Mon 22 Jan 2018 14:05:03


British Railway History Item


Great Western Railway Wolverhampton Locomotive Works

Stafford Road Locomotive Works, often referred to as just Stafford Road, had its origins in the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway and by 1847 this company, already resigned to not reaching Birmingham by its own line, had decided to make its headquarters at Wolverhampton. This would offer some form of locomotive repair and accommodation facility. In particular they were looking for a site within easy access of their line.

At that time Wolverhampton was built as far as Fox's Lane and a quarter of a mile further on, at Gosbrook, an auxiliary was being built and left a prime site ready for infilling. Duly purchased by the S & B, construction of the locomotive works did not commence until 1849. The first development was between the west side of Stafford Road and the S&B main line and was opened in November of that year.

Like the GWR at Swindon, the S&B were far from satisfied with the products of independent locomotive builders and appointed the Hon Edmund Petre as Inspector at their works. After rebuilding four of their 0-4-2 tender goods engines, he left in 1854 and was succeeded by Joseph Armstrong, who left his position as Locomotive Superintendent of the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway.

Following amalgamation of the S&B and S&C with the GWR from 1 September 1854, Daniel Gooch, the GWR's Locomotive Superintendent, decided to centralise locomotive repairs of their Northern Division at Stafford Road, at the same time submitting plans for additions and alterations to the then present shops. Before undertaking these improvements, he appointed Joseph Armstrong as Superintendent from which followed a lengthy period of conversion of the repair shops into a locomotive works. Armstrong also brought with him his brother George from the S&C and in October 1855 took on one William Dean as a pupil. By 1859 the additions and alterations were far enough advanced for Joseph Armstrong to begin locomotive construction to his own design. In September 1859, the works completed its first completely new locomotives, the 2-2-2 express singles Nos 7 and 8.

Little locomotive building at Stafford Road took place after that due to its mixed roles of locomotive maintenance and construction. Following amalgamation of the West Midland Railway with the GWR matters came to a head when the total narrow gauge locomotive stock had risen to 301. To add additional capacity to the existing work site there was some vacant space adjacent to the Broad Gauge running shed giving room for new erecting, fitting and machine shops, the Broad Gauge shed later becoming a tender shop.

Upon the retirement of Daniel Gooch as the GWR's Locomotive Superintendent in 1854, the Directors appointed Joseph Armstrong to the position and left his brother George in charge at Stafford Road with William Dean as his Assistant and Works Manager. Over the next 33 years Armstrong began a major programme of locomotive rebuilding whenever an engine became due for repair. This he operated alongside a programme of new locomotive construction using the same omponents. During this period he increased the number of locomotives built at Stafford Road by 600. Armstrong developed what became known as the Wolverhampton style with more than just livery differences. Different features included narrower chimneys with more rounded rolled copper tops as well as flat or dished smokebox doors. Even more noticeable were the Wolverhampton boilers, each with a tall brass dome and very apparent were the Armstrong cabs, or the lack of them - a flat weatherboard with two circular windows in it.

The origins of the 'Wolverhampton livery' lay in the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway; which had used a deep blue-green for painting locomotive and tender bodywork. With boiler bands and body panels lined in black edged with white, the wheels, frames and coupling rods were painted in a dark purple-brown. This livery remained virtually unaltered until 1902 when 'Swindon' livery became the norm.

Having completed the remainder of a large order for 160 0-6-0 saddle tanks in 1905, Stafford Road was called upon in that year to construct 10 of the Churchward 2-6-2 tank locomotives of the '3101' class. As with all other new locomotives built at Stafford Road, these were constructed in the new two-road engine shop. The main problem following construction was getting the locomotives out of the shop. This necessitated removing their pony trucks and then by a gang of men with pinch bars through a hole knocked in the end of the wheel shop. Consequently, after completing an order for a further 20 of these machines, these problems dictated that no more orders for new locomotives would be placed at Stafford Road.

With government finance available for the relief of unemployment under their 'Loans and Guarantees' Act of 1929, the GWR put together a package totalling 200,000 man months, financing which made possible the reconstruction and modernisation of Stafford Road. The main new building to be constructed was an erecting shop, work progressing through 1930 and 1931. With this and many other modernisations, Stafford Road was transformed from a rundown Victorian establishment into a modern locomotive repair depot, all in little over three years. The British Railways Modernisation Plan, published in 1955, gave evidence that steam locomotive repair facilities, such as those at Stafford Road, had only a short future, the Plan opting for diesel traction. It was obvious to many that further changes would be likely at the works, but few were prepared for the statement issued by the British Transport Commission on 26 May 1959 which announced that the whole works would close. This closure would have meant the loss of some 600 jobs and on hearing this Wolverhampton Town Council passed a resolution of alarm at its June 1959 meeting. Whether this was ever heard at the BTC will never be known, but on 15 July 1959, plans for resiting a diesel repair works at Stafford Road were announced. News in January 1960 brought further encouragement in that the diesel work could provide employment for up to 300 and that steam repair work would continue longer than expected. Later in the year, on 3 September, came the news that everyone wanted to hear - that Stafford Road works would not close - it would maintain and repair diesels.

However, after continuing optimistically through 1961 and the first half of 1962, the announcement came from the BTC that there would be a general reduction of 20,000 in the workforce at its main railway workshops over the next five years - exact details being given later. After much lobbying by Local Trades Councils, the BTC agreed to reprieve some 3,000 jobs nationwide, but this did not save Stafford Road. Notice of final closure came on 21 August 1963 and decreed that the works would cease to function from 1 June 1964.

On 11 February 1964, GWR 2-8-0 No 2859 had the dubious distinction of being the last locomotive to be overhauled at Stafford Road. After setting-off back to its home depot at Pontypool Road (86G), No 2859 left the remaining 130 employees with nothing to do.

Route: Go straight ahead outside Wolverhampton High Level station along Railway Drive. Continue straight across the square at the end into Lichfield Street and turn right into Princes Square. Turn right into Stafford Street, continue along Lower Stafford Street and Stafford Road. The works entrance is on the left-hand side between the two railway over-bridges.

Walking time 25 minutes.

Last Updated : Sunday 25th August 2002 16:44

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