Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway
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The Stratford Upon Avon & Midland Junction Railway (SMJR) was a small independent railway company that ran a railway network across part of central England. Its lines covered south Northamptonshire and south Warwickshire and its services extended to parts of north Buckinghamshire and north Oxfordshire. The company adopted its "Stratford Upon Avon & Midland Junction" name in 1909. In Britain's 1923 railway grouping the SMJR was made part of the new London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS). In Britain's 1948 transport nationalisation the former SMJR was made part of British Railways (BR). BR closed much of the former SMJR's network in the 1950s, and now only 5 miles (8 km) of it remain in use.
The SMJR was formed by the merger of the East & West Junction Railway (E+WJR), the Evesham, Redditch and Stratford Railway (ER+SR), and changed its name to the Stratford-upon-Avon, Towcester and Midland Junction Railway (ST+MJR), the Easton Neston Mineral and Towcester, Roade and Olney Junction Railway (ENM+TROJR). In 1910 The Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway (N+BJR) merged with the SMJR. As the SMJR the company ran services between Broom Junction and Stratford-upon-Avon and Banbury in the west through Towcester to Blisworth and Olney in the east, promoting itself as "The Shakespeare Route".
The SMJR was formed by the amalgamation of four railways in 1909/10:
- Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway (NBJR), incorporated 28 July 1863, opened 1 June 1872, length 15.25 miles (24.5 km). Intended to tap the ironstone deposits near Blisworth, it ran from there to Cockley Brake Junction where connection was made for Banbury.
- East & West Junction Railway (E&WJR), incorporated 1864, opened Fenny Compton to Kineton 1 June 1871; Kineton to Stratford-upon-Avon 1 July 1873. On the latter day, extended eastward to join the NBJR near Towcester.
- Evesham, Redditch & Stratford-upon-Avon Junction Railway, incorporated 1873, opened 2 June 1879, length 7.5 miles (12 km). Westward extension of E&WJR to join the Midland Railway at Broom Junction.
- Stratford-upon-Avon, Towcester & Midland Junction Railway, opened 1891 from Towcester to a junction near Olney, Buckinghamshire, also Midland Railway. Unlike the other lines, this was intended mainly for passenger traffic, but this was short-lived in a sparsely-populated area. The line did however complete a cross-country link for Midland Railway lines.
On 1 January 1923 the SMJR was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR) and became an important asset to it, providing a direct route (avoiding Birmingham), between the western line hitherto owned by the Midland Railway and the main line south of Bedford. It was extensively used by excursion traffic between the two world wars. There was also a "race special" once a year to Towcester from London. In 1948 the SMJR became part of British Railways.
Once all the portions of the line came together on the first day of 1909 (except for the Northampton & Banbury junction Railway which was taken over the following year) the SMJR consisted of a main line from Blisworth to Broom and two branches: one from Towcester to Ravenstone Wood Junction, Olney and the other from Towcester to Cockley Brake Junction. There were connections along the route with:
- Midland Railway — as already described
- London and North Western Railway at Blisworth
- Great Central Railway (GCR) at Woodford Halse. Soon after the GCR’s London Extension was built in 1899, through passenger coaches were instituted between London Marylebone and Stratford; later a slip coach was used on the service.
- Great Western Railway at Fenny Compton and again at Stratford
The line was single track throughout apart from passing loops: the countryside was undulating, and there were frequent changes of gradient and sharp curves, making it difficult to work for train crews. The track itself, until taken over by the LMSR, was mostly secondhand; because of this, the line was dubbed the "Slow, Mouldy and Jolty Railway" by travellers.
In 1923 the SMJR owned 13 locomotives, and by that time all of them were old. They were incompatible with the new company’s modernisation scheme so the LMS had them all scrapped by 1931.
The Edge Hill Light Railway, which began working in 1922 and closed in 1946, ran from Burton Dassett sidings, west of Fenny Compton.
In 1960 a new East to South curve was opened by British Railways at Stratford upon Avon to allow freight traffic to run from Banbury to Honeybourne - so allowing the closure of the Broom Junction section.
The line’s original raison d’etre (that of conveying ironstone to the ironworks of South Wales) was ended when cheap Spanish ore displaced that from the Northamptonshire quarries. This brought about financial problems, and for a time in the 1870s the E&WJR was in the hands of the receiver. By 1911, however, the line was showing a reasonable profit.
Lias limestone was conveyed from the Ettington Lime Works; but from the early 20th century it became important as a through route for freight of all kinds between the West of England and London. One such freight working was the express banana train between Avonmouth Dock and St Pancras.
Passenger services generally on the SMJR were sparse, with often just three or four trains a day. For some months in 1932 the LMS experimented on the SMJR with a Ro-Railer — a bus converted to run on rails — but this was not successful and the LMS withdrew the service in June 1932.
- 16 June 1947 Broom — Stratford-upon-Avon closed to passenger traffic
- 2 July 1951 Blisworth — Towcester passenger traffic
- October 1951 Blisworth — Cockley Brake Junction all traffic
- 7 April 1952 Stratford — Ravenstone Wood Junction passenger traffic
- The SMJ Society
- SMJ History
- The Railway Year Book for 1912 Railway Publishing Company Limited
- Railway Magazine April 1933
- Railway Magazine April 1956