The Stratford & Moreton Railway
William James (1771 to 1837), a land agent and surveyor from Henley-in-Arden, instigated the completion of the Stratford Canal in 1812 to 1816 and its link with the Upper Avon Navigation which he purchased in 1813. He was a very successful man and was estimated to be worth 150,000 pounds in 1815. In 1819 he proposed a Central Junction Railway or tram-road from Stratford-upon-Avon to London via Oxford to serve Stratford's busy canal and river dock. The Stratford & Moreton Railway Company was incorporated by Act of Parliament in May 1821 to build a railway from Stratford to Moreton-in-Marsh with a branch to Shipston-on-Stour.
The Stockton and Darlington Railway Act was authorised by Parliament just six weeks earlier on the 19th of April 1821 and when it opened on the 27th of September 1825 it was the world's first public railway laid out for steam haulage from the start.
Construction of the Stratford and Moreton Railway started in 1822 under John Urpeth Rastrick (1780 to 1836), an engineer and builder. Rastrick was appointed engineer of the railway in 1823. Founder William James neglected some of his business interests and was bankrupt in 1824 and imprisoned for debt. In 1826 Rastrick testified at the parliamentary investigation into the proposed Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Stratford and Moreton Railway opened on the 5th of September 1826 as a four-feet gauge horse-drawn tramway.
In 1829 Rastrick was one of the three judges at the Rainhill Trials and was later responsible for several other railway lines.
The branch to Shipston was authorised by Act of Parliament on the 10th of June 1833 and was laid from Bracknell Bushes near Ilmington. It was 2.5 miles long and opened on the 11th of February 1836.
The tramway ran from the River Avon at Stratford across a level brick bridge with nine flat arches and then along an embankment out of Stratford from where it roughly followed the River Stour and the main road now called the A3400 (formerly the A34) to Newbold-on-Stour. It then headed west across country almost to Ilmington, then turned south towards Darlingscott passing the Old Wharf and Junction House east and south east of Ilmington. It followed the Fosse Way Roman road (now the A429) from around Shipston-on-Stour to Moreton-in-Marsh.
Traders using the tramway had to provide their own waggons (spelled with two 'g's in the days before steam) and pay a toll to use the line. Single passengers could be carried, sitting alongside the driver.
The Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway, sometimes known as 'the Old Worse & Worse', leased the line in 1847 and carried out track improvements. In 1853 two passenger workings were made per day to connect with trains at Moreton-in-Marsh, the journey taking 1.5 hours. The line from Stratford became disused after the new line from Stratford to Honeybourne opened in 1859, but the southern part of the line from Shipston to Moreton remained in use. On this section there were stations at Stretton-on-Fosse, 4.5 miles from Moreton-in-Marsh, at Longdon Road (for Ilmington 1.5 miles away), 6.75 miles from Moreton and finally at Shipston-on-Stour, just over nine miles from Moreton.
The route from Shipston to Moreton became part of the Great Western Railway in 1863 after the West Midland Railway was merged into the GWR. At this time the 'up' journeys were made before midday and the 'down' in the afternoon. The GWR converted the branch to locomotive operation, reopening it on the first of July 1889 with four trains per day. As part of this work, a new 600 yard spur was added at Longdon Road to allow direct running of trains to Shipston, where an engine shed was also constructed. The branch was steeply graded and had stiff speed restrictions. It was worked on the 'one engine in steam' principle, occasionally two coupled together, and used train staff working as there was no block telegraph.
Stretton was temporarily closed as an economy measure in World War One and the four trains a day were reduced to two. After the war, three trains a day were run and Stretton was re-opened in March 1919.
The last track was lifted on the Stratford section in around 1918 and re-used elsewhere. At this time and certainly by summer 1922 the four workings each way had become three and most journeys took 45 minutes. Trains run were advertised as mixed passenger and goods, but passenger workings ceased on the 8th of July 1929 and were replaced by GWR motor buses which only ran for a few months. As the engine shed at Shipston had been closed to the railway, the branch locomotive was dispatched from Kingham every day.
The goods service ran every week day until at least the end of the 1930s, with one hour and 35 minutes allowed for the outward trip and one hour and 20 minutes for the return. Goods facilities were removed from Stretton and Longdon Road on the 1st of June 1941, but the service continued to Shipston. The branch was relaid with heavier track in July 1946 which had already seen heavy use elsewhere. GWR Dean Goods 0-6-0 tender locomotives worked the branch at that time as depicted in some of the photographs listed at the end of this article. By the late 1940s the goods services only ran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The line was finally closed on the 2nd of May 1960, by which time goods trains only ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays and were hauled by British Railways standard Class 2 2-6-0 tender locomotives. At the end, trains left Moreton at 9:15am, returning at 12:23pm. Shipston station remained open for some time after the end of the rail service to handle goods brought in by road only from Moreton-in-Marsh.
Along the GWR Line
Shipston had one main running line with a passing loop and single platform face. It should not be confused with the still open Shipton (for Burford) between Kingham and Oxford or Shipton-on-Cherwell on the closed Woodstock branch. On the platform there was an outside-framed wooden building with attached awning. In the photographs it doesn't look like a GWR design, so it may have been inherited from the tramway or the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. The loop was shortened in 1914 to allow space for an end loading dock and there were two goods sidings off the loop, one passing through a corrugated iron goods shed. A further siding off the loop ran to an engine shed, out of view in the photographs. The engine shed was the only one on the line and the only allocated locomotive in January 1901 was 850 class 0-6-0 saddle tank number 2015. The shed was taken over by the military from November 1916 to November 1918 and may never have been used by the railway again as it was later rented out for the storage of a delivery lorry and the track was removed.
Longdon Road station had a similar building to Shipston, but with no awning. A corrugated iron shed was added later for the storage of bicycles, parcels and the like. There was very unusually a loading gauge on the running line almost opposite the shed on the platform. There was a single track past the platform face and the two-track goods yard was unusually on the far side of the level crossing. There was a horse landing stage on the junction between the original tramway and the new tightly-graded curve installed for locomotive operation. There was a small weighbridge by the goods yard entrance.
Stretton-on-Fosse Station seems to have been a much simpler version of Shipston, with a similar single platform face and a similar building, again with no awning. In the earlier photographs there are two tracks by the platform, the farthest one having a loading gauge over it. This track has been removed on later photographs, presumably after the goods service was removed from Stretton on the 1st of June 1941. Also visible in the photographs beyond the level crossing at one end of the station is The White Cross Inn, a changeover point in the horse-drawn days.
Moreton-in-Marsh Station is on the mainline from London, between Oxford and Worcester and was opened in 1853 by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. It is still open today, but it is on a single rather than a double track, although it does still see long distance trains. Outside the main station buildings were stables for horses for the tramway.
The most obvious remnant of the tramway is the attractive bridge over the River Avon in Stratford, which is now part of a footpath following the course of the tramway out of the town. When I last visited the area in July 1991, an original waggon on a section of track was preserved just to the north of the bridge in Stratford. It was made of wood with the side beams of the chassis extended beyond the ends to form 'dumb' buffers and was in a very dilapidated condition, but it did have a small plaque explaining its history. Next to the site were some old industrial buildings and a timber yard on a triangle of land between the A3400 and its bridge over the Avon and the tramway bridge. In the centre of this land was a large, old and slightly ornate wooden shed which may have been a works for the tramway in the past. There were two sets of large double gates into the site. The waggon and buildings have since been removed and replaced with a large public house. The waggon may have been moved to the National Railway Museum at York as they have what they describe as a circa 1846 Stratford and Moreton Railway wagon listed there.
In 'Warwickshire', Vivian Bird tells us that the route of the northern section of the line was still visible in 1973, marked in part by the neat porches on houses at level crossings, especially at Darlingscott. Also mentioned as visible are The Old Tramway Inn just outside Stratford and The Old Wharf and Junction House near Ilmington. The Old Tramway Inn had a sign showing the departure from Stratford by horse tram and the tramway horses used to be stabled there. Other sources listed later also mention that The White Cross Inn at Stretton still exists.
When I visited Shipston-on-Stour on the 20th of August 1991 and the 27th of March 1992, taking several photographs of the engine shed, the site was an industrial estate and the engine shed was still in good condition, although it had replacement doors, a fairly modern corrugated iron roof and a brieze block-built porch on one side. The shed was mainly blue brick with some red, with four inset windows on each side, each having a brick arch above. One end was blank with just an inset panel and the other end with the doors had a brick arch over them and a round window above that. Also at Shipston, the platform, loading dock, weighbridge hut and some of the cobbled road surface were then still visible.