20. Two views of Snow Hill Station, ca. 1973.

 

We used to commute into Snow Hill Station as a youth, aged 16, to attend Matthew Boulton Technical College. This would have been in 1960, 1961. At that time we lived at the parental home, in Dorridge – which was considered rather ‘posh’, actually. Indeed it still is. Before 1960, as far back as about 1958, I actually went to school by train from Dorridge to Acocks Green, and then caught the ’bus to Kings Heath where the school was. During all this time, the regular commuter trains consisted of three or four coaches and were drawn by 2-6-2 tank engines, which were the work-horses of that sort of service on the old British Railways (Western Region): previously the G.W.R.: Great Western Railway – or ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’, as its detractors used to call it. (They called it that because its virtues were many; hence its detractors – mostly other railway companies – were many also.) When we went to ‘Tech.’, we disgorged ourselves along with all the other bustling commuters through the throbbing tumult of the main booking hall of the station, and dispersed ourselves into the busy streets of central Birmingham. Anyway, little did we think that a scant 13 years later, that focal point, the booking hall of Snow Hill Station would look like this:

 

 

Aarghh! What has happened? The booking hall has no roof! It has no busy throngs; it is empty: void of all the immense activity of the previous 150 years.  Not only that, but a monstrously ugly, soulless multi-storey building glowers down upon it, its hundreds of glazed apertures seeming to mock the relatively few and now dead (but classically-framed) ticket office windows. I dare say, that most tickets purchased through these windows were of a routine nature; all mine certainly were: but in 150 years, just think of all the drama that was played out here! The ‘dash through the night’ to a family member in distress! The eloping lovers! The aspiring artist leaving to try their luck in London; the humble leaving for a job ‘in service’, far away, in order to escape the grind of poverty. Yet all these pale in the face of the agony of Many Wars – far Too Many Wars! Many thousands must have left from here - never to return. It seemed to me, when I took the photo. around 1973, that this accumulated sadness was somehow still present; yet being, as it were, gradually exhaled or dissipated. Here is another shot of the main platforms.

 

 

The track-bed has been largely filled in following the closure of Snow Hill. There must have been three – no, surely four? – sets of tracks between these platforms; and there was another line on the other side of each platform, I remember that distinctly. There may even have been bays, but I emphasise that I am not a railway historian in any way: or even a proper railway enthusiast; I just wanted to put up these couple of shots for you to see. There is ample information on line about Snow Hill throughout its entire existence. Having said that, one event that occurred here, which I would like to record, even though it may sound boastful. If you were a young boy in the 1940s & 50s, who was not interested in railway engines, trains & railways? Most of us would tick off or more usually underline, the various ‘engine numbers’ of the locomotives we saw, in the little books published by Ian Allan. The ‘King’ class of engines was of course the Jewel In The Crown of the GWR. They proved surprisingly easy to ‘cop’, and after only two or three years, I had seen every ‘King’ locomotive (there were 30 altogether) except ‘King John’. This, apparently, used only to work from London to Bristol, or London to Exeter – whatever: so that if you lived in the Midlands, you would never see it. Accordingly, I never saw it, as an eleven-, twelve-, or thirteen-year-old train spotter. Of course, I came to lay aside ‘the things of a child’ – or at least some of them, including loco-spotting – and began what I subsequently found to be (and at great cost) the inherently impossible task of growing up. 8^) Yet picture me, if you will, in the Refreshment Room of this very Snow Hill Station you see above, some time right near the end of steam. I don’t even know when that was; well into the 1960s? But what I do remember, is sipping my weak, lukewarm tea from the impossibly thick cup provided by British Railways (which is of course what absorbed the heat from the tea), and hearing – or rather feeling through the floor, you remember that, don’t you? – the ultra-low-frequency rumble of a big train pulling in. It passed by the Refreshment Room, and naturally, responding to a reflex long implanted, I looked at the locomotive. It was ‘King John’! I cannot find words to describe the effect this produced. “Quasi-orgasmic” comes to mind, but is instantly rejected on the grounds that this experience was, somehow, far more spiritual than physical; though there were some physical symptoms of course – goose-flesh & that sort of thing. I can’t really explain it. But, as it turned out, I did see all the Kings! Does it really matter? Well, I don’t know: but I’d sooner have seen them all than only 29 of them!

 

Before leaving this ‘Railway Reminisence’ page, I must tell you what my grandmother used to do, when she couldn’t find a porter, or guard, or any other railway Official, to ask where the train standing at a particular platform was destined to, in case it was the one she was supposed to take. She would walk determinedly to the front of the train, and ask the engine driver what his destination was. “If he doesn’t know where his train is going to,” she would wryly comment, “then nobody does!” I am glad to report that she always received a polite, affable and invariably accurate response!

 

 

P.S. Of course, Snow Hill Station, Birmingham, has long since been re-born and is now again a vibrant part of our most excellent city…

 

 

 

­Page written 3rd January 2009.