The First Edition

The magazine was launched in 1986 and the first edition included articles on working at Bushbury Shed, an early coach body at Oxley, Stourbridge Junction Station, Shrewsbury and Chester engines, the Stafford Road Works Institute, the Low Level Station and the first part of a compilation of principal events in Wolverhampton's railway history. There were lots of illustrations including old photographs.

Its now interesting in hindsight, to read the article on Wolverhampton Low Level Station, which at the time was about to be turned into a transport museum. A project that sadly never materialised.

The cover photograph is of Great Western 3571 class,
0-4-2 tank engine, number 3575. The photograph was taken at Stourbridge Junction.

The G.W.R. Institute
Social Life at Stafford Road Railway Works

"The Institute" attached to the railway works at Stafford Road was opened in 1855, modelled along similar lines to its older sister at Swindon. Initially the membership stood at 140, all being men attached to the railway works. From the beginning the railway company took an active interest, Joseph Armstrong taking the presidents chair whenever possible. Much of the money for such things as library books was provided by individuals such as Sir Watkin, from within the company itself.

By 1859 the Institute library had 670 books with a monthly circulation of 186. The reading room was supplied with 5 daily newspapers, 11 weekly newspapers and periodicals, and 4 monthly journals. In 1858 the company provided members with the first of what was to become an annual and ever more popular event, when an excursion train filled with members and their families set off for 3 days in Liverpool. In the same year a brass band was formed, the Institute to provide the required musical instruments, the teacher’s fees to be paid by the members themselves. At the same time, a drawing class had begun under the expert direction of a Mr. Bennett.

Also during 1858 the Institute council had provided an achromatic microscope, a "large and powerful telescope", and a magic lantern. "Stereoscopes have been placed in the reading room, and their varied scenes have proved interesting and amusing". By 1860 chess, draughts and a singing class had been added, and fourteen instruments furnished for the band. A harmonium had been placed in the reading room, a gymnasium and a "quiet" garden provided, which was well used during the evenings that summer.

In December 1862 a new spacious building was erected, with gas lighting laid on, at a cost of £100. This handsome structure lasted until the end of the Stafford Road works in the 1960s. 800 people sat down to the opening concert, frowned down upon by the life sized busts of Brunel and Gooch, the walls being decorated with pictures showing the development of the steam locomotive. Mr. Joseph Armstrong alluded to the wall mounted locomotive views in his opening address, acknowledging Mr. George Stephenson’s prowess in the spheres of engine design but adding piously that the same gentleman was responsible for desecrating the sabbath, running trains on Sundays. Everyone else had followed on from his bad example being the moral of the story.

The next great occasion was the Royal marriage in 1863, when the Institute building flew flags of England, Denmark and France from its flagstaffs, Mr. Fewtrill fired his cannon and 250 workmen sat down to a dinner at 1.00 p.m. inside the Institute. Water only was provided "to meet the wishes of a number of workmen who are advocates of the principal of total abstinence". After an afternoon at the racecourse where festivities were laid on, the men and their families enjoyed a tea and a ball, which did not break up until after midnight. Mr. William Dean, then living in Alexandra Road, Wolverhampton, gave the opening address, the newly formed Institute Choral Society providing the music. By 1866, a bagatelle room, had been added, and a "collection of microscopic objects". Regular social functions had been instigated from the start, with about five concerts occurring each year, and weekly meetings of the various societies, the building being open each working day.

The entrance to the G.W.R. Institute as it appeared on 20th January 1932, erected on the site of the former toll house on the Stafford Road. The low bridge seen to the right was replaced by a higher structure the following year, allowing the double decker trolley buses a through passage.

By 1871 there was a "Mechanics Association", a cricket club and fortnightly rather than monthly entertainments. In 1875 a large billiard table was purchased and a recreation ground levelled and prepared in a field lying between the canal and the branch railway leading from Cannock Road Junction to Bushbury. Here a cricket pitch and a gymnasium boasting "horizontal, parallel and leaping bars, double and single trapeze, climbing poles and ladder swings etc." was erected. At one end of the field a quantity of fish were put into the recently made Great Western reservoir "so that angling may constitute a portion of the recreation". A newly constituted band, complete with a distinctive uniform was formed in 1876 and held a brass band competition at the beautifully wooded grounds of Oxley Manor. Crowds of people lined the Stafford Road to see the event and a jolly time was had by all, thanks to the benevolence of the owner of land, the M.P. Alexander Staveley Hill. After the prize giving, won by the "Kidsgrove Real Excelsior Band" the entertainments went on into the evening with "Old English pastimes", and dancing.

The officers and committee of the Wolverhampton No. 1 branch of the G.W.R. Temperance Union in 1909. In the background is number 7902 "Lady of the Lake" which hauled the first non-stop train over the new Birmingham route. Photo: G.W.R. Magazine.
In 1881 the membership stood at 870 but by 1885 the membership was falling, the recreation ground had been given up, the billiard and bagatelle room closed. The Junior Engineering Society held talks on subjects such as "Joys valve gear as applied to Great Eastern express engines". The Railway Servants Mission, presided over by the L.N.W.R. stationmaster, Mr. Worth, held the excursions for railway employees and their families were described by 1897 as Wolverhampton’s largest excursion of the year".

The trains started out from Low Level but most people joined them at the newly opened Dunstall Park station. Over 2000 people took advantage of the company trains to Birkenhead, Liverpool, North Wales, Manchester, Worcester, Malvern and the Severn Valley line, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Western-Super-Mare, London and intermediate stations, a far cry from that first trip in 1858! There were missions and tea evenings which were attended by 100 men and their wives, but the original enthusiasm seems to have dwindled.

Stafford Road works football team from the pages of the G.W.R. magazine. The club was started by the works manager Charles Crump as early as 1876. When the team played the "Walsall Swifts" at Foxes Lane in 1879 before a crowd of 2,000, the Swifts complained that spectators had lined the goal area, preventing the ball from scoring! Crump maintained an interest in the club for the rest of his days. The team are shown here in the 1920s. Photo:  G.W.R. Magazine.
In 1890, the Great Western Temperance Union began to meet at the Institute, as did the Locomotive Steam Engineman’s Improvement Class. The membership of the Temperance Union by 1895 stood at 1047 compared to 800 in the previous year, and at Wolverhampton a Band of Hope was in a flourishing condition at the Institute. A singing class was formed, and the Great Western Mission set out from Stafford Road regularly with their accordion to visit the lodging houses of the town. Membership of the Institute fell in 190l due to 23 of its members leaving for the war in Africa.

The total of books in the library stood at 3,856, having remained at this level for some years previously. Newspapers and periodicals were still provided, the reading room was used for Sunday and week day services by the Temperance Union and the Railway Mission, the Band of Hope and Choral Union meetings using the room on Thursday evenings. This obsession with sour faced Victorian religion seems to have had the effect of driving many functions to more amiable surroundings. For instance the Great Western Social evening in 1904 was held at the "Angel Hotel" and attended by a "large number of the company's officials, clerks, foremen, etc." Even J.A. Robinson himself attended! The new century was bringing a wind of change in other ways too.

A view of the vehicular entrance to the Stafford Road Works, with the Institute on the right, soon after closure. The terraced houses, home to so many railwaymen, are also empty and awaiting demolition. Photograph John Bates. 
At least one member of the Great Western Mission abandoned the sing songs in the lodging houses, and the attempts to raise the spiritual aspirations of the down and out. A.P. Mitchell began to wonder if the cause of the problems could be tackled instead, and joined the newly emerging Labour Party. Membership of the Institute still stood at 1,102 in 1910 when "many worn out works in the lending library have been replaced, as far as practicable, by new copies". Billiard and Whist drives have been well attended. The bowling played 26 matches and fishing competitions were held at Bushbury Pool.

For the second year in succession, gardening competitions had to be abandoned owing to lack of entries, and neither boating nor swimming found much favour. "A football club has been started, the first team being affiliated to the Wolverhampton Friendly League". Activities at the Institute ceased to find space in the newspapers from the First War onwards, and by 1922 when the Great Western Temperance Union held its annual meeting at Wolverhampton, thousands from all over the system heard the speaker denounce the men of Wolverhampton for having so few as 176 abstainers in their ranks. The Institute still had an Orchestral Society though, for they provided the music for the evenings entertainment.

From the 1920s onwards the upsurge in other amusements, the cinema, the radio, the dance halls took their toll of the working men’s institutions, which were essentially a Victorian commodity. The football club continued, appearing several times in the "Great Western Magazine", the swimming pool at Showell Road remained popular, but the Institute itself played less and less of a role in the lives of the men at the works. The billiard room remained in use to the 1960s, the smaller rooms were used for union meetings, but life had passed the Institute by. The building was closed and demolished along with the works, which it had served for over a hundred years. A section of the steep stairway that once led up to the entrance is all that can be seen of the Institute today.

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