SOCIAL HISTORY INTERPRETATION
In order to create the Stove R and Engine House exhibitions a range of research has been conducted on the history of the 'Loop line' including looking into some of the fascinating people who worked on or around the viaduct, their lives and how they benefitted from the viaduct being built. Look below to see some of their incredible stories.
THE PEOPLE OF FALLING SANDS VIADUCT
DESIGNER AND ENGINEER OF FALLING SANDS VIADUCT
NAME: Edward Wilson
BORN: 12th August 1820
DIED: 26th August 1877
CONNECTION TO FALLING SANDS VIADUCT: Created the first designs for the Loop in 1860, including the viaduct (which initially had 3 arches instead of 7) 14 years later he became the line Engineer, when building eventually began.
INTERESTING FACT: Sadly, Edward died in 1877 and never got to see the Loop completed
Edward Wilson was born on 12th August 1820 in Edinburgh, Scotland and was the son of civil engineer John Wilson. He became an apprentice to his father in Edinburgh Waterworks and then moved on to Stark and Fulton in Glasgow and the Railway Foundry in Leeds. Edward came into railways when he started work on the Caledonian Canal under Jackson and Beane. He then worked for the Glasgow and Ayr Railway and Hull and Selby Railway before being appointed as Locomotive Superintendent at the York and North Midland Railway in 1847. His career continued to thrive when he became Engineer-in-Chief on the Midland and Great Western Railway in Ireland.
After he returned from Ireland, Edward worked as the Engineer of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway and became Chief Engineer after it was taken over by the West Midland Railway. After moving to Worcester, Edward began working on designs for the Bewdley to Kidderminster Loop Line. He submitted his design for the Loop Line on 3rd November 1860, which eventually led to permission being granted to build the line on 1st August 1861. His original design was a horizontal alignment viaduct with three arches. During Parliamentary hearings for the Loop Line, Edward gave evidence and when the Loop was contracted in 1874, he was named Engineer.
Sadly, Edward died on 26th August 1877 and never saw the Loop completed. After his death, the Engineer-in-Chief of the Great Western Railway took over his role on the Loop Line. Edward was fundamental to the building of the Loop Line and Falling Sands Viaduct and shaped the railway as we know it today.
BILL MARTIN (NAVVY)
A BUILDER OF
FALLING SANDS VIADUCT
NAME: Bill Martin
BORN: 26th October 1835
DIED: 14th April 1880
CONNECTION TO FALLING SANDS VIADUCT: Part of an army of navvies recruited to build Falling Sands Viaduct and the Severn Valley Railway
INTERESTING FACT: The term ‘navvy’ began in the canal industry to indicate people who worked in the canal construction and was developed to be used on railway workers by 1832.
The character in this biography is fictitious and is based upon research of navvies who worked on the construction of the Severn Valley Railway
Bill Martin was born on 26th October 1835 in Shrewsbury to a poor family of labourers who worked on the Shrewsbury Canal in the late 1700s. His father was also a navvy and Bill spent a lot of his childhood moving around Shropshire with his father, mother and four siblings while his father found building work in Ironbridge. When he was old enough, Bill was put to work with the other navvies helping pull the wagons to tip heads and getting in all the nooks and crannies that the men couldn’t reach. He lived around Shrewsbury and Ironbridge in temporary huts or inns with lots of other navvies.
Bill came to work for the Severn Valley Railway under contractor, Thomas Brassey, when an army of navvies were recruited to build the railway. He was contracted to work on the building of Falling Sands Viaduct and moved into temporary housing near the viaduct, with his son William. Bill helped build the viaduct by hanging from ropes off the edge of the viaduct and used pullies and all his strength to lift the heavy bricks into place. It was dangerous work and he heard of 3 people who had been killed whilst the Loop was being built. The pay for navvies was better than an agricultural labourer, and Bill often spent his wages in the local pub.
After the viaduct was completed, Bill moved around trying to find work with his wife, Mary, and their three children. He continued to work as a navvy for the rest of his working life until he was too old and tired to do the hard work. He died on 14th April 1880, aged 45, which was a good age for a navvy! The navvies who worked on Falling Sands Viaduct was essential to making the Severn Valley Railway the railway we enjoy today.
SARAH ELIZABETH WOODWARD
THE GEORGE HOTEL
NAME: Sarah Elizabeth Woodward
DIED: 17th October 1919
CONNECTION TO FALLING SANDS VIADUCT: A local businesswoman who profited from the viaduct connecting Bewdley and Kidderminster, opening up the wider West Midlands to tourism for her hotel.
INTERESTING FACT: Sarah cultivated a close link with the Great Western Railway to help maintain the success of the hotel. The hotel acted as a booking agent for the GWR and operated an omnibus service to and from the station. If you visit the George Hotel today, you will see a plaque dedicated to Sarah.
Sarah Elizabeth Woodward was born Sarah Elizabeth Lund in Gargrave, Yorkshire in 1855 as a daughter of a Clerk of a Sewage Works, Thomas Lund, and his wife Mary Lund. She lived in Alma Terrace, West Ham until she married her husband, Orlando Woodward in 1879 in Leicester. Orlando was a traveling salesman and Sarah spent the early years of her marriage living all around the country with him. In 1880, Sarah had her first child, a boy called Orlando Jr, and the couple had set up in Leicestershire. They had a total of seven children.
By 1888, the family had moved to Bewdley and owned The George Hotel. Orlando registered himself in the Freemason’s Lodge in Birmingham and the couple ran The George. However, tragedy struck when Orlando died in 1892, leaving Sarah to run The George on her own as the Proprietress, which she had printed on headed notepaper for the hotel.
Sarah was keen to enhance the success of the hotel and was an ambitious businesswoman. She made prominent links with the Great Western Railway and benefitted from the Severn Valley Railway passing through Bewdley to and from Shrewsbury. She acted as a booking agent for the railway and operated an omnibus service to and from the station. The George Hotel became an important place to the social lives of Bewdley residents, with many balls and events held there.
Sarah continued to be a great force in the Bewdley area by expanding the hotel, although she got in trouble for breaking the law during this, and was the first woman in Worcestershire to be elected to a town council in August 1907. In 1909, she sold The George to Bill and Helena Cooper and retired to Leicester in 1911. By the end of her life, she had moved to Kidderminster and she died suddenly on 17th October 1919.
A BEWDLEY EVACUEE
NAME: Joan Hastings
BORN: 1st May 1933
CONNECTION TO FALLING SANDS VIADUCT: Evacuated from Smethwick to Bewdley and used the train and travelled over Falling Sands Viaduct to reach Bewdley and on school trips to Kidderminster.
INTERESTING FACT: Children who were to be evacuated could only take one case containing: a change of underclothes, nightclothes, shoes, spare socks, toothbrush, comb, towel, soap and facecloth, handkerchiefs and a warm coat.
The character used in this biography is fictitious and based upon real accounts from people who were evacuated to Kidderminster during the Second World War
Joan Hastings was born on 1st May 1933 in Smethwick and was the eldest of two children. Her parents were Robert Hastings, who worked at Phillips Cycles in Bridge Street, and her mother was Flora Hastings, who looked after them at home and helped out at the local church. Joan grew up on Cross Street with her younger brother Peter. They attended Crocketts Lane School and often played Sardines and Conkers with their friends. When the Second World War broke out, Joan was evacuated to Bewdley with her brother while her parents stayed in Smethwick; they had transformed Phillips Cycles into a munitions factory.
Joan left for Bewdley from Smethwick Rolfe Street Station in September 1939 accompanied by their school teacher, Miss Jarvis, on a train bound for Shrewsbury. This was the first time Joan and Peter had ever been on a train and they carried a small suitcase of clothes and their gas masks in a box. They arrived at Kidderminster station and were organised into the Grammar School by the adults while a photographer from the Kidderminster Shuttle took photographs of them. Joan and Peter were billeted to Bramley Way in Bewdley and they travelled by train to get there, going over Falling Sands Viaduct, which Joan and Peter were frightened of as it was very high.
Joan and Peter had a happy time in Bewdley. They attended school in the mornings and had a lot of freedom to explore around the village. They went on many school trips to Kidderminster and often took the train, which crossed over Falling Sands Viaduct so much that Joan and Peter were not scared of it anymore. On one trip to Stourport, they went to the railway station and stood on the railway bridge and lifted up their skirts and trousers for steam to travel up their legs when the train went underneath. Despite all the fun she had, Joan and Peter started to feel homesick and their parents came by train in April 1940 to collect them and take them back to Smethwick.
DOT, THE HOP PICKER
BORN: 2nd December 1890
DIED: 14th March 1967
CONNECTION TO FALLING SANDS VIADUCT: Used the railway and travelled over Fallings Sands Viaduct to travel to farms during the spring and summer season to go hop picking.
INTERESTING FACT: Hop pickers would often travel to the same farm every year and would race on their arrival at the farm to get the best spots to sleep.
The characters in this biography are fictitious and is based upon research of people who used the Severn Valley Railway in the early years
Dot was born 2nd December 1893 in Tipton and was the eldest of six children. She grew up in a poor family of coalminers, who worked in the mines surrounding Tipton and the family was very poor. In 1910 Dot married Joseph, the son of another miner who was friends with her father, and they settled in Tipton. Dot had her first child, a daughter Barbara in 1912, and then a son, Michael in 1914. The family was very poor; Joseph was also a coalminer but didn’t earn enough money to pay the rent and buy food, so Dot had to sell their belongings at pawn shops to make ends meet.
In the spring, Dot would take the children from Tipton to Worcestershire to go hop picking. They travelled by train from Tipton to Kidderminster and along the Great Western Railway along the Severn valley, crossing over Falling Sands Viaduct to reach the station. They would then be collected by a charabanc (a coach) that would take them to the farm. It was a race when they arrived at the farm to get a good place to sleep; Dot would race from the charabanc to the cowshed to get the best space and the family would share it with six other families. Dot, Barbara and Michael would sleep in the chicken shed and cook on an open fire outside, buying food from the little shop ran by one of the farm workers.
Work began on the farm at five o’clock in the morning. Dot and the children had their own furrow and would all pick the hops and put them either in a bowl or an umbrella. Even the children had to help with hop picking and they certainly were not allowed to go and play! They took a basket of food and a kettle full of water down to the hops and Dot would make a fire and cook sausages, bacon and eggs and eat them with some bread while they picked.
There were lots of singing among the hop pickers, including special songs for them called Roll out the Barrel, which Dot sang for the children every day. They were not allowed breaks, but Dot used to have secret ones and The Salvation Army frequently visited to give the workers snacks, drinks and showers because there were no proper washing facilities for them. Once, while they were picking, a strike started against the farm owner and the pickers refused to pick any more hops until they were paid better.
Once all the hops from the furrow had been picked, Dot took them to the farmhouse and was paid by the amount of hops picked. Then they moved on to the next house. When the harvest of hops had finished and they had all been picked, Dot would queue with the other pickers with a card that the owners marked off how many bushels they had picked; sometimes she would come back with £10 (approx. £480). The farm paid a shilling for each bushel (approx. £2.29). After they collected their money Dot, Barbara and Michael travelled back on the charabanc and they got the train back through Kidderminster to Tipton.