Day to Day Working in the Mill Street Goods Depot
By Bev Parker

Wolverhampton High Level railway station was built as part of a joint venture between the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway, and the London & North Western Railway. The station was originally called Wolverhampton General Station, and later renamed 'Queen Street' Station in 1853. The station buildings were designed by Edward Banks, the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway's architect.

The site also included a purpose-built goods station, that was jointly owned by the two companies, and presumably designed by Edward Banks. It became known as Mill Street Depot, and had warehouses and canal basins. The railway to Birmingham, known as the Stour Valley Line, opened on 24th June, 1852 in the middle of a dispute between the two railway companies.

After the dispute, the Stour Valley Line was operated solely by the London and North Western Railway, who purchased the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway's half share in the goods depot in September, 1859.

The location of the depot.

The depot operated in the London and North Western Railway's usual efficient manner. Work at the depot was extremely methodical just like in a modern Royal Mail sorting office. Packages of all shapes and sizes arrived from all over the country, and every one had to be accurately sorted and sent to the correct destination. Similarly parcels and all kinds of manufactured goods that were sent by rail from Wolverhampton had to be accurately sorted and dispatched on the correct train.

The London and North Western Railway buildings are of the company's usual pattern, and were designed at Crewe. All of the components including the bricks were produced at Crewe and would have been delivered to Wolverhampton as a kind of kit, just like buying a garden shed today from a D.I.Y. store.

Inside there would have been platforms fitted with standard types of “North Western” cranes and hydraulic lifts, some of which could lift loads of up to 14 tons. There would have been warehouse facilities for the temporary storage of inwards and outwards goods, and provisions for the storage of perishable items such as food.

Mill Street Goods Depot as it is today, showing the mixture of S& B and L.N.W.R. buildings.
The L.N.W.R. moved vast amounts of goods, many of which were for the railway’s own use. Being the largest railway company in the country it used an enormous amount of consumables which all had to be transported around the network. In 1913 no less than 57.5 million tons of freight were transported throughout the system. In the early years of the 20th century Mill Street Goods Depot was handling around 50,000 tons of goods annually.

Wolverhampton became the headquarters of the L.N.W.R. South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire Goods District, with offices in the Queens Building. Goods traffic greatly increased with the building of many private sidings. In 1887 Thomas Mitchelhill became District Goods Manager.

The hydraulic engine house that is on the opposite side of Corn Hill to the depot. This produced the pressurised hydraulic fluid for the cranes and lifts that was piped into the depot via Corn Hill bridge.
A contemporary drawing showing goods being unloaded from an L.N.W.R. train.
It was as expensive to transport an empty wagon as one that was full, and so efficient use of wagon space was essential. Heavy articles could not be placed on top of fragile ones, and care had to be taken to avoid spillage or contamination from one package to another.

Some articles were moved at the owner’s risk whereas others were moved at the company’s risk, and so errors could be costly.

Wagons were loaded and unloaded by gangs of men consisting of porters, loaders, checkers, yardsmen and warehousemen. A typical gang consisted of five men, but this varied with fluctuating levels of traffic. Gangs worked a 72 hour week, which included 12 hours for meal breaks. Sometimes alternate day and night shifts were required and salaries were boosted by a bonus system based on the weight of goods moved during each shift.

An L.N.W.R. 10 ton goods van.

A loaded and sheeted L.M.S. wagon.

There were many special wagons for delivering different types of goods. Initially wagons were open topped with either high or low sides. One of the most profitable commodities that railways delivered was coal. This was mined in huge quantities, and in the days of poor roads and primitive vehicles, the only efficient and cheap way of delivery was by rail, and coal wagons were developed for the purpose. There were mineral wagons, coke wagons, low-sided open wagons, and eventually covered goods vans.
Specialised vans were developed for transporting such things as cattle and butter, refrigerated vans held frozen food, fish or meat. Some fruit vans were fitted with steam heaters to help ripen bananas. Arriving wagons were transported to the loading platform or the yard in readiness for the transfer of their contents to road vehicles for the final part of the journey. The platform was accessible by an open arch, so that when necessary, road vehicles could be backed up to it and easily loaded. Invoices for the incoming goods were collected and inspected. Each included a description of the goods, their destination, weight and particulars of the charges. These were passed to the delivery office where details were entered into a book and stamped with an identity number. The arrival time was noted and the charges were checked. The Marking Clerk then entered the details of where the item would be stacked on the platform or sorting bank, in readiness for collection.

A typical L.N.W.R. crane.

An L.N.W.R. goods invoice issued at Manchester London Road Station. It is dated 13th August 1890 and is for buckets, shovels, a box and a stand. It includes details of the goods, their weight and the charges including payment for the porters.
Each platform was divided into sections that were marked by letters and numbers painted on the roof supporting columns, along its length. The invoice was then passed on to a clerk who produced a delivery sheet for the driver of the road vehicle.
A delivery note issued by the General Stores at St. Helens Junction on 9th March 1887 for soap, flannels, sponges, brushes and black lead.
When the paperwork was complete the invoice was returned to the platform where a gang of men would unload the wagons and position the goods at appropriate places on the platform, using hand trucks and sack trucks. There was also space for goods that had arrived without an invoice, which sometimes arrived late due to delays with the paperwork. If the unloaded goods were to be left for any length of time on the platform a warehouseman might be on hand to prevent pilfering.

A typical "North Western" goods yard; a veritable hive of activity.
The loading of the goods onto road vehicles for the final part of the journey was in the hands of the Delivery Foreman, who examined the paperwork and organised the porters during the operation.

In the early days the road vehicles would have consisted of a horse and cart that was driven by a cartage man, known locally as a carter, carman, drayman or lorryman.

They were slowly replaced by lorries, which were handsomely painted in the company’s livery; horses however continued in use for many years.

After emptying, the wagons were transferred to another platform in readiness to receive outward going goods, which arrived on loaded road vehicles.

These vehicles were stopped at the weighbridge office, and the consignment notes were stamped with an official stamp for authenticity.

Mill Street Depot yard in 1908. In the foreground is a wagon turntable, several of which were in the yard.
Some of the road vehicles that were used in L.M.S. days.
After inspection they backed-up to the outward goods platform. The Unloading Foreman then inspected the consignment notes and handed them to the checkers and unloading gangs, who unloaded the goods onto the platform, and checked them against the entries on the notes.

Finally the goods were weighed and placed in appropriate positions on the platform, corresponding to their final destination.

The empty wagons were filled by a loading gang, consisting of a checker, a loader, a caller-off and several porters. When loaded they were sheeted, labelled and taken to a siding to await their locomotive. The consignment notes were taken to the shipping office where the clerks recorded the details, and made out the invoices that were handed to the brakeman who was in charge of the outgoing train. If they were not ready in time for the departing goods train, they were sent by fast passenger train to their destination.
An L.N.W.R. "G2" class goods locomotive at Willesden Shed. These were a common sight throughout the network and many continued in use until almost the end of steam.
On 1st January, 1923 the London & North Western Railway became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway, known as the L.M.S. which continued to run the goods depot until the railways were nationalised on 1st January, 1948.

From 1959 the goods depot was run from Birmingham as a result of the introduction of the Midland Freight Traffic Plan.

An L.N.W.R. Way Bill issued at Canada Dock.

Some of the L.M.S. goods staff in the early 1930s.

Back row L to R:  ?,?, Harry Newman, ?,?,?
Next row L to R:  ?,?, Powell, ?, Jimmy Cuthbertson, Dunton, ?, Bob Clayton, ?
Next row L to R:  ?, Harry Ubbotson, ?, Joe Edwards, D. Pinney, ?,?, Perks, Burton, Mantle
Next row L to R:  ?, Harry Johnson, ?, Fred Humphreys, ?,?, Perrins, Jack Mason, ?,?,?,?, Thomas
Front row L to R: ?,?,?,?,?,?,?, Edith Ubbotson, ?,?,?

This has been a brief description of the goods depot, and the daily procedures that were rigidly adhered-to, so as to ensure that all of the goods were transported to their correct destination in the most efficient manner. As time progressed road transport slowly took over and the quantity of goods transported by rail fell dramatically.

There was a time when nearly every railway station had its own goods depot. Some were large and others small, but they played an important role in earning revenue for the railway company. Most of the old goods depots are now long-gone, and we are lucky to still have such an excellent example standing in Wolverhampton, and still in use today.

If anyone has an further information on the goods depot or can name anyone on the staff photograph please send me an email.

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