Mervyn Srodzinsky provides a detailed illustrated history of Stafford Road Locomotive Works from its early days of locomotive building and maintenance through to its final closure 115 years later.

Although the history of Stafford Road Works can be traced back to the days of the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway in 1849, the evolution of the site was not really complete until the Great Western Railway was able to access a Government grant from 1929, and it is the impressive buildings erected with these funds that are instantly recalled by most who visited. The long overdue upgrade for the site encompassed land to the west side of the Victoria Basin line south from Stafford Road Junction, the previous Works buildings being hemmed in between this line, the LMS route north from Wolverhampton station towards Bushbury, and the GWR's Birmingham to Shrewsbury route. This view inside the new Works erecting shop was photographed in 1933, shortly after its completion. Taking centre stage, a fifty-ton overhead crane is lifting an 0-6-0PT from its wheel sets, ready for overhaul, while a Churchward Mogul is also present, on the left. Author's Collection.

The history of the development of the Great Western Railway's Stafford Road Locomotive Works at Wolverhampton is to some extent quite complex. In November 1849 the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway (S&BR) decided to establish a small Works premises and sheds for the stabling and maintenance of its locomotives and carriage stock alongside the Stafford Road at Wolverhampton. At this time there was little capacity for any major locomotive repairs to be undertaken, and everything, other than small parts, had to be obtained from the various private manufacturers that originally built and supplied the locomotives. Additionally, a goods building and yard were laid out under the lee of the adjacent Dunstall Hill area.

In 1850 a temporary station was also built, and which formed a part of the Works complex, its main function probably being to supply the Works premises with construction materials, the station's run-round facilities forming a part of the Works sidings.

It was in 1853 that Joseph Armstrong was sent from Chester in order to take charge of the Works at Wolverhampton. In the following year, subsequent to the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway having been amalgamated with the GWR, Armstrong was appointed as Locomotive Superintendent of the then newly-formed Northern Division of the Great Western Railway. As such he was given control of all the standard gauge areas of the GWR from his new headquarters at Wolverhampton. Initially the only standard gauge sections of line were over the Shrewsbury route, and over the mixed-gauge track as far as Birmingham.

In 1854, however, the former Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway's Works at Stafford Road were partly demolished to make way for the GWR connecting line which linked the station at Wolverhampton (Low Level) to the line from Shrewsbury at Stafford Road Junction, so as to create a continuous route for the increasing standard gauge traffic from the north down to Birmingham. At around this time the GWR also transferred its Wolverhampton carriage and wagon maintenance up to the Works at Saltney, near Chester, and Wolverhampton took over the locomotive repair work that had previously been carried out there.

A track plan of the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway's headquarters at Stafford Road in 1849. The railway, arriving from the right of this map, crossed Stafford Road to reach a temporary terminus in Wolverhampton from 12 November 1849, the need for this effectively being removed thanks to the use of the L&NWR station from 1 December 1851, the S&BR endeavouring to forge a good relationship with that concern to access Birmingham via the Stour Valley line. However, it was not to be, and the junction to the right of this view would become Stafford Road Junction in 1854 when the S&BR threw in its lot with the newly arrived GWR, and the S&BR siding alignment shown here helped pave the way for the link to Wolverhampton's new GWR station. However, the previous S&BR line into Wolverhampton would long be perpetuated by the Great Western thanks to well established goods facilities at Victoria Basin that needed to be served. Author's Collection.

The GWR had established its own broad gauge locomotive depot on the opposite side of the Stafford Road to the S&BR complex, but this site lay physically lower by some thirty feet than that of the S&BR, a topographical problem that would hamper the logical enlargement of Stafford Road Works in the years to come. Separated by the Stafford Road itself, and at their different levels, the two parts of the future Works and shed complex became referred to by the GWR as 'High Level' and 'Low Level' or 'Lower Yard', not to be confused with the subsequent designation as 'High Level' and 'Low Level' of the respective LMS and GWR railway stations in the town.

It was in 1858 that a policy of expanding and re-arranging the Stafford Road Works was initiated, and the original S&BR buildings were variously demolished or converted to other uses. Amongst other changes, the S&BR running shed was replaced by an erecting shop, and a GWR locomotive shed (believed to be broad gauge) on the eastern edge of the site, adjacent to the line from Cannock Road Junction to Stafford Road Junction, was then converted and extended for use as a smithy and forge. To the side of the erecting shop was a wheel shop, and to its south was a traverser, with a number of parallel roads used for General repairs and the running maintenance of locomotives. A boiler shop and foundry were built on the site of the earlier goods yard. The old repair shop became a machine and fitting shop, with two pits for the erection of new locomotives.

In due course the first Stafford Road-built locomotives emerged from the re-organised Works in September and October 1859, these being two 2-2-2 tender engines, Nos 7 and 8, with 6ft 2in driving wheels. From this year onwards the standard gauge locomotives also then began to run south of Birmingham. To accommodate the increase in traffic a new standard gauge locomotive shed was erected next to the broad gauge shed in the lower yard, and this became known as 'Shed No 1'. It was about two feet above the rail level of the broad gauge shed, and the connection between the two levels had to be made at some distance.

As from 1860, the GWR's collection of standard gauge locomotive stock was to be further increased with the acquisition of some 21 assorted engines from the newly amalgamated Birkenhead Railway. At the same time the old Great Western broad gauge services were being gradually decreased, and the engines and stock were taken back down south. However, it has to be kept in mind that broad gauge working around Wolverhampton did not finally cease until almost the end of 1869, and until then a contingent of these locomotives and stock would no doubt also have been maintained at Stafford Road Works. A book listing rolled plans which was deposited at the Works makes reference to either work carried out or details relating to GWR broad gauge locomotives Salus, Dial la, Peri, Wolverhampton and Prince for the period 1859 to 1861. As these plans were kept at Stafford Road Works, and not Swindon, there is a strong inference that these locomotives would have been visitors to the Works at Wolverhampton. It would also be fair to assume that the engine Wolverhampton would have been maintained at Stafford Road Works on a regular basis.

A diagram of the broad gauge locomotive yard opened to the south side of the Stafford Road in 1854, on the opposite side of the main road to the former S&BR narrow (standard) gauge facilities of 1849, and accessed via the new link from Wolverhampton's GWR station to the newly made Stafford Road Junction. The 1860 development of a standard gauge shed and other facilities are also shown. Author's Collection.

Interestingly, it was some considerable time before all of the broad gauge track was completely removed from the lower shed yard, and this rail can still be seen in situ in the foreground of various photographs taken of locomotives up to 1878, almost ten years later on, curving away towards the old broad gauge shed. It is something of a puzzle as to why this track was retained for such a long time as it was taking up valuable yard space. The last broad gauge train working from Wolverhampton is believed to have been a cattle train, and just possibly with the 0-6-0 locomotive Salus in charge, which may have previously received attention at Stafford Road Locomotive Works as late as October 1869, according to an entry given in the book of rolled plans, but as this date falls between two entries for 1859, it may be incorrect.

One final link to the old broad gauge days was however re-established in 1890 when, following the withdrawal of the broad gauge 2-2-2 locomotive Bulkeley, its boiler was sent up from Swindon Works to Wolverhampton for stationary use in the Works.

Capacity at the Stafford Road Works had, however, been put to the test from 1863 onwards as a result of the influx of yet a further batch of standard gauge locomotives, which were acquired as a result of the GWR's amalgamation of the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway (OW&WR). The old wooden OW&WR locomotive shed, situated at the Low Level station, was now vacated, and demolished later on. The engines from there were also transferred over to Stafford Road, adding even more to the workload. For some time now it had been hoped to increase the area of land available by excavating a sandstone hill which was on the western side of the Works. Unfortunately this plan could not be achieved as the landowner refused to sell to the GWR, and so the Works had to be re-organised (yet again) in order to make better use of the existing land that was available.

Swindon-built '79' class 0-6-0 No 84 is seen at Wolverhampton subsequent to its extensive renewal, completed at the Stafford Road Works in February 1877. Of great interest is the original GWR 7ft gauge track still in place in the foreground of this photograph; the broad gauge was officially withdrawn from Wolverhampton in 1869. However, as No 84 was not renewed at the Works until 1877, this photograph must have been taken some eight years later on. The track appears to be heading in the direction of the old broad gauge shed in the lower yard, out of view to the left, so the link from S&B Junction to Stafford Road Junction is behind the engine as we look north-east, and the viaduct on the right carries the L&NWR route from Wolverhampton to and from Stafford. Author's Collection.

The only viable solution that was available to alleviate this lack of capacity was to duplicate certain facilities in the lower yard area. New erecting, fitting, and machine shops, together with a smithy, were built in between the broad gauge running shed and the stores. The broad gauge shed itself now became a tender shop, and it was later partitioned into both a paint and a tender shop; sheds Nos 2 and 3 were erected alongside No 1 shed on the broad gauge ground, creating a vast running shed capable of accommodating some 120 tender and tank engines. A wide connecting footbridge was also constructed between the two sections of the Works, over the Stafford Road itself, thereby making staff communication between the two respective sites a much easier task.

By this time the enlarged Northern Division Works was now the greatest running centre on the GWR, with the locomotives built there also being maintained and shedded within the Works complex. The Wolverhampton Northern Division actually extended as far as London, Oxford, Worcester, Newport, Shrewsbury, Chester, and Birkenhead, and as such its influence was far more widespread than might first be assumed. In due course, Joseph Armstrong was appointed by the Great Western to the position of Locomotive & Carriage Superintendent at Swindon, and his brother George Armstrong took charge over at Wolverhampton in 1864.

Despite the actual increase in locomotive construction at Stafford Road Works as from 1866, there were problems throughout the 1870s and 1880s due to a national recession. At one point in 1877 it was feared locally that the Works might have to be closed altogether, but in the event this financial depression was weathered, and the Works carried on as best as possible until things improved.

Another view showing the surviving broad gauge lines in the lower shed yard in the same era captures '111' class 2-4-0 No 1009. Quality views of such early engines are invaluable, but the broad gauge track is important too, as the only other location where the broad gauge is to be seen in a photograph in the Wolverhampton area is of mixed gauge from the OW&WR, at Wolverhampton station circa 1855. It is a puzzle as to why this track was retained at Stafford Road for such a long time. As we will see, it would, however, be removed and re-laid with standard gauge track by 1883. The depicted standard gauge engine was from a class of twenty (including two renewals) built at the Stafford Road Works between 1863 and 1866 - they were also the first class of 2-4-0s to be designed by Joseph Armstrong. This photograph probably dates from the mid-1870s, following the replacement of the original 1866 flat spectacle plate with a small Stafford Road-type curved cab that afforded the footplate crew marginally more protection from the elements; No 1009 would serve until January 1904. Author's Collection, from an original by R. Bleasedale.

In about 1890 the running shed that had been built near to Oxley viaduct in 1858 was demolished, and in its place a new long shed was erected backing on to Fox's Lane, and with access from the turntable of No 3 shed. In later years this shed subsequently became the paint shop, and later became the road motor workshop.

After the death of Sir Daniel Gooch in 1889, the Directors of the GWR soon turned their attention to the removal of the remaining broad gauge system from the south of England, at which time the important question arose as to which Works, Swindon or Wolverhampton, ought to become the principal locomotive building centre. Yet again, the ongoing problem of the acquisition of enough land became the issue at Wolverhampton.

The sandstone embankment, as previously mentioned, also acted as a barrier between the Works and the landowner's gardens and private approach road to his house. As a consequence he could not be persuaded to sell the land at a price that was acceptable to the GWR, and unfortunately the end result was that Swindon was chosen for development, instead of Wolverhampton.

A track plan of Stafford Road Works and running sheds in 1875 helps to give a better understanding of the lower shed yard (bottom left) around the time of the two previous photographs, and it also offers a excellent cross-reference to the next view of the GWR-built facilities as seen from the L&NWR viaduct (just in view at the extreme bottom left), which was photographed once the broad gauge rails had finally been removed. Authors Collection.

Stafford Road Works and shed yard, as photographed circa 1883 from the L&NWR Stour Valley Railway viaduct. It was almost certainly taken by R. H. Bleasedale, whose remarkable railway photographs are among the earliest that survive in any quantity. To the extreme left is the corner edge of No 3 shed, built in 1860, and to its immediate right is a former broad-gauge locomotive shed (at this time in use as a tender repair shop) erected around 1857. This was one of the more prominently sited of at least three broad-gauge sheds that at one time served Stafford Road. In time this building would again be a running shed, for standard-gauge locomotives, and it would in fact still be in use up until the shed's closure in 1963. An earlier broad-gauge shed is also extant in this photograph, it being situated to the far right-hand side of the building complex, flanking the curved running line that approaches Stafford Road Junction (out of sight); at this time it was in use as a smithy, with a forge to the rear. Dunstall Park station is yet to be built - it wouldn't open until 1 December 1896, and would be sited to the right-hand side of the photograph. The large flat-fronted building at the centre of the view is the old lower yard locomotive erecting shop. Identifiable locomotives in the yard are believed to be as follows. On the right-hand side, the row is headed up by 0-6-0ST No 152, facing an ex-West Midland Railway 2-2-2, No 214 (Beyer, Peacock, 1861), and next to this is ex-Shrewsbury & Chester Railway 2-2-2 No 14 (Sharp Brothers, 1848). After its withdrawal in 1885, this engine was preserved at Wolverhampton until an arbitrary decision was made in 1920 to cut it up - a sad loss to preservation. To the rear is a '322' class 0-6-0 (Beyer, Peacock, circa 1845); the other locomotives in the line are unknown. On the left-hand side is 2-4-0 No 725 (Swindon, 1872), to the rear are three '1501' class 0-6-0STs, and to the right of this line (facing the camera) is a domeless boiler 2-2-2, either No 999 Sir Alexander or No 1121 (Swindon, 1875) - Sir Alexander was shedded at Wolverhampton for use on Paddington express trains. Just visible to the right of these engines is 2-4-0 No 806 (Swindon, 1873), which regularly worked Wolverhampton to Chester expresses. In the centre of the scene is a row of six locomotive tenders awaiting attention, and in the bottom left-hand corner are large blocks of stone stored by the GWR bridge department, adjacent to three Works vans, two of which are mounted on old tender frames. It is believed that these were used to house acetylene supplies, with take off points from the tube surrounding the van body. Author's Collection.
An extract from a 1880s' legal plan of the complete Works area as it was at that time (north is to the left), as used to note the acquisition or subsequent disposition by the GWR of various parcels of land.

The plan also illustrates the location of the two-part bridge which crossed the canal, with the tracks then running beneath the arches of the L&NWR's Stour Valley Railway viaduct, providing both main-line access and also a route into a separate coaling stage area that was eventually rebuilt and enlarged, circa 1900. Author's Collection.

An 1890s' view of the lower yard erecting shop at Stafford Road Works. On the left-hand side an employee stands poised with a large file above what appears to be an axlebox from a Beyer, Peacock & Co Ltd 0-6-0. The adjacent set of 6ft driving wheels are marked up as RD (right driver) 377. This engine was one of the '111' class of 2-4-0s and it was rebuilt at Stafford Road Works in April 1896 and so, as a consequence, this gives a good indication as to the actual date of the photograph. To the right can be seen 'Standard Goods' locomotive No 431 awaiting attention. Courtesy of Simon Dewey.

Notwithstanding the choice of Swindon, Wolverhampton Locomotive Works continued to maintain its independence until George Armstrong retired in 1897. He was replaced by the Works Manager, W. H. Waister, who only months later also went to Swindon to become Locomotive Running Superintendent of the GWR. He was in turn replaced at Wolverhampton by J.A. Robinson, again in 1897, and at this period of time of managerial uncertainty the authority was taken over by William Dean at Swindon headquarters, who from then on continued to maintain formal responsibility over the day-to-day running of the Wolverhampton Works.

Around the turn of the century, however, land values in the vicinity of the Wolverhampton Works eventually began to fall as a result of the spread of generalised industrialisation in the town, with the additional effect that the housing for the factory workers also continued to expand and increase. It was at this time that the GWR was eventually sold the extra land that it had wanted for such a long time, and plans were drawn up for a major expansion of the Works. Building contractors were employed, and actually began to cut away at the sandstone hill. The spoil excavated was then used to build up the lower slopes down towards Gorsebrook Road, to the rear, again with the effect of increasing the area of land that could be made available for use.

The project was soon abandoned, as unfortunately by this time Wolverhampton Works was found to be incapable of handling the construction of the increasingly large locomotives that were now required by the Great Western. As a result, actual locomotive construction finally ceased at Stafford Road Works in 1908, the last new locomotives being a batch of twenty 2-6-2Ts, which became Nos 4500-4519. As an aside, from this class No 4510 was the only Stafford Road-built engine to suffer bomb damage during World War II when an early-morning workmen's train was straddled by bombs and derailed on 12 January 1941 at Penryn, on the GWR's Falmouth branch. No one was hurt, and the engine only suffered minor damage as a result of the enemy action.

Since 1858, Wolverhampton's Stafford Road Works had constructed a total of 794 locomotives, together with 102 rebuilds, which in reality were so extensive as to be virtually new, and it also produced six railmotor engines, apart from all of the ongoing day-to-day Heavy repairs and locomotive modifications.

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