Bishops Castle Railway
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|Bishops Castle Railway (1865-1937)|
The Bishops Castle Railway was begun in 1861, planned as a line from Craven Arms to Montgomery, thus linking the Shrewsbury to Hereford line to the Oswestry to Newtown, Powys line (later called the Cambrian Line), linking Mid-Wales and Shrewsbury, with a branch line from Lydham to Bishop's Castle.
From the start, the railway was hampered by shortage of capital. Many investors were already involved in more established lines and did not want competition and distractions to dilute their returns. Although the company continued to build, possibly hoping to dispel doubts and generate interest, the line ultimately only reached Bishop's Castle and was sold in 1867.
In 1860 a railway to link Bishop's Castle with Craven Arms was first mooted. The Act of Parliament for the construction of the line was obtained in 1861. In October 1865 the line was completed and opened using a borrowed locomotive pulling borrowed coaches.
Regular traffic started the following year, but only from Craven Arms to Bishop's Castle. Usage never picked up sufficiently to finance the whole plan and the section of track planned to complete the link was never completed. The double junction at Lydham Heath was partly completed, but that half faced the 'wrong way' for Craven Arms. At Lydham, engines reversed direction to complete the journey to Bishop's Castle, uncoupling, running around their carriages and recoupling for the last few miles. The money ran out and the line was never profitable.
In January 1867, a sale by auction of property belonging to the company was held in Shrewsbury. A receiver was appointed to run the railway. The Bishops Castle Railway Company remained in receivership for 69 years and 2 months until it closed.
Rural bus services started in 1900, consigning the Bishops Castle line further as a provincial oddity in the glorious story of steam trains and railway history. It grimly persevered and ran until 1935, supported by loyal locals, staff and its management.
Operations were formally suspended on Saturday, April 20, 1935 (although the GW&LMS Joint Railway believed this happened a week earlier, on 13 April). The final demolition train left the line at Stretford Bridge Junction on Sunday 21 February 1937. Most of the rails went as scrap metal to Birkenhead where they were used by the Cammell Laird shipyard in the construction of HMS Prince of Wales.
The easternmost stretch of line has been incorporated into the Onny Trail, forming a walk along the banks of the River Onny and across the fields where passengers stepped down to pick mushrooms. The course of the line is clearly visible today, well demarcated and forms a broad grassy walkway through sheep pasture or woodland trackway.
The route joined the main Shrewsbury to Hereford line just north of Craven Arms (at Stretford Bridge Junction) and wound for ten and a half miles along the beautiful Onny valley. It played a vital role in the lives of the cattle market, the gas works, traders and townsfolk alike, yet still never made any money.
Bishop's Castle Railway & Transport Museum
The Bishop's Castle Railway & Transport Museum was set up in Bishop's Castle in 1989 to preserve remaining artefacts from the railway. The museum is staffed by volunteers from the Bishop's Castle Railway Society.
In July 1999 the museum moved to its present location but its development was badly affected by a fire in October 2000. Following an effort to salvage the building and artefacts, the museum reopened in Easter 2002.
- Bee, 0-4-0ST, ex-Benjamin Piercy (contractor), built by Brotherhoods of Chippenham in 1865
- Plowden, 0-6-0, ex-St. Helens Railway, builder unknown
- Perseverance, 0-4-2T, ex-Great Western Railway no.227, built as 0-4-0T by Isaac Dodds and Son in 1854
- Progress, 2-4-0, ex-Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, built by George England and Co. in 1861
- Bishops Castle, 2-4-0, ex-Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, built by George England and Co. in 1861
- No.1, 0-4-2T, ex-Great Western Railway no.567, built at Wolverhampton railway works in 1869
- Carlisle, 0-6-0, ex-Thomas Nelson (contractor) of Carlisle, built as 0-6-0ST by Kitson & Co. in 1868
- Minor Railways of England and their Locomotives by George Woodcock, published by Goose and Son, Norwich, England, 1970
- GWR Chester Division Report to Superintendent of the Line for year 1935 (at Brunel University Special Collections Library)