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A Short History of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire

The Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway was always known locally as "The Potts". The line had a very chequered history having been, under various titles, closed twice and derelict for 30 years. Stephens’ line of 1911 was built reusing the formation, stations and much of the rail of the defunct Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway. This line was to have linked the places mentioned but never did so, opening between Shrewsbury and Llanymynech in 13th August 1866. Probably also opening about the same time for goods were an extension to Llanyblodwell and Nantmawr Quarry and a branch line to Criggion, sometimes known as known as Breidden. Promoted and built at an outrageously inflated cost by a rather dubious contractor, Richard France, who promptly went bankrupt, the company succumbed to financial troubles in December 1866, and traffic ceased on 21st December of that year. The Shrewsbury - Llanymynech section reopened to passengers in December 1868 with that to Llanyblodwell following in April 1870, with the Criggion service commencing in June 1871. Intermittent quarry traffic and a limited passenger traffic caused recurring financial problems and consequent maintenance neglect. Government concerns with the state of Melverley Bridge triggered the directors to close the whole system on 22nd June 1880. An abandonment order was sought in Parliament but only passed with a proviso that the railway remain intact, which accounts for its continedl survival in a derelict state. Importantly, in 1881, an agreement was made with the Cambrian Railways on the use of the Llanymynech to Nantmawr line to maintain access to the quarry; something that was to have continuing adverse affects on the viability of the rest of the line.

After prolonged discussions a new company called Shropshire Railways was formed by statute in 1888 to take over the existing line with high ambitions for rebuilding and extending the line to the Potteries, and indeed further into Wales, as originally intended back in the 1860s. The remaining, and decaying, rolling stock was auctioned and the old company wound up over a prolonged period, finally completed in 1895. Meanwhile the Shropshire Railways company had already mired itself in financial and constructional disputes. A start was made on relaying the track in early 1891 but the contractor stopped work in July amidst considerably acrimony.

For tactical reasons the financier J H Whadcoat, then effective controller of the company, put the railway into receivership once again. Disputes continued for some years but Whadcoat, although by now apparently victorious, finally gave up the struggle to rebuild in 1895 and the line fell again to its slumber.

The Shropshire Railways company continued in enfeebled form. No directors were paid nor was the Secretary, although he was still engaged in the vestiges of business arising from the still active Nantmawr branch operated by the Cambrian Railways, property rentals and essential boundary fencing . Apart from a meeting in 1900 the Board was not active till 22nd November 1906 when the Board were at last considering selling off the rails and other fittings etc. However at the same meeting Whadcoat announced that he had been approached by Holman F Stephens whom he then met at Shrewsbury on 20th December. This was the start of what turned out to be a complex but successful proposal to revive the line. J H Whadcoat and his family gave or sold all their many holdings to Stephens, and subsequently to his rather mysterious associates named as the Severn Syndicate, on 15th July 1909. As a result the Shropshire Railways company continued in being till nationalization in 1948.

Holman F Stephens formed a further new company, initially to be called the North Shropshire Railway but altered to the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway, to become the operating company which leased the property from the Shropshire Railways. The Light Railway Order was finally issued in February 1909 and work commenced from the Llanymynech end in late 1910. The work largely consisted of clearance and replacing all the sleepers .However the Shrewsbury site required a lot of work having been largely cleared and the level raised above flood level in the abortive 1890s reconstruction. With limited space at Shrewsbury the locomotive centre was moved to Kinnerley. The connecting mainline companies proved extremely obstructive. At the eastern end they refused entry to the main Shrewsbury station (as they had since the 1860s) and goods interchange arrangements were completely changed, with the old junction to the Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton abandoned and a new interchange site created at Meole Brace on the Welshpool line. At the western end things were even more serious ; the Cambrian refused to allow the new company access to the line to Nantmawr quarries with severe effects on future revenue . Despite the SMLR having the apparent legal right on its side, possession proved nine points of the law and the company never broke the deadlock. Access to the important Criggion Quarry was now vital and work on reconstructing the branch which had been deferred for lack of finance, was commenced, using direct labour, in mid 1911. The branch reopened for mineral traffic on 21st February 1912 and for passengers on the 27th July.

With considerable rejoicing the formal reopening of the main line had taken place at Shrewsbury Abbey (sometimes called Abbey Foregate) on 13th April 1911.The delayed interchange yard at Moele Brace opened in time for Criggion mineral traffic on May 1912 and the economically reconstructed railway settled down to modest prosperity for a year or so. However the Great War and the introduction of bus services in the sparsely populated area dealt the railway blows from which it could not recover. Despite busy traffic in minerals from Criggion, the regular passenger service on the branch faded and died in 1929 with the branch engine Gazelle falling out of use. Stephens had introduced one of his Ford Railmotors to stem the loss on the main line, but the regular passenger service was withdrawn on 6th November 1933. The line was struggling, but the SMLR was not formally in receivership, and never was, but like so many light railways it had opened too late.

Criggion quarry traffic received a boost in the early 1930s supplying national building contracts and with the existing locomotive mainstays of the Ilfracombe Goods and the unsuccessful Terriers falling by the wayside further locomotives were required in the shape of the Colliers. With the continuing recession in the 1930s this traffic boost was short lived and the operation reverted to a daily goods only service. Apart from occasional holiday excursions, which finished in 1937, passenger stock was left to slowly rot.

A new life for the railway now emerged . With the coming of war on 1st September 1939, the railway came under government control. Of itself this did little to change the poor economics of the line and by May 1940, the directors were considering closure of the line between Kinnerley and Meole Brace leaving only the severed ends of the line as outlets for quarry traffic and increasing petrol traffic at Abbey served by loaned engines. This plan was however overtaken by the Military's decision to build extensive munitions depots in the area on the Shrewsbury to Llanymynech section which , with all rolling stock, was leased to the War Department formally from 1st June 1941 but in practice from the previous January. The Criggion branch, with its continuing problems with Melverley Bridge, remained with the company and the Military continued to handle civilian traffic on the whole line with SMLR personnel. The line became extremely busy, requiring extensive new yards, including a new interchange point at Hookagate, and the mainline was extensively re-laid. Even with the coming of peace the depots remained busy but the line itself was nationalised as part of British Railways in 1948. With the new regime general goods services on the Criggion branch ceased on 2nd May 1949, after which the branch became effectively a quarry siding operated by the quarry shunting locomotive. The Military had progressively disposed of the SMLR rolling stock and replaced it with its own stock so visually the line had became a military railway. The need for military depots declined with the loss of Empire in the late 1950s and the decision to close the whole line was made with the line closing at the beginning of 1960. All track was lifted by 1962, apart from the oil depot sidings at Shrewsbury, which had been given a new connection with the Severn valley line in 1960. This remnant remained in use till 1988 and was lifted soon after. The platform and station building remain on the edges of an extensive car park under which may even lie the remains of the original station of 1865. The line remains very much in local folk memory as 'The Potts' and even the new road built over the track bed in the town bears the name 'Old Potts Way'.