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Whitchurch Town Trail: Station Road
The Railway Station
How the railway began here
North Shropshire’s first railway line, running from Crewe to Shrewsbury via Whitchurch, was approved in 1853. This 32½-mile section of the London and North Western Railway (the LNWR) would link with the Great Western Railway (the GWR) at Shrewsbury. The House of Lords raised objections to the LNWR’s proposed route into Shrewsbury, causing considerable delays while alternative routes were considered. Running powers into GWR’s Shrewsbury station were eventually granted and the line opened on 1st September 1858.
Cost estimate: £10,000 per mile
Engineers: Joseph Locke and John Edward Errington
Contractor: Thomas Brassey
This Crewe and Shrewsbury Railway was built as a single-track line, but provided for expansion to double-track if there was sufficient traffic. The immediate success of the line meant that the second track was soon authorised. It was completed in 1862. From Whitchurch south to Shrewsbury the line served Prees, Wem, Yorton and Hadnall.
Crewe to Shrewsbury, stopping at all stations: 1 hour 25 minutes
Fares: First Class 9s.8d; Third Class 6s.10d.
Each weekday – four trains to Shrewsbury, five to Crewe
Sundays – one train each way
How the railways grew
The Crewe and Shrewsbury line’s success showed other operators the importance of access to Crewe, particularly for linking with routes to Wales and to Manchester and the North. The Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway (the OE&WR) was first proposed in 1860. Following ferocious arguments between competitors LNWR and GWR, Parliament authorised building the line in August 1861. The first phase was restricted to the Whitchurch-Ellesmere section, with the onward section to Oswestry held over for a year in case of new GWR route developments.
Facilities at Whitchurch were expanded to allow for trains using the new line, and intermediate stations were built at Fenn’s Bank, Bettisfield and Welshampton. The first public passenger service left Ellesmere for Whitchurch on 4th May 1863, and construction of the Ellesmere-Oswestry section was completed one year later.
Funding approved by Parliament: £150,000 capital plus £50,000 loans
Engineers: Robert and Benjamin Piercey
Contractor: Thomas Savin
Exceptional technical problem: running the track across Whixall Moss
The ‘railway mania’ of the 1860s produced frequent proposals for new railway lines.
Many never got beyond the drawing board stage. Suggested lines from Wrexham for the Wrexham, Mold and Connah’s Quay Railway proposed the use of Bettisfield and Whitchurch stations, but never materialised. In late 1862 Potteries Junction Railway proposed new line developments linking Newcastle-under-Lyme to Market Drayton, Whitchurch, Gresford and Shrewsbury. These proposals were unsuccessful.
By mid-1864 four companies were operating between Whitchurch and Machynllyth: the OE&WR, the Oswestry and Newtown, the Llanidloes and Newtown and the Newtown and Machynllyth railways. In July 1864 they were amalgamated by Act of Parliament to form the Cambrian Railways. The opening of a last section of line between Borth and Aberystwyth now enabled through trains to run from Whitchurch, a distance of 95¾ miles.
Service time facts
Fastest time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Slowest time: 5 hours 25 minutes
Oswestry-Whitchurch (18¼ miles): the 8.00 am from Aberystwyth took 35 minutes, stopping at Ellesmere.
Speed restrictions: 30 mph maximum for double-headed trains between Oswestry and Whitchurch
The Whitchurch and Tattenhall Railway, proposed by LNWR in 1870, was intended to break the GWR monopoly from Shrewsbury to Chester. Apart from this competitive consideration, very little thought was given to how it would serve the area it passed through. Douglas Barnard’s scrutiny of the final published route, opened in October 1872, shows that:
The first station out of Whitchurch was six miles away at Malpas, and then it was a mile from the town it was supposed to serve. The next station, Broxton, was not near to any residential area and only Tattenhall was adjacent to a community. A halt was provided at Grindley Brook at a later date, but this did not last for many years.
By now, Whitchurch had become an important junction. Consequently, the LNWR built further goods sidings. A pedestrian bridge replaced the earlier level crossing, and coal and timber wharves were operating from 1881. Three signal boxes now controlled traffic. Several other improvements were added during the 1880s, including provision of a two-faced clock on the ‘down’ platform, manufactured and serviced by the renowned Whitchurch firm JB Joyce and Company.
The 20th century: change and decline
During the First World War, the permanent troop accommodation provided at Prees Heath Camp required a 1-mile single-track branch line, joining the main LNWR line between Whitchurch and Prees stations. Under the control of Western Command from 1916, it was used to transport troops, supplies and equipment.
Nationwide railway company amalgamation took place during the early 1920s. The GWR absorbed the Cambrian Railways, and LNWR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS). Whitchurch Station staff numbered over 100 until the Second World War. Despite substantial rail traffic passing through the area during the war, the line escaped bomb damage.
In 1948 the Labour government nationalised the railways. While post-war rail traffic was considerable, road vehicle competition began its contribution to a continuing and increasing decline in railway use.
Service decline facts
Passenger services to Chester stopped 1957
Whitchurch-Tattenhall Junction line closed 1963
No goods or passenger services between Oswestry and Whitchurch by 1966
Brick buildings at station and loco yard demolished by 1990
By the 1980s, only 2 or 3 car diesel-electric units were stopping here, and the goods yards and most railway buildings had disappeared. In the early years of the 21st century, only a single stretch of blue brick wall and some cast iron pillars supporting the ‘down’ platform canopy remain of the once thriving Whitchurch junction. It is now little more than ‘merely a halt for local trains’.
[Source, and for much fuller details and extended bibliography: Douglas B. Barnard: Transport in the Whitchurch Area, Part II, Whitchurch History and Archaeology Group, new edition 1997]
J B Joyce and Co Factory
Brief company history
William Joyce began making grandfather clocks in the village of Cockshutt, North Shropshire in 1690. The business developed as a flourishing family concern, handed down through the generations from fathers to sons. In 1790, the firm moved to premises at 40 High Street. This building, with its cast iron frontage, stands opposite the present-day Civic Centre.
Among important innovations during the nineteenth century, Thomas Joyce diversified into the manufacture of large clocks for public buildings in 1834. During 1849 the firm was engaged in making a new design of gravity escapement, said to be ‘the greatest invention since the pendulum’.
The oldest-established maker of tower clocks in the world, JB Joyce and Co moved to their present purpose-built factory in Station Road in 1904. A member of the Smith of Derby Group since 1965, the firm enjoys a worldwide reputation as a maker of highest quality large clocks for installation in public places. They include municipal buildings, major railway stations, cathedrals and churches. The company also provides an extensive range of clock maintenance, repair and conservation services.
JB Joyce clocks in Whitchurch
The tower of St Alkmund’s parish church at the top of the High Street bears a Joyce clock, installed in 1977 to replace their previous clock of 1849.
The clock on St John’s Church, St John’s Street, was installed in 1879.
On Green End Parade, junction of Green End and Brownlow Street, is a modern electrically powered clock installed in 1994.
A Joyce standard pillar clock of 1994 stands at the Bull Ring, where Green End meets the High Street.
Outside Whitchurch, there are other Shropshire examples at Wem, Ellesmere, Market Drayton and Shrewsbury, and on dozens of village churches and private properties all over the country.
Some notable JB Joyce clocks
In England and Wales:
Union House, Madeley, Ironbridge
Montgomery Town Hall
Royal Exchange, Manchester
Aberystwyth Railway Station
In other countries:
Sydney Post Office, Australia
Government House, Delhi
Customs House, Shanghai
Rio de Janeiro (3)
HM Dockyards, Gibraltar
Capetown City Hall
At The Whitchurch Heritage and Tourist Information Centre at 12 St Mary’s Street there is a substantial list of JB Joyce clocks in public places, on many village churches, and on large private houses and stables throughout Britain. The list also includes a significant number of installations in countries abroad.
For more on JB Joyce & Co, see www.smithofderby.com.
For more extensive treatment of the town’s horological industry, see R Hughes: Clock and Watchmakers of Whitchurch (Whitchurch History and Archaeology Group)
On the corner with Queen’s Road, the Memorial was unveiled on 11th November 1920. Today it commemorates 156 Whitchurch men who died in the 1914-18 war and the 20 men who died 1939-45. A short service is held here in their memory every year on the nearest Sunday to 11th November.
The Railway Inn
An earlier Railway Inn was located further up Station Road opposite the police station. Constructed at the end of the 19th century, this building’s appearance correctly suggests that it was originally designed as a house. It was built for Mr JW Churton, solicitor and long-serving Clerk to the Urban District Council, for use as both home and office. Becoming a pub, first called the Railway Inn, in 1926, it is now called The Railway.
Halfway along Station Road, this terrace contains, on the north side, several pairs of large semi-detached houses of interesting designs. They were built during the very last years of the 19th century, and the earliest years of the 20th.