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GWRSwindon

What if the Birmingham-Bristol line remained independent?

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In 1845, the Birmingham & Gloucester and Bristol & Gloucester Railways merged, forming the Birmingham & Bristol Railway. It was an awkward union, as there was a break of gauge at Gloucester where the broad gauge Bristol & Gloucester met the standard gauge Birmingham & Gloucester.

 

Parliament ruled that the B&B should be converted to one gauge, and both the GWR and the Midland were greatly interested in acquiring the line. The railway ultimately went to the Midland, and the GWR never extended their broad gauge lines to Birmingham. 

 

However, what if the Birmingham & Bristol Railway stayed independent, or was worked as a joint line? I would imagine this scenario would require the Bristol & Gloucester to have already converted most of their line to mixed gauge, thereby mitigating the break of gauge issue. It could also be interesting if the B&B had gone to the GWR, or the LNWR.

Edited by GWRSwindon

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Answering my own question, I think the B&BR could have a chance of surviving as an independent company, once its gauge issues are sorted out. The Birmingham-Bristol will be a valuable asset to whoever acquires it, the freight traffic over the line is considerable.

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There's a slight misunderstanding of the history here - there never was a Birmingham and Bristol Railway, but rather two independent companies, the Birmingham & Gloucester and the Bristol & Gloucester. There was a proposal in 1844 that the two companies should amalgamate but the Bill deposited to Parliament to enable this didn't meet the requirements laid down by Parliament - "Standing Orders". Meanwhile the Great Western proposed that the standard gauge Birmingham & Gloucester should be converted to broad gauge and offered to purchase the amalgamated company, once the bill had passed. At this point John Ellis, the Midland Railway chairman, happened by chance to meet directors of both companies and offered that the Midland should lease both companies, on better terms than the Great Western was offering. Theses leases came into effect on 1 July 1845; this was followed up by a Bill for amalgamation of the two separate companies with the Midland that passed into law on 3 August 1846.

 

One consequence of the amalgamation was that several very able officers of the Birmingham & Gloucester moved on to other railways, notably Richard Moorsom, the company chairman, who returned to the London & North Western Railway, becoming its chairman from 1852 to 1861 (he had been on the board of the London & Birmingham Railway), J.E. McConnell, the locomotive superintendent, who followed Moorsom to the LNWR, becoming locomotive engineer for the Southern Division at Wolverton, 1847 to 1862, and the company's engineer, Richard Moorsom's brother William, who went on to an extensive career in railway surveying.

 

If the amalgamation of the two Gloucester companies had gone ahead and if the combined company had for a while held out against the rival offers of their neighbours, it's possible that those three able officers might have been able to address the break of gauge problem at Gloucester (but only by moving the problem to Bristol or Birmingham) and run an efficient operation. However, it would remain too small to be viable in the period of consolidation that followed the collapse of the Railway Mania of 1845 and would no doubt have passed to the Great Western or the Midland in due course. 

 

The Midland having in fact taken over the two Gloucester companies and thus gained access to Bristol, I'm fairly sure the Bristol & Exeter was being eyed up as the next target by some in Derby...

Edited by Compound2632
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53 minutes ago, Compound2632 said:

There's a slight misunderstanding of the history here

I think it was a “might have been” suggestion, Stephen.

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1 hour ago, Compound2632 said:

There's a slight misunderstanding of the history here - there never was a Birmingham and Bristol Railway, but rather two independent companies, the Birmingham & Gloucester and the Bristol & Gloucester. 

Ah, I was basing it mostly on this: Link

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25 minutes ago, Regularity said:

I think it was a “might have been” suggestion, Stephen.

 

Simon, re-reading the OP, I'm still not sure which way to take it - the amalgamation of the two Gloucester companies was not so much a "might have been" as a "very nearly was", so it's incidental to the general line of thought. My apologies to @GWRSwindon if my little summary of the history was old news. 

 

16 minutes ago, GWRSwindon said:

Ah, I was basing it mostly on this: Link

 

It was never in fact a legal entity. 

 

The Moorsom brothers are an interesting pair. Their father was one of Nelson's captains at Trafalgar, eventually becoming an Admiral by seniority. Richard had also been in the navy; he was also a prominent anti-slavery campaigner. He in his turn also reached the rank of Admiral by seniority in 1857, even though he hadn't seen active service for quarter of a century. William had been in the army, which is where he learned his surveying.

Edited by Compound2632
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I must admit I re-read it twice, and simply assumed that the bold opening statement was an intentional alternative history, based on the use of 1845 for the merger, as proposed in 1844. But I was slightly confused at first.

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In 1832 there was a survey of a route by a certain IK Brunel which went East of the Lickey to avoid the incline but it didn't go forward and IKB went off to the GWR

I often wonder if it had gone ahead whether the to be Birmingham and Gloucester would have ended up as a broad gauge line from Birmingham, thus providing a through BG Birmingham - Bristol line, which surely would have ended up as part of the GWR empire and not the Midland.

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Brunel's route was expensive; William Moorsom re-surveyed the railway on its current route which was adopted by the company as it was considerably cheaper. He was, I believe, responsible for importing the Norris locomotives.

Edited by Compound2632
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9 hours ago, Compound2632 said:

 William Moorsom re-surveyed the railway on its current route which was adopted by the company as it was considerably cheaper.

So cheap that they avoided most centres of population on the route to keep down the cost of land purchases.

 

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1 hour ago, melmerby said:

So cheap that they avoided most centres of population on the route to keep down the cost of land purchases.

 

 

Apart from Worcester (soon remedied) I'm not sure where you have in mind that would be on any easily-graded more-or-less direct route. When the Great Western came to build their Stratford - Cheltenham line, it exactly take in major population centres.

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10 minutes ago, Compound2632 said:

 

Apart from Worcester (soon remedied)

(And Droitwich) Only thanks to the arrival of the GWR (OWW) 12 years after the Birmingham - Gloucester line opened

Edited by melmerby

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19 hours ago, melmerby said:

In 1832 there was a survey of a route by a certain IK Brunel which went East of the Lickey to avoid the incline but it didn't go forward and IKB went off to the GWR

I often wonder if it had gone ahead whether the to be Birmingham and Gloucester would have ended up as a broad gauge line from Birmingham, thus providing a through BG Birmingham - Bristol line, which surely would have ended up as part of the GWR empire and not the Midland.

When I was researching some West Midlands railway history for my own layout ideas I came up with the following summary of the events in the early/mid 1840s.

  • The Birmingham & Gloucester together with the Broad Gauge Bristol & Gloucester line nearly joined the GWR. The Birmingham & Gloucester was originally proposed as a Broad Gauge line.
  • The Birmingham and Derby toyed with the idea of joining with the London & Birmingham to make a through route from the East Midlands to London.
  • The GWR started building a line from Oxford to connect with the London & Birmingham at Rugby. The abandoned formation can still be seen at Knightcote, about 2 1/2 miles north of Fenny Compton.
  • Huish of the Grand Junction courted the GWR and proposed a line from Birmingham to join the GWR's Oxford & Rugby line at Knightcote.
  • It was reportedly suggested that the GJ would provide mixed gauge on its existing line thus giving a Broad Gauge route from London through Birmingham to Manchester and Liverpool.
  • The GJ suggestion of mixed gauge together with the idea of the B&G to the GWR would give a Broad Gauge route from Exeter through Bristol to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The various wheeler-dealings ended with the formation of the Midland Railway and the LNWR,

The GWR diverted its proposed Rugby line to Birmingham via Leamington when the GJR pulled out as it had suddenly joined forces with the L&B.  Subsequently a not-so-Civil War broke out between the LNWR and GWR over the Stour Valley line between New Street and Wolverhampton which was in the LNWR camp and the and the Shrewsbury & Birmingham which intended to use running powers over the Stour Valley but by the time at was ready the S&B was firmly in the GWR camp. This led to the building of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway to link the Oxford & Birmingham with the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton at Priestfield, thus linking to the Shrewsbury & Birmingham and Shrewsbury & Chester. Subsequent running powers agreements and mergers gave the GWR access to Birkenhead, Warrington. Liverpool and Manchester.

 

Confused? Modern business leaders and politicians have got nothing on the tricks served up in the time of Railway Mania. Even the present backroom boy at No.10 seems a pussycat compared to Mark Huish of the GJ and John Ellis, Deputy Chairman of the Midland.

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On 30/10/2019 at 14:15, GWRSwindon said:

 the GWR never extended their broad gauge lines to Birmingham. 

 

 

 

The broad gauge did reach Birmingham; in 1852.  It was then extended to Wolverhampton (1854), which was its northern extremity. 

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9 minutes ago, James Harrison said:

 

The broad gauge did reach Birmingham; in 1852.  It was then extended to Wolverhampton (1854), which was its northern extremity. 

To join up with the mixed gauge which had arrived with the OWW.

The London-Birmingham-Wolverhapton route had plenty of broad gauge activity, unlike the OWW which was built as mixed gauge but was hardly, if ever used for broad gauge trains.

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31 minutes ago, TheSignalEngineer said:

When I was researching some West Midlands railway history for my own layout ideas I came up with the following summary of the events in the early/mid 1840s.

  • The Birmingham & Gloucester together with the Broad Gauge Bristol & Gloucester line nearly joined the GWR. The Birmingham & Gloucester was originally proposed as a Broad Gauge line.
  • The Birmingham and Derby toyed with the idea of joining with the London & Birmingham to make a through route from the East Midlands to London.
  • The GWR started building a line from Oxford to connect with the London & Birmingham at Rugby. The abandoned formation can still be seen at Knightcote, about 2 1/2 miles north of Fenny Compton.
  • Huish of the Grand Junction courted the GWR and proposed a line from Birmingham to join the GWR's Oxford & Rugby line at Knightcote.
  • It was reportedly suggested that the GJ would provide mixed gauge on its existing line thus giving a Broad Gauge route from London through Birmingham to Manchester and Liverpool.
  • The GJ suggestion of mixed gauge together with the idea of the B&G to the GWR would give a Broad Gauge route from Exeter through Bristol to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The various wheeler-dealings ended with the formation of the Midland Railway and the LNWR,

The GWR diverted its proposed Rugby line to Birmingham via Leamington when the GJR pulled out as it had suddenly joined forces with the L&B.  Subsequently a not-so-Civil War broke out between the LNWR and GWR over the Stour Valley line between New Street and Wolverhampton which was in the LNWR camp and the and the Shrewsbury & Birmingham which intended to use running powers over the Stour Valley but by the time at was ready the S&B was firmly in the GWR camp. This led to the building of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway to link the Oxford & Birmingham with the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton at Priestfield, thus linking to the Shrewsbury & Birmingham and Shrewsbury & Chester. Subsequent running powers agreements and mergers gave the GWR access to Birkenhead, Warrington. Liverpool and Manchester.

 

Confused? Modern business leaders and politicians have got nothing on the tricks served up in the time of Railway Mania. Even the present backroom boy at No.10 seems a pussycat compared to Mark Huish of the GJ and John Ellis, Deputy Chairman of the Midland.

 

Ellis was Chairman of the Midland at the time of the Gloucester coup.

 

There was no love lost between the London & Birmingham and the Grand Junction - the Birmingham and Manchester and Trent Valley lines being only the most prominent of their attempts to outflank each other. The amalgamation to form the LNWR wasn't the end of it - that really only came in 1862 with the death of the Chairman, Admiral Moorsom (formerly of the Birmingham & Gloucester) - the L&B party died with him, leaving the field to the Grand Junction party.

 

You didn't mention the Duddeston Viaduct - half-completed, never a rail laid on it, it still stands as a monument to the politics of the railway mania. It would have given the Great Western access to Curzon Street.

Edited by Compound2632
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4 minutes ago, Compound2632 said:

You didn't mention the Duddeston Viaduct - half-completed, never a rail laid on it, it still stands as a monument to the politics of the railway mania. It would have given the Great Western access to Curzon Street.

I believe that the Duddeston Viaduct may also have been part of the Huish scheme intended to give a direct through connection from the GJR to the to his Knightcote line, thus with his mixed gauge proposal creating a London to Manchester Broad Gauge route and excluding the L&B from that traffic. It was on the way to creating another civil war as it would have meant all of that traffic crossing the L&B on the flat. Following the merger of the L&B and GJR the connection was seen off by the LNWR before completion resulting in the diversion to Snow Hill.

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On 01/11/2019 at 11:39, Compound2632 said:

 

Apart from Worcester (soon remedied) I'm not sure where you have in mind that would be on any easily-graded more-or-less direct route. When the Great Western came to build their Stratford - Cheltenham line, it exactly take in major population centres.

I can't find my copy of the Awdry book but IIRC the Birmingham and Gloucester did look at going through Worcester but was put off by the cost of the land. The line was therefore planned to miss Tewkesbury, Droitwich and Cheltenham as well. The good citizens of Cheltenham kicked up a fuss and so the line was diverted (you can see this on any map or Google Earth) to skirt the edge of Cheltenham. It was always the aim of the B&G to get to a port so they could export their goods. I don't think they cared too much about the intermediate towns.

 

As to the "what if", it's pure speculation.

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16 minutes ago, John-Miles said:

It was always the aim of the B&G to get to a port so they could export their goods. I don't think they cared too much about the intermediate towns.

 

 

The early railway promoters were primarily interested in end-to-end traffic - manufacturing centre to port (Gloucester being the nearest port to Birmingham capable of docking sea-going vessels), or linking major manufacturing centres. After all, it was mostly the wealthy manufacturers and merchants of these places who were providing the capital. It was only with the railway mania in 1845 that the idea that anywhere of any substance realised it had to have the railway.

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