The Severn Valley Railway Company (19th Century)

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Following the failure of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company to proceed with their proposed railway in the Severn Valley, a number of interested parties engaged Robert Nicholson to carry out another survey in 1849.[1] This led to the establishment of the Severn Valley Railway Company ("the Company") which was formed in 1852, although not officially incorporated until 1853. It was responsible for building the Railway from 1858 through to opening in February 1862. Although the Railway was operated from opening by the West Midland Railway ("WMR") and subsequently by the GWRGreat Western Railway from August 1863, the Company retained a separate identity until it was fully amalgamated into the GWRGreat Western Railway on 1 July 1872.


Article from Herapath's Journal in 1852 announcing the proposed formation of the Severn Valley Railway Company

The plans for the SU's proposed railway, drawn up by Robert Stephenson in 1846, had started from a station in Worcester. By 1852 the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway had been planned, so Nicholson proposed a shorter route starting from a connection with the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway south of Hartlebury. To avoid the opposition of Thomas Whitmore, owner of the Apley Park Estate, Nicholson’s route crossed the Severn at Quatford, south of Bridgnorth and proceeded through the Low Town. It then passed east of the Apley estate before joining the Madeley Branch of the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway.

On 26 June 1852, an article appeared in Herepath's Journal announcing the proposed formation of the company to construct the Severn Valley Railway. The advertisement confirmed that a preliminary survey had been carried out and listed Whitmore among the sponsors.[2]

The first meeting of the Board took place on 25 August 1852, at which it was proposed to form a company to be called the Severn Valley Railway Company. Seven Directors were appointed, of whom the Chairman Jonathan Thorp and two others were also directors of the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. Robert Nicholson was named Engineer. An Act of Parliament would be required to incorporate the Company and authorise the construction of the line.[3]

At a second meeting on 6 September a decision was taken to hold public meetings at Ironbridge, Bewdley and Bridgnorth to gauge support. These were arranged for 7, 8 and 9 October. A notice of the meetings in the Worcestershire Chronicle and Provincial Railway Gazette expressed hope that the new Severn Valley Railway "...stands on a more secure foundation than the last of that name, projected in 1847, the bills for advertising which are we believe unpaid to this day and likely to remain so."[2]

The public meetings were in favour of extending the line to Shrewsbury rather than Madeley and on 13 October 1852 the Board resolved to do so. The new route would mean passing close to Apley Hall, which led Whitmore to oppose the revised plan and instead support a rival and ultimately unsuccessful proposal, the Shrewsbury, Ironbridge and Bridgnorth Railway. The notice of intended application for an Act to incorporate the Severn Valley Railway Company and authorise the construction of the line was published on 2 November 1852[2].


The seal of the Severn Valley Railway Company incorporated A.D. 1853

The SVRSevern Valley Railway Bill was presented in Parliament on 11 February 1853. It initially met with opposition from the 'Shrewsbury companies' which caused some delay and additional expense. The Bill proposed terminating the line at a point in Shrewsbury from which a connection to one of the existing lines could be authorised by subsequent legislation.[4]

On Monday 30 May 1853, a meeting at Kidderminster chaired by the Mayor strongly supported moving the connection with the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway from Hartlebury to Kidderminster.[5] The proposal was advertised in the local press, following which a meeting took place at Stourport on Tuesday 14 June to express opposition to the move. SVRSevern Valley Railway Chairman Jonathan Thorp attended the latter meeting and confirmed that "...the promoters of the Severn Valley Railway never had any intention of making any deviation."[6]

After consideration in Committee, the Bill was passed in the House of Commons in July and presented to the House of Lords on 9 August. It received Royal Assent on 20 August 1853. The Act incorporated the Company and authorised it to raise £600,000 in shares and to borrow up to an additional £200,000. Powers were given to construct a railway from a junction with the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway 5½ furlongs south of Hartlebury and terminating in Shrewsbury, with a branch from Benthall Edge to Madeley. Opposite Apley Hall, the line was to pass through tunnels approximately 680 yards in length.[7] The original estimate for construction of the line was £600,000, being £110,000 for land plus £490,000 for works.[8]

On 1 September 1853 at the first Board meeting following incorporation, Robert Nicholson’s appointment as Engineer was confirmed at a salary of £1,000 p.a. The following month a deviation at Shrewsbury was proposed, shortening the line to join the Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway south of Shrewsbury. Nicholson prepared a plan and section and a Bill of Parliament was prepared for the 1854 session[9].


It quickly became apparent that economies would be needed to reduce the cost of the line. In February it was decided that the Bill for the Shrewsbury deviation should not proceed beyond a second reading in the Commons. In April Nicholson’s salary was terminated; instead he would be paid for his services as incurred. The Secretary's salary was also reduced. On 19 May Chairman Jonathan Thorp resigned and Morton Peto was elected Chairman in his place.[10].

Nicholson began preparing a revised plan incorporating a number of cost saving measures. These were principally: [10]

  • a 2-mile deviation between Stourport and Bewdley with the line passing through a tunnel at Mount Pleasant,
  • a 3-mile deviation at Apley avoiding the need for tunnels, and
  • the connection to the Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway at what would become Sutton Bridge Junction.

At this stage the planned route still began south of Hartlebury and included two crossings of the Severn north and south of Bridgnorth.

Thomas Whitmore naturally objected to the Apley deviation. It was suggested that he should receive compensation of £15,000 plus £150 per acre for land purchased, and on 17 July 1854 Nicholson was asked to see what arrangement he could make. The new plans and sections were deposited on 30 November[10].


Robert Nicholson died at his home in Newcastle on 9 May 1855, at the early age of 46, from a cold which developed into a serious illness. His health may have been weakened by overwork, as he was involved in other projects at the time including the Border Counties Railway which was about to be started. John Fowler, then aged 38, was appointed to replace him.[11]

On 16 June, Morton Peto chaired a special Shareholders' meeting to approve submission of a new Bill to reduce the Company's capital and authorise the deviations. On 12 July, Henry Whitmore testified to the House of Lords Committee on behalf of his brother that Thomas Whitmore was satisfied with the new arrangements and had withdrawn his objections. FowlerHenry Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the Midland Railway 1909-1923, and of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway 1923-1933 testified that the revised plan, together with abandoning the proposed Madeley branch, would reduce the cost to £480,000. The new Severn Valley Railway Act received Royal Assent on 30 July 1855. It repealed the 1853 Act, although the Company's incorporated status continued unchanged. The revised route, reduced share capital of £480,000 and borrowing powers of £160,000 were duly authorised, with completion to take place within 5 years.[11]

On 16 August the Mayor of Bridgnorth wrote to the Company requesting that the location of the station at Bridgnorth be changed. By November FowlerHenry Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the Midland Railway 1909-1923, and of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway 1923-1933 had prepared a revised plan with two further cost saving deviations:

  • leaving the OW&WOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway line north of Hartlebury rather than south of it and rejoining the authorised route at Upper Mitton, north of Stourport, avoiding the need for second station at Hartlebury south of the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway's, and
  • leaving the authorised route near Eardington ironworks, crossing a viaduct at Oldbury and passing under Bridgnorth High Town via a 500 yard tunnel (which became 550 yards as built), rejoining the authorised route at the south end of the Apley deviation. This avoided the need for two expensive bridges at Quatford (£8,000) and north of Bridgnorth (£9,000)[11].


Article from the Bridgnorth Journal in 1856 encouraging the purchase of shares in the Severn Valley Railway.

Efforts to stimulate support for the Railway continued. In early 1856 the Company's solicitor Mr. Toogood visited locations up and down the line in an attempt to attract new shareholders.[12] A meeting of local businessmen and other interested parties was held at Bridgnorth on 1 March, which resulted in a request for Morton Peto to address a public meeting there.[13] Peto agreed, with the public meeting taking place at Bridgnorth Town Hall on 27 March. The press reported that "The meeting was evidently satisfied with the explanations given, by its unanimous and hearty applause. We have much pleasure in stating that the result of the meeting has already begun to manifest itself, for Mr Toogood has since obtained many additional shareholders."[14]

On 15 April Peto addressed a similar meeting at Bewdley, where his speech was regularly met by cheers from those present.[15] A meeting at Stourport on 6 May "...gave general satisfaction, for strong expressions of support were given by most of the persons present."[16]

Another public meeting took place at Ironbridge on 1 July, at which Peto stated that nearly £70,000 had been raised of the £150,000 needed before work could start. The SVRSevern Valley Railway Act of 21 July 1856 authorised the new deviations. At the end of July FowlerHenry Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the Midland Railway 1909-1923, and of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway 1923-1933 confirmed he had agreed the final route of the line through Apley to Thomas Whitmore’s satisfaction.[17]

Over the following months, fund raising continued and the process of obtaining a tender for construction began.


On 10 July the Board resolved that a tender from the contractors Smith and Knight for construction of the line should be accepted, although no details of the tender are recorded. In response, Morton Peto wrote to the Board on 28 July offering his resignation so he could tender for the Contract. His resignation was accepted.[17]

Continued difficulties in raising the finance meant that two new Bills were drafted and put before Parliament, one to continue construction but with an extended deadline for completion and the other to abandon its construction. On Peto's advice, the decision on which should be adopted was deferred until the next half-yearly shareholders' meeting in February 1858.[17]

Assuming that construction would go ahead, Peto in partnership with Brassey and Betts produced a tender for the contract with three costings (in each case prices included stations costing £22,500; the Contractors would accept £240,000 in shares as part of the consideration):[17]

  • a double track railway costing £469,740,
  • all works built for double track but a single line of rails costing £389,690, and
  • earthworks for two thirds of the line, and tunnels, for single line; underbridges (other than viaducts and bridges over streams) for single line with foundations for double line costing £363,690.


Main article: Construction of the Severn Valley Railway

On 20 February 1858 the Board accepted the lowest cost option, subject to Shareholder approval which was granted at a special meeting on 26 February. The Abandonment Bill was therefore withdrawn, while the Bill to extend the time allowed for completion was enacted on 23 July 1858, setting a new deadline of 23 July 1861. Following the passing of that Act, construction began in early August. By that time the Company had reached agreement with the OW&WOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway that the latter would run and maintain the new line for a period of 5 years following completion.

On 21 July 1859 two Acts of Parliament were passed relating to other nearby railways, both of which had received the support of the Company. The Tenbury Railway between Woofferton and Tenbury was seen as the first stage of a future link to Bewdley, while it was hoped that the Much Wenlock and Severn Junction Railway (which would join the SVRSevern Valley Railway at Buildwas) would bring limestone traffic to the SVRSevern Valley Railway.[18]

On 5 April 1860 a meeting was held to consider two Bills before Parliament. One was for the Tenbury & Bewdley Railway, to which the Company agreed to contribute £7,000. That Act was passed on 3 July 1860. The other enabled the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway to take on the lease of the Severn Valley Railway. This was enacted by the SVRSevern Valley Railway (Leasing) Act on 14 June 1860; two days later the West Midland Railway Act authorised the amalgamation of the OWWOxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway and other railways into the West Midland Railway Company.[19]

The first mention of a proposed railway between Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth was made at a Board meeting on 20 June 1860.[19] Although the Severn Valley Railway was still under construction at the time, the SVRSevern Valley Railway and WMR also prepared the first plans for the Kidderminster Loop Line during 1860.

On 1 August 1861, the West Midland & Severn Valley Companies Act authorised the construction of the Kidderminster Loop Line and granted the Company powers to raise an additional £60,000 and borrow up to £20,000 to fund its construction. However the Tenbury line was still several years from opening, so no action had been taken by 1863 when responsibility for the Loop Line passed to the GWRGreat Western Railway[20].


Public services began on 1 February 1862, operated by the WMR. The West Midland and Severn Valley Railways Act of 29 July 1862 confirmed that the WM Company had to pay rent to the SVRSevern Valley Railway shareholders half-yearly, preference shareholders receiving 4½ percent and ordinary shareholders 3percent rising to 4½ percent by 1868. The GWRGreat Western Railway was to purchase the SVRSevern Valley Railway no later than 31 July 1871.

On 1 August 1863 the operations of the WMR were absorbed by the GWRGreat Western Railway, and from that time the Severn Valley Railway became known as the Severn Valley Branch of the GWRGreat Western Railway.[21] Shareholders of the WMR and SVRSevern Valley Railway retained vestiges of a separate identity until complete amalgamation was brought about by the Great Western Railway Act of 1872,[22] in the case of the SVRSevern Valley Railway by exchange of Preference Shares in the Company for Consolidated Stock in the GWRGreat Western Railway[23].

See also


  1. Marshall (1989) p. 20.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Marshall (1989), pp 20-24
  3. Nabarro (1971) p. 15.
  4. Marshall (1998), pp. 25-27
  5. Worcester Journal, 2 June 1853, via the British Newspaper Archive
  6. Worcester Journal, 16 June 1853, via the British Newspaper Archive
  7. Marshall (1989), p.28
  8. Handbook to the Severn Valley Railway, by J. Randall 1863
  9. Marshall (1989), p.29
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Marshall (1989), pp.31-32.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Marshall (1989), pp.32-33.
  12. Bridgnorth Journal, 2 February 1856, via the British Newspaper Archive
  13. Bridgnorth Journal, 8 March 1856, via the British Newspaper Archive
  14. Bridgnorth Journal, 29 March 1856, via the British Newspaper Archive
  15. Bridgnorth Journal, 19 April 1856, via the British Newspaper Archive
  16. Bridgnorth Journal, 10 May 1856, via the British Newspaper Archive
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Marshall (1989), pp.34-36.
  18. Marshall (1989), p.41.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Marshall (1989), pp.44-45.
  20. Marshall (1989) p.58.
  21. Marshall (1989), p.52.
  22. Nabarro (1971), p.50.
  23. Vanns (1998) p. 13.