John Garth

John Garth was, at different times, Chairman of four of the SVR’s principal organisations. His record of service was as follows:[1]



John Garth saw early employment with the G.W.R. at Birmingham Snow Hill which gave him a good insight into railway operation. He later ran the family hardware manufacturing company in Lye which provided him with good practical experience of company management. This combination of expertise was invaluable for ‘an expanding private railway company, full of railway-keen but business-naive supporters’.[2]

Severn Valley Railway

John took part in the inaugural meeting of the Severn Valley Railway Society at the Coopers Arms on 6 July 1965 and it was at his suggestion that the initial subscription was set at a guinea than a pound to help boost funds.[2] He was also present at the Society’s first visit to Bridgnorth on 11 July 1965.[3] At the second visit on 25 July the Society found that BR had started to lift the track and John was authorised to send the telegram to BR asking for operations to be suspended while discussions took place on purchasing the line.[4] He subsequently led the meeting with BR at which they agreed to do so,[5] and by October 1965 had become acting Chairman of the Society.[6] When the “Save the Severn Valley Railway Fund” was launched to raise funds to buy the line, John was the first person to make a donation which he did in memory of his late grandfather, a signalman at nearby Hagley.

The first 10 editions of SVR News were A4 sheets produced on a hand-operated duplicator at John Garth’s Lye factory.[7]

John Garth’s role as Society Chairman ended when the SVRS was merged into the Guarantee Company in December 1969. However in October 1971 he was elected unopposed as the first Chairman of the Severn Valley Railway Association. As Chairman he initially supported the proposed floatation of SVR(H) in 1972[8] but subsequently led the SVRA’s opposition to attempts by Sir Gerald Nabarro to gain control of the SVR.[9] Part of the fallout of the Nabarro crisis saw the appointment of representatives of the SVRA and the Guarantee Company to the SVR(H) Board and John Garth duly became a director of SVR(H) on 30 June 1973. With that additional responsibility, he chose not to seek re-election as SVRA Chairman in November 1973.[10]

In summer 1975 he succeeded Richard Dunn as Deputy Chairman of SVR(H).[11] The following year he agreed to join the Guarantee Company Board as its new Chairman in succession to Hugh Mossop.[12] He continued in the latter role until summer 1979 when he chose not to seek re-election to the Board, with David Owen taking over as Chairman.[13] He continued as Deputy Chairman of SVR(H) under Bill Broadbent, succeeding him as Chairman in 1987. In Summer 1989 he retired as SVR(H) Chairman, reverting to the position of Deputy Chairman, now under David Owen. In that role he led the Silver Jubilee organising committee (which he said he considered was his most rewarding job on the SVR)[14] and was also president of the Junior Club, in which he took an active interest.[15]

In Spring 1992 John was succeeded as Deputy Chairman by Mick York, although remaining on the Board.[16] In late 1997 he briefly resumed the role of Deputy Chairman following the retirement of Jim Higgs[17] but in spring 1998 he underwent major surgery.[18] He recovered, but retired as a Director on 24 July 1998 having reached the age of 70. He was appointed to the honorary position of Life Vice President.[1]

In addition to his Management responsibilities, John qualified as a train guard and signalman at all boxes, roles he enjoyed for many years. This experience enabled him to frame the first set of 'Operating Guidelines' in book form, and led to the establishment of some formal operating procedures.[1]


Sadly, John died in August 2002, aged 74 years. In an address to mourners after the funeral, his colleague Christopher George repeated a tribute that he first made in a speech on the occasion of the SVR’s fortieth anniversary celebrations on 6 July 2005. "I think I would best sum up John's contribution in the following way. When we were celebrating the 21st Anniversary of the SVR and Major. Peter Olver was the honoured guest, to give a speech and cut the cake with his sword, Bert Cleaver and I were standing together. John gave his speech of welcome and Bert said quietly to me 'You know Christopher, John has always been there from the start, holding things together and here he is today, still guiding and holding things together.'"[19]

A picture of John Garth is displayed in the ‘Coopers Arms’ corner of The Engine House at Highley. The caption reads "John Sydney Garth. 1928-2002. SVR founder member and shareholder. He was a 'guiding light' in the development of this Railway for 37 years."

The third wing of the new Kidderminster Station building, now occupied by the Valley Suite, was named The John Garth Building when it was opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester on 18 October 2006.[20]

See also


  1. SVR News 128
  2. 2.02.1 SVR News 141, Obituary
  3. Magner (1997) p. 65.
  4. Magner P. 62
  5. SVR News 151
  6. Magner (1997), p. 68.
  7. SVR News 40
  8. SVR News 23
  9. SVR News 26
  10. SVR News 28, 30
  11. SVR News 34-36
  12. SVR News 39
  13. SVR News 52
  14. SVR News 93, 128
  15. SVR News 101
  16. SVR News 102
  17. SVR News 125, 127
  18. SVR News 126
  19. SVR News 114
  20. Plaque in The Valley Suite