Branch line summers fade

1938 1:25,000 mapping showing the Leighswood Branch highlighted in purple. Click for a larger version. Imagery from the NLS archive.

I always love expanding railway threads here on the blog – and it’s always great to hear from local railway historian and expert Ian Pell.

A few weeks ago I featured a request here by Simon Swain for images and memories of the Chase Line, currently being electrified. On that post, long term reader and old blog friend Fawlty commented, recalling his memories of the lost Leighswood branch.

He said:

I believe the line closed to passenger traffic in 1965. I used to travel from Pelsall railway station to Derby, via Lichfield and Burton, to go trainspotting in the early 60s. Used to spend some time in the signal box at Leighswood Junction, which was at the back of Victor Street, where the signalman lived. There was always a good coal fire in the Winter. I remember being allowed on the footplate of 70000, when it stopped at the box hauling freight. Couldn’t believe my luck! Happy days.

There was a footbridge near the signal box, near the branch to Aldridge, which ran through Shelfield and under Four Crosses Road and the Lichfield Road, via Aldridge brickworks. That branch was closed to passenger traffic a long time ago, but I remember the track still being down in 1963/4.

There was another footbridge at Pelsall Station. I remember finding a 10 shilling note in Station Road when I was walking home after one of my spotting trips! The line was closed to freight around 1984. The track lasted a while after that but was eventually lifted. Sad loss to the community in my opinion.

In response to this, Ian Pell has Kindly put together a potted history of the Leighswood Branch and some lovely memories of a childhood spend hanging around the line.

I’d like to thank Ian for yet another expert article on railway local history, which I’m flattered and honoured to feature it here. If you have anything to add to this, please do feel free: Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Ian Pell wrote:

Hi Bob

Fawlty’s comments regarding Leighswood Sidings brought some memories flooding back.  As such please find attached some observations regarding the box and the branch line.  As I’m sure you can appreciate these are only a very small amount of the detail, as the branch was exceedingly busy in its heyday with mainly bricks goning out from the clay works at Aldridge and Stubbers Green; Empire and Atlas to name a few.

Both the Chase line and the South Staffs main line lost their passenger traffic in January 1965, although the platform were retained until the 1970’s.  Occasionally, they were still used for Sunday school outings or Miners holiday trains to Rhyl or Blackpool.

While the Chase line remains open to this day with a reinstated passenger service (ironically not much freight these days) the main line was closed between Ryecroft Junction and Anglesea Sidings (Brownhills) in March 1984 and the remainder north to Lichfield City in 2005; almost four years after the last revenue traffic of oil.  In that time they did manage to build a bridge over the Toll Road!  Since, the bridge to the Lichfield South by-pass has also been completed. Totally daft if the line is never to be reinstated – but there we go.

A larger view of Leigh’s Wood Junction and footbridge at Heath End from the 1938 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey draft. Click for larger version. Imagery from NLS Archive.

Will never forget the happy times at Leighswood, whether watching the trains; playing cricket at the Cricket and Sports (right next to the line); or watching the Villa (Pelsall Villa) playing football behind the pub I believe my great, great grandfather ran.  My grandfather was teetotal, but that’s another story.

All the best
Kindest regards

Leighswood Sidings and the Branch – some milestones, highlights, losses and memories.

  • 1878 14 Nov Leighs Wood Branch opened (freight only).Inspection of completed works (ready on above date) requested by LNWR on 5 Nov 1878, accompanied by drawing from Stafford Engineer’s Office dated 10 Oct 1878, approved by Crewe 31 Oct 1878.
    ref:- mt6/236/2Leighswood Mineral Branch opened [14th November], worked by Leighswood Colliery Co.’s locomotives. L&NW locomotives commence to work the line 1.4.1880 and Colliery Co locomotives withdrawn from line
    14.6.1880 SLS

I would imagine few realise now that a busy goods railway uses to run through this triangle of gras between Four Crosses Road and the Lichfield Road in SHelfield. Image from my 365days journal.

  • 1880 13 April It was reported that from the 1st inst the London and North Western engines had worked over the Leighswood Colliery Branch to and from the Aldridge Colliery and Victoria Brickworks : the Leighswood Colliery Company continuing to work their own traffic to the junction with the main line. The line is to be worked under the train staff regulations, and a signalman has been appointed on the Branch for regulating the train staff. The wages of the man to be paid by the Colliery Company. The earnings to be reported in six months.
    LNW Minutes Off 20650
  • 1903 Nov Cabins and Apparatus completed:- Leighswood Siding – 1 cabin and apparatus with 16 levers.
    LNW Minutes LC 20624
  • 1950-60’s Richard (Dick) Burrows signalman. LNW Nameplate, central on the front of the box, has yet to be replaced by LMR one on the gable end. They were replaced as and when the box was re-decorated. Some of the longer names remained in their original positions and were not replace, i.e. Norton Junction No.3.
  • 1960 31 Dec Leighswood Branch closed to traffic
    Closed lines, 6080
  • Line through Shelfield to Aldridge brickworks closed ref.1960.098 closed lines originally to serve Leighswood colliery, Aldridge. Worked by token from Leighswood Sdgs.
    Ref 6080
  • 1960-63 WTTs illustrate workings on the branch for period June 1960 – June 1961. Branch still shown in 1961-1962 WTTs but with no workings. In 1962-1963 WTTs no longer shown in timetables.  (WTT – Working Timetables for freight trains)
  • 1964 25 July The Leighswood Branch will be taken away from a point approximately 270 yards from the connection with No.2 siding and the portion remaining will become sidings. The ‘One engine in steam’ working from Leighswood Siding box to Aldridge Brickworks will be withdrawn. (WE1:30: Saturday 25-7-1964), also clinker 208
  • 1964 Oct Leighswood Branch “officially” closed. Remaining shunt spur closed

Between the branch and the sidings, Dec 1962-3. Main line at the top of photo heading towards Pelsall. Footpath is between Heath End and Fordbrook Lane. Image supplied by Ian Pell.

  • 1965 13 May MOT objected to closure of the Leighswood Branch in a letter to GM, Euston following closure request dated 19th February 1965. The reason was that the Minister was awaiting the outcome of a report -“Transportation study for the West Midlands” – prior to receiving further advice”.Comment: Once again, while matters proceeded on the ground, the reality was that authorisation for the line to be destroyed was still awaited from the MOT !
  • 1965 26 Aug Leighswood Sidings Signal Box closed
  • 1967 1 Oct Points and crossings removed between 9 & 91/4 mp. (Leighswood Sidings).
    WE1/41 30-9-67
  • 1967 1 Oct Recovery of sidings between 9 and 91/4 mp. (Leighswood Sidings).
    WE1/41 30-9-67

Leighswood Sdgs SB 1966 – note:- signal box nameplate removed J. Haddock-ip col. Image supplied by Ian Pell.


Next to the “Jungle” (Norton Junction), this was the place to come. I imagine that in its heyday the line was a hive of activity, being an ideal exit route for bricks, especially those destined to be used by the railway companies along the length and breadth of Britain. For many years the ex-MR Johnson’s 0-6-0’s were the staple fare for the branch line workings; attacking with vigour the rising gradient all the way from the various brickyards to the sidings at the main line. There was a deafening roar as they charged up under the Lichfield Road and Spring Cottage bridges at Shelfield with their fully laiden loads. At Leighswood sidings the signalman often had a friendly greeting and on many occasions beckoned for us to join him in the box. There we would sit on the train register desk and watch the comings and goings. In later years this often involved condemned stock or cripples, waiting their turn at South Staffs Wagon Co. at Bloomfield Basin or the BR Wagon repair depot at Vauxhall; these being moved to and from the sidings at regular intervals. One day we were sitting on the footbridge when a convoy of very tired and weather-worn WDs approached from the Brownhills direction. It was plain to see they were in trouble with the lead WD leaking steam from everywhere. The points were changed to direct the sorry convoy into the sidings, and on reaching the safety of the sidings the WD’s boiler gave what appeared to be a large sigh and the front bogie wheels literally fell off. There these fallen work horses remained for several days before they continued on to be their fate; I believe at Arnotts in Bilston.

On many occasions the signalman would let us pull the Pelsall home starter off. This signal also had the Ryder’s Hayes distant signal attached. It was quite a way from Leighswood box and difficult to see and so a repeater in a small round box was provided in the cabin. We would often watch with delight as this returned to the danger position as its larger companion dropped in the haze of a summer’s evening.

We watched as the branch line became derelict and overgrown and enjoy adventures daring to venture down its length to the murky black holes of the clay pits; imagining we could hear a train coming towards us, but none came. Then the tracks were ripped up, leaving only the sidings at the junction. Eventually, the passenger trains were withdrawn and the signal box closed, no longer offering us a ‘home from home’, and so we gathered on the footbridge which itself was beginning to look worse for wear. Gaps in the wooden posts began to appear, rotten floor planks had to be replaced, and yet it always seemed a welcoming place to enjoy a summer’s afternoon watching the trains. Brits, such as “Flying Dustbin” and “Ruddy Kippers” passing by on afternoon parcels became all too soon memories. The footbridge was replaced with an enclosed version. We no longer visited.

Ian Pell
Jan 2017

Wd/iep/South Staffs rails/line hist-docs-Leighswood Branch – 270117 part 4
©iep-south staffs 2017

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9 Responses to Branch line summers fade

  1. Fawlty says:

    Brilliant write up Ian. The 1966 photo of the signal box is exactly as I remember it, as is your description of the interior workings of the box. With regards to the footbridges, I believe that when the footbridge near Leighswood was due for removal, the workmen made a mistake and dismantled the station footbridge instead! Of course, eventually, they both went.
    In the early 60s I lived in Summer Lane, and then moved to Walsall Wood. After I got married we moved to Westway and I used to walk my dog across Fordbrook. At that time (1980), the line was still operating with freight trains. You never know it may reopen in the future. It would certainly be an asset.

    Many thanks for all this interesting information and photos.

  2. Ian Pell says:

    There are several mis-reported dates for the removal of the Pelsall Station footbridge. Some sources give a 1984 date. This is incorrect as the footbridge was still in use when the demolition trains were taking the rails away in 1986. By that time the bridge was in a very poor condition. The Leighswood LNW timber footbridge was replaced by a re-used metal plated bridge quite late in the line’s history as the original was beyond repair and had to be jacked up in between the up and down main lines. I’m still trying to ascertain whether the Leighswood bridge was further re-used. As to whether they removed the wrong bridge not sure. Both bridges were removed along with the one at Ryders Hays in 1986.

  3. Mick Bullock says:

    I had a big surprise waiting for me whilst train spotting at Walsall Station one Saturday morning in the early 50s.I was on the platform waiting to catch what we called “ The Namer “ which got to Great Wyrley at 10.45 am everyday.The train arrived being pulled by,to my delight,70000 Britannia,I naturally got close enough to stand and wonder at the beauty of the engine and started talking to the driver and fireman.Anyway,cutting a long story short,I told them that I normally saw ‘The Namer’ at Wyrley Station,to my utter surprise I was lifted onto the footplate for a look before being taken to the Guards van where I travelled to Wyrley Station.On arrival there I jumped down onto the platform to some very envious looks from some of my train spotting mates.This is my claim to fame.I am 77 now and remember it as yesterday.


  4. kenclegg says:

    Love that – especially the photos of Leighswood Junction.

    I used to live next door to Dick and spent many happy hours in that box.

  5. You chaps might well appreciate this from the BBC archives…


    • andkindred says:

      Cracking find, Bob! The test run with the single carriage – the dynamometer car, is strangely topical as last week we had the pleasure of Royal Scot (No 46100) doing just that between Crewe and Chester. And she wasn’t half shifting.

  6. andkindred says:

    Nice one, Ian. If you use the National Library of Scotland (NLS) website – – I hope this works – and use the transparency slider, you can trace some of the line on the ground today. If you take the path from Bush Grove towards Fordbrook Lane, but turn right along the curvy path, you will be following the old line. Using the NLS site shows the service road behind Leighs Road slightly off line, but this might simply be down to the accuracy of the old mapping. Old plot boundaries often persist, and it looks like the southern boundary of St Francis of Assisi primary school is on the line of the boundary of the railway. Further east the line is traceable after it passes through the north part of the traffic island and through a line of trees into the Veolia site, beside the lagoon opposite the swag by Stubbers Green Road. Then it is obliterated by the hole. Andy

  7. Colin Main says:

    My memories of this line centre on the Pelsall Labour Club annual outings to Rhyl in the 1950’s. We got ten bob on the way out with a wagon wheel chocolate bar. On the way back Vimto and crisps. This was our annual seaside trip there were no holidays back then. Colin Main.

  8. David Evans says:

    many thanks Ian for this fascinating article. I can recall the railway line through Shelfield..and vague memory ( very vague ) of steam trains down in the cutting there
    kind regards

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