I Spy


Loading at Burton-on-Trent. Image credited Roll of Honour NA

One of the things that always makes me a little bit proud of this blog is the diversity of contributor it attracts – we hear regularly here from local historians, steam enthusiasts, a historian of South Staffordshire Water, people with knowledge of marching bands, ordinary folk with memories and even music buffs. There’s a whole spectrum of readers out there willing to help, advise and contribute – and I think that’s quite special.

One of the most knowledgable experts contributing here has to be Ian Pell. Ian is a railways expert, and what he doesn’t know about the local railways – and the South Staffordshire Line in particular – isn’t worth knowing.

Recently Ian has been busy with other things, but has kindly found time to send me the following piece, which I think many outside the sphere of railways will find interesting too. Ian has found material detailing special railway operations locally for 1914, covering the start of the Great War.

The actual detail was too large to feature as an article, so I’ve made it available as a PDF file for download by clicking the link below. It really is a fascinating and very detailed document indeed.

Thanks to Ian for all his hard work – as ever, comment is invited and welcome.

Ian said:

Good Afternoon Bob,

Trust you are well.

Please find attached an article which you may find of interest.

I appreciate it is probably quite long, so if you wish to use, please feel free to edit as you desire so as to make the article as manageable as you wish. This is a reduced version of the totality of workings in that far flung period so I’m sure you can see the complexity of running a Railway!

On another matter, the Mystery of the Garden Hut (see SouthStaffs Rail web site for the nearly latest thoughts) continues. I am pretty certain though that unless it was used or stored in the ‘Old Permanet Way’ depot it wasn’t used at either Brownhills or Hammerwich. Sorry to disappoint.

The lock and one of the hinges are stamped ‘LNW’ although this is no certainty that the shed dates from pre-1923. The pattern was still being used for all sorts of uses well into the BR period. As I’m sure Rob would confirm, the hut is however no DIY flat pack! The timbers are somewhat substantial and of considerable weight.

Hopefully, in time, we will be able to say where it actually came from.

If you need to discuss please feel free to contact me.

Kindest regards


I spy

Download a copy of the operation notices document by clicking on the screenshot above. It’s 8 pages of absolutely fascinating detail – thanks to Ian Pell for supplying and transcribing it!

Please forgive my absence from your pages for a while but the researching of the South Staffs railway has been taking me to some far flung places recently, such as Sussex, Wigan and York to name a few. It never ceases to amaze and delight me at what is still being discovered.

Recently, I have the privilege of being able to examine an original bound volume of Weekly Notices for the L&NWR, dated 1914. This book contains some very interesting local events which I hope are of interest to your readers bearing in mind the date.

To explain. The Weekly Notices were a series of notes regarding variations to the existing train operations, additional workings and general notes pertaining to the day to day running of the railway. What I find incredible is some of the detail contained therein, as well as notes showing just how important the railway was in transporting people and commodities prior to the coach and lorry.

The workings illustrate both the day to day traffic being carried by the Railway and also the build up of Troop Movements for training prior to the commencement of War.   Theatrical companies could be moved either as parties within normal passenger trains or with their own “Specials”. There were also pigeon specials; the numerous parties being conveyed to conferences or seminars; and of course, the Miners’ specials to Blackpool, Rhyl and other seaside destinations.

Troop workings in the area were often for Whittington Barracks near Lichfield, or for exercises, or camps, on Cannock Chase, etc: – Most were involved in training exercises for TA units and reservists.

In the world in which we live it may appear very strange that such detailed information was available in printed form, (albeit for Railway eyes only), but the Railway had to operate and such Notices were the means by which train crews could be organised; coaches made available; timings adhered to; signalmen and station staff made aware of their requirements, etc: –  After all, no one really thought War would be declared, and if it was, ‘it would be over in 6 months anyway’! These notes illustrate a very small part of such workings (mainly for the South Staffs line) but clearly give a flavour of what was going on. They also show the “normal” life which the Railway was determined to support even if there was a War going on. How little they realised how much was to change, not least for the Railway’s well being. While the Railway allowed the movement of Troops and arms over vast distances like never before, eventually the development of motor transport would see this period as perhaps the height of the Railways.

Finally, I had to include the accompanying photograph, which for a spy I think would be… very interesting.

Hope this article may be of some interest.

Kindest regards


Note the tented camp in the background. These Lancashire Fusiliers were about to embark for Gallipoli. From the B.C. Lane collection. Click for a larger version.

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2 Responses to I Spy

  1. Pedro says:

    Many thanks to Ian and Bob for making this remarkable record open for everyone to see.

    It is interesting in its own right, but as Ian has pointed out, in the run up to the start of the centenary of the Great War it is particularly interesting locally.

    Not only are the military movements given in great detail to and from the area, but also notes on the future engagements of local divisions.

    It gives an insight to life at that time with excursions for the Wesleyan Choir to Colwyn Bay, Cannock Co-op to Matlock, and many others from local firms in the Black Country. Even an “ordinary” train to Blackpool and a Pigeon Special.

    Particularly relevant locally is the entry, (with Notes)…

    Weekly Notice No. 72 – Friday, July 3 (9854)

    No.49 22.50 Brownhills to Edinburgh, ECS from Walsall d. 22.05, Brownhills a. 22.20

    Mr. Moore to provide composite, working van and power, and Inspector Andrews a guard. Vehicles go forward from Stafford on 21.00 from Euston. Mr. Thomas to arrange…Will convey -2 officers, 22 Men, and 8 horses in 3 HBZ.
    Brownhills box to be open. Inspector Blackmore to arrange.

    (Note…One of the first British formations to move to France. Remained on the Western Front throughout the War.)

    In an exchange with our war correspondent, David Evans, I understand there is quite an lot of interest especially in some schools, and I am sure the details provided here will be of help.

  2. Pedro says:

    For anyone interested in the role of the railways across Europe in 1914 may be interested in the podcast from the National Archives…

    Railways and the mobilisation for war in 1914

    “The historian A.J.P Taylor, considering the events of 1914, once argued: ‘The First World War had begun – imposed on the statesmen of Europe by railway timetables. It was an unexpected climax to the railway age.’ This talk will look at how the railways of Britain and Europe prepared for war in 1914 and how central the railways were to troop mobilisation.”


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