Falling Sands Viaduct is a major part of the Severn Valley Railway’s past and present, but it nearly didn’t get built at all! Come and explore the fascinating history of an important viaduct.
When Falling Sands Viaduct was built, railways were run very differently to now. It all started in 1841, when the Midlands had three major railways: the London and Birmingham Railway, the Grand Junction Railway and the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. Industrialists in the West Midlands were unhappy about the high tariffs they had to pay on the current railways and decided to support a Great Western Railway line from the West Midlands to Oxford. This railway became known as the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway and it would have stations at Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Droitwich, Worcester and Evesham. The railway was agreed by the GWR in 1845, but the Bewdley landowners did not want to be left out of this new venture, so they met potential railway promoters, and what happened would lead to the creation of Falling Sands Viaduct.
They met in the Guildhall in Bewdley on 27th August 1845 to drum up interest for a link between the OWWR and Bewdley. There were two proposals for a railway link to Bewdley: one from South Wales to Hereford and Worcester via Leominster, Tenbury and Bewdley and one from Shrewsbury to Hereford. It was decided that a line would be built from Shrewsbury to Worcester via Bridgnorth and Bewdley. Two survies were carried out on the route along the Severn Valley Railway, one in 1846 and another in 1849. The line was proposed to join the OWWR at Hartlebury and, after successfully raising £350,000, work began on the railway in 1850, with Thomas Brassey overseeing the contract. The line was opened in stages between 1852 and 1853 and the OWWR opened Kidderminster station on 1st May 1852.
But, by the 1860s there was still no link to Bewdley and since the opening of a new railway, so OWWR Engineer, Edward Wilson, prepared a plan to link the towns by creating a new line at the end of Sanbourne Viaduct in Bewdley, running through a tunnel and a viaduct crossing to join the OWWR south of Kidderminster. The line was authorised on 1st August 1861 to be constructed as a Loop Line, connecting Bewdley and Kidderminster to Hartlebury. But, 1866 saw a stock market crash and delays in starting work, so the GWR looked for an alternative line from Bewdley to Kidderminster via Cookley and Wolverley. It looked as though Falling Sands might never be built!
In October 1866 the new GWR Chairman, James Milne, gave another chance to build the Loop Line in a new plan by Michael Lane, the GWR Chief Civil Engineer, which was opposed by the Mayor of Kidderminster. Once again, Edward Wilson returned with plans and trial sections for a new line. But, the railway was saved by the London and North Western opposing this plan in favour of the Loop Line. On 12th June 1873, the committee ordered the completion of the Loop Line and Falling Sands Viaduct. Construction finally began in early 1875, after another year of delays! Construction took longer than was expected and with great cost. In March 1876 two Navvies, Matthew Jones and Henry Phillips, were killed. The first public train left Bewdley soon after 08:00 on 1st June 1878 for Kidderminster to connect with the 08:25 to Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
After the construction of the Loop Line and Falling Sands Viaduct, the Severn Valley Railway continued to blossom and expand. Birmingham merchants began flocking to the area and built warehouses in Kidderminster for wool, timber and grain and the railway expanded their warehouses and goods yard. The Great Western Railway also continued the railway’s expansion by bringing iron and steel up from South Wales and coal from the newly opened Highley Colliery across Falling Sands Viaduct to Birmingham. Railway services began to spring up for the miners traveling to Highley, Kinlet and Borle from Kidderminster and in the 1890s, new hop picker trains ran across Falling Sands to Tenbury Wells from Birmingham.
The SVR continued to grow into the 20th century with new branch lines extending the railway into Cleobury Mortimer from the Tenbury Wells branch-line, extending to Dhustone mines and stone works. However, the railway was about to enter a time of fierce competition! In 1898, a tramway was opened between Kidderminster and Stourport, which attracted customers that previously used the branch-line on the Loop Line because it meant they didn’t have to change at Bewdley or Hartlebury. In 1900, the successful of this tramway urged the British Electric Traction Company to build another tramway between Kidderminster and Bewdley and it looked like the Loop Line would struggle.
But, there was hope with the introduction of passenger services. In 1904, the GWR received a complaint about the lack of services on the line and proposed a new summer timetable that introduced a new steam rail-motor, which would run along the triangle of the Loop Line. This turned out to be so popular that the proposed tramway between Kidderminster and Bewdley was abandoned and new halts were built at Foley Park and Rifle Range. From this, the railway began to flourish again, with the extension of through-trains from Birmingham by the LNWR and Bewdley sold 20,000 more tickets in 1913 compared to 10 years earlier.