Ernest Marples was Conservative Party Secretary of State for Transport from 1959–1964. In that capacity he approved the ending of passenger services between Shrewsbury and Bewdley from 9 September 1963.
Marples, Beeching and the closure of the SVRSevern Valley RailwaySVRA:Severn Valley Railway AssociationSVRS:Severn Valley Railway Society
The closure of the Severn Valley Branch is often erroneously attributed to the "Beeching Cuts". Although its closure followed the publication of the first "Beeching Report", it was included in his Report as "under Consideration for Closure before the Formulation of the Report".
At the time of Marples' appointment as Transport Minister, railways, canals and road freight transport were all overseen by a single body, the British Transport Commission (BTC). The BTC had been established by the Transport Act 1947, the same Act which created British Railways (BRBritish Rail or British Railways) and the other nationalised transport services. The process used by BRBritish Rail or British Railways to close railways, although somewhat complex, was well established and some 3,318 miles of railway were closed between 1948 and 1962. Passenger services on a number of local lines were ended that way, including Woofferton to Tenbury Wells in July 1961, Much Wenlock to Wellington via Buildwas in July 1962, and Tenbury Wells and Bewdley in August 1962.
The Transport Act 1962, which came into force in September of that year, dissolved the BTC and established five new public corporations to carry out the 'overseeing' role for each of the nationalised transport services. These included the British Railways Board (BRB) which was to oversee BRBritish Rail or British Railways. The Act also established new advisory bodies including the Central Transport Consultative Committee[note 1] with its Area Transport Users Consultative Committees (Area Committee or TUCCTransport Users Consultative Committee) to represent the interests of railway users at a national and local level. These committees could make recommendations relating to the services provided by relevant Board, but the Minister was not bound to follow their recommendations.
The 1962 Act also put in place measures to simplify the process of closing railways. BRBritish Rail or British Railways were required to give at least six weeks' notice of their intention to close a line, publishing the proposal in local newspapers giving the intended closure date, details of alternative transport services and confirming the process for objecting to the relevant Area Committee. The Area Committee could consider the "hardship" resulting from the closure and recommend measures to ease that hardship, but critically they could not go so far as to recommend that the closure should not go ahead. BRBritish Rail or British Railways could not then carry out the closure until the Committee had reported to the Minister who, having considered their recommendations on easing the resulting hardship, would consent to the closure with or without adopting them.
In anticipation of the 1962 Act, the Conservative Government appointed Dr. Richard Beeching as Chairman of the BRB with a brief to recommend and implement the changes necessary to stem BRBritish Rail or British Railways’s rapidly growing losses. His approach was to draw up a list of railways for closure, thus continuing and extending the scope of the closures already carried out by BRBritish Rail or British Railways. His first report, published on 27 March 1963, recommended the closure some 5,000 miles of railway, around 30% of the network but less than twice the mileage already closed by BRBritish Rail or British Railways before his appointment. The Conservative Government accepted his report and closures began, peaking in 1964. Following the October 1964 General Election, Marples was succeeded as Transport Minster by Labour’s Barbara Castle. Labour had pledged to halt rail closures, but after election went on to oversee some of the most controversial closures in Beeching’s report.
The closure of the Severn Valley Branch began before the creation of the BRB and the appointment of Beeching. BTC officials surveyed passenger numbers in autumn 1961, after which BRBritish Rail or British Railways(W) announced in January 1962 that the Branch was under review as potentially uneconomic. In June 1962 they announced that passenger services would be completely withdrawn between Shrewsbury and Bewdley (and also reduced south of Bewdley).
Following the implementation of the 1962 Act in September 1962, the closure of the Branch continued under the new simplified process. The Area Committee heard objections at a public meeting at Bridgnorth on 8 November 1962 and on 20 November confirmed that it had reported to Marples that closure would cause hardship to users. As noted above, this recommendation could bring about changes such as additional bus services but would not affect the closure itself. Following their submission of their report, Marples would then be expected to review the recommendations and in due course confirm the closure, with or without adopting the additional measures.
In parallel with this, more statistics on user numbers were gathered in September 1962 by officials working on the Beeching Report. Beeching's report listed the 5000 miles of lines and related stations to be closed in Appendix 2 of the report. Within that Appendix, Sections 1-5 dealt with his own recommendations for 'new' service withdrawals and station closures. Section 6, which listed "Passenger Services under Consideration for Withdrawal before the Formulation of the Report", included "Shrewsbury-Hartlebury", although Section 7, "Passenger Stations and Halts already under Consideration for Closure before the Formulation of the Report" included only stations and halts as far south as Northwood Halt in line with BRBritish Rail or British Railways's announced plans. Among the other closures in Section 7 was "*Kidderminster-Tenbury Wells" with a note "*Withdrawal already implemented", suggesting this Section was included in his report for completeness rather than as his personal recommendation.
It is possible that Marples delayed announcing the closure of the Branch until after Beeching’s report was published, as it would help confirm his decision. On 2 August 1963 Marples duly approved the closure for passenger services with effect from 9 September.
Marples led a 'colourful' life during the 1950s and 60s. Politically he was a controversial figure. Before becoming Transport Minister he was chairman of Marples Ridgway, a construction company engaged in road building amongst other activities. This led to accusations of a conflict of interest in his subsequent responsibility for decisions on the relative merits of road and rail transport.
Early in 1975 he suddenly fled to Monte Carlo just before the end of the tax year, fearing that he would otherwise be liable for a substantial tax bill. He was eventually able to return to London in 1977 but continued to live in the south of France and died in Monte Carlo in 1978.
- Wikipedia: Ernest Marples
- Wikipedia: Beeching cuts
- Beddoes & Smith (1995) p. 190.
- Marshall (1989) p. 162.
- Wikipedia: Transport Act 1962
- Magner (1997) pp. 24-25.
- Vanns (1998/2013) p. 93.
- Magner (1997) pp. 26-28.
- Beeching Report p. 19.
- Magner (1997) pp. 32-35.
- Baston, L., 'Ernest Marples. Yes, a rogue – but he brightened up the 1950s, and he made things happen', Conservative Home website, 7 March 2014 (Retrieved 19 July 2018)
- Malvern, J., 'Profumo report hid lurid details of a bigger scandal', The Times, 27 January 2020 (Retrieved 29 January 2020)
- A similar body existed under the earlier 1947 Transport Act