Walsall’s Grand Old Railway Station

May 11, 2017 in Features, Railways, Walsall by Stuart Williams

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

Back in the ‘good old days’, Walsall was adorned by a grand railway station, the heart of the town’s transport system.  The first railway line through Walsall –  the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Warrington – had opened in 1837, with a station at Bescot Bridge.  In 1847 the South Staffordshire Railway opened a temporary station in Bridgeman Place, linking with the Grand Junction line.  The Wichnor Junction line to Dudley opened in 1849, connecting with the Walsall section.  A magnificent new station building, designed by Queen Mary’s Grammar School ‘Old Boy’ Edward Adams, was built for the South Staffordshire Railway in Station Street.

The SSR opened the Cannock line in 1858, extending to Rugeley in 1859.  The London and North Western Railway took over the Cannock line in 1861, widening Walsall Station to accommodate lines for mineral and freight trains.

Walsall Station flooded, showing the old South Staffordshire Railway building extended by the LNWR, 1888

Walsall Station flooded, showing the old South Staffordshire Railway building extended by the LNWR, 1888

The Wolverhampton Line was opened in 1872 by the Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway, and by then the Midland Railway was negotiating for running rights to Walsall.  Walsall Station was rebuilt in 1883, with a new main entrance in Park Street and separate booking offices for the LNWR and Midland Railways.  The LNWR owned the station itself, and their stationmaster was in control.  The old station became used for parcels and administration.

In March 1916 a fire damaged the booking hall, but due to the Great War the station could only be patched up.  The iron and glass canopy forming the Park Street entrance was retained when an imposing new circular booking hall and concourse were built after the war.  Adorned with Grecian-style pillars, leaded roof windows and oak-panelled walls, this beautiful building, opened in 1923 by the LNWR District Superintendent, Mr. J.F. Bradford, is well remembered by local people.

Locomotive No. 42758 pulls an excursion train into Walsall Station, pictured by Mr Jack Haddock around 1948

Locomotive No. 42758 pulls an excursion train into Walsall Station, pictured by Mr Jack Haddock around 1948

Sadly, with the growth of the post-war motor industry, the station’s importance declined, accelerated by the ‘Beeching Axe’ in 1965 which left passenger trains from Walsall to Birmingham only.   Walsall Station was virtually defunct by 1977, when this service became hourly.

Walsall Station in its final days, taken in Park Street by Mr Alan Price, February 1978

Walsall Station in its final days, taken in Park Street by Mr Alan Price, February 1978

In late 1978 the town’s fine, prestigious old station was replaced with the Saddlers Centre, opened in 1980.  The station became little more than a glorified concrete passenger halt with a tiny ticket office and concourse.

In the late 20th century, however, rail passenger services underwent a surprising national revival, including some improvements to what remained of Walsall Station.  But that is another story…

Stuart Williams