Halts on the Rowington Junction to Henley in Arden branch line?

Page updated: 13 November 2016

The question arises, every so often, as to whether or not there were two halts on this, the Great Western's original branch line to Henley in Arden, which is generally accepted as having opened in 1894 - on 6 June for passengers, on 2 July for goods.

The passenger service was diverted to Henley in Arden's second station - on the North Warwickshire line - from 1 July 1908 when the first station was closed to passengers. The line from Rowington Junction closed to passengers from 22 March 1915 (various secondary sources are in error in giving 1 January 1915 [1]) and to goods with a formal closure date of 1 January 1917 - the track being lifted that summer for the war effort. The original station was retained as the town's goods depot (none was provided on the North Warwickshire line), reached by a short spur, which involved a reversal part way, until it, too closed for rail-borne movements from 5 November 1962 [BR WR Midlands Division Birmingham District Freight Train Notice No. TF.152 dated 29 October 1962] (road borne facilities remained for a while).

The claims that halts existed at Rowington Junction and Lowsonford rest on these tenuous sources:
• a letter from P. S. Boness in Railway Magazine, November 1968, p. 675 [2]
• a query in Railway Magazine, November 2000, p. 45 - "it has long been alleged locally that a halt existed at Lowsonford" which was answered by the late Ralph Rawlinson in the June 2001 issue, p. 29, stating that it did exist, but closed when the line was extended in 1908
• J V G Butt’s much derided work, The Directory of Railway Stations, which includes Lowsonford Halt (opened 6 June 1894, closed 30 June 1908) but not Rowington.

Rawlinson, when asked to provide provenance for his assertion, said: "My letter to the [Railway Magazine] was posted soon after I obtained a book on the Henley-in-Arden branch/ GWR lines in Warwickshire from the British Library but I no longer have the title or author." All in all, the pro side of the argument is pretty thin gruel. . .

The arguments against the existence of these halts are:
• Charles Clinker’s very detailed Chronology of the Railways of the West Midlands (1953) ignores them (he lived in the county at the time of its compilation)
• in a letter in Railway Magazine, February 1969, p. 104, he wrote:
“I am interested to read Mr Boness’s statement in your November issue (page 675) that there were halts at Lowsonford and Rowington Jn because, after careful research some years ago, I dismissed this as myth. There is no evidence in any contemporary working instructions, timetables or maps of the existence of these halts, neither were they marked on the engineer’s two-chain plan. Could Mr Boness please quote contemporary evidence to back up his statement? - C.R.CLINKER, Padstow, Cornwall”. Nothing further from Mr. Boness appeared in Railway Magazine [2]
• the Great Western’s public and working timetables for the whole period in question (available at the National Archives, Kew in the RAIL 936 and RAIL 937 series, respectively) fail to mention the "halts"
• Ordnance Survey large scale maps of 1905 (1:2500) and 1906 (1:10560), which show every signal post and mile post, carry not a whiff of any halt at the road underbridges at Lowsonford or Rowington Junction [these maps can be consulted at the old-maps website, using co-ordinates 418600 268200 (Lowsonford) and 419300 269000 (Rowington Jn)].
• railway historian T.R. Perkins, who lived in Henley in Arden and who travelled on the line, referred to it in the Railway Magazine on three occasions (February 1908, p. 118, September 1928, p. 234, and April 1937, pp. 297-9) and made no mention of any intermediate stopping place(s)
• they do not appear in the Railway Clearing House's 1904 edition of its Handbook of Stations
• Maj H A Yorke's inspection report dated 25 May 1894 (RAIL 29/56 folio 199) confirmed that the only stopping place on the line then was the Henley terminus.

As an example, the GWR working timetable for May 1899 (RAIL 937/70) shows absolutely no evidence to support halts at either place. The services at this period were worked by "trains" (as opposed to "rail motors"), with most shuttling to/from Kingswood (now known as Lapworth) but some running through to or from farther afield: the 7.35am and 7.0pm Kingswood came from Birmingham, the 3.40pm Sundays from Wolverhampton. The 7.55am from Henley ran through to Dudley, the 7.20pm and 8.5pm Sundays to Wolverhampton. Hardly the sort of stock to be picking up or setting down at platform-less locations. The Sunday service was worked by a light engine from Leamington (reversing at Rowington Jn) and, after working one round trip, continued to Bordesley Junction. The notation CS at Rowington Jn showed that the single line train staff was taken up or set down at the signal box, but that no traffic stop was to be made.

While it must be clear that no halts or platforms ever existed, it is more difficult to disprove than to prove the existence of informal stopping places. Had either of the locations sported a level crossing that task would have been much more difficult, but at both prospective locations the railway was on a rail over road bridge, so readers can judge for themselves the likelihood of the GWR stopping casually to pick up prospective passengers who had scrambled through the boundary fence and up the embankment side. Frankly, as one who once hailed from that part of the world, I am quite certain these halts are a relatively recent (sub-)urban myth - although I remain curious as to why such myth should have come into existence.

The working timetable extracts can be downloaded as a Word (.doc) file by following this link.

[1]: vide GWR Passenger Train Alterations Committee minutes (RAIL 271/4) [page 27 – since Oct 1914], Notice no. 47 (RAIL 937/116), public handbill (RAIL 253/535), Birmingham Daily Post 20 March 1915, and Warwick & Warwickshire Advertiser 27 March 1915 - none of which makes any mention of intermediate halts
[2]: Mr Paul Boness has subsequently told me (e-mail 31 October 2016): "I did, in fact, reply to Mr Clinker, stating the source of the information, but the letter was not published. My source was an elderly resident of Lapworth, now long deceased, who stated quite firmly and convincingly that he had travelled to and from a halt at Lowsonford, and that there had also been one at Rowington junction." Readers must judge this against the other evidence posited above.

Richard Maund

This article is based on material some of which originally appeared as paragraphs in Railway and Canal Historical Society Railway Chronology Group Co-ordinating Newsletter no. 58, April 2009 and 59, July 2009

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