Locomotive Performance

Steam through Shrewsbury


From 1955 onwards, I regularly headed west from Birmingham to Shrewsbury, then had a trip down to Hereford and back, before returning to the Midlands on either the 4.35pm or 6.26pm Paddington services. I also had several trips around the Abbey Foregate curve, and on to the Cambrian. These were hauled from Wolverhampton westwards by either Manor class 4-6-0's, or 43xx class 2-6-0, either singly or in double headed combinations. In the early 1960's, my North & West trips continued beyond Hereford to Pontypool Road. 

15th June 1957: The 9.10am Paddington to Birkenhead took it's full load to Shrewsbury, where the Restaurant Car portion was detached.  So 6963 Throwley Hall had an 11 coach load from Wolverhampton, and a 23 minute late departure. The loco l ran well throughout, with 70 mph below Cosford and 38 mph at Hollinswood summit. [view log of 6963]
6th August 1957: A few weeks later, I tried the Cambrian Coast Express, usually a 7 or 8 coach train whose 81A Old Oak Common "Castle" worked through to Shrewsbury. 5035 Coity Castle, was, I believe, 81A's number one Castle in 1957: On this date there was race meeting at Wolverhampton, and the train load had been increased to 11, and a stop inserted at Dunstall Park (close to the racecourse). No doubt a revised schedule was in operation. 5035 had a tricky start from Dunstall Park, but by Codsall we were really going. Down Cosford bank at 82 mph, and up the bank through Shifnal we went with a deafening roar. We went over  Hollinswood summit at 49 mph, my fastest ever (steam). More fast running beyond Wellington and we were into Shrewsbury 10 late. [view log of 5035]
16th August 1958: In 1958 and 1959, I did several Summer Saturday trips from Birmingham to Welshpool and Machynlleth. And in so doing, I came across the extraordinary 5369. On this run, I only stayed with the loco as far as Welshpool. With a 10 coach load, we reached 72 mph at Cosford, then topped Hollinswood at 41 mph. We were through Wellington in fast time of 22 mins 53 sec. The good work continued to Shrewsbury and on the single line beyond. We were 3 mins late into Welshpool, after being 7 mins late from Wolverhampton. I was to come across 5369 again. A superb engine. [view log of 5369]
27th June 1959: Another Summer  trip to Welshpool, this time on the Saturday Cambrian Coast Express. With 13 coaches weighing 423/455 tons, we had a Mogul and a Manor combination. 6367 and 7817 Garsington Manor. This pair went down through Cosford at 77 mph, and over Hollinswood at 46 mph. Then 74 mph beyond Walcot and more hard work on the single line, and we were into Welshpool in the fast time of 67 min 55 secs, inclusive of 1 signal check and 1 p.w.slowing. Tremendous. [view log of 6367 & 7817] 
21st April 1962: 6945 Glasfryn Hall: One of my final steam trips to Shrewsbury was on the 7.45am Leamington Spa to Birkenhead, usualy a 4 to 6 coach load. 6945 Glasfryn Hall had an 11 coach load, and performed admirably. 78 mph at Cosford, an easy 32 mph over Hollinswood, and a 73 mph after the Wellington stop. [view log of 6945]
16th April 1966: My very last steam run over the line was on the Warwickshire Railway Society Cambrian Railtour. By now the route was London Midland Region with motive power to match. We had Class 5MT 4-6-0 no 45287 on an 8 coach load. The running was satisfactory, with a top speed of 73 mph at Cosford. [view log of 45287]
15th June 1957: 1024 County of Pembroke came on "cold" at Shrewsbury and had an 11 coach, 356/375 ton load. A gentle run to Wellington was followed by a noisy climb up to Hollinswood, topped at 38 mph. We reached our top speed of 77 mph below Shifnal, and arrived  Wolverhampton in the fast time of 25 mins 19 secs. [view log of 1024]

(picture from the train at Wellington)

31st August 1957: Returning from a holiday in North Wales on the Saturday 7.20am Pwllheli to Paddington, the combination of Dukedog no 9004 and Collett 0-6-0 no 2264 gave way at Ruabon to Grange class 4-6-0 no 6841 Marlas Grange: We were 6 mins late away with a 10 coach load. We ran to Shrewsbury with a max speed of 68 mph near Rednal, but suffered a lengthy signal stop awaiting a platform. 6357 came on as pilot, I am not sure why. We then ran steadily to Codsall, before being checked all the way into Wolverhampton, where we arrived 7 mins late. [view log of 6841]
5th March 1960: On the 2.35pm Birkenhead tp Paddington, the 4.35pm from Shrewsbury, 7015 Carn Brea Castle had an 11 coach load. 38 mph at Hollinswood, 70 mph after Shifnall, and 47 mph minimum at the milepost 148 summit, got us into Wolverhampton in 25 mins 24 secs, a good time. [view log of 7015]
21st June 1964: On the L.C.G.B North & West railtour, 46251 City of Nottingham worked the final leg from Shrewsbury (Coleham) to Paddington. There was talk on the train that the crew going to try for "a ton (100 mph)" down Shifnal bank. Unfortunately we were booked a photographic stop at Cosford. Having reached 90 mph, the Cosford distant was against us, and that was that. But the running throughout, with a modest 8 coach train, was vigorous. We were up to 80 mph at Birches & Bilbrook. [view log of 46251]
19th August 1966: Around this time the crews of the Black's that were now working The Chester to Shrewsbury section of the Birkenhead to Paddington services, were clocking up some very high speeds on the Gobowen to Shrewsbury section. So I decided to have a try. Unfortunately the running of class 5MT 4-6-0 no 45280 was rather nondescript, with nothing higher than 71 mph. Indeed, we failed to keep the Gobowen to Shrewsbury schedule by over a minute. [view log of 45280]
One of the problems on the North and West route were that schedules were unbelievably slow. Southbound from Shrewsbury the 51 miles to Hereford were booked at between 69 and 76 minutes. Even allowing for the fact that locomotives that came on at Shrewsbury would have a "cold start" for the climb up to Church Stretton, 65 minutes should have been more than adequate. And bearing in mind the leisurely schedules in operation from Crewe to Shrewsbury, trains were generally on time or early arriving. So the southbound running rarely produced much in the way of exciting running.  

5th April 1955: This was my first journey on the North & West. The 11.55am Manchester to Plymouth, with 7020 Gloucester Castle up front, was 14 late away from Shrewsbury with a modest 301/315 ton load. 32 mph at All Stretton summit was followed by a 68 mph near Craven Arms. With one signal check and one p.w. slowing thereafter, we took just over 67 minutes (63.8 mins net) to reach Hereford, arriving 5 late. [view log of 7020]
15th June 1957: Shrewsbury (84G) shed's allocation of BR Standard 5's usually confined themselves to the Shrewsbury to Crewe/Manchester/Liverpool routes and Central Wales line services, so I was surprised to find 73026 on the 11.55am Manchester to Plymouth. With an 11 coach train, we ran to Hereford in 63 min 06 secs, with a 26 mph up to Church Stretton, and 74 mph near Craven Arms, and again at Onibury. So a 7 minute departure from Shrewsbury was converted into a 2 min early arrival at Hereford. [view log of 73026]
6th August 1957: 5923 Colston Hall had a 295/315 ton load, again on the 11.55am from Manchester, and was 3 mins late away from Shrewsbury. A poor climb to Shrewsbury, and nothing more than 63 mph downhill, would have brought us into Hereford on time, but for a p.w.s at Moreton-on-Lugg. A pretty dismal performance. [view log of 5923]
24th March 1962: The 9.30am Manchester to Swansea took a Longsight (9A) Royal Scot, Jubilee, or Patriot, to Pontypool Road. The loco and crew worked home on the 7.30am Penzance to Manchester. The Swansea usually loaded to 9 coaches, 46125 3rd Caribinier had only 7. Departure from Shrewsbury was 5 late. A gentle climb to Church Stretton, and a max of 72 mph at Onibury, and we were early into Hereford. Two p.w.slacks onwards to Pontypool Road meant we only just kept the 45 minute schedule. (I once saw an unrebuilt Patriot take load 15 on this service, on a Summer Saturday). [view log of 46125]
31st March 1962: One week later, I was on the same train with Jubilee no 45643 Rodney, again with a mere 7 coach load. 9 minutes late away, the engine was not pushed on the climb to Church Stretton, but brisk running onwards to Hereford would have pulled back the time, but for a p.w slowing at Craven Arms, and a stand for signals at Ford Bridge, between them costing 7 minutes. To Pontypool Road, the running was good, and with just one p.w. slowing, we were 3 mins late arriving. [view log of 45643]
Schedules were equally slow in the northbound direction. In 1957, The 7.30am Penzance to Manchester, and the 1.10pm Plymouth to Liverpool, took 3 hrs 15 min, and 3 hrs 12 min respectively  between Bristol and Shrewsbury, 118.2 miles apart. An average of 36 mph. Yes, there was a hard climb out of Bristol, the Severn tunnel, and uphill work to Pontypool Road, Llanvihangel, and Church Stretton. But 36 mph!. So hoping for a good run northbound from Pontypool Road or Hereford, on a train  running to time, was a lost cause. From Hereford, a train that was on time at Church Stretton had so much "recovery time" down the hill to Shrewsbury, that it was likely to sit outside Shrewsbury station for up to 8 minutes. But fortunately, despite pedestrian timings, northbound services were often late at Pontypool Road or Hereford, and some good running ensued.
5th April 1955: On the 7.30am Penzance to Manchester, 1016 County of Hants had a light load of 8 coaches and was on time. Inevitable the running was modest, 26 mph at Church Stretton summit, and steam shut off down to Shrewsbury. We took 66 minutes, and arrived 4 mins early. [view log of 1016]

(Picture: A Castle at Dinmore on the 8.15am Bristol to Manchester in April 1958)

6th August 1957: On 45680 Camperdown it was a different matter. We had a 13 coach load, and were 10 mins late away. The jubilee roar was well in evidence up the Lugg and Onny valleys. We went over Church Stretton summit at 29 mph, then ran fast downhill. The 80 mph at Dorrington is the fastest I have known. So we had picked up 5 minutes, but then stood outside Shrewsbury awaiting a platform. So the good work of the crew was undone and we were 13 late in. Nevertheless a splendid run. [view log of 45680]
26th October 1957: Later the same year, I had another trip to Hereford, this time returning north on the 8.00am Plymouth to Liverpool. 5073 Blenheim was the loco, and the load 11. We made a gentle start from Hereford, but then ran well onwards to Church Stretton, though interupted by a p.w slowing at Onibury. We then stood outside Shrewsbury for 12 minutes, arriving 5 late. I recall that rather than spending a few hours on Shrewsbury station, I would have a change. So I nipped round to Gay Meadow and watched Shrewsbury Town play Chesterfield. [view log of 5073]
31st March 1962: In the spring of 1962, I did three trips in quick succession (before the diesels took over) In the northbound direction, the first train (45554) halted at Pontrilas whilst the loco was detached and took water from a hydrant in the southbound sidings. The second trip was with a Black 5 that had time to kill, and this was the third and final run. Class 5MT 4-6-0 no 45354, with a modest 7 coach load, ran reasonably, 26 mph at Llanvihangel and 35 mph at Church Stretton, and despite a p.w.slowing and two signal checks, was 8 early into Shrewsbury. [view log of 45354]
From the experiences I had on the lines through Shrewsbury in the late 1950's and early 1960's, it is clear that the standard of running on the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury line, in both directions, was of a higher order than the running on the North and West route. 

Westbound trains from Wolverhampton were rarely on time, and there was lateness to make up. The running down through Cosford at high speed, and the charge up the gradients past Shifnall and on to Hollinswood summit, produced running as exciting as anything I found elsewhere. Eastbound, if a fresh loco had come on at Shrewsbury, it was gently as we go as far as Wellington. But then the climb to Hollinswood was followed by the enticing downward stretch through Shifnall. Then the charge up the gradient, through Cosford and Albrighton, to the summit at milepost 148.

The running of the Summer Saturday trains to and from the Cambrian line deserve special mention. On the morning 7.55am and 8.05am trains from Snow Hill, if you found 4377 or 5369 up front, you were in for a good run. Anything else up front, and you stood a 50 per cent chance of a reasonable run, and a 50 per cent chance of a poor one. The down Cambrian Coast Express was a heavy train that required double heading. Often it ran in two portions. The one double headed run I had on this service was superb. 

And so we come to North and West route. Southbound, most trains took on a new loco at Shrewsbury. And the crews, with a prospect of a long run ahead, quite rightly went steadily up Church Stretton, rather than risk pulling the fire to pieces at the start. The one train that might have produced good running was the 11.55am Manchester to Swansea ( the loco worked through) unfortunately followed the 9.10am Liverpool to Plymouth, and any attempt at fast running would have meant signal checks. The best chance of a decent northbound run, was if the train was at least 10 minutes late off Pontypool Road or Hereford. The crews were prepared to "go for it", particularly the Longsight men working home on the 7.30am Penzance to Manchester.