2) The coming of the Railways
The first railway proposal was for a tramway from Wribbenhall to the canal basins in Kidderminster, partially built along the main Kidderminster road. This 1801 proposal was never pursued beyond the initial planning stages and would have not have made the town a rival of Stourport anyway, since transhipment of goods would need to be done at Kidderminster as well as at the River Severn, wasting valuable time and effort.
It was to be another forty five years before more proposals were made, and these would all be for railways along the valley, and not specifically to Bewdley. In 1846, the Shropshire Union Canal employed Robert Stephenson to prepare a plan for a railway linking Shrewsbury with Worcester, although the idea was dropped due to other commitments.
The Severn Valley Railway Company, formed in 1852 was to construct the railway as seen today, running from Shrewsbury To Hartlebury via Bridgnorth, Bewdley and Stourport. The necessary act of parliament was granted in 1853. However, deviations from the original route were decided upon, requiring another act in 1855. The main deviation in the Bewdley area was at Mount Pleasant, the original route to Stourport being replaced by a shorter one with a tunnel 124yds long. With the route decided, construction of the SVR could begin.
By the time construction began in summer 1858 the intended engineer, Robert Nicholson, had died. His replacement was John Fowler, famous for his other works, the Forth Bridge and the Metropolitan Railway. However, many of the well known engineers delegated work to their assistants, and much of the work was in fact carried out under Henry Orlando Bridgeman instead. By August 1859, Mount Pleasant tunnel was begun, whilst in the December of that year the keystones were added to the main arch of Wribbenhall viaduct. Construction accidents were common and affected both of these structures. An 1861 collapse of the viaducts wing retaining wall took two workers with it although fortunately both were only slightly injured. In contrast, Mount Pleasant tunnel had a much grimmer record. In January 1860 a scaffold collapse badly injured a labourer, then almost a year later, a fatal accident occurred. The unfortunate navvy, James Bishop was killed by being too near a rock blasting, leading to a review of working practices. This would not stop the final accident at this site however, for a few weeks later a landslip would injure yet another worker.
Landslips were to prove a serious problem with building the line, despite these problems the first train would pass through Bewdley in May 1861 although this was only a contractors ballast working. The official opening was on the 31st January 1862 with ordinary trains commencing the following day.
It is perhaps important at this point to explain the slightly complicated ownership situation of the station. It was initially constructed for the Severn Valley Railway Company. Before the railway was even finished it was effectively absorbed by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway who signed a 999 year lease for the route on the 14th June 1860. However, only two days later the OWW became the West Midland Railway Company and it was this company which first operated trains through Bewdley. In 1863, the WMR was dissolved and thus it was that the SVR, and hence Bewdley, became part of the Great Western Railway.
By 1859, with construction of the SVR still in its infancy, a second railway was already planning to use Bewdley station for its junction. The Tenbury & Bewdley railway, which was opened to the public on the 13th August 1864, had a junction with the SVR at Bewdley, then paralleled it north for 2 miles. Curving off to the west, it then crossed the three 70ft spans of Dowles Bridge, and headed off to Wyre Forest, Cleobury Mortimer, Neen Sollars, Newnham Bridge and Tenbury stations. From there, it joined the earlier Tenbury Railway which ended at Woofferton Junction on the Shrewsbury to Hereford line.
The second junction to be built at Bewdley was for the Kidderminster loop, intended to funnel trains from the valley and the west to Kidderminster without reversing at Hartlebury. This section of line was first proposed in 1860, and made an act of parliament in 1861. However, construction was postponed due to the difficulties in finishing the SVR and responsibility would pass to the GWR when the route was absorbed. The bill was kept alive with various amendments even though many GWR officials considered it to be unaffordable. Indeed, Daniel Gooch once described the section as a ’useless curve’, nevertheless the line was begun in 1874. The contractor was Charles Dickinson and the main works were completed by March 1878, although the Board of Trade insisted on some alterations which delayed opening until the 1st June that year.
In preparation for the opening of this second junction, the station was considerably remodelled to substantially the form seen today. A pair of new signalboxes were built in 1877 / 1878 in preparation and the track layout reconfigured with the lines through platforms 1 and 2 operated as a stretch of double track main line. The island platform was extended at both ends and a footbridge constructed to avoid passengers crossing over the rails at ground level as they had up to this point. Additionally, the northern end of the current canopy with its wooden frame was erected, although the southern end was added later and has a steel frame. The final modification was the loss of the stations turntable.