Three Collett-designed engines await their next turn of duty from Wolverhampton's Stafford Road shed on Friday; 17 July 1959 - '5101' class 2-6-2T No 5151, 'King' class 4-6-0 No 6008 King James II, and 'Castle' class 4-6-0 No 7015 Carn Brea Castle. The 2-6-2T would see use until November 1962, while the 'King', despite looking to be in good condition ready to work the 8.53am Wolverhampton (Low Level) to London (Paddington) service, had less than three years service remaining. The 'Castle' carries a headboard for 'The Cornishman', which was usually timed to leave Wolverhampton (Low Level) station for Penzance at 9.00am, with the 'Castle' working as far as Bristol; No 7015 would serve until April 1963, by which time it was allocated to Old Oak Common. Brian Penney.

The importance of Wolverhampton as a railway centre, and in particular the significant presence of the Great Western Railway's Stafford Road sheds and locomotive works, has, until recent years, been somewhat overlooked by railway historians. Stafford Road was designated as one of the GWR's main 'A' class running depots and it continued as such right into British Railways (Western Region) times, and up until closure in 1963.

When considering any detailed history of the locomotive shed facilities at Wolverhampton it has to be appreciated that in the early years (1854-69) there was an amalgam of both broad gauge and 'narrow' gauge sheds set up on different locations. To those unfamiliar with the peculiar topographical layout of the works and sheds at Wolverhampton it should be explained that the site was also laid out at different heights and that these were bisected by the actual main Stafford Road itself as it headed out of town. Hence there were separate upper and lower yard areas, often referred to as 'High Level' and 'Low Level' which were utilised for shed and works requirements. These should not be confused with the London & North Western Railway and GWR railway stations close to the town centre, which were actually named Wolverhampton (High Level) and Wolverhampton (Low Level) respectively.

Initially, due to lack of space, the locomotive sheds and works were all dovetailed in together, piecemeal, and as best as possible. As a result of opposition by a local landowner, this difficult situation remained unresolved and it would go on to thwart the GWR's expansion plans at Wolverhampton right up to the early 1930s, when some additional land (together with a Government grant) finally became available and this allowed the modernisation and expansion of the works to be carried out on the upper Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway (S&BR) side of the Stafford Road complex, by way of cutting back a high sandstone ridge. The various running sheds, however, all remained on their original locations.

The GWR established itself in Wolverhampton from 1854, and a brief description of how this was achieved is of some assistance in understanding the development of the Stafford Road sheds and Works during the years that followed.

Established by the 10th century, Wolverhampton is located 14 miles north-west of Birmingham and it was set to become one of the largest towns in the country, nowadays having attained 'Millennium' city status. From the late 1830s onwards various railway companies soon began to converge on the town, in view of its central location in the rapidly emerging industrial heartland of England. The different railway companies eventually settled in their final forms in the town as the London & North Western Railway, the GWR and the Midland Railway.

As is well-known, the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway had already set up its own locomotive works and running shed at Wolverhampton back in 1849, on a somewhat elevated location just to the south of its imposing blue brick viaduct at Oxley. Thus when the GWR amalgamated with the S&BR (and the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway) in September 1854, it also acquired, by default, its first stretch of 'narrow' gauge main line, together with a wonderful collection of locomotives of various origins, shapes and sizes, all of which provided the newly-appointed Locomotive Superintendent, Joseph Armstrong (and subsequently his brother George) with an ongoing task as regards stabling, maintenance and repair for many years to come. The Act of Parliament authorizing the amalgamation of the Shrewsbury companies with the GWR did, however, include provisions so as to prohibit the extension of the broad gauge beyond Wolverhampton. Prior to 1854, the GWR entered the jointly-owned Low Level station at Wolverhampton over mixed gauge metals owned by the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway (OW&WR), the actual GWR main line from the south ending at a junction with the OW&WR at Priestfield Furnaces, later to become Priest field station.

A modest three-road locomotive shed had already been built by the OW&WR close to Low Level station, on spare land near the entrance to the tunnel that brought the line in from the south. This engine shed was taken over by the GWR and used until around 1872, when it was demolished and its compliment of engines moved up to Stafford Road shed.

A plan of the original Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway locomotive shed and works, as taken over by the GWR in 1854. Oxley viaduct is just out of view to the left, and the Stafford Road virtually runs south to north, so the former S&BR runs into Wolverhampton on a near south-easterly alignment. Author's Collection.

The acrimonious legal wrangling that arose between the S&BR and the Stour Valley Railway (L&NWR) is well documented. Suffice to say that by the time these differences were settled the S&BR only had a few months of through running before being absorbed into the GWR empire, with the L&NWR henceforth retaining control of the former S&BR 'general' High Level station, and then setting up its own locomotive shed at Bushbury. Subsequent to the company mergers, both for operational purposes and in order to deal with the broad gauge freight traffic, the GWR laid mixed gauge track to the north of the Low Level station and over to the far side of the former S&BR viaduct at Oxley, a mile or so distant, where it was intended to build another station for the specific purpose of transferring passengers to standard gauge coaches.

A temporary broad gauge locomotive shed, constructed from old materials, was built by the GWR in the latter half of 1854, on land adjacent to the right of its main line, just to the north of Low Level station, alongside the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) canal. As soon as the land became available, a second (brick-built) broad gauge shed, together with an exterior seven-road turntable, was erected on the opposite side of the canal, and this was in use by 1857. Old legal plans confirm that this second shed was laid as four roads. It is not known as to how long the other temporary shed lasted, but Daniel Gooch reported to an expenditure committee in September 1856 that it would 'not endure another season'.

Additionally, a third broad gauge shed (also four-road) was completed in about 1858. Sited to the immediate left of the mixed gauge main line leading towards Oxley viaduct, it brought the total shed capacity up to about one hundred locomotives. Interestingly, with regard to this shed, the official engine house drawings from 1855 indicate that in order to compensate for differing ground levels it was necessary to provide a stepped sidewall running alongside the main line, but it could only be accessed from the Oxley side. In this case the shed was a substantial construction (similar in appearance to Westbourne Park) some 160ft in length and made of local sandstone, with cast-iron supports, rectangular side windows, and wooden-clad gable ends, of which the base part of the stepped sidewall survived well into the 1990s.

There is some evidence to indicate that, at best, this upper level building was only used as a running shed for a few years, and possibly may never have been used for locomotives at all, as by 1867 it had been merged into the works and was in use as a smithy. This shed may well have been under construction prior to the one in the lower yard, but in the event its construction was put in abeyance for about 12 months following the acquisition of the more conveniently sited lower yard site.

As far as passengers were concerned, the GWR's broad gauge finally terminated its quest for the north at Wolverhampton (Low Level) station, and as a consequence any broad gauge engines that arrived were detached from down trains at the north end of the station, then being taken over to one of the sheds for servicing. Trains running between Birmingham and Shrewsbury onwards were operated as 'narrow' gauge in order to avoid the inconvenient change of gauge that would otherwise have been required to take place at Wolverhampton. Therefore, from 1854 to 1869 a mixture of both 'narrow' gauge and broad gauge locomotives were distributed as appropriate to the various sheds and available yard space at Stafford Road.

This wider plan of the Stafford Road Works and broad gauge engine shed facilities also dates from 1854. It is part of a town map of Wolverhampton produced by the Borough Engineer, D. J. Henry CE, and published in 1855. The railway systems are presented as GWR and Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway, with the respective companies' buildings clearly shown. The S&BR was amalgamated with the GWR by September 1854 but some cartographers at Wolverhampton would use the term 'Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway' on maps through to the 1960s. Features of note are: (A) probable site of the temporary broad gauge engine shed; (B) broad gauge goods shed; (C) the sandstone-built four-track broad gauge engine shed (tender accepted in 1856, suspended in 1857, but reinstated and completed by 1858); (D) site of the brick-built lower yard four-track broad gauge engine shed, authorized and completed in 1857, and extended about 1870 by way of a timber-clad iron framework; (E) the coal transfer stage. The need for at least three sheds indicates that initially a significant number of broad gauge engines were allocated, or otherwise serviced, at Wolverhampton. Author's Collection/Courtesy Wolverhampton Reference Library.

One of the architectural plans from a bound set produced in the drawing office at Paddington in 1855. It shows the front and side elevations of the sandstone-built four-road broad gauge 'engine house' that was erected at Stafford Road circa 1857/58. This building was about 160ft long and 60ft wide, with eight rectangular windows in each side. A stepped wall to accommodate differing ground levels can be seen to the left side of the front elevation. Author's Collection.

In August 1854 the broad gauge locomotive Dreadnought and its train survived the collapse of a bridge at Handsworth. A subsequent inspection by Brunel brought about the reconstruction of several other bridges, including the one carrying the main line over the canal at Wolverhampton. It also provided the final approach and access into Stafford Road shed's lower yard, beneath the arches of the L&NWR's Stour Valley line viaduct. The second bridge was of an arched tubular design constructed according to directions given by Brunel himself, and this was in turn replaced in the late 1920s by a more conventional double-section flat-sided bridge.

Following the recommendations of the 1845 Gauge Commission, the extent of the broad gauge system was progressively cut back and eventually abandoned in favour of the 'narrow' (now standard) gauge. Among the very first lines to lose their broad gauge rails were those in the Black Country, and 1859 saw the beginning of the slow withdrawal of stock from Wolverhampton. Even so, it was noted on 2 November 1860 that there were no less than 14 broad gauge locomotives present in the lower shed yard, together with these 4ft 8½in gauge locomotives - three passenger tanks, two goods locomotives, six (Birmingham) passenger locomotives, two (Leamington) passenger tanks, and one (Stratford) coupled passenger tank; 28 locomotives in all. Stafford Road was clearly becoming a busy mixed gauge depot within the space of a few years. The old S&BR works site was also being redeveloped and expanded by the GWR and this work had been finalised, as best as possible, by 1860, in order to deal with the standard gauge locomotives, together with the addition of a further erecting shop in the lower yard area, which would be in use by 1875.

During the course of 1860 a new standard gauge turntable shed was built a short distance away from the earlier broad gauge shed, and this new building (No 1 shed) could accommodate about 28 locomotives. Two tracks ran between the broad gauge and the newer turntable shed, these leading to the coppersmith's shop in the works. During the mid-1860s a section of these tracks was covered over to provide additional accommodation for standard gauge locomotives, this structure becoming known locally as the 'Arcade' - it was eventually designated as shed No 4.

Further locomotive stock was taken on board by the GWR during 1860 and 1863, on incorporation of the Birkenhead Railway and the West Midlands Railway, of which some of the latter company's engines came from the old OW&WR. Many of these engines soon found their way to Stafford Road shed, either for allocation or storage, pending repair or rebuilding in the works.

The Wolverhampton Chronicle recorded the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Victoria at Wolverhampton (Low Level) station behind the resplendently-decorated broad gauge 4-2-2 locomotive Lord of the Isles, driven by Joseph Armstrong himself, when she visited the town in 1866. This engine would have been sent up to Stafford Road shed for servicing and coaling prior to its return trip to Windsor. According to a book published in 1906, the broad gauge locomotive Great Western had also been employed for a good many years in running express trains from London (Paddington) to Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and thus would have been a regular visitor to Wolverhampton (Stafford Road) shed.

An early 1960s view of one of the three broad gauge engine sheds built by the GWR at Stafford Road during the 1850s. Erected adjacent to the mixed gauge main line to the north-west, this red sandstone structure was started as the first of the two permanent sheds for broad gauge engines. Construction commenced in about 1856 but it then appears to have been delayed in preference to completion, in 1857, of a brick-built shed on land in the lower yard area - a more logical site for ease of access to and from Wolverhampton (Low Level) station.

Over the years some confusion has arisen as to the exact location of the sandstone shed, and the best guide is that the side wall facing the main line is shown in plans as having a stepped side, to compensate for a difference in ground levels; the base section of this stepped side wall survived into the late 1990s. Although the official drawings show four roads of broad gauge track, the building may never have actually been used as a running shed as it was incorporated into the works by 1875, for use as a smithy. Additionally, this shed may only have been accessed from the Oxley (north) end and, if used, would probably have been laid out as mixed gauge. This view is seen from the works side, looking north, and the furthest wall was that with the taller stepped section by the main line. The brick building seen to the immediate right is a later addition, after the building was incorporated into the works complex. Simon Dewey.

The resident works train crane locomotive, No 17 Cyclops, built at Swindon Works in 1901, is seen during 1914 on the Brunei-design tubular bridge over the BCN waterway. Providing access into the shed yard at Stafford Road, this is the only known photograph of this structure, which was subsequently replaced during the late 1920s with a flat-sided girder and plate bridge of a more conventional design. Crane engines Nos 17 and 18 were in effect Wolverhampton-designed '850' class tanks with the rear frame extended to accommodate a steam crane; even the wheels were of the Wolverhampton 'H'-section pattern. No 17 Cyclops was attached to Stafford Road Works from at least 1914 until March 1934. Author's Collection.

As the broad gauge requirements continued to decrease, two of the roads in the lower-yard broad gauge shed were converted to standard gauge. Thus for a while, in theory, it would have been possible to have seen both 7ft-gauge and standard gauge locomotives side-by-side in the same shed. As from November 1868 all passenger trains from Wolverhampton were worked on the standard gauge, and any remaining broad gauge goods services finished in April 1869, thus defeating the earlier proposal for an interchange station at Oxley. From then on, the GWR either converted the old broad gauge sheds for standard gauge use, or otherwise demolished or adapted these buildings for other purposes.

The lower yard broad gauge shed was soon converted, in 1869, for use as a tender repair shop for the expanding works, and this was soon extended to over double its initial length by way of adding a cast-iron framework supporting a girder roof. The sides of this extension and the gable end were then covered with wooden cladding. The building was subsequently, for a time, put to use as a paint shop.

Considering its importance both as a main line GWR station and also a locomotive depot, it is surprising that, so far, no photographs of any broad gauge locomotives, either on shed or at Wolverhampton (Low Level) station, have yet come to light. Despite some 15 years of broad gauge working in the area, the amount of pictorial evidence is represented by way of a single photograph taken in about 1854 showing mixed gauge track at an empty-looking Wolverhampton (Low Level) station. Some other photographs also provide glimpses of broad gauge track still in situ in Stafford Road shed's lower yard, having survived into the late 1870s, long after removal of the actual broad gauge system from the GWR Northern Division. Indeed the earliest photograph taken at Stafford Road shed would seem to be that of a Sharp, Stewart 2-2-2 locomotive, No 158, in the early 1870s. Perhaps one day some more broad gauge railway photographs taken at Wolverhampton will emerge. For example, it seems incredible that no photographs were taken of the Royal Train and its locomotive on the occasion of Queen Victoria's 1866 visit to the town, and yet even direct enquiries to the Royal Archivist at Windsor Castle have drawn a blank in that respect. Any attempt to provide specific details of the various locomotives allocated to Stafford Road shed in the early years presents a difficult task. Prior to the 1930s, allocation details are sketchy at best, and require consultation of the official GWR engine registers, of which the earliest is 1902 when Churchward instigated more accurate record keeping. Even more obscure are the broad gauge years.

According to an article in the Wolverhampton Railway Gazette (published in 1985) the most interesting historical evidence indicating specific allocations of broad gauge engines at Wolverhampton is to be found in a book recording lists of the various rolled plans that were deposited in Stafford Road Works for reference purposes. A few of those plans related to repair and maintenance details appertain to the following broad gauge locomotives:

Salus - 12/1859 - reversing shaft and brackets
Salus - 12/1869 (perhaps 1859?) - broad gauge worked on
Diana - 12/1859 - eccentric
Peri - 11/ 1861 - details of reversing shaft
Peri - no date - valve motion
Wolverhampton - no date - proposed stuffing box
Prince - 9/1/1858 - proposed stuffing box 

Even if the date for Salus is a mistake, it can be seen from the list that Peri (a 2-2-2 of the '1st Lot passenger') was a regular visitor in the 1860s. It is interesting to note that the broad gauge 0-6-0 goods engine Wolverhampton was also included in the list, and in the circumstances it seems reasonable to assume that these engines would have been allocated to Stafford Road shed. An article in the Railway Magazine for October 1898 referred to the derailment of the broad gauge 0-6-0 Ariadne of the 'Caesar' class whilst working a Wolverhampton to London goods train in January 1861; Ariadne may also have been a regular Stafford Road-based locomotive.

An 1867 plan of the broad gauge locomotive yard at Stafford Road - significant features are the standard gauge shed added in 1860 (A), the brick-built broad gauge shed (B), and the stores (C); the coal stage and stores were approached over mixed-gauge track. As broad gauge requirements became less, two of the roads in the broad gauge shed were converted to standard gauge: the broad gauge lines in the yard remained in situ until about 1877. Author's Collection.

Class '69' 2-2-2 No 73 of March 1856 and its attendant crew, is positioned in the lower shed yard at Wolverhampton. Seen shortly after its renewal at Stafford Road Works in January 1875, No 73 ran with two spring-balance safety valves for only the first few months after its release from the works. The L&NWR's Stour Valley line viaduct is to the right, two arches of which spanned the GWR main line and the access into the shed yard and works. The GWR's 1854 acquisition of the Shrewsbury companies, with their 'narrow' gauge connections to Wolverhampton, made it necessary for Daniel Gooch to provide some standard gauge engines for main line express work. As a consequence, Nos 69-76 were designed in the broad gauge style. Built by Beyer, Peacock & Co during 1855/56, No 75 worked the first standard gauge train to Oxford on 1 October 1861. Despite its complete withdrawal from Wolverhampton in 1869, 7ft gauge track still exists in the foreground, leading towards the old broad gauge shed, which is out of sight to the left. The '69' class was first put to work on trains north of Wolverhampton but subsequently, when the standard gauge reached Paddington, they were used on London services. No 73 was eventually transferred to Gloucester, working from there to Swindon and Hereford, in due course being reconstructed, together with the rest of the class, as a 2-4-0 of the 'River' class in the mid-1890s, when it was named Isis. It would be withdrawn from service in October 1918, having spent its final years at Banbury. R. E. Bleasdale/Author's Collection.

One of the earliest locomotive photographs taken at Stafford Road, here we see '157' class 2-2-2 No 158 in its original 1862 as built condition. These engines, built by Sharp, Stewart & Co, were purchased by the GWR to work the standard gauge express trains between London (Paddington) and Wolverhampton. As No 158 would be withdrawn by March 1879, it is likely that this view was taken shortly after its arrival at Stafford Road, by the official photographer, and it would have been housed in the 'new' No 1 standard gauge turntable shed of 1860. Author's Collection.

Broad gauge 2-2-2 Prince, from a class of the same name, was built by the GWR at Swindon Works in 1846. Note the 'iron coffin' mounted above the rear of the tender - the protective look-out post for the guard while looking back along the train. Engines from this class are amongst those recorded as working the Birmingham line in later broad gauge years, this description including the line as far north as Wolverhampton. Prince was recorded as receiving attention at Stafford Road shed in January 1858, and it may well have been regularly allocated there. Prince was withdrawn, without being rebuilt, in 1870, a year after broad gauge operations finished at Wolverhampton. Author's Collection.

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