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 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, see Railway Times report for 19th January 1867. 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.
BISHOPS CASTLE DEFENCE COMMITTEE REPORT [1st January 1904] Transcribed from the Pearce Higgins Collection at the National Railway Museum at York. This report helps explain the railway's financial mess. Most of the land over which the railway ran, owned by the Plowden and Beddoes families, had never been paid for, but eventually agreements to pay rent for the use of the land had been made. However for many years the rents had not been paid. The railway had many other debts owed to creditors but principally to the First Mortgage Debenture holders who had provided finance for the railway at 5% interest on a mortgage to be repaid over 25 years. They had never received a penny of either the interest or the principal. When a small surplus became available in the 1890s to pay debts, the landowners and debenture holders went to court to decide who had first claim on the money, but funds ran out before a decision could be made. However in 1901 another surplus was available and the court decided that current rents should be paid as part of the operating costs, but unpaid rent was just another debt, and that the first debenture holders should claim the money. Mr. Plowden then threatened to shut the line and reclaim his land. Eventually a group of local worthies clubbed together to raise enough money to pay Mr. Plowden and Mr. Beddoes their back rent and the value of the land. The rent for the land from the railway company was used to pay a modest interest on the money raised. This is explained in detail below -
Mr. Wm. Fras. Plowden wrote to the Mayor of Bishops Castle under date 13th February 1901 intimating that in consequence of differences between himself and the holders of the Railway Company’s First Mortgage Debentures he contemplated the taking of legal steps to obtain possession against the Railway Company of that portion of the line which runs through the Plowden Estate thereby of course effecting the closing of the line and completely stopping the Railway communication between Bishops Castle and Craven Arms. In consequence of this communication the Mayor Mr. Ashley Pugh took steps to bring the matter to the notice of the inhabitants of the Town and District. A guarantee fund was formed to meet necessary slight expenses which might be incurred and at a Meeting held at the Town Hall on 1st May 1901 we were elected a committee to watch and take necessary steps for the protection of local interests. We instructed Mr. T. Penson Griffithes of the firm of Messers. Chester Broome & Griffithes of 36 Bedford Row London to negotiate on our behalf with Mr. Plowden’s Solicitors and it appears that the position of matters between Mr. Plowden and the Railway Company was as follows:- The Company’s original agreement was entered into with the late Mr. Plowden in the year 1864 and was for the purchase of land extending to about 4½ miles of railway being nearly one half of the entire line from Bishops Castle to Craven Arms. The purchase-money had never been paid and for many years no payment in the nature of rent or interest was made by the Company and in the year 1880 litigation was on foot between Mr. W. F. Plowden and the Company. By an agreement dated 24th July 1880 Mr. Plowden in effect agreed to let to the Railway Company at an annual rent of £224 6s until he should determine the holding by 3 months notice, the land actually necessary for the purposes of the line (the portions not necessary which were within the Railway Company’s fences being surrendered to Mr. Plowden) and the Company were to be entitled to purchase the land for an annual rent charge of the like amount and on payment of certain arrears. The rent under this agreement was irregularly paid and on the 27th February 1893 Mr. Plowden recovered judgement against the Company for £3179 7s 9d for arrears of rent. Under this judgement Mr. Plowden took proceedings in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice under which Mr. Thomas Cartwright of Wrexham was appointed receiver and manager of the Railway and from the year 1893 down to the present time it appears that the annual payment of £334 6s has been regularly made to Mr. Plowden but no portion of the judgement debt of £3179 7s 9d has ever been paid to him and the whole thereof with interest at 4% per annum for the period since the date of the Judgement (now nearly 11years) still remains due to him. At the date of Mr. Plowden’s letter to the Mayor there was a sum of money in Court representing the profits made by the receiver and manager in working the line in preceding years. In the division of this sum Mr. Plowden desired to participate but the debenture holders who had never received any interest on their money declined to agree to his having any share thereof. On the 25th April 1901 the question came before Mr. Justice Kekewich, the Judge to whose Court the matter was attached and his Lordship decided that the debenture holders were entitled to the entire fund and upon the application of Mr. Plowden’s Counsel he gave leave to Mr. Plowden to commence such proceedings against the receiver as he might be advised to recover possession of his land. Mr. Plowden’s solicitors thereupon intimated their clients determination to proceed promptly under the leave so given for possession of the land unless some arrangement acceptable to Mr. Plowden was made. There were various features connected with the dealings of Mr. Plowden and his late father with the Railway Company which might have been urged and might perhaps have formed a sufficient defence to the proceedings which Mr. Plowden threatened but it was obvious that under the agreement of July 1880 Mr. Plowden had a prima facie case in support of his claim and it was equally obvious that if the matter had been tried and resulted in his favour heavy costs must have been incurred and any settlement with Mr. Plowden would have been rendered more expensive and difficult to arrange. Mr. Griffiths by our instructions had previously approached Messers Slaughter and Colegrave Mr. Plowden’s Solicitors and a very long protracted negotiation took place between them with the result that about the month of October 1901 Mr. Plowden agreed to accept a sum of £7000 for the land in actual use by the Railway Company and a further sum of £100 as a contribution towards his solicitors’ costs, the sale to include the judgement debt already referred to and to be subject to the further conditions presently mentioned. A grave difficulty then arose as to the apportionment of the price between the land (which was in strict settlement with the rest of the Plowden estate) on the one hand and the judgement debt (which representing arrears of rent, was Mr. Plowden’s absolute property) on the other hand; and after much negotiation and delay this question was settled on terms which appear fair and equitable. There was no plan in existence which satisfactorily showed the land in question and a new plan was made under the direction of Mr. Cartwright, the receiver, clearly defining what was agreed to be sold. This plan made it apparent that taking back of the land to which Mr. Plowden was entitled under the agreement of 1880 must involve an expense in fencing considerably in excess of the value of the land and this expense Mr. Plowden was not willing to defray. It was therefore further agreed that in consideration of an additional sum of £200 the purchase should include all the lands originally taken by the Railway Company except about half an acre near Plowden Station, and that a small further parcel should be added so as to render possible of the construction of a double line throughout the whole length of the land purchased in case such a step should ever become desirable. Mr. Sykes permitted his name to be used as the purchaser and the following are the main provisions and effect of the agreements which bear the date the 15th September 1903 and are made between Mr. Plowden and his eldest son Mr. Fras. Chas. Plowden and Mr. Sykes. 1. £100 in cash (which was provided by Mr. Sykes) has been paid to Mr. Plowden’s Solicitors and if the money required to complete this agreement is not forthcoming and the purchase is not completed before the 15th March 1904 this sum is forfeited, the agreement becomes void and there is no further liability on Mr. Sykes, and Mr. Plowden reverts to his former rights and position and can of course resume his proceedings for recovery of the land form the Railway Company. 2. If the required funds are raised Mr. Sykes as Trustee has the right to buy for a further sum of £7200 all the land over which the railway travels through the Plowden Estate including the stations at Plowden and Eaton and including all the land originally enclosed by the Railway Company (except a plot of 2r. 20p. near Plowden Station) and also including such land as may be necessary to double the line at a point called the Malt House situate near Plowden Station (being as we are advised the only spot where additional land would be required for that purpose) and also the right to widen bridges as far as necessary for a double line. 3. This further sum of £7200 covers also the purchase-money for the judgement debt already mentioned, £3179 7s 9d and upwards of £1300 interest thereon. It is not likely that this money will ever be recovered from the Company but the possession of the judgement has hitherto given Mr. Plowden a locus standi in the Chancery proceedings in which the Company’s affairs are administered and it is proposed to apply to the Court to substitute Mr. Sykes in that capacity, and Mr. Plowden undertakes to assist in such substitution. 4. Out of the £7200 Mr. Plowden agrees to accept £2000 to form part of the fund which is to remain charged upon the property to be purchased from him and that already purchased from Mr. Beddoes, particulars of which fund and purchase are presently mentioned, so that the further sum of cash required for Mr. Plowden is £5200. Mr. Plowden further required as a condition of his accepting this £200 by way of security that Mr. Sykes should give him an undertaking to buy the security from Mr. Plowden if the latter desired to sell at any time within 2 years at the price of £75 cash for each £100 of Stock, i.e., £1500 for the £2000. 5. The arrangement carries with it the right to receive from the Company the £224 6s. per annum hitherto paid to Mr. Plowden. 6. The agreement contains provisions such as are usually inserted on a sale to a railway company, viz. :-against using the land for any purpose other than as a railway or road or for agricultural purposes and also against erecting houses or selling intoxicating liquors thereon, to maintain the fences and certain accommodation works and divers other provisions for the protection of Mr. Plowden’s property. 7. The purchase to be completed within six months from the date of the agreement, that is to say before 15th march 1904.
In November 1901 Mr. William Francis Beddoes commenced proceedings for possession of land also used for the Railway and let to the Company at £42 10s per annum and forming part of the Longville Estate. He applied to the Judge in open Court for an order for possession and his Lordship refused this order but gave leave to commence an action against the receiver, which he considered was the proper mode of procedure for Mr. Beddoes to adopt. From the refusal of the order Mr. Beddoes presented an appeal but this never came on to be heard. We were advised that whatever may have been the rights of the parties as between the Railway Co. and Mr. Plowden, there could be no doubt that Mr. Beddoes by taking the appropriate proceedings would obtain a judgement order for possession of the land which the Railway Company held under him and we authorised Mr. Griffiths to treat also with him for the purchase of his land. Mr. Beddoes refused to give any option but agreed to accept £1383 2s for purchase money and costs of his own and other solicitors and insisted on a speedy completion of the purchase. Mr. Sykes provided the necessary funds, and the land was conveyed to him by a deed dated 12th December 1902. The sums which will be required to repay Mr. Sykes the amount already advanced by him and to complete the acquisition of Mr. Plowden’s land are as follows:- Paid to Mr. Beddoes purchase money and costs as above ……. £1383 2 0 Paid Mr. Plowden deposit …….. £100 0 0 Cash balance payable to Mr. Plowden …….. £5200 0 0 £6683 2 0 We have also to provide for expenses of our own surveyor and solicitors which include substantial stamp duties, counsel’s fees and other disbursements and must amount to a considerable sum and it is anticipated that approximately £7300 will be required in cash. Subscriptions are now invited to make up the sums required and it is proposed to secure to the subscribers the interest upon the amounts they contribute and, so far as possible, the capital thereof in the following manner: the property purchased from Mr. Beddoes and that to be purchased from Mr. Plowden are to be vested in Mr. Sykes, Mr. Botfield and Mr. Griffiths as trustees under a trust deed. These trustees will receive from the Railway Company the following annual rents:- For the lands purchased from Mr. Beddoes… …. …. £42 10 0 For the lands purchased from Mr. Plowden… … …. £224 6 0 Total £266 16s 0d Some additional income will be received from the letting of surplus land and it is probable that some more favourable arrangements may be made and a larger rental secured from the Railway Company either absolutely or contingently on their making profits, and negotiations are now on foot with this object. The forgoing figures may be taken to be the minimum income which the trustees will receive. The capital sums the interest upon which has to be provided would be: The amount already mentioned approximately …. …. …. £7300 Stock to be allotted to Mr. Plowden …. …. …. …. …. £2000 £9300 The minimum income above mentioned would enable the trustees to pay interest at 2¾ per cent. per annum upon the sum leaving a small surplus applicable for cost of receipt and distribution, and if any improvement can be negotiated the interest would of course be increased. Having regard to the immense importance to the town and neighbourhood of keeping open the Railway communication we trust all those locally interested will subscribe to the £7300 of stock which has to be issued for cash, as unless they join with us in finding the money required the negotiations must be broken off and Mr. Plowden must be left to his remedies with the probable consequence that he will at once resume his legal proceedings. It has been decided to issue the stock in multiples of £100 and the money will be required about 1st March 1904. Anyone willing to join in the scheme will please fill up and sign the accompanying form and forward it to Mr. T. P. Griffiths, 36 bedford Row, London W.C. on or before the 21st January instant.
Dated 1st January 1904 ARTHUR H. SYKES W. E. GARNETT BOTFIELD
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
"The Bishop's Castle Railway" by Edward C. Griffith, published by author, Surrey, England. 3 editions with amendments, 1949, 1969, reprinted 1977, and 1983 ISBN 0 946184 05 4 BY Kingfisher Railway Productions, Southampton.
"Bishop's Castle Portrait of a Country Railway" by John Scott Morgan, published by Irwell Press, Gwynedd, Wales 1991, reprinted 1996, ISBN 1-871608-23-6
"The Bishop's Castle Railway A Pictorial Presentation" by Ken Lucas, published by the Bishop's Castle Railway Society, 2007.
"Bishop's Castle Railway Journey A Day Trip on the BCR in 1934" by David Morgan edited by Peter Broxholme, published by The Bishop's Castle Railway Society 2014.
The last three titles are available from the Society's website, profits being used to maintain the museum.
Quarterly magazine "The Bishop's Castle Railway Society Journal" available from the society website.
"Bishop's Castle Station" by Roger Carpenter, Model Railway Journal No. 38 Autumn 1991
"Lydham Heath - a remote railway outpost" by Roger Carpenter, Model Railway Journal No. 10 Winter 1986.