Oswestry station, 1954 (Lens of Sutton)
The rise and rise of a railway town.
Back in the 19th Century, the railways were regarded with suspicion - especially in the Shropshire border town of Oswestry.
Rail map of Oswestry area
When plans to build a rail link between Shrewsbury and Chester were made, the good people of Oswestry were adamant that the steam-belching menace would not be coming anywhere near their town.
Eventually, a landowner offered to sell some of his land to allow the railway to be built across it, along with a station at Gobowen, three miles away from Oswestry.
So the line between Shrewsbury and Chester was built with a big kink in it, to take it around the border market town.
But it wasn't long before Oswestry changed its mind, and in 1848, the first of two stations opened in the town. It was the start of a vast expansion for Oswestry, and the town would change forever as a result.
The station, known as Oswestry GWR, opened on Gobowen Road and accommodated the branch line, linking Oswestry with the main line at Gobowen via a single set of tracks.
'Crewe Station' of Shropshire
The second, known as Oswestry Cam, followed in 1860. In 1865 the Cambrian Railway Company was formed through an amalgamation of smaller companies - and picked Oswestry as its new headquarters.
The Oswestry Cam station building, for many years forlorn and empty (opposite the Aldi supermarket), became the headquarters for the entire Cambrian Railways network.
Oswestry station, 1960s (Photo: Lens of Sutton)
From there some 300 miles of track were managed, stretching from Wrexham and Whitchurch in the east, to Pwllheli and Aberystwyth on the coast, and Brecon in the south.
Vast expansion quickly followed. Across the tracks from the Cam station, workshops opened where engines and wagons were built.
The works had been built at Oswestry so that from the start the Cambrian Railway could use its own rolling stock and carry out its own maintenance.
The workshops cost £28,000 to build - a huge investment in today's money - allowing Oswestry to develop into an important railway centre and causing the town's population to steadily grow from 5,400 in 1861, to 7,300 in 1871, to 9,500 in 1901.
Oswestry became a vast railway town, Shropshire's answer to Crewe or Swindon.
This situation lasted until 1924 when the GWR took over Cambrian Railways and closed the station on Gobowen Road.
The Cambrian station, which also housed the company's headquarters, took over the handling of all traffic, while the GWR station was demolished soon after and no trace of it remains.
Dr Richard Beeching was appointed chairman of British Railways in 1961 with a brief to reduce costs over the 17,000-mile rail network. He recommended that half of the network be closed down, along with some 2,000 stations.
Beeching's report confirmed suspicions that the railways were underused, mainly thanks to the increase in road transport, and only half of lines were actually profitable. Unfortunately, many of the branch lines that closed acted as feeders to the profitable lines that remained, and use of the railways fell even further.
After the 1920s, railway re-organisation continued with nationalisation of the network. In the 1960s, came the infamous Beeching report, which changed Oswestry forever.
Passenger trains to and from Oswestry stopped in 1965, and the line was closed down completely in 1971.
The last passenger train to steam out of Oswestry was hauled by the 4-6-0 GWR locomotive no 7822 Foxcote Manor.
It was withdrawn from service the following year and after spending many years at a scrapyard in South Wales it was bought in 1975 for £5,000 and returned to Oswestry to become an attraction at the home of the Cambrian Railway Society.
The locomotive resides today, fully restored and working, at the site of the Llangollen Railway Society, with the aim of re-opening Oswestry as a heritage steam railway.
Why the line still crosses the A5
Oswestry's goods yard was redeveloped into a bus station and eventually a supermarket.
Campaigners successfully managed to ensure the line survived the building of the Oswestry bypass in the 1980s. It helped that the line was still used by the occasional quarry train.
Instead of ripping up the trackbed, the Department of Transport agreed to put in two level crossings, one on the Gobowen branch on the A5 east of Oswestry, and the other on the new A483 to the south of the town.
Meanwhile the extensive building which comprised Oswestry station, including the Cambrian general offices, changed hands many times after closure of the line.
Replica sign at Gobowen station
Gobowen opened on 12 October 1848, when the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway opened officially.
It is recorded that to celebrate the opening, the first train through the station comprised 39 coaches with more than 1,000 people on board. It was hauled by three locomotives.
Great crowds turned out to wave and cheer as it passed. When threatened in recent times with cutbacks, the station's booking office was taken over on 5 July 1993 by girls from nearby Moreton Hall School ably led by David Lloyd, a former geography master at the school.
They were based in the level-crossing keeper’s cottage and did great work restoring the station and setting up a booking office plus a travel agency.
On 7 March 1996, the running of the station was taken over by Severn-Dee Travel and continues today.
In early 2005, restoration work began again and, with the aid of European money, the listed station building has survived as a tourism hub for Oswestry.
The future of the buildings that used to house the engineering works are also secure, as commercial premises and the footbridge over the former track is a listed structure.
In the 1970s, the Cambrian Railway Society set up a museum in the locomotive sheds next to Oswestry station, with the aim of re-opening the whole line from Gobowen to Llanymynech, as well as the old mineral line to Porthywaen.
The Cambrian Railway Trust was set up to move the plans forward, but got bogged down in disputes, resulting in a split between the Trust and the Society.
The society continues to run the Cambrian Transport Museum and a railway yard. In 2004 it bought the 1.5-mile Nantmawr branch from Llynclys Junction to Blodwel with the intention of re-opening it.
Not the end of the line...
In July 2005, the trust re-opened a mile-long section of the Cambrian main line between Llynclys junction and Pen-y-Garreg Lane at Pant. Passenger trains now run along the line between Easter and October.
In 2008, Shropshire County Council bought the section of line between Gobowen and Blodwel and are currently negotiating with both the Cambrian Railway Society and the Cambrian Railway Trust to hand over a 50-year lease.
Eventually, the plan is to reopen the whole Cambrian line from Gobowen, through Oswestry and Llynclys and on to Llanymynech and eventually to Buttington Junction near Welshpool; with a branch off from Llynclys up the Tanat Valley to Llanrhaeadr and Llangynog.
last updated: 29/10/2008 at 14:04