Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway
The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway was a company authorised on 4 August 1845 to build a railway line from the Oxford and Rugby Railway at Wolvercot Junction to Worcester, Stourbridge, Dudley and Wolverhampton, with a branch to the Grand Junction Railway at Bushbury. This became known as the Oxford – Worcester – Wolverhampton Line.
The line was opened in stages between 1852 and 1853, and had connections to the Great Western Railway (GWR) at both ends. In 1860 the OWW amalgamated with the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway and the Worcester and Hereford Railway to become the West Midland Railway, which in turn was amalgamated into the GWR in 1863.
The track exists today as far as Dudley, with used track existing as far as the site of the old Harts Hill railway station near Dudley. North of Dudley, the trackbed has long since been replaced, and the Wolverhampton terminus at the Low Level station – has, as of January 2007, been almost totally demolished apart from its Grade II listed building to make way for redevelopment.
Other branches included lines to Kingswinford and Tipton Basin. The Bill stated that the track was to be mixed gauge from Abbotswood near Worcester northwards. It also stated that if the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton failed to complete the line, the Great Western Railway should either lease the line, or purchase the company and complete the line itself. The Bill also stated that Wolverhampton Low Level railway station was to be built and run jointly with two other companies: the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway and the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway.
The Great Western Railway oversaw the project and Isambard Kingdom Brunel was chief engineer. His underestimation of the cost resulted in the Great Western increasing their shareholding to four percent. Progress was slow and by 1 June 1849 all of the available money was spent, and only the middle section of the line was anywhere near complete, so the Railway Commissioners ordered the Great Western to complete the line. They refused and a legal battle started, but meanwhile the loyalty of the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton towards the Great Western was in decline and it signed an agreement with the London & North Western Railway and the Midland Railway on 21 February 1851 which allowed those companies to finish the line themselves, and then run on it. The Great Western had the agreement made void and then offered the company a similar deal on their own terms.
There was notable event during the building of Campden Tunnel near the village of Mickleton. It is called the "Battle of Campden Tunnel", and at the time Berrow's Worcester Journal called it the Mickleton Tunnel Riot. The construction of the tunnel was contracted by the Great Western Railway to a builder named Robert Marchant, who claimed to be owed £34,000 by the Great Western Railway and failed to pay the construction crews. Marchant’s men downed tools and refused to work, in order to force work to resume Brunel gathered a private army of supporters to try and oust Marchant and take control of the tunnel. After three days two magistrates who had been brought in to read the Riot Act ordered Marchant’s men to resume work.
The Great Western leased the line, but the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton made approaches to the London & North Western with a view to connecting to Wolverhampton High Level on the Stour Valley Line instead, with a junction at Tipton. The GWR protested to Parliament who refused to sanction such a thing and threatened the company with heavy penalties unless the line reached the Low Level station and Cannock Road Junction by September 1853. The line was eventually finished in July 1853, and opened on 1 December.
On the death of the contractor, Francis Tredwell, work stopped for several years while the company entered into long litigation with his family firm over financial claims. It took the intervention of Brunel before monies were released to allow his brothers to continue work in 1851.
Closures and changes
The final section of the railway between Dudley and Priestfield Junction (near Bilston) was closed to passenger trains in 1962, shortly before the publication of the Beeching Report. It remained open to goods trains until December 1967. The track was lifted shortly afterwards and parts of the line have since been built on. The grounds of the Angle Ring factory in Bloomfield Road, Tipton, were the first to swallow up part of the trackbed during the 1980s.
The section of line between the Birmingham New Road and Sedgley Road West overbridges on the Coseley-Tipton border was developed as a residential street called Oxford Way in 2002, after more than 20 years of plans for housing development on the site. The overbridges were demolished a year earlier.
The section of the railway between Stourbridge and Dudley was later absorbed into the South Staffordshire Line, which continued to Walsall after forking off eastwards from Dudley. Passenger services had all been withdrawn by 1965, but goods trains continued to serve the route until 1993, when the line north of Round Oak was mothballed. The line is still open for freight to this point to serve Round Oak Steel Terminal.
According to L. T. C. Rolt the railway was nicknamed the "Old Worse and Worse", and was a "shocking railway". On 23 August 1858 there was a serious accident between Round Oak and Brettell Lane which killed 14 people and seriously injured 50 more. A Sunday excursion train to Worcester of 45 carriages hauled by two engines suffered catastrophic failures of the couplings on two occasions, ultimately resulting in a third of the carriages running loose and being derailed. Captain Tyler, the Board of Trade inspector, called it "Decidedly the worst railway accident that has ever occurred in this country".
- Jenkins, Stanley C.; Quayle, H.L. (1977). The Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway. The Oakwood Library of Railway History. Blandford: Oakwood Press. pp. 32, 34, 63, 66. OL40.
- Coldicott, Fred. "The Battle of Campden (or Mickleton) Tunnel". Chipping Campden History. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
- "Hidden Brunel – Gloucestershire". History Features. BBC Online.
- "RAIL RAIL 558/861-558/1318 – dispute between Tredwells & OWW railway". National Archives.
- Rolt, L.T.C. (1960). Red for Danger. London: Pan Books. pp. 148–151.
- "The Fatal Accident On The Oxford And Worcester Line". The Times. 26 August 1858.
- "The Railway Catastrophe Near Dudley, The Adjourned Inquest Yesterday. Conclusion of the Evidence". Birmingham Daily Post. 15 September 1858.
- "The Railway Catastrophe Near Dudley". Birmingham Daily Post. 1 October 1858.
- Tyler, H.W. (16 October 1858). "Accident Returns: Extract for the Accident at Round Oak - Brettel Lane on 23 August 1858". Board of Trade. p. 110, para. 2. Retrieved 14 March 2015.