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Meeting 3rd May 2017

Posted 28/5/2017

The Coalport Branch by Neil Clarke

    This was a well-attended evening with members coming to listen to local historian Neil Clarke talk about the LNWR branch line from Hadley Junction to Coalport in East Shropshire.  He first looked at the origins of the line which was built to access the coal, iron and clay products of the South Coalbrookedale coalfield.  It was partly built on the bed of the Shropshire canal and opened to goods in 1860 and passengers a year later.  Though single track, the foundation allowed for double track.  On leaving the Wellington to Stafford line at Hadley Junction, the stations were: Oakengates Market Street, Malins Lee (which opened a bit later), Dawley and Stirchley, Madeley Market and Coalport.  In addition, there were numerous sidings leading to industrial sites along the route.  The line was very steeply graded in both directions with a fearsome 1 in 31 between Coalport and Madeley.  The middle part was level where is utilised the canal bed.  The only signal box was at Oakengates.  Ground frames were used at other locations along the line which was worked in three sections using a staff and ticket. 

    Neil described the goods carried and their changing sources and destinations as the industries in the area waxed and waned.  There were ironworks at Snedshill, Priors Lee, Old Park and Blists Hill, bricks and tileworks at Hadley, Snedshill and Blists Hill.  Clay came in from Cornwall for the Coalport china works, fish from Hull to Dawley via Leeds and Shrewsbury.  The last use of the line, was to take coal to Watkiss coal merchant at Stirchley in 1964, four years after the rest of the line had been closed in 1960. 

    The line was used extensively for passengers with some extraordinary numbers of passengers carried to Oakengates in the early years of the line.  From 3 trains a day at the start, the numbers rose to a maximum of 6 a day each way in 1948.  The passenger service ceased in 1952 apart from school and Sunday school outings, railtours and excursions.

    Locos used on the line were dominated by LNWR Webb Coal tanks, with Webb 2-4-2 tanks, 'Cauliflowers', Fowler tanks and Super Ds also being used.  When the line was operated by the WR, ex-GWR panniers appeared in the line.

    Neil illustrated his talk with numerous maps and a number of photos of trains dating back to the 1890s .  He also related stories from his own memory and from reminiscences he had collected over 70 years!  He finished with a review of the remains of the railway, much of which is incorporated in the Silkin Way cycle and foot path.

    Members asked a range of questions and there was at least one memory of travelling on the line in 1950s.  A fascinating view of a very local railway.