Wolverhampton's First Station

The derelict station as it appeared in 1951. Courtesy of Wolverhampton Reference Library.

On July 4th one hundred and fifty years ago, Wolverhampton's first station opened for business with the arrival of the locomotive "Wildfire" and its train. The Grand Junction connected the city of Birmingham with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway from a junction at Warrington, a distance of eighty miles. The London and Birmingham Railway, linking Birmingham with the capital, was under construction.

The station for Wolverhampton was at Wednesfield Heath, one and a quarter miles from the town centre. At this time Wednesfield Heath was a small rural community, though it was to expand rapidly, changing its name in the process to Heath Town. Entitled "Wolverhampton", despite its distance from the town centre, the small bungalow-like building was designated as a "first-class" station, the first along the line from Birmingham, the next such station being at Stafford, fifteen miles along the line. Between Stafford and Wolverhampton were four intermediate "second class" stations.

The station was described in "Osborne’s Guide to the Grand Junction Railway" of 1838:

Wolverhampton, the sixth station (from Birmingham) of the second class trains and the first station of the first class trains….. Here all engines stop, both in going and returning, to be supplied with water and coke and to have the engine examined, and the wheels greased. As this is a station of some importance, there are always omnibuses and cars ready to take passengers to the town. At every station there is a neat and commodious office for the reception of passengers, and the transaction of business, and at all principal stations there is a private room for females…. The station is being made into a commercial depot. The Company are building spacious and commodious warehouses, and an engine-house capable of holding two or three engines.....hitherto, the line of road has been but sparingly employed by the Wolverhampton merchants, for want of a warehouse to deposit goods; and whenever an additional engine has been required at this end of the line, it has been obliged to be fetched from Birmingham.

The station was a small stuccoed building and stood on the highest point of the original main-line at 440 feet above sea level. The approach from Birmingham came via a tunnel 186 yards in length and 25 feet wide. On emerging from the bore, the trains passed through a cutting for 300 yards to arrive at the station building.

These must have seamed quite grandiose to the early rail travellers, rushing along at hitherto unheard of speeds. The station master was a man called Broadbent, who lived in a cottage in Neachells Lane. His wife died in the cholera epidemic of 1849, after bearing him three children, Job, Will, and Helen. The opening of the rai1way initially was resisted by many local concerns. The traders of Wolverhampton and Walsall being aligned with the canal interests. There were no official opening celebrations at all at Wolverhampton, though constables had been positioned along the line in case of riot. At Stafford in contrast, the first train was greeted by a cannon salute.

The station is seen on the left here, with the goods buildings behind. On the right is the station master's house. Courtesy of Wolverhampton Reference Library.

The benefits of railway communication, once established, soon changed local opinions, and a clamouring went up for a closer connection with the town centre. The station at Wednesfield Heath was never popular. This was not due only to its distance from the town. No rival station appeared until 1849, but local businessmen found good reason to avoid the Grand Junction route long before alternative railway connections were established. Whilst the Grand Junction retained its monopoly on local rail services, it could do it seemed, very much as it pleased, and complaints of service, goods and passenger rail charges, were very numerous. As prices went up, the number of trains decreased, to the extent that coach and canal services were able to retain some sort of competition, against the normal odds.

The Grand Junction persisted in running a disproportionate number of "first" only trains, second class passengers having to wait for an interim service. By 1844 the second class fare from Wolverhampton to Birmingham was raised from 2s to 2s 6d, the local newspaper noting that the canal packets, coaches and omnibuses charged 1s 6d for the same journey. The complaints went on unheeded, from the potteries to Liverpool, in "universal condemnation of this powerful company” and the seeds were sown for the advance of rival approaches into the Black Country.

In 1852 the L.N.W.R. as successor to the G.J.R., opened a station in the town centre at Queen Street. Another north-south route saw the opening of the O.W.W./G.W.R. joint station below the Queen Street station in 1854. The usefulness of the small station at Wednesfield Heath was finished. In May 1853 expresses ceased to call there, passengers from Birmingham for Wolverhampton changing at the newly opened station at Bushbury Junction whilst the Stour Valley line to Birmingham was completed. The station at Wednesfield closed in September 1853, to re-open in August 1855 as ''Wednesfield Heath", having been signposted as ''Wednesfield Heath for Wolverhampton" for some time prior to its closing. The approach to the station was unhealthy even by the standards of the day, potential passengers being warned in the Wolverhampton Chronicle that the footpath between the station and the town was lined with:

....a stinking accumulation of filth and sewerage…  ....and now, to make matters worse, a heap of night soil (waste from open toilets) is exhibited in one of the fields, which is so disgusting that I advise your readers not to pass, especially if the sun is at all powerful.

In January 1873 the section of the line between Willenhall Bridge and Bushbury Junction was closed, the intermediate stations at Portobello and Wednesfield closing with it. The line was re-opened in 1881, but the stations were not. Until their demolition in the 1960s however both the old station and its goods shed were still to be seen, being in private commercial use.

Wednesfield station as it appeared on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map. Courtesy of Ordnance Survey and Wolverhampton Reference Library.
Osbourne's Guide to the Grand Junction Railway. 1838.
The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland. Francis Whitshaw. 1840.
The Railway Magazine. July 1952.
Railways of the West Midlands 1808 -1954. Stephenson Locomotive Society.
Family history as related by Mr. A. J. Summerfield.
Wolverhampton Chronicle, as stated in the text.

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