Birmingham West Suburban Railway

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Birmingham West Suburban Railway
Status Open as part of the Cross-City Line
Locale Birmingham, England
Termini Granville Street
Kings Norton
Opened 1876
Owner Builder: Midland Railway
Owner: Network Rail
Operator(s) Midland Railway and successors
Depot(s) 21B, Bournville
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The Birmingham West Suburban Railway was a suburban railway built by the Midland Railway company. Opened in 1876, it allowed both the opening of development of central southwest suburban Birmingham south into Worcestershire, and the by-passing of railway traffic via the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway into central Birmingham. Today, it forms a major section of the Cross-City Line, running from Lichfield to Redditch, it also forms an important part of the Cross Country Route.


From 1846, Birmingham New Street was constructed as a joint station by the London and North Western Railway and the Midland Railway, to replace several earlier unconnected rail termini, the most notable being Curzon Street. It was opened in 1851 as a temporary rail terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway, and completed in 1854.[1] This new site was a through station, designed as two termini back-to-back, allowing for more traffic.

A group of local business men noticed the resultant need for additional capacity south, through what were the under developed suburbs of south Birmingham and villages of northern Worcestershire. They therefore proposed development of a new branch railway, following the route of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal south to the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway to allow access to their new station at Kings Norton.

Needing finance for construction of the BWSR, the newly formed Midland Railway became involved in the deal. An eventual agreement was reached with the then loss making canal company, who would be paid a rent for the land, which later became a guarantee of a 1% share dividend.[2] The payments to the canal company and development began in 1873, and the line was running by 1875.


Birmingham West Suburban Railway
Midland Railway to Walsall and Burton upon Trent
Midland Railway to Peterborough
London & Birmingham south to London Euston
Camp Hill Line
Curzon Street
Birmingham New Street
West Coast Main Line to Wolverhampton
Central Goods
Gas Street Basin
Granville Street
Bath Row
Five Ways
Church Road
Church Road Tunnel
Somerset Road
Universitynot built until 1978
Worcester and Birmingham Canal
Selly Oak
Waterside Wharf and sidings
Bournville sidings
Cadbury Bournville factory
Camp Hill Line
Bournville Depot, 21B
Original BWSR route into Kings Norton
Kings Norton
Halesowen Joint Railway to GWR Halesowen
Barnt Green
Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton to Evesham
Birmingham and Gloucester Railway south

Built as a single track line with passing loops at each station, the route exited from Granville Street, then proceeded through Church Road, Somerset Road and Selly Oak, before reaching what was originally called Stirchley Street.

The original line then followed the route of the canal east under the Pershore Road to what was effectively a joint dual-level station at Lifford. It then passed under the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway viaduct and turned sharp right (westwards), steeply climbing to join with the Birmingham and Gloucester to the south east of the newly built Kings Norton railway station.[3] Due to the engineering involved in this part of the line, it opened two months after the rest of the line in April 1876, under full operational control of soon to be owner, the Midland Railway.

In 1885 a major development was undertaken, known as the Stirchley Street and Bournville to Kings Norton Deviation. This allowed Midland Railway trains from Derby to Bristol to pass directly through Birmingham, instead of having to change engines and reverse direction. In the north, the project completed works connecting Birmingham New Street via tunnels under both Gloucester and Bath Rows and then via Five Ways to the BWSR. In the south, after passing through the renamed Bournville and Stirchley station, the line was swung westwards away from the canal after passing under the Mary Vale Road bridge, to join the Birmingham and Gloucester to the north east of Kings Norton station, providing a more direct and flatter route between Kings Norton and the BWSR. The line was now also double tracked along its complete length.

Following integration of the line with the Midland Railway system, the company undertook four key further developments:[4]

  • The closure of the under utilised Granville Street,[5] allowed the now spur lines extension under the canal to open the Central Goods railway station in 1887, providing easier transfer of particularly fresh food freight from the southwest into Birmingham.
  • The Lifford loop allowed a circular service along long the Birmingham West Suburban and return via the Camp Hill Line. The company built a new two platform joint Lifford station on the site of the original 1840 Birmingham and Gloucester Lifford railway station.
  • Quadrupling of the joint line between Kings Norton and Northfield, extended south to the junction with Halesowen Joint Railway in 1894.
  • A new engine shed was opened at Bournville, constructed on the route of the old Stirchley-Lifford-Kings Norton alignment, alongside the realigned main line in 1895.

By 1892, the railway had allowed rapid expansion of southern Birmingham and northern Worcestershire, which in part result in an expanded Birmingham in 1911.[4]

In a review of traffic levels in 1930, both the lightly used Somerset Road and all of the stations along the Camp Hill Line were closed. They were all demolished during World War II to allow for greater freight capacity, never to reopen. Camp Hill remains solely a freight line to this day, although there are initial proposals to rebuild the former stations from Birmingham Council. In 1944, the lightly used Church Road was closed.

Cadbury railway[edit]

Main article: Cadbury plc

In 1861, John Cadbury's sons Richard and George had taken over 'Cadbury Brothers of Birmingham,' then based in central Birmingham at Bridge Street.[6]

Noticing the development of the BWSR, the Cadbury Brothers began a search for land on which to develop a factory. At the time, their milk was delivered on canal barges, mainly via the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, while their cocoa was delivered either from London or Southampton via railway. They hence were looking for a junction of canal and rail.

In 1878 the company acquired the Bournbrook estate, comprising 14.5 acres (5.9 ha) of countryside 5 miles (8.0 km) south of the outskirts of Birmingham, right next to the new Stirchley Street station. They renamed the Bournbrook estate to the French-sounding Bournville, and opened the Bournville factory in 1879.

In 1893, George Cadbury bought 120 acres (49 ha) of land close to the works and planned, at his own expense, a model village which would 'alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions'. By 1900 the estate included 313 cottages and houses set on 330 acres (130 ha) of land. As the Cadbury family were Quakers there were no pubs in the estate;[7][8]

Station names[edit]

Bournville railway station in 1962, pre-electrification, looking northeast from Mary Vale Road bridge

In 1876, the terminus of the BWSR had opened as Stirchley Street, a single platform with later added run around loop. However, with the opening of the Cadbury factory, in 1880 the station was renamed 'Stirchley Street and Bournville.' After the through connection was developed to the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway at Kings Norton in 1885, the railway track was doubled along its entire length. The necessitated the construction of a southbound platform between the line and the Worcester to Birmingham Canal, resulting even today in a narrow concourse. In 1904, the station was finally renamed 'Bournville.'[9]

Bournville Works Railway[edit]

1905 map of Birmingham with tunnels and Central Goods Depot in relation to New Street Station

When the factory opened in 1879, they initially used a dedicated horse and cart fleet to move raw ingredients into and produce out of the factory. Dedicated warehouses adjacent to the canal were constructed, in a development known as Waterside Wharf, accessed by a road bridge over the BWSR and canal known as Bournville Way.

In light of increasing production, railway sidings were first laid into the Bournville factory in 1884, resulting in the purchase of a single steam locomotive. As the factory's access to the canal still lay on the far side of the BWSR tracks, a dedicated railway bridge was constructed in 1925 over the BWSR and canal to allow access into what then became called Waterside Wharf and Sidings.[10]

At its height, the Bournville Works Railway ran to some 6 miles (9.7 km) in length. There were extensive rail lines within the works, which with tight radii limited maximum vehicle wheelbase to twin axles on a maximum 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) length.[11] The exchange sidings with the BWSR consisted of two parallel loops, at the north end of which was an extension spur containing a weighbridge. The wheelbase limit meant that the ideal locomotive was an 0-4-0, which were steam fired by coke due to its cleaner burning capabilities, highly important in a food factory.[11] The company owned up to six private locomotives, initially steam powered and finally replaced by diesel, which marshalled three outbound trains every day except Sundays.

Eventually the cost and shipping advantages of road over rail became clear, and the last train left the sidings on 28 May 1976.[11][12] Cadbury No. 1, an 0-4-0T locomotive made by the Avonside Engine Company in 1925, was donated to the Birmingham Railway Museum in Tyseley where it is presently stored awaiting an overhaul to operational condition.[13]

Bournville engine shed[edit]

After the development of the Stirchley Street and Bournville to Kings Norton Deviation in 1885, Bournville shed was constructed on the now redundant land south of Bournville station. Although a sub-shed to Saltley by being given the code 21B, in anticipation of the traffic levels, it was a standard scale Midland Railway roundhouse, equipped with a 50 feet (15 m) turntable, water tank and sand oven. In the yard to replenish and maintain the initial allocation of 25 locomotives, there was a coal stage, two water cranes and ash disposal facilities.

However, throughout its life, Bournville never met the traffic expectations with which it was built. Freight traffic came from the three trains a day from Cadburys, and the Central Goods Station. Passenger services after an initial allocation to London were mainly suburban or county level, with servicing of the BWSR itself as well as the Lifford Loop circulars, those onto the Halesowen Joint Line, locals to Evesham and Ashchurch, and mainline stopping services from Birmingham to Bristol. As a result, Bournville was often allocated end of life locomotives, which when needing major services were then stored pending disposal on the many empty lines.

An inevitable decline began with the closure of the Lifford Loop stations from 1930, which were demolished during World War Two. In 1956 an engine fell into the turntable pit, resulting in temporary closure of the roundhouse and making the shed dependent on Saltley and Bromsgrove for boiler washouts. The turntable was repaired and reinstated, but despite this investment, the shed was officially closed on 14 February 1960. The last in service locomotive officially to leave was BR standard class 5MT 4-6-0 No 44843. Demolition of the buildings began in November 1961, and today the site is an industrial estate.[4][14]


  1. ^ "New Street Station". Rail Around Birmingham and the West Midlands. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  2. ^ "Timeline - Railways in King's Norton". Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  3. ^ "Lifford station". Rail Around Birmingham. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  4. ^ a b c "Bournville Shed". Warwickshire Railways. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  5. ^ Andy Doherty (October 2008). "Beeching & Birmingham". BBC Birmingham. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  6. ^ "The history of Cadbury Schweppes". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  7. ^ "George Cadbury's model village". Journal of Historical Geography. 28: 21–41. 2002-05-22. doi:10.1006/jhge.2001.0372. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  8. ^ Bill Samuel. "Quaker information". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  9. ^ "Bournville station". Rail Around Birmingham. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  10. ^ "Cadbury Railway & (Waterside) Wharf". Rail Around Birmingham. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  11. ^ a b c Mikes Hitches. Bournville Steam & Chocolate. Irwell Press. ISBN 1-871608-31-7. 
  12. ^ "Cadbury railway". Malvern Industrial Archaeology Circle. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  13. ^ "Cadbury Sidings". Photo by D.J. Norton. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  14. ^ D.J. Norton. "Bournville Shed". Retrieved 2010-06-16. 

External links[edit]