsewhere, should have its 'ups and downs' – in more senses than one – and unfortunately this rural rendezvous of the rail cannot claim complete immunity from accident.

The most serious event of this kind in recent years took place in 1900^ when the Cheltenham to Malvern train ran off the line at some catch-points near Tewkesbury Junction Box; the engine mounted the bank and overturned and several people were more or less seriously injured, none, happily, with fatal results.

That in the stress of the serious business of transportation the softer amenities of life are not entirely neglected, is eloquently attested by the number of flower beds, gay in season with the blooms dear to the heart of the cottage gardener, that adorn the station premises.

The foregoing remarks will, the writer trusts, serve to convey some idea of the strenuous life in evidence at Ashchurch Junction, and though there is, of course, nothing exceptional in the character of the services there maintained in themselves, yet it is, the writer believes, most unusual to find so busy and important a railway situated to all intents and purposes in the middle of a field.

Moreover it affords a striking instance of the failure of the railway to accomplish that which it has done in so many other localities, viz. the creation of a new town or suburb merely by reason of its own advent and needs.

In conclusion, the writer would like to acknowledge his indebtedness to the authorities of the Midland Railway for their kindness in granting permission to collect the information for this brief account and in the second place to Mr Watkins who most courteously and readily lent his indispensable aid in furtherance of this attempt to afford readers a glimpse of 'A Rural Railway Rendezvous'.


A fine view showing the main building situated on the up side. A train for Tewkesbury is at the branch platform. The old Provender Store towers over the scene. The Junction Signal Box which was at the end of the platform has gone, replaced by a new box opened in 1958 on the opposite side of the main line. The pedestrian walkway to the station was over the Tewkesbury branch tracks on the boarded crossing seen in the centre of the picture. Photo Bryan Boskett

A scale map of Ashchurch in the early years of the twentieth century.The Birmingham - Gloucester line runs top to bottom, while the direct link from Tewkesbury to Evesham goes left to right across the centre, having two tracks. Note the provender store sidings are connected to the Tewkesbury branch as well as the main line. Reproduced from http://maps.bristol.gov.uk.





A view along the platform for Evesham and Redditch, next station Beckford. The row of cottages in the background, which still exist,were built for railway workers. Further round the curve is the spur into the military camp, which was started in 1939 and became an important centre for military vehicles, being especially busy in World War Two and basically transforming Ashchurch from a sleepy country junction into an important industrial centre. The spur to the camp survived closure of the Evesham Loop, which occurred in 1963, seeing rail movements until recent years and is still in situ in 2016.




In 1910 Ashchurch had four signal boxes, reduced to two from 1927, then just this modern box in July 1958. Changes in signalling technology and removal of the Evesham and Upton branches meant it only lasted a tad over ten years,closing in February 1969, replaced by Gloucester Panel Box nearly fourteen miles distant. Photo Robin Stanton   


  





0-6-0PT 7788 is waiting to leave for Tewkesbury on 27 April 1961. Evidence of some new work here with a sprinkling of ballast on the running line and a new footpath put in for workers from the adjacent Dowty factories to access the station. Though the Tewkesbury and Upton passenger service had less than four months life left at the time of this picture, there was quite a good traffic of people who lived in Cheltenham and Gloucester patronising the main line train service. The 12.48pm York - Bristol express called here at 4.55pm to pick up homegoing workers.  Photo John Mudge, copyright NA3T









Two pictures of cottages on Northway Lane built by the Midland Railway for the Ashchurch workforce.

By the picture date, around September 1976, most, possibly all, were unoccupied and boarded up.




Footnotes:

* For drawings of the station buildings dated 1867 and 1869 see http://nr.mediastorehouse.com/ashchurch-station/photo/106389.html.

^ The accident actually occurred on 26 September 1899.

The four storey Provender Store dates from 1872 and closed in 1927, after which it was used for other purposes. See picture at the head of the article on Messrs. Dowty's Private Siding.

The Midland Railway Society has done extensive research on Ashchurch, see http://midlandrailwaystudycentre.org.uk/Ashchurch/Index.htm

Personnel working there in 1911 are listed at http://midlandrailwaystudycentre.org.uk/Ashchurch/Nameslist.html and associated pages.

http://midlandrailwaystudycentre.org.uk/Ashchurch/Stationmasters.html has information about Ashchurch Stationmasters over the years.

I worked in Tewkesbury for a few months in 1963/64,getting a bus over from Cheltenham. Just for a change, I caught the 7.50am train from Lansdown on Saturday 15 February 1964 to Ashchurch, there at 8.1am. The loco was 85C Barnwood's Standard class 5 73068. Of course there was no train from Ashchurch to Tewkesbury by that date, so it was a bus onwards - which is probably why I didn't do it more often.


James  William Watkins - From Booking Office Clerk, Ashchurch to General Manager, London Midland Region


In his article 'John Blyth's Gloucestershire Railway Memories', John wrote:

The son of a much earlier Ashchurch stationmaster, William Watkins, was J W Watkins who became General Manager of BR London Midland Region and a member of the British Railways Board. He was 'something' at Derby at one time and when he came down in the Inspection Saloon, he always visited his father's grave in St. Nicholas churchyard. There used to be a photograph of the staff posed on the platform, with old William with his beard, centre back row, and little 'J.W.', then a junior clerk, cross-legged at the front.

I am sure I have seen the photo referred to by John, though I don't have a copy. But the reference intrigued me, so I set out to discover more about little 'J.W.'. Thanks to the wonder that is the internet, I have managed to find out quite a bit.

Firstly, some details about J W 's father, William Watkins, born in Eardisley*, Herefordshire in 1858. In the 1881 UK census, he was a railway clerk, lodging at an address in Derby. It was probably 1886 when he became Stationmaster at the Midland Railway's Stonehouse station on the Bristol & Gloucester line. There was plenty of local railway activity that year with the opening of the new line to Stroud from Dudbridge Junction, which was on the established Stonehouse - Nailsworth branch.  This resulted in a big increase in traffic at Stonehouse station. And in 1884, a new viaduct had been built south of Stonehouse.

In 1891, James William Watkins was born in Stonehouse; the family resided at Avenue Terrace, Stonehouse.

Whilst at Stonehouse, an article entitled 'A Chat With A Midland Stationmaster' was written about William and published in an early,1898, edition of the 'Railway Magazine'. This stated William had been a booking clerk at London St Pancras and a relief clerk at Derby.

During 1898 he transferred to the job of Stationmaster at Bromsgrove, on the Birmingham & Gloucester line. His stay there was relatively brief as in 1901 he moved down the line to become Stationmaster at Ashchurch. He was there by the date of the 1901 census, which was 31 March. He remained in that post until 1923, when he was 65 years old, retirement age. He and his family would have occupied the Stationmaster's house (see sketch map above).

James William Watkins  - little 'JW' - started working for the Midland Railway in 1905, aged 14 years old, so this would have been at Ashchurch where his father was Stationmaster. It would be good to trace the picture of staff at Ashchurch mentioned by John Blyth which includes little 'JW'. The census of Sunday 2 April 1911 shows his job as being a Railway Clerk in Gloucestershire.

At the start of World War One, Midland Railway staff records described him as being in the 'Traffic Dept - Coaching - Great Malvern'. This can be interpreted as being a booking clerk, possibly doing other clerical duties as the need arose. We know from 'John Blyth's Gloucestershire Railway Memories' that staff worked at various stations along the line,covering for sickness, holidays and shortages; John worked at Ashchurch, Ripple, Upton-on-Severn and Malvern Wells.

J W Watkins enlisted as a Private in The Gloucestershire Regiment Territorial Force in August 1914. He was a Sergeant by 1916 and had been mentioned in dispatches. By October 1916 he had the rank of Second Lieutenant and was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, where he was in the thick of the action on the Somme, at the battle of Le Transloy. To quote from The Lancashire Fusiliers' War Diary:The actual number (of troops) brought out of the line by Major Watkins, whose splendid work was a foretaste of his achievements as commanding officer of this battalion, was forty-six all ranks.

A diary entry for July 1917 by another Lancashire Fusiliers officer said: 'I meet up with.....Watkins, now Major Watkins, 2nd in Command, still as cheery as ever.'

After more outstanding bravery on 28 March 1918 in a battle near Arras, when his cheerfulness was again mentioned,he was wounded at Bethune, Pas de Calais in May 1918. By this date Watkins was a Lieutenant-Colonel. He was subsequently awarded the Distinguised Service Order medal and the Military Cross.

On Thursday 15 August 1918, he got married at Tewkesbury Wesleyan Church - the picture comes from the Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic, courtesy of Tewkesbury History Society website. The gentleman sitting on the right in the second row must be J W's father, William Watkins,the Ashchurch Stationmaster.





J W presumably returned to railway work, but it seems unlikely that, with his outstanding war record and having risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, he would resume as a humble booking office clerk. It seems more likely he took up a management role and became, as John Blyth put it, 'something' at Derby. There is nothing traced about him until 1938 when he attended the funeral of Sir Henry Fowler who had been Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Midland Railway from 1909 until 1923, then the LMS from 1925 to 1931. Incidentally, Henry Fowler came from Evesham, so would have been familiar with the railway at Ashchurch.

Watkins transferred from Derby in 1942 when he was appointed Divisional Superintendent of Operations – Crewe. As such, he would have had a busy war - his area extended from Euston up the West Coast Main Line to Carlisle, including the ex-LNWR lines around Birmingham. His name appeared on the front cover of LMS Western Division Working Time Tables.

It was just another working day, no doubt, but one of which there is a record + - 5 April 1944 - when J W Watkins attended a meeting at Nuneaton Locomotive shed. This was called because the shed and yard was getting completely blocked with locos, resulting in severe delays in locos going off shed; the situation was described as 'very near hopeless' on Sunday 20 February 1944 when there were 80 engines on shed at midnight. Three days before the meeting, there were no less than 95 locos on shed, the situation being 'that much worse'. Various options were considered, the one chosen was a new connection to the shed turntable, which was brought into use four months after the meeting.

Watkins, in his capacity as Divisional Superintendent of Operations - Crewe, was called to a Court of Enquiry following a very tragic accident on the West Coast Main Line on 30 September 1945. An express train, packed with passengers, including many servicemen and women, left the rails shortly after 9am and plunged down a 20 foot embankment at Bourne End, Buckinghamshire. 43 people died making this the worst British railway accident since November 1940. Lt Col Sir Alan Mount, Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, found that the cause of the disaster was the train's high speed. Watkins said the engine became derailed when travelling from the fast to the slow line. Mr D.Hope, District Engineer, said the displacement of the rails showed that the speed of the train must have been between 50 and 60 mph. Watkins declared it was too great a speed over the crossing. It was difficult to give an explanation as to why the driver did not reduce speed in view of the weather and good signals, and the fact he was a good man.

Watkins was still  Divisional Superintendent of Operations - Crewe on 20 January 1947 when J M Dunn, Shedmaster of Bangor shed and previously in that capacity on 5 April 1944 at Nuneaton - was called to his office+. There had been complaints about the way Dunn dealt with his staff. But Dunn fought back, eventually putting his side in a long declaration, a copy of which he sent to Watkins, and on 8 May 1947 Dunn heard from Colonel Rudgard, the LMS Superintendent of Motive Power, during the course of a train journey, that Watkins and Rudgard had complete confidence in him and, indeed, he would in due course get a promotion! Watkins visited Dunn on 13 May to 'smooth it over.'


In early BR days, Watkins' career was still in the ascendancy. He was present at a lunch on 15 September 1948 at Euston Station Hotel, with honoured guest Field-Marshall The Viscount Montgomery KG GCB DSO on the occasion of a ceremony at Euston Station when LMS 'Patriot' class 4-6-0 45506 was named 'The Royal Pioneer Corps'(). By this time J W was Operating Superintendent of the newly formed London Midland Region of British Railways, appointed by The Railway Executive.

Watkins went on to be promoted to Chief Regional Officer, London Midland Region in 1951. In the King's Birthday Honours list for 1951,James William Watkins became a CVO - Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

In October 1953,The Railway Executive was abolished and Watkins' title changed to General Manager, London Midland Region.

On 5 March 1954 he was an official guest at an Institute of Locomotive Engineers dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London, still described as Chief Regional Officer, London Midland Region.


While J W Watkins was General Manager,LMR, unique BR 'Pacific' 71000 'Duke of Gloucester' was constructed at Crewe Works in 1954, with design work done at Derby. J W is centre stage here in the company of several illustrious locomotive men including R A Riddles, Chief Mechanical Engineer, BR, his assistant R C Bond and, on the right, E S Cox.

During his tenure as General Manager, the BR Modernisation Plan was announced. One aspect in which he was involved was the introduction of lightweight diesel multiple units in West Cumberland between Carlisle, Penrith and Workington via Keswick and there is correspondence about the performance of the units, the positive impact on passenger numbers and so on. This was only the second scheme of its kind on BR, due for introduction in Autumn 1954.

J W retained the General Manager role until retirement in 1956 at the age of 65.
His railway interest did not stop there, as he was appointed a full-time member of the British Transport Commission. In 1956/57 he was also
Chairman of the Railway Study Association and a Vice-President of the Institute of Transport.

On 30 January 1958, there was a tragic accident at Dagenham East Station on the London, Tilbury and Southend commuter line.Ten people were killed and 93 injured in thick fog when the engine of a Shoeburyness train, BR Standard 2-6-4T 80079, ran into the last coach of a stationary train going to Southend, also hauled by a Standard tank. Both trains were packed with homeward bound commuters. In the subsequent media coverage on Independent Television News, newsreader Reginald Bosanquet interviewed J W Watkins, Chairman of the Railway Sub-Committee, about fog safety precautions^. The cause was found to be driver error, passing signals at danger.

Watkins remained a member of the BTC until his death on 12 January 1959; he had come a long way from his birthplace in Stonehouse, the son of a Stationmaster and having his first job at Ashchurch aged 14 years old.


Footnotes

See http://midlandrailwaystudycentre.org.uk/Ashchurch/WatkinsJames.html for another article about James Watkins.

* Eardisley had quite a lot of railway/tramway interest - From Wikipedia: The Hay Railway (HR) was an early Welsh narrow gauge horse tramway that connected Eardisley (10 miles northeast of Hay-on-Wye) with Watton Wharf in Brecon on the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal. From 1 May 1820, the Hay Railway was joined at its Eardisley terminus, in an end on junction, by the Kington Tramway. Together, the two lines totalled 36 miles in length, comprising the longest continuous plateway to be completed in the United Kingdom.The Hay railway operated through rural areas on the borders of England and Wales and was built to transport goods and freight. Passengers were not carried on any official basis. The Hay Railway was absorbed into the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway in 1860 and the line was converted to standard gauge for operation by steam locomotives.

The Hereford, Hay and Brecon was later taken over by the Midland Railway.

+ Related by J M Dunn in his book 'Reflections on a Railway Career - LNWR to BR' .

() 45506 became a familiar sight on the Birmingham - Bristol line when it was shedded at 82E Bristol Barrow Road between November 1958 and withdrawal in March 1962.

^ This was only a few weeks after an even more tragic incident in thick fog at Lewisham on the Southern Region on 4 December 1957, with much loss of life. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewisham_rail_crash


Freights attaching and detaching at Ashchurch in 1957

Plenty of freights thundered through Ashchurch on the main line or maybe paused in the down loop to make way for faster trains, while quite a number also traversed the Evesham loop, but only a few stopped to attach and/or detach traffic. This list shows freights starting/terminating or calling for traffic at Ashchurch from 16 September 1957.

UP

4.42am (4.35am Mondays) class K Barnwood – Bromsgrove, called 5.48am to 6.30am, all stations pick up.

6.50am class K Ashchurch - Tewkesbury

10.10am class K Ashchurch – Worcester, pick up freight

11.15am Sats excepted class K Ashchurch – Upton - upon- Severn

2.32pm Sats excepted class E Barnwood – Birmingham Lawley Street, called 3.44pm to 4.5pm, known to railwaymen as 'The Snob'. This brought fitted vehicles from Gloucester and Cheltenham for attaching to the 4.48pm Bristol – Leeds.

5.0pm class E Ashchurch – Evesham - Birmingham Lawley Street.

4.48pm class C Bristol – Leeds, called 6.43pm to 7.10pm, one of the most important freights on the line.

7.41pm Sats excepted class K Cleeve - Ashchurch

7.15pm class H Barnwood – Washwood Heath, called 8.15pm to 9.13pm.

 




In 1955, possibly unchanged until July 1958, turn no.9 for locos at Tewkesbury shed was shunting at Ashchurch. Johnson 0-4-4T 58071 has that turn on 27 August 1955, seen on the down side by the Tewkesbury - Stow road overbridge; the goods and coal depot was beyond,the sidings also dealing with considerable traffic for the army camp.
58071 was much photographed, being one of the last active members of its class and the only survivor having Salter safety valves and a round topped boiler, as well the condensing pipe showing it had worked suburban trains in London at some time in the past. 58071 was a Gloucester Barnwood engine from June 1951 until withdrawal in July 1956, spending most, if not all of its time, based at Tewkesbury. I remember seeing it at Hatherley going north light engine to resume branch duties.
A small record card in my possession informs that Driver Turberville of Tewkesbury shed worked this turn for six days during the week ending 5 February 1955; his engine every day was 3F 0-6-0 43213 of Barnwood. Driver Turberville booked on at 5.15am, leaving shed at 6am, getting back there at 12.15pm, before booking off at 1.15pm.The loco did an afternoon shift including working the pick-up freight to Evesham and return.

Below: 58071 is passing the Provender Store sidings with a freight from Upton and Tewkesbury, which will terminate at the down side yard. Plenty of wagons in the sidings too. 58071 had gone by 1957 - two locos most associated with the Upton branch that year were Stanier 0-4-4T 41900 from July - never as well liked as 58071 - also, by contrast, Ivatt 2-6-0 46401 transferred to Barnwood in July 1956, the month 58071 was withdrawn.

As noted on the map reproduced above, the Provender Store sidings used to connect onto the Tewkesbury branch around where the train is passing.



DOWN

4.15am class K Washwood Heath – Ashchurch pick up, arrive 7.14am

9.8am class K Worcester Wylds Lane – Ashchurch, arrive 9.55am

11.13am class H Stratford-on-Avon – Gloucester, called 12.43pm

1.20pm class K Upton-upon-Severn – Ashchurch, arrive 3.25pm

5.5pm class K Evesham – Ashchurch pick-up, arrive 5.52pm

6.30pm class D Washwood Heath – Bristol, called 8.6pm – 8.16pm

7.55pm (7.25pm Sats) class J minerals Stratford – on – Avon – Gloucester, called 9.45pm – 10.20pm

Also detached traffic at Cleeve.

Though not stopping to attach or detach, a change occurred on the Evesham branch from March 1957 with the construction of a new junction at the latter onto the Oxford-Worcester line. This enabled freights from South Wales for the Oxford area or beyond to use the branch - hitherto they had utilised the Cheltenham - Honeybourne route, but that involved a reversal at Honeybourne.

This traffic added to the freights - up to nine a day each way by early 1960 - which came from Woodford Halse, on the ex-Great Central line, bound for South Wales via the ex-Stratford & Midland Junction route through Stratford -on-Avon and Broom Junction onto the Evesham branch.



Central Vehicle Depot, Ashchurch

On the down side at Ashchurch is the Central Vehicle Depot, Army Department, Ministry of Defence, with extensive internal sidings and connected to BR's erstwhile Evesham Branch. MOD diesels^ handled traffic between the depot and exchange sidings alongside the main line, until recent years when main line locos worked directly along the branch into the depot. Throughout 2018 the Network Rail working timetable included a path for a 'runs as required' working from Bicester MOD to Ashchurch MOD and return; it would be interesting to know when it last ran.

A brief history of the Depot is included in the article 'Ben Brookbank's Gloucestershire Railway Memories'.



Above: Andrew Barclay 0-4-0D ARMY 236 in excellent order during the 1980s. It was constructed in 1945, works no. 372, and was housed in a Nissen Hut at Ashchurch Camp.

 










Above: A view of the track connecting to the Evesham branch and of sidings with wagons, including Warflats. Photos Stephen Mourton

Footnote:^ Research by the Industrial Railway Society and actual observation by Ben Brooksbank indicates there were at least seven USATC 0-6-0T at the camp during 1943/44; the same type seen during post-war years on BR Southern Region.




                                                                                                        Ashchurch = Accidents

The Ashchurch area seems to have suffered more than its fair share of accidents, some of them fatal, over the years.


An accident on 26 September 1899 involved the 1.56pm Cheltenham - Great Malvern passenger train. This had called at the up main line platform to set down and pick up passengers. It then reversed across to the down main line before being signalled onto the branch for Tewkesbury, Upton and Malvern. Unfortunately the signalman at Ashchurch Junction Signal Box wrongly turned it onto the loop part of the line and consequently the 0-4-4T loco and three carriages derailed on catch points at the far end of the loop. There were no fatalities but eleven people were injured. The report blamed the signalman and, to some extent, the train driver who should have noticed he was on the wrong line and recommended alterations to the junction, signalling and point locking arrangements.



The full report can be viewed at http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_Ashchurch1899.pdf. 




 


 












The full official report can be viewed at http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_Ashchurch1929.pdf


A serious accident only six miles away at Ashton-Under-Hill occurred on 25 February 1935 when the 9.51am Birmingham New Street - Ashchurch passenger via Redditch and Evesham derailed at high speed. The loco driver suffered scalding from which he died. The engine was 2023, an 0-6-4T. Following the accident, this  type of loco was withdrawn from service and scrapped, as they were found to be prone to oscillation at higher speeds, which, combined with the poor state of the track on the branch, were the main causes of the derailment. The full report can be viewed at http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/MoT_AshtonUnderHill1935.pdf


On 2 May 1950 there was a bizarre accident six miles north of Ashchurch, on the main line at Defford, shown in a newspaper report. It was fortunate not to have been much more serious. Note the train was only delayed by fifteen minutes. Nowadays it would be cancelled on the spot, with the line closed for hours, quite probably days, whilst an investigation took place.
:
























In the 1960s when the Tewkesbury branch was freight only, a local farmer in his tractor was hit on a crossing by the three times a week train, fortunately escaping with minor cuts.

Another accident happened on 4 May 1968 when two freight trains, one with steel and one with coal, collided outside the Dowty RPS site. One of the diesels involved was 'Peak' D46. Three breakdown cranes - one seen below - were called in to clear the wreckage and all traffic was diverted via Honeybourne.




 



In the aftermath, there was almost another incident, which prompted a very irate letter from the Area Manager at Cheltenham Lansdown station to the DRPS. It was claimed the Society were running locos on the provender sidings without getting the required prior permission from BR. On 12 May 'the sidings were opened for the Main Line as we (BR) were using them to shunt wagons which were being used to pick up the derailed wagons from the Ashchurch mishap, and as I had already called our train back into the sidings, only to find your engines coming out from the sidings, a collision could have occurred.' The Society in response said they had contacted the Ashchurch signalman earlier in the week about the moves. It also transpired that from 3 June the site would come under the jurisdiction of the Gloucester Area Manager, hitherto it had been under the Station Master at Ashchurch. (I believe the latter post was abolished, with Ashchurch station having a foreman in future.)


On 8 March 1969, a further tragedy occurred, details are here:







10 March 1969
Volume 779   HANSARD

Mr. Ridley (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement about the train crash at Ashchurch, in Gloucestershire, on Saturday, 8th March.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

At 11.55 on Saturday, 8th March, a mineral wagon in the 07.50 Washwood Heath to Stoke Gifford goods train became derailed to the left from the down line immediately after passing Ashchurch station. The wagon continued forward for about 100 yards and then struck a diesel locomotive that was standing on a siding alongside the main line, and a general derailment followed.

A number of derailed wagons were pushed towards the up line on which the 10.40 Bristol to Newcastle express passenger train was passing at the time but, fortunately, at slow speed because of a temporary speed restriction ahead. The first five coaches of the express had already passed and the next four were only slightly damaged, but the last two coaches were derailed, parted from the rest of the train, and extensively damaged, their entire near sides being ripped off. It is with deep regret that I must inform the House that one passenger was killed and a number of passengers injured. I know that the House will join with me in expressing sincere sympathy with the relatives of the young man who was killed and with the injured passengers. I am informed that at 10.30 this morning eight injured passengers were still detained in hospital, of whom one was seriously ill. The cause of the initial derailment has yet to be determined. An inspecting officer of railways visited the site on the day of the accident, and I have directed that an inquiry into it be held.







Bob Rainbow wrote the following article in 1979:









In more recent years, certainly post-BR, freight for Ashchurch Camp from the Cheltenham direction goes through to Worcester where the loco runs round and returns the load to Ashchurch before reversing into the transfer sidings. Though adding mileage, it eliminates the need to set back from the up and over the down main line which, particularly in the era of high speed trains, is a somewhat hazardous operation.























Last passenger trains calling at Ashchurch 13 November 1971

BR's rationalisation in the 1960s encompassed the closure of smaller stations situated on main lines. Ashchurch, though run-down, survived the January 1965 purge of many between Birmingham and Bristol, but by 1971 was decreed not to have enough passengers to justify its retention and closure notices were posted. Travelling to the DRPS site by train had been very convenient for quite a few volunteers, so the station's demise was a bit of a blow.  DRPS member Bob Rainbow travelled on the last up and down trains to stop here.


The diesel '182' was 'Peak' D182, the class which replaced steam on the Birmingham - Bristol line from summer 1961.

There is a happy ending to this story, with a new station named 'Ashchurch for Tewkesbury' opened on 1 June 1997, still in use today.

 



Two freight trains, one with steel and one with coal, collided outside the site on 4 May. One of the diesels involved was 'Peak' D46.Three breakdown cranes were called in to clear the wreckage and all traffic was diverted via Honeybourne.     
Comments