A new railway station for Bromsgrove (updated 5 October 2018)

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It has taken about three years or more to complete, but finally, on 12 July 2016, Bromsgrove’s new railway station in northeast Worcestershire opened for business as the first train pulled in, on time, at 6:21 am.

Bromsgrove station opens

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So, 176 years after the first station opened on what was then the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, Bromsgrove has a new station worthy of the 21st century, and managed by London Midland.

Bromsgrove station in 1960, looking south to where the new railway station has been constructed.

Bromsgrove’s one platform station in 1981.

Bromsgrove station in 2012, looking north up the Lickey Incline, taken from the down line platform.

As with many infrastructure projects nowadays it seems, there have been several delays in completing this project. The station should have opened by Autumn 2015. Built on the site of the old carriage works, hidden signalling cables and a previously unmapped culvert required extensive additional engineering works to resolve these issues. In addition, hundreds of tonnes of oil-contaminated soil had to be removed from the site.

Now Bromsgrove proudly boasts of a modern, four platform station provided with lift access to all platforms, a ticket office, bicycle store, toilets, and parking for over 300 cars (payable by the day, week, month or annually). Regular bus services will connect the station with the town center over a mile away.

The new station replaces a two platform facility that was upgraded from a single platform (on the up line, towards Birmingham New Street) in the mid-1980s. Until then, trains on the down line (towards Worcester) were diverted on to the up line for the short period necessary to disembark and take on new passengers. Not the most convenient situation, as you can imagine, and one that led to serious traffic restrictions on this busy main line connecting the West Midlands with the south west (Gloucester, Bristol, South Wales, and beyond).

The station is about half a mile from my home, but I rarely used the train when I taught at the University of Birmingham in the 1980s. Even though the trains from Bromsgrove to Birmingham stopped at only one other station: University (right in the heart of the University of Birmingham campus, essentially).

The old station, at the foot of the famous Lickey Incline could accommodate trains with only three carriages. The new station has the length for six carriage trains, and once the electrification of the line has been extended from Barnt Green at the top of the Incline to Bromsgrove, a schedule of four or more trains per hour can be accommodated. Not only will stopping trains park on one of the platform branch platforms, thus permitting express through trains to keep to their schedule, but electric trains will be able to tackle the Lickey Incline faster from a standing start¹, unlike today’s diesel trains that chug up the Incline somewhat sedately.

The final platform branch line will not open until October this year, and new signalling installed. The mainline will be closed for two weeks. The final branch could not be laid until the old station closed as the curve into the fourth platform has to begin from where the old down line platform was located. Work has already begun, the old station platforms demolished, and the rails already laid ready to link into the main line later this year.


Update (November 2016)
The track laying and realignment are now complete, and new signalling has been installed. We just wait for the electrification of the line to Bromsgrove, which should be completed by this time next year.

Much to my surprise, the new main down does in fact diverge from the old main down through the new Platform 4. You can see where that track was about to be laid in the photos above. And here is the track layout today. The old station was situated immediately below the bridge from where this photo was taken, looking south to the new station.

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South of the station, looking north to the station, you can see the new track layout, with the new through down on the right.

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A down express passing at speed through the new Platform 4 loop

Just south of the station, and on the left of this photo is a small siding for ‘bankers’—locomotives that add power to freight trains waiting to climb the Lickey Incline. They sit at the rear and gives a well-deserved push. Here’s a video from YouTube that illustrates what I mean (before the new station was built and track layout changed. However, this freight train was waiting on the freight loop that has been realigned in the recent work).

Also, the freight loop, that passes through Platform 1, is on the left.

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Update (5 October 2018)
Electrification finally came to Bromsgrove at the end of July 2018. There had been serious delays, and Bromsgrove commuters were becoming increasingly angry about the delays to their promised new services.

But the overhead wires were finally installed and went live at the end of May to permit testing of the new installations and driver training before the implementation of the new services. Over the next few weeks, empty trains passed between Birmingham and Bromsgrove.

Bromsgrove is now served by West Midlands Railway, and there are five trains an hour into Birmingham New Street at peak times. Some are Class 323 electric units on the Cross City Line (that now connects Bromsgrove with Lichfield to the north of Birmingham), others are the same old diesel-powered Class 170 units that connect Bromsgrove with Birmingham and Hereford.

As I mentioned earlier in this story when I posted it in August 2016, it was expected that the new electric units would power up the Lickey Incline faster¹ than the diesel ones. Two minutes faster in fact! That might not seem much, but with additional platforms at Bromsgrove to accommodate waiting trains, and faster trains clearing the Lickey Incline sooner, the through expresses are not affected, and more trains per hour can be run. Well, someone filmed the difference between the Class 323 and Class 170 trains; here is the video:

 

 

 

Light of foot, nimble of finger . . .

Luke Lightfoot. Never heard of him? Neither had I until just over a couple of weeks ago when we visited the National Trust’s Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, south of Buckingham, east of Bicester.

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Claydon House is close to two other National Trust properties, Waddesdon Manor and Stowe, perhaps more illustrious, and probably they receive far more visitors.

So how does Claydon compare? I think that anyone who visits Claydon House will come away with a sense of wonder of what 18th century master carver and stonemason Luke Lightfoot achieved for his employer, Ralph 2nd Earl Verney who rebuilt the family ancestral home between 1757 and 1771. The Verney family still occupies the red brick wings of the house.

The building standing today is just part of what was originally planned, and at least one wing was demolished. Although the exterior of the building is often described as austere, I think it has a charming symmetry and simplicity.

The interiors however, are something else—a riot of rococo wood carving of the very highest standard. Perhaps the most exquisite examples of 18th century carving to be seen anywhere in the country.

Luke Lightfoot, born in London in 1722, is somewhat of a mystery. Here’s what the National Trust has to say about him: Luke Lightfoot was a brilliant and talented stonemason and carver, but not an architect. However, Sir Ralph Verney engaged him as such at Claydon where Lightfoot used his skills to make impressive carvings, most notably in the north hall here at Claydon. He was a very talented carver but not a very trustworthy one and he swindled away a lot of Sir Ralph’s money before being dismissed. 

Most of the work done by Luke survives today, including the painted wooden carvings in the Chinese Room. All of the wood was painted white, which is believed to be because it was all carved in pine which comes in many shades and discolours over time. Due to the preserving coat of paint you can still see the unique and amazing craftsmanship of the carvings today.

The main entrance of the house leads into the Saloon, a beautifully proportioned room decorated in blue and white. You can’t fail to be impressed by the ceiling decoration, or the papier mâché reliefs high up on the walls.

But it’s in the North Hall that some of Lightfoot’s best carving is to be seen.

In the library there is equally fine carving high on the walls, but the ceiling was completed by Joseph Rose.

The Grand Staircase is in a class of its own. Can there be a finer example in England?

In the Pink Parlor, the door lintels are surmounted by other carvings depicting Aesop’s Fables, and the ceiling of the Great Red Room immediately above has some impressive ‘domes’.

Florence Nightingale was the sister of the second wife, Parthenope, of Sir Henry Verney (1801-1894), and she visited Claydon many times. On the second floor is the bedroom she used. Next door is the Gothic Room in which the only decoration that is not made of wood is the marble fireplace. Can you imagine such carving?

Next to the Gothic Room is the Chinese Room, where the rococo decoration has ‘exploded’. And more impressive ‘domes’ in the Paper Room.

Close by the house, no more than 50 m away is the Church of All Saints, with many memorials to the Verney family, and especially one to Sir Edmund Verney, Standard Bearer to King Charles I, who was killed at the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642.

Don’t miss Claydon. You won’t be disappointed.

I have only shown photos here of the decoration and architectural features, and I’m grateful to the National Trust for giving me permission for photography in the house. Photography is not normally permitted, and certainly not of any of the Verney family personal effects such as masterpiece paintings and furniture. In the Salon there’s an impressive Van Dyck painting of Charles I for example, and throughout the house there are many more examples of such quality.

Claydon House is not the easiest National Trust property to find. Thankfully we had detailed Ordnance Survey maps to guide us there; signage leaves something to be desired. Road signs petered out in several places, and I did overhear other patrons mentioning this to staff on arrival. That’s something the National Trust needs to improve upon, not just here at Claydon but elsewhere around the country.

I can’t finish this particular blog post without a mention of the volunteers at Claydon, some of the friendliest and most informative we have come across in all our National Trust visits.