Ledbury Transport History

1. The Hereford and Gloucester Canal




  The present canal near Dymock - courtesy of the South Cotswold Ramblers' Group, April 2006

The Hereford to Gloucester canal was begun in 1793, the section from Gloucester to Ledbury opened to traffic on 29th March 1798 and the canal completed in May 1845. It was never a commercial success and closed for business at the end of 1883 and finally closed in 1885 when it was rented to the Great Western Railway at a cost of 5,000 per year. The GWR then re-used part of the route to build to the Gloucester to Ledbury Railway.

The canal was constructed provide for transport of coal from pits near Newent to Hereford. Survey work began in 1790 and the route was surveyed by Josiah Clowes and later re-surveyed and amended by Hugh Henshall. In 1793 the Act of Parliament was obtained and the money raised. Construction began at Over near Gloucester in 1793 but the most difficult section was the new Oxenhall Tunnel (just SE of the present M50 motorway) with water ingress which had to be cleared by steam pumping engines.

The canal had been completed as far as Ledbury by 1798, with a total of 13 locks, but well over budget. South of the Oxenhall Tunnel was a short branch intended to serve the Newent coalfield, but a few years later both branch and coalfield were out of use. William Maysey was appointed manager at Ledbury for 30 a year and under him trade continued to trickle along the route into the 19th century. In 1837 Stephen Ballard, an engineer working for the Hereford & Gloucester Canal Company, took over from Maysey and surveyed the proposed canal extension to Hereford and, in the same year, work began, at an estimated cost of 76,000. At Ashperton there was to be a deep cut tunnel and a cutting from the River Frome, which would provide the water supply for the canal. By December 1838, 18,000 worth of shares had been subscribed to for the Herefordshire & Gloucester Canal and in the following June 400,000 bricks were ordered from Stephen Ballard's brother Robert who had a brickyard nearby.

In 1839 the Parliamentary Act for the completion of the canal was passed by the House of Lords and allowed the canal builders to raise 50,000 by mortgage and 45,000 in share capital. 2,250 shares were offered at 20 each and purchasers were to receive 7.5% of the revenue of the canal.

Excavation of the final section of the canal began on the 17th November 1839. By April 1840, 500 men were employed at Priors Court embankment on the Hereford side of Ledbury and on the 22nd February, 1841 the first boat load of coal arrived at Bye St, Ledbury. The canal was now almost completed as far as Prior's Court and work had begun on the new Ashperton Tunnel, which was to be 400 yards long. Again the tunnel had problems with water and it had to be lined with brick and stone throughout. The waters from the River Frome, needed to fill the canal section around Ashperton Tunnel were legalised in November 1841 and on the 20th August 1842, the Frome waters were let into the canal.

The overspend on Ashperton Tunnel had created problems and Ballard travelled to Birmingham intending to borrow an extra 13,000. He returned without success using the newly opened railway remarking on it's great comfort and reliability.

In January 1843 the wharf at Castle Frome was in use, the development of trade brought capital into the area and soon a weekly passenger boat to Ledbury Market was being well used. In May 1845 the canal basin at Barrs Court in Hereford was finally filled with water but there was not a single spectator at this event. No sooner had the canal route opened up in Hereford than the West Midland Railway offered to buy it. In fact the railway didn't reach Hereford until 1853 and the canal company struggled to make the canal pay its way.

Finally the canal owners leased the canal to the Great Western Railway in 1863, who planned to close it and use the Ledbury to Gloucester section to build a railway. The GWR did not do this straight away but continued to keep a trade of coal, timber, stone and bricks travelling on the canal. In 1881 construction of a railway southwards from Ledbury was begun and the Ledbury-Gloucester line opened on Monday 27th July 1885. The Ledbury to Hereford section of the canal remained but without the rest of the route to Gloucester it gradually fell out of use.1


2. The Railway Age



  Ledbury Station around 1920 - courtesy of the D. Symonds collection

Herefordshire received permission to build its first passenger railway by Act of Parliament in 1846. The line was to be the Shrewsbury (in neighbouring Shropshire) to Hereford line that would finally be completed in 1853. To celebrate the coming of the railways there was a day of high spirits and rejoicing. Banquets and balls of various standard were held across the city and over 60,000 people crowded into Hereford to join in the festivities and welcome this exciting new age of steam. When the first train arrived in Hereford on the 28th October 1853 the passengers disembarked at the site of the station for as yet there were no buildings save an unfinished engine house and a water house.2

The Worcester & Hereford Railway line had stations and halts at Hereford, Withington, Stoke Edith, Ashperton, Ledbury Junction, Colwall, Malvern and Worcester. An Act of Parliament was passed on the 15th August 1853 for 27 miles of narrow gauge track from Hereford to Shelwick Junction. The first traffic started on the line in 1859, but only between Henwick and Malvern. A through route to Barrs Court Station in Hereford opened on the 15th of September, 1861. By 1863 it has become part of the GWR. The Colwall tunnel had proved difficult to maintain and a second 1,395 yard long tunnel was constructed and opened in 1926. The section from Ledbury to Shelwick junction was reduced from double to single track between 20th October and 11th November 1984.3

The Ledbury and Gloucester railway was begun in two sections: the Ledbury to Ross line via Dymock and The Newent Railway, which was to leave the Ledbury to Ross line at Dymock to reach the Great Western Railway at Over Junction, west of Gloucester. Both companies gained Parliamentary approval in 1873, but due to financial difficulties nothing happened for another 2 years. By this time the Ross & Ledbury Railway had abandoned their plans to reach Ross and linked with the Newent railway to provide a through route from Ledbury to Gloucester. The line was finally opened on 27th July 1885 and had stations and halts at Ledbury Junction, Ledbury Halt, Greenway Halt, Dymock. Four Oaks Halt, Newent, Malswick Halt, Barbers Bridge, Over Junction and Gloucester. There was a double track from Ledbury to Dymock until 4th January 1917 when one track was lifted to provide materials for World War I. On the 11th July, 1959, the line was closed to passenger traffic, with the section from Ledbury to Dymock closing completely on 13th July. The Gloucester end of the track continued to be used for goods traffic until 30th May, 1964.

Ledbury Station was called Ledbury Junction from 1885 to 1959. The Ledbury Tunnel is 1,323 yards long and the fine Ledbury Viaduct is 372 yards long 4.

Sources:
1 Historic Herefordshire On Line at:
    http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/post-medieval/canals/hereford_gloucester.htm
2 Cavalcade of a Century, 1832-1932, 100 years of the Hereford Times: Hereford Record Office - BH74
3 Herefordshire Railways - William H Smith, Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1998
4 Worcester to Hereford - Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Middleton Press, 2004