43. The Stourbridge Railcar & Canal.
7th March 2012. Determined to ride in the nice little railcar that shuttles between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town, we travelled thither again, by our free ’bus & train pass. The main line back to Birmingham is on the right. A train from Great Malvern bound for Brum is in the distance. But to the left, the railcar approaches on the single track line from Stourbridge Town. It’s only about a mile long.
I presume there are two of them – ‘one to wash and one to wear’ – though only one at a time can work the line, since I don’t think there is a passing place?
I’m not sure whether my Free Travel pass extends to Stourbridge Town; certainly it goes no further that Stourbridge Junction on this line. So because I hate to make myself a nuisance, or seem to be on the scrounge, I bought a return ticket for £1. The number of this railcar is 139 002 – so it looks like there definitely are at least two of them; and I imagine that shed in the distance with the sky-blue door is where they live. Perhaps 139 001 is resting there even as I hasten forward to board its compatriot?
And here we are, at the nice little Stourbridge Town station. The railcar of course, possesses longitudinal (as well as lateral) symmetry, and the driver simply changes ends. There are actually two crew members, one of whom superintends the passengers, and will naturally assist with push-chairs, and the more mature passengers, should they have any difficulty in boarding or alighting.
After a nice bacon sandwich & a mug of tea in a town centre café, we went down to the canal basin. Stourbridge, or Sturbrug as it was known in 1255 *, is one of those reassuring place-names – there are surprisingly few – which means exactly what it says: a bridge over the River Stour. Stour * is a Celtic or Old English river-name, probably meaning ‘the strong one’. There are no less than five major rivers in England called the Stour; in Kent, Norfolk, Dorset &c., and once again underlines the uniformity of the language & culture which prevailed in England in those far-off times. This building, like Stourbridge, is self-explanatory.
* Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. A D Mills. OUP, 1991. 2nd Ed., 1998.
But what of the River Stour itself? Here it is, flowing merrily past the canal basin. I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘major’ river myself, though it does appear to be flowing quite strongly…
Another shot of the Bonded Warehouse. It was built about 1790 & enlarged in 1849. I should point out that this canal basin is at the end of the ‘Stourbridge Town Arm’ – it’s about a mile long, and connects with the Dudley canals and thence also to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canals. But when they were all built, and in what order, is far beyond me. As always, there’s plenty of canal history on-line.
We entered the basin, and these redoubtable iron pillar support the upper storey overhang of the warehouse, so that goods could be winched up & down out of the narrow boats. We then walked ahead, to the point where we expected to join the tow-path of the canal. The weather was very variable, between sun, rain & hail, but we still thought it would be good to walk the length of the branch. Unfortunately, at the end of the basin, was a locked gate. Of course, canal basins & marinas & moorings do tend to be made secure. No problem, we thought; we would go back to where we entered the basin.
But first, we took this shot of the basin looking back towards the town.
Alas, when we returned to where we had come in, that gate was locked, too! We had in fact, though quite unwittingly, entered the basin, er, illegally, and had been imprisoned therein, equally unintentionally, by the supervisor in charge of the basin, and of the chandlery & canal offices, one of whose duties is to keep the gate locked for security purposes. Fortunately, in a minute or so, he noticed me milling about in confusion, and let me out, most good-humouredly. The actual way onto the tow-path is outside the basin.
That’s about it, actually. Although there is a bit of sun in this shot looking back towards the basin, the weather became quite inclement with rain & hail. We had only got about half-way along the Arm when the tow-path also became deep in mud & puddles & I became slightly apprehensive of slipping. So we chickened out, after taking the next shot.
A run-off from the canal for excess water, which doubtless leads to the River Stour. By now I was quite soaked with rain, so a relatively ignominious retreat was made. However, you will have observed that Stourbridge, for all its importance as a manufacturing centre – its glass is of course still justly famous – was obviously not really conveniently situated, in that it needed (or ended up with) a mile-long canal branch to reach it; and also a mile-long single track railway line (on the opposite side of the town), to connect it to the main line. And we got a lot of fresh air too!
Page written 26th April 2012.