Kinver Light Railway

by Dr Paul Collins

Britain’s first cross-country tramway was the Kinver Light Railway (KLR) on the Staffordshire-Worcestershire boundary. Kinver was and is a popular beauty spot for Black Country people that somehow missed being part of the railway network. The L&NWR had planned a branch there in 1885, but nothing came of it, and the GWR’s 1913 plans to build a line between Stourbridge and Bridgnorth via Kinver were ended by the war. So anyone visiting Kinver had to go on horseback; hire a carriage or cart; or travel by boat along the River Stour or the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. This suited large parties, typically on Sunday school outings, but discouraged most working class families. The Black Country's extensive 3ft 6in gauge steam tramway network was little use either; the nearest point, Coalbournbrook on the Dudley & Stourbridge Steam Tramway (D&SST) Co.'s line, being some 4 miles from Kinver.

The history of Black Country tramways is almost exclusively one of private enterprise, its local authorities largely ignoring the option granted them in the 1870 Tramways Act to buy out tramway undertakings after 21 years, adhering to the view that ‘Yow dow pey for owt yow con git for nowt.’ Thus when many of the local tramway companies’ ‘21 years’ were up, mainly in the period 1895 to 1900, they fell prey to larger tramway operators, notably the newly formed British Electric Traction Co. (BET), who bought the D&SST in April 1898. Their interest in the undertaking included the traffic possible by building a line to Kinver, and in November 1897, before formally acquiring the company, BET notified Kinver Parish Council of their intention to apply to the Light Railway Commissioners for powers to construct a line 4 miles 15 chains long from The Fish Inn Coalbournbrook to Kinver, at an estimated cost of £27,167.

Few schemes can have seemed more ill starred. Every local authority affected by the KLR’s construction opposed it, as did the sole private landowner on whose property it was to travel for over a mile. But a public enquiry was held, the route altered slightly, and the scheme approved by the Board of Trade on 7th March 1899. Construction began immediately, being to the usual Black Country standard of a 3ft 6in gauge single line with passing loops. The first 1 mile 15 chain section from Coalbournbrook via Wollaston Road; High Street Wollaston and Bridgnorth Road to The Ridge was a conventional grooved rail street tramway; the second 1 mile 32 chain section was laid on the grass verge alongside the main Stourbridge to Bridgnorth road using Vignoles (non-grooved) rail on wooden sleepers with grooved rail only on curves. This latter construction was also used on the final 1 mile 48 chain private right-of-way section, which was entirely protected by fencing and the hardest to construct, necessitating building a dozen bridges across the river and canal, and a depôt to accommodate 8 cars for summer traffic, on marshy ground in Hyde Meadow. This final section, along with the roadside one, shared the KLR’s unique feature of wooden traction poles, said to blend-in with the rural environment!

All was ready by late March 1901, the line receiving a Board of Trade inspection on 1st April, the report of which imposed serious restrictions on the KLR’s operation. Doubts were expressed on the suitability of tramcar wheels for running on Vignoles rail, resulting in a 10 mph speed limit being imposed and double-decked cars being banned as a precaution against them overturning if derailed. Further, the use of single-decked bogie cars was recommended, requiring the rapid cutting-down of three double-deckers to provide vehicles with which to open the line, and the lack of signalling at passing loops resulted in a ban on the KLR’s operation at night.

Undaunted the KLR opened on 4th April 1901, proving a great success through a combination of a half-hourly service and low fares - 3d for the whole journey. In addition to its passenger services the line built-up a considerable traffic by carrying goods; minerals; livestock, and even the occasional funeral! A daily run collecting milk churns and vegetable produce, returning empties later in the day, began in late 1901; these at first being carried on the driver's platform, but from September 1903 with other goods in open truck trailers behind service cars.

The popularity of the KLR brought pressure for the through running of trams from other parts of the Black Country system, resulting in the relaying of most of the Vignoles rail with grooved rail by June 1903. Double-decked cars were still banned, although an occasional one ‘sneaked’ to Kinver after this date. To further increase the line's capacity, cars were run, uncoupled, in pairs, with some passing loops being remodeled to accommodate them. In 1905 the KLR became part of BET’s ‘Parcels Express Service’, which was operated by purpose built small box van type cars that could carry up to two tons.

The KLR was always popular, particularly in the ‘summer’ (Easter to October) months when Hyde depôt opened to deal with the increased traffic. The line survived the Great War unscathed, seeing a great increase in its goods traffic, and had new combination open and closed cars, similar to Australian designs, built for it. But by the mid 1920s motorbus competition had nibbled away much of the Black Country tramway system; fewer and fewer through services operated, and the KLR closed on 8th February 1930, three weeks ahead of the Dudley-Stourbridge line from which it had developed. Local authority disinterest was largely to blame.

The KLR was a great tourist attraction. Its final section in particular did not interfere with other traffic, as is witnessed by the fact that today, over 70 years after closure, the whole of the trackbed on this section survives intact along with some of its bridges, complete with rails.

© QLHS - Dr Paul Collins

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